Pastor Shawn Hannon
Hope Lutheran Church Arcade, NY
Half way through my final year of seminary I received an incredible surprise. I got a call from the business office that a check had arrived at the school that day with my name on it. (That was not a common occurrence.) I went to retrieve it thinking perhaps it was from my home congregation, or perhaps my internship church, or just some well-wisher hoping to help a struggling seminarian with his education. Imagine my surprise then when I get to the office only to discover the check wasn’t from just any church, but from the church, that is, the national church to which I belong. The ELCA’s office of the treasury department in Chicago sent me a check, and, to my surprise, it was a big one. $3,500!
And my first thought was that something had to be wrong. The ELCA doesn’t just cut $3,500 checks for no reason, and certainly not to lowly seminarians. I left the check at the office that day and told the business department there must be some mistake. So they called the ELCA’s office the following morning. They spoke to someone in the treasury department who pulled up the work order and faxed a copy to the school. Sure enough, someone in the vocation and education department sent in an order for Shawn Hannon at Southern Seminary to receive $3,500. I saw it in print, and while still uncertain why I did at least know it was meant for me.
It was an incredible gift. $3,500 at this point in my life would be a lot of money, but $3,500 while I was in seminary was a fortune. It came at just the right time. Carol and I had a car in desperate need of repair, were able to pay ahead on our rent, and still sock money away for our inevitable move when classes would finish and real life would begin.
Have any of you ever been in need or wondered how you were going to make something happen only to have the means simply fall into your lap? Good for you. This is not one of those stories. A few months after I had cashed and spent 2/3s of the money, I received a call from a new professor our seminary had hired. Guess what her name was? Shauna Hannon. Several months ago she had applied and received a mini-grant from the ELCA for guess how much. $3,500. She knew we belonged to a bureaucratic church, but couldn’t believe how long she had waited. A little bit of digging revealed the problem. Dr. Hannon got a new check, and I got to pay back the ELCA.
That’s how life works sometimes. Things that seem too good to be true, can be. Bank errors occur, but unlike in monopoly, they are usually not in your favor. And some gifts you get you end up giving back. But maybe that’s why this one line from Romans sounded so refreshing. So good. Paul wrote: For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29).
In a world where you end up giving some gifts back, it’s awesome to know that God’s gifts are irrevocable. No one and no thing can touch those.
God’s mercy even though we are helpless…
God’s grace even though we are undeserving…
God’s love even though we hate…
And God’s life though we were dead in sin…
Those are all ours! They are irrevocable. That means that even when we feel like we are back sliding and moving away from God, God never moves a way from us. It means that God’s love and gifts aren’t dependent on our circumstances, on our behavior, or on our works. God’s gifts are dependent on God, and God is faithful. And once we’ve received those gifts we are forever changed.
Paul wrote: For the gifts of God and the calling of God are irrevocable.
The ELCA was actually very understanding in asking for their money back, and I was okay letting them have it. That money was never really mine in the first place. But God’s gifts are mine. And make no mistake about it, God’s gifts are yours. God loves you. God calls you. And you may not be able to trust every bank, but you can bank on that. God’s love is irrevocable.
For more inspiration and insights from Pastor Scott and Pastor Shawn’s past columns, please visit www.jamestowngazette.com and click on the Faith Matters page. The Jamestown Gazette is proud to present our county’s most creative and original writers for your enjoyment and enlightenment.