Growing up I remember one of the most moving experiences in Christian environments: the personal testimony. I must confess while this was one of the most exciting things to hear or witness, it always left me a little self-conscious or insecure. I just never thought my story would tell as well as those who “gave their testimony.” The Apostle Paul’s story is so remarkable and such an integral part of the earliest Church history that it comprises at least half the Book of Acts. The story of this once-Christian-killer teaches us that God really can turn us into a radically different person. Saul’s transformation was not just a Damascus Road experience. The road to Damascus was the starting point where Saul encountered the Risen Christ, but his transformation story took his whole life. Some of us sell ourselves short because of our age, our past, or our lack of what we think is a “good testimony.” When we look at the man who held the coats for Stephen’s murderers and then the man who got beaten, shipwrecked, and survived a viper bite all to preach the Gospel to the most powerful emperor in the world, we realize God can do anything with any life, even mine.
I have thought about this day for four and a half years. I waited until my last semester of seminary to take Dr. Ellsworth Kalas’s Theology and Practice of Preaching course. As I sat under this man, I knew I was interacting with someone who would have a lifelong impact on me spiritually, personally, and as an exemplar in the vocation to which I was called. Dr. Kalas was 88 at the time I was his student. He taught me to preach “from the soul” and that being a preacher is not just about being a student of the Bible; it’s also about being a student of life and humanity.
While every day of life is an uncertain gift (which Dr. Kalas reminded us every time he preached), his age made me especially appreciative that my ability to learn from him, study with him, and correspond with him even after graduation was a precious gift. I have thought about this day and knew it would come. Today, he has joined the “great cloud of witnesses” that now cheer us on from glory. I thank God for the gift of sadness sometimes. It lets us know we have felt, loved, been thankful, and in fact are human. For if we did not mourn, how would God comfort us? If we did not feel sorrow, how would we find great hope in the Resurrection? And if we did not know the blessings and how precious and sometimes time-sensitive they are, how would we give thanks? Today, I grieve with those who grieve, especially Dr. Kalas’s family. I am sad as the world feels different now that one more saint has gone on. But I rejoice and give thanks, because the earth is forever better for having had Ellsworth Kalas. Thanks be to God.