So, Was I Fired?
I opened my sermon last weekend with a story from my days as a UPS package handler in the Portland hub in which my foolishness led to one of the most awful moments of my life. After the last service a brother came and asked, “So, what ended up happening in that situation?” I realized that while I shared the ending of the story in the other two services, I failed to do so in the last one. So, for those who attended the 11am service or watched the stream, here’s the ending.
It began, as so many awful moments do, with a bad attitude. I normally worked in the sort aisle, but had been sent over to the unload to pump up the volume. I was not happy about the assignment, and the deeper I got into the hot, dusty 40-foot trailer, the worse my mood became.
The final straw was finding a heavy wooden crate about the size of a twin mattress in the very nose of the trailer. I was so irritated by that point that when I finally managed to flop it onto the conveyor belt, I acted on an impulse and did something really stupid: I flopped myself on top of the crate and began riding it out like a surfer paddling his surfboard.
There would not be much of a story to tell if it were not for the fact that as I was riding the package out I happened to look up and saw about a dozen people in business attire standing at the end of the trailer looking in at me. A jolt of fear shot through me. I immediately hopped off the crate in a manner I hoped looked casual, placed it in the appropriate spot, and walked through the group without making eye contact, back to my place in the sort aisle.
I was sick to my stomach, guilty, ashamed and afraid. I knew I would be fired and I began to imagine the ramifications. Kristin and I were in the early years of our marriage and we needed this job. But in a few hours, I would have to tell her I had been fired. “For what?” she would ask. I would have to say, “For riding a package.” Ugh. Then I considered the reaction of the church to the news that their youth pastor was fired for being an idiot. I have seldom felt such dread.
The purpose of the story was to illustrate the sobering message of Hebrews 4:13. “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” If we know ourselves well, this reality is the ultimate reason to be sick, guilty, ashamed and afraid.
Back in the sort aisle, I continued to work as I waited for the axe to fall. Any moment now I expected the tap on my shoulder from one of the bosses. But it never came. I eventually couldn’t stand it any longer and I sought out my area supervisor. I mentioned the group of professionals I had seen come through a couple hours ago and asked him if he knew who they were. “Oh,” he said, “Those were customer service trainees. They will answer calls from customers who want to know why their package was damaged.” What astonishing answers they could now provide.
I deserved to be fired, but I wasn’t. I received mercy. It wasn’t mercy from UPS. If they had seen me, I would be gone. It was mercy from God, who sees every bit of our sin and yet responds with kindness through Christ, our great high priest. “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)