Sunday, February 27th, 2022 I preached my last sermon at my current congregation. Tomorrow, March 8th, will be my last official day as their Associate Minister.
Following the advice and example of wise women who are part of Young Clergy Women International, I structured my sermon in the style of a Pauline epistle.
This is a slightly edited version of the sermon I gave as one of my good-byes to this congregation I have served for 6 and a half years.
The ministry of Paul is well attested to in scripture through his letters which make up much of the New Testament. These epistles, these letters reflect the diverse situations of each church and the struggles Paul faced at different points in his ministry.
The Letter to the Philippians, which we heard from today, was written from prison, as Paul himself does not know what his future holds and still he desires to share with the community the possibilities for joy, even when the future is unknown and the church at Philippi is struggling to be united in purpose.
Hear now, A letter to the Disciples of First Christian.
From Sarah, minister of the gospel, to all the saints of First Christian Church.
Grace and peace to you from our Creator God, Christ Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
Thanksgiving and Prayer
I thank God for you, for your ministry, your partnership as we have sought to worship, grow, and serve in this community. I am especially thankful for the relationships that have allowed us to join in this holy work together.
As I prepare to depart this community, I pray for you wisdom to face the unknown ahead. Wisdom that comes from trusting the guidance of the Spirit, and so I also pray for you time for prayer and discernment.
It is easy to give into the worry, the discomfort – rushing ahead to the day when everything will be easier. But I tell you, that day will not come with force or speed. Therefore, I pray you will find yourselves aligned with God’s will for you, and in that, find peace.
Fulfilling God’s call won’t be easy, I pray God will grant you the courage to claim who you are and to live authentically as God’s faithful disciples.
Gratitude / Past
The future ahead is built on the foundation of a past. I have only experienced a fraction of that past, but I am forever grateful for the opportunity to be a part of your story.
I give thanks for your patience as I figured out what it meant to serve as your Associate Minister. As I experienced many firsts – my first committal, my first eulogy, my first baptism, my first wedding. And the firsts that fall into the daily life of ministry, unrecognized for what they were.
I give thanks for your vulnerability as you allowed me to be present in difficult moments and in celebrations and everything in between. For sharing your lives, your homes,
your hopes and your fears with me.
I give thanks for the times you embraced my new ideas, often even with excitement.
For responding to my requests for help supporting our children and youth or help creating something random for my newest idea. I am grateful for your patience when things did not turn out as expected.
And I give thanks that if you judged me when I returned from trips with tattoos, you did not share those judgements with me.
I acknowledge there are times I have disappointed you.
Our time together was not perfect, but how could it be when we are just humans?
There have been times I have fallen short in my ministry with you.
I have stayed silent when I should have spoken.
I have spoken when I should have listened.
At times I have allowed frustration to guide me, when I should have led with compassion.
I acknowledge my limitations meant I could not be the minister each of you needed all of the time, but I pray I was in the moments that mattered.
For the times I have made you feel slighted or ignored, I ask your forgiveness. May you know the limits of my attention were not personal. I pray moments of disappointment and hurt may be transformed by God’s grace.
Please know, even in the difficult times, my prayer has been and continues to be
for your flourishing as beloved children of God – as individuals and as a community.
What is / Present
When Paul wrote to the church at Philippi from prison, he could not tell them what would happen. When I imagined this time, my farewell, I hoped for different circumstances.
I imagined sharing that God was calling me to somewhere new. Not that God would first call me leave. Yet, as always, God understands far more than I do.
I have realized, only in responding to this call to leave, that it is hard for me imagine with joy and excitement the possibilities of a new ministry, a new call, when I am is so fully given
to the present circumstance and reality.
And so to, I believe it is for you. Future possibilities are clouded when we seek to fit them around present realities, even when our future requires letting go of what we have.
While it was difficult to make the decision, to recognize and accept that God’s call is for me to “leave” and not to “go”, the movement of the Spirit has brought peace to me and I pray the same for you.
I have heard from you, and have experienced myself, the anxiety and uncertainty of this present moment. So, God’s Beloved, I commend to you in this season patience and rest.
And yet I know these are gifts you want to rebuff.
We have been patient so long. Waiting for the return of stability, the familiar, of people we miss and life together as community. Patience means letting go of the question of “when,”
and yet that is a constant cry of our hearts.
I pray you find reserves of patience to see you through because...
God is preparing to do a new thing here, and rushing forward, without pausing to seek God’s guidance, to find clarity and unity of purpose will not make it come any faster. Speeding towards the future will come at the sacrifice of lessons to be learned from the winding path. Gifts that you will pass by if you travel the highway, thinking only of your destination and not the journey there.
So I invite you to rest.
In many ways it has felt like we have been at a standstill, but the reality is you have been running, trying to keep up with the ever changing speed of a treadmill you can’t control.
We are tired.
You are tired.
And while we don’t like to sit in the discomfort of it, there is much grief weighing on our collective souls. People we have lost, traditions and hopes for the future that have been set aside.
In the whirlwind of change – both within our congregation and within the wider community and world, I pray you will do the work of grieving. Do not forget that Jesus grieved and Jesus rested. Make time and space to go up to the mountain to pray, to rest, to seek God’s will, away from the crowds clamoring for all things to be healed in a moment.
Body of Christ
I commend patience and rest to you because both are needed for the Body of Christ to flourish. For each part of the body to be present to one another, to know healthy relationships.
It takes patience to attend to the needs, not only of the eyes, the hands, the legs,
but also the toes that provide balance,
the lungs that provide breath,
the liver that cleans the blood…
and every part in between.
To come together, working towards God’s will for this community, the body must have tools for working together
…healthy, honest and open conflict
…boundaries to guide in faithful living
…relationships that connect you one to another
so that the whole is attended to, and not just the parts most visible or vocal.
In my time with you, I have made friends with courage, with bravery.
I have found courage in the shadows, not hiding but waiting for me to find her there when I retreated in fear.
The fog, the shadows of the unknown are thick in this time of transition. May you encounter courage here. Not for the destroying of fears but to help you sit in the unknown, the discomfort, the grief.
Courage will meet you here and invite you to hope, to dream, to imagine a new path.
And only when the time is right, do I pray, courage will spur you to find your way out of the fog.
Listen and attend to stirrings of the Spirit that will come.
What Will Come / Future
You already have the tools to do this.
The experience, the framework to move into the future unknown to which God is calling you.
You have shown yourselves capable of difficult discernment, as evidenced by the thoughtful ways you considered how best to respond to both a gift – property from a church member, and a need – a lack of affordable housing in our community. With intention and thoughtfulness, you as a community, sought wisdom from others, asked hard questions, and made a decision that was not the one you expected to make.
The decisions ahead seem much larger but I trust your ability to learn, consider, and decide,
with your focus centered always on God’s call.
Indeed, you have already begun. You have laid out the framework for the work ahead of you.
The new mission, vision and values you recently approved are your compass.
Worship God. Growing in Faith. Serving Our Community.
Growing closer to God to serve as you are called.
And the strategic plan is your map. It will take you on the winding path, as you share with one another your stories, your needs, your gifts. It is not to be rushed. But to be thoughtfully considered.
The discoveries will be worth it.
New opportunities for ministry.
Knowledge of what is important and needed in this community
Framework on which to build new staffing models
and provide support for you as lay leaders.
New, genuine, relationships.
Built on connections you can’t even imagine today
And serving those who feel disconnected from the community
so people will know about the new ministries and opportunities for connection
Faithful communication, built on mutual respect and trust.
Renewed focus on worship
that acknowledges a worshiping community that is not always in one place
and finds ways to empower you all to share your gifts in praise of God.
These are part of God’s call for you, but the future they imagine will not just appear.
Be patient with one another and with yourselves.
There is work to be done, yes, but find the overlooks and scenic picnic spots
to stop and rest.
To remember and to grieve.
To dream and to imagine.
And in each deep breath, may your love for God and for one another overflow.
May you be filled with knowledge, discerning what is best to the glory and praise of God.
Approach your life together with prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving. Let your desires be made known to God, and you shall know the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me and in others, and the God of peace will be with you.