Monday, August 1, 2016

God Be with You Till We Meet Again

Preached at Nazareth Lutheran Church July 31

    As I thought and prayed this week about what I would say to you
this Sunday morning, my last Sunday morning with you, my mind was
filled with so many things, so many images, so many remembrances
that I will carry with me as I take my leave from you. I think I will
remember most the funerals: four in these last three years- Cody
Nelson, Paul Newsome, Sara Anderson, and Sabrina Suarez. Each one
as totally unique as were the four saints for whom they were held. Each
one touching my heart in a deep and special way. Each one leaving a
lasting impact on my heart and life and spirit. Why funerals? you might
ask. Because they draw me near to the One who comforts, the One in
whom I must place my trust if I am to find the words to say to comfort
and bring some sense of peace to family and friends. Because they
remind me of my own finiteness and mortality and lack of control in the
affairs of this life. These four gifts of ministry dwell in the innermost
places of my heart and there they will remain.
     But of course, there have been happy times, times of rejoicing and
celebration and wonder and hope. I have wonderful memories of the
year spent with my four confirmation students, as we learned and grew
together…as we came to know each other better…as I came to deeply
appreciate just how remarkable these four young people are- Alana,
Caley, Ruthie and Toby- and I commend them to your continued
support and care as they go through these next often-difficult and
always-challenging years of their lives, their parents’ lives, and yours
as a congregation.
    And how could I possibly forget the many covered-dish lunches
we’ve shared? Good food was never in short supply here at Nazareth
and it seemed that each dish was prepared not only with skill but with
love...which made them taste even better. I will cherish the recipes
shared and will remember always the laughter and conversation as we
gathered around the table together, a very holy communion, indeed.
    Special for me, too, when I could be here, were the Pickin’ and
Grinnin’ evenings, with good music and good company, as well as an
overflowing of joy and incredible music from talented musicians, some
of them our own. And I will never forget the three concerts which were
part of Advent 2015, these very different and very gifted teams of
musicians bringing and sharing the joy of God’s delightfully abundant
gift of music with congregation and community. The walls of this
sanctuary rang with their voices and instruments, filling us all with an
ever-deepening sense of the Holy, of the very presence of Immanuel-
God with us.
    And sharing together our “God’s Work- Our Hands” projects was
another highlight of my time with you. Of course, I received the
added pleasure of being the one to deliver those personal care kits to
the Salvation Army Emergency Shelter…to receive the expressions of
thanks which rightfully belonged to all of you. And I will never forget
my visit to Scott G**** at the West Virginia Correctional Facility,
spending nearly two hours in conversation and prayer with him- after
the hair-raising drive up the mountain!- and learning yet again more
about what it means to minister in every place and circumstance of
life- and isn’t that what Jesus tells us to do?
    I know I’m missing something- perhaps many things, but these are
ones which remain foremost in my thoughts and in my heart. So
perhaps I should go to the thank-yous. Because you see, I have much
to thank you for, people of Nazareth. For three years, you have not
only tolerated, but loved and cared for this aging pastor whose liberal
theology and philosophy of life and ministry and politics is far, far to
the left of so many of you. I’m sure there were times when my words
ruffled feathers…perhaps even stirred considerable ire in some of you,
but you took the high road with Jesus the Christ and loved me in spite
of our differences. And in doing that, you helped me to better learn
how to deeply love and care for people whose point of view is very
different from my own. That, dear friends, is a gift I will cherish always.
    Thank you, too, for praying for me. Oh, you didn’t have to tell me
you were praying for me; I could feel it. On days when I was tired
and discouraged and at the end of my rope from things which were
happening in this world and in my life, it was your prayers of love and
care which lifted me up, enabling me to write yet another sermon,
prepare yet another worship service, face yet another day with hope
and equanimity. And throughout the illness and death of my sister,
Kathy, no congregation could have been more thoughtful and
supportive and loving, and for that I give you my heartfelt thanks. I
will never forget that, rest assured.
    I hope that I have also gifted you, individually and as a
congregation. I hope that I have provided an adequate example of
servanthood, of living the Jesus Way, and so, have been encouraging
you to do the same. I hope- deeply hope- that my words have
challenged you, at times discomfited you enough to make you think and
reconsider your own ideas and opinions, to enlarge your point of view.
I hope that I have been able to make you aware of the pain and
suffering and needs of the greater world, the world beyond Nazareth
and Rural Hall and North Carolina and the United States. I hope that I
have given you a greater vision of what it means to be the church in
this place and time, of what it means to be a disciple of the Living
Christ. I hope that I have encouraged you to do justice, to love
kindness, and to walk humbly with God in a world which so needs that
kind of discipleship. I hope I have encouraged you to live, as individuals
and as a congregation, with arms and hearts wide open in welcome to
whomever crosses your path, to whomever enters these doors, seeing
each and all as children of the same loving, caring, welcoming God.
    Some of you have asked me what I am going to do, now that I am
sort of retiring- for the second time! Well, I am planning for a workshop
on aging that I am leading this October in Summerfield at Healing
Ground Retreat Center. And I have writing projects all over my study
which are crying out for my attention. I am actively and deliberately
caring for my physical body, with yoga and walking and water aerobics,
in the hope that I will get to the place where travel will once again be
comfortably possible for me, since New York City and Prince Edward
Island and Iona, Scotland, and California and Rwanda, Africa loom
large. Still on my Bucket List is a train trip across the United States,
while on a much smaller scale is travel to visit friends and family in
Pennsylvania and Virginia. So you see, I will not be without  things to
do. But you will still often find me doing much quieter things: reading
the countless books which line my staircase and stand in piles on book-
cases all over the house. Cooking for family and friends, as I
experience the joy of trying new recipes and sharing the bounty of my
table- and my heart. Perhaps even trying my hand at painting, which I
have always wanted to do. A new chapter begins…who knows how it
will be written?
    And so I enter into tomorrow with a sense of enthusiasm and
expectation. The Japanese have a word for it- Ikigai. It is what gets you
up in the morning; the sense that the day matters, that there are new
experiences awaiting you and that you have a contribution to make. It
is how you spend your time, what you give your energies to, what you
say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to, what new challenges or risks you take…and it is
always a work in progress. And it takes, will take, patience and insight
and courage and honesty to follow where my curiosity and passion are
leading me, calling forth once again just what I have to give the world
in which I live.
    Know that you are and will ever be in my prayers, as I hold up this
congregation, its leaders, its members, its mission and ministry. I will
be praying for that person whom God is leading to shepherd you into
the next chapter of your story together. And of course, dear and
precious members and friends of Nazareth Lutheran, it is not goodbye
that I am saying but simply, “God be with you, till we meet again.”
Amen and amen



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