January 14, 2019
“God Be With You” ~ sermon for January 13, 2019
For our New Testament reading this morning I chose a passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. The church in Philippi was one of the first founded by Paul and he maintains a special affection for the people. He writes from prison to encourage the church to remember what he taught them and to hold firm to their belief in Jesus Christ.
Hear now a reading from Philippians 1: 3-11.
Here ends the reading of God’s holy word. May God add to our hearing and understanding God’s blessing. Amen.
Please pray with me.
God of gifts and blessings, send your spirit among us that we may learn to please you and live as your beloved children. Baptize us with your Holy Spirit so our lips may sing to your glory and our hands reach out to heal and bless your people. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Eight years ago, on January 16, 2011 I stood before you and said this:
“I have a dream for us.
I see a church deeply rooted in the tradition of our ancestors, blessed by the careful stewardship of those who came before us.
I see a faith community where all are welcome, where each gift is celebrated.
I see a people whose life is God-centered.
I want our church to be a place where you come each week to be reminded that you are part of something larger than yourself.
I want you to come to be nourished for the week ahead by God’s holy word.
I envision this sacred space as a sanctuary for you – a refuge from the hectic, fast-paced, challenging lives you lead.
I want this to be a place of peace, where God’s grace is felt and lived.
I want this to be the place where we practice living our Christian values until they become habits, and then ultimately simply become who we are.
My dream for us is that we will move forward together, in a spirit of love.
My dream is that our doors will be open to anyone seeking God’s presence in their lives.
My dream is that we will be forward thinking – setting aside past differences and complaints, joining our hearts and souls together to journey toward the light.
My dream is that we will be the light – for those who live in darkness, for those who are lonely or afraid.
I envision a church where each and every heart is full of love – where we strive, together to embody the great commandment – to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind and we shall love our neighbor as ourselves.
We must have a vision for the future.
Just as we appreciate the dedication and commitment of our ancestors who tended to this church for the past two-hundred and sixty six years, we must be certain that we are responsible stewards who will guide our church into the future.
Our children and grandchildren and all of the children beyond that must know that this is a place where they can come to know God – a place of peace.
Theologian Henri Nouwen described such a church in these words,
“When we are free from the need to judge or condemn, we can become safe places for people to meet in vulnerability and take down the walls that separate them. Being deeply rooted in the love of God, we cannot help but invite people to love one another. When people realize that we have no hidden agendas or unspoken intentions, that we are not trying to gain any profit for ourselves, and that our only desire is for peace and reconciliation, they may find the inner freedom and courage to leave their guns at the door and enter into conversation with their enemies.”
He says, “Our ministry of reconciliation most often takes place when we ourselves are least aware of it. Our simple, nonjudgmental presence does it.”
I invited you to mark that day as a new beginning for your life in the church.
I asked you to start with a clean slate, to set aside any differences you might have had in the past, to look at one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, God’s beloved and to commit to transforming the world.
I suggested we work together to distinquish ourselves as the people of God’s covenant.
As I reflect on the past eight years, I do believe that we tried our best to live into this vision.
Perhaps there were moments or circumstances when our covenant was challenged, but I believe the integrity of our commitment remained intact.
I want to take a moment to speak truth to power – something I vowed to do at my ordination.
A church has two lives: Sunday life and the rest of the week life.
Many of you are Sunday participants and you are most welcome here.
Others of you are the ones that keep the church going the rest of the week, gathering resources, guiding decisions, creating the place for people to come on Sunday.
It is pretty easy to adhere to a covenant of compassion and respect for an hour on Sunday.
It is not so easy to maintain it the rest of the week.
Behind closed doors, in committee meetings or office interactions we often let what Karen Armstrong would call our ‘reptilian brains’ take over.
We succumb to the cultural need for power and control, viewing life as a contest for survival – survival of the fittest.
This mindset brings out the worst in people.
For those of you are sad that I am leaving, I will tell you that I am sad, too.
My heart is broken that the vision we shared eight years ago did not come to fruition.
For those of you who find that you are relieved that I am leaving, I invite you to explore what truth it is about you that I uncovered.
What was it that I did or said that made you uncomfortable or defensive?
In a few moments we will offer each other our gratitude and forgiveness.
This is the beauty of our faith – our ministry of reconciliation.
We can acknowledge that we are not perfect and we can accept God’s mercy, forgiveness and grace.
We can also offer that same mercy, forgiveness and grace to others.
I shall carry each of you in my heart as I leave.
Each one of you has influenced my ministry.
I will continue to serve God as I seek a new faith community.
I shared this poem with you a while back – it continues to guide me:
There is a thread you follow. It goes among
Things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
For me, that thread is my faith, which has been nurtured and nourished in my ministry here.
I pray that you will find your thread to follow and hold it close.
I pray that each of you will be well.
I thank you for the privilege of serving you, for letting me into your lives.
I am enriched for having known you.
I closed my sermon eight years ago with a favorite prayer that you have heard many times over the years:
Come Holy Spirit, awaken us to the sacred;
Nurture our relationships
Enliven our community of faith
United our parish families.
Fill us with joy to celebrate the fullness of life.
Send forth your light to help us see where you are leading our church.
Send forth your gifts of wisdom, understanding, right judgment, courage, knowledge, reverence, wonder and awe that our ministry may produce good and lasting fruit.
Fill us with truth so that we may grow in our love for Jesus and be of greater service to God.
Empower us to be a community of love, growing in your likeness, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
This is my prayer for you this day. Amen.
Let us pray.
God of transformation and transition be with us this day as we celebrate who we have been together.
We have endeavored to discern your call for us and to follow your will.
Continue to guide and bless this church into the future.
Empower each person to share their gifts and dreams with the community.
Let love be the prevailing sentiment in all interactions.
Send leaders to build on the strong foundation we have built together.
Hear our prayers this morning for those whom we love.
For those who are sick, we pray for healing.
For those who mourn, we pray for comfort.
For our church and our community we pray for grace.
For our world, O God, we pray for peace.
Hear us now in the sacred silence of this Meetinghouse as we turn our hearts to you….Amen.