I know that often I will start a sermon by telling you the difficulty I had with the text. Often the problem is something that I need to hear but I really don’t want to hear. Or something in the text says, “Preach Me” but I don’t really want to preach about that. Sometimes the scripture just doesn’t make sense to me. Well, I had difficulty with today’s sermon, but the difficulty was the realization that this would be the last time I would be preaching here.
I could be all kinds of self-serving and get on a soapbox and yell and scream about the injustice in the world. Or I could go on about how things need to change and how if anything is going to change, you are the one that needs to do it. But there is something about that, which just does not feel right. This whole thing is not about yelling and screaming or about making anyone feel guilty or ashamed. The way I see it, what we are dealing with is God working in the world.
In Biblical times, the people could go out and search for Jesus. They could follow him around the lake and be waiting on the shore when he arrived. They could be fed from his hand and search him out again when they were hungry. In Biblical times, Jesus was there to answer the questions the people had.
Today, things are a little bit more difficult. We don’t have Jesus standing bodily in our presence. We can ask questions in prayer, but we do not (or at least usually we do not) have a booming voice coming from the sky telling us the answer. We try to do what is Jesus will, but often we are just left scratching our heads wondering if we really have it right.
I don’t know about you, but I really hate that feeling of putting effort into something and then not being sure if I picked the right thing to put all of that effort into. It is kind of annoying. What helps me is knowing that others often feel the same way. Thomas Merton, a Catholic monk and one of the “biggies” of contemporary Christian mysticism, states this feeling far better than I ever will. He writes:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
I hope that these words speak to you also. No matter what the situation, we are never left to face our perils alone. In our gospel reading for today, the reason the people were following Jesus many not have been the “proper” reasons, but this did not stop Jesus from loving the people and caring for the people. Jesus didn’t send the people packing because their intentions were not “proper.” Jesus stayed with them, taught them, and loved them.
So we continue to move on, or at least I hope we do. We may not know where we are going but we trust that in God we are going in the right direction. And we trust that in Jesus, God’s eternal will, will be carried out in our world.
But today I have a challenge for you: Whatever side of the debate you come down on; if you are upset that I am leaving or if you think my leaving is “good riddance,” whatever you feel, don’t just sit back and allow others to make decisions for you. Stand up and speak up! If you don’t agree with what is happening in YOUR congregation, then be the change you want to see! Even though the crowd may have sought Jesus for the wrong reason, they did go out and seek out Jesus! They didn’t just wait for Jesus to come back around to their side of the lake. And although Jesus would have probably wanted the people to follow for other, “better,” reasons, he did not send them back to rethink their motives, but accepted them where they were and blessed them. The fact that the people were seeking Jesus was enough for Jesus. No matter what, keep seeking Jesus, I don’t make many guarantees from the pulpit, but I guarantee that if you seek Jesus, you will find Jesus.
It may not have dawned on you, but you, as a congregation, should take my leaving as a compliment. My leaving is proof of the love and acceptance I have found, here in this place. The journey my life has taken has been difficult, and the work that needed to be done could not have been done in an environment full of hostility where people were constantly on the attack. The caring and support I found here allowed me to first heal from the wounds of my recent past. But then the care and support continued and I was able to dig even deeper and touch those dark places that were too scary to bring out into public.
So often we talk about confession and forgiveness. We speak of them in that manner, first we must confess, and then forgiveness is given. But those of you who have debated with me know that I tend to believe the exact opposite. We need to know that there will be forgiveness before we can ever contemplate confessing. I know that forgiveness is present in the death and resurrection of Christ, it is not something that I even question. However, I also know that forgiveness is found in this congregation. Maybe in this case, forgiveness is not the correct word; I don’t think I need to be forgiven.
What I know is that understanding is found in this congregation. And in that understanding I have not been disappointed. Even before my resignation was sent out, I have found immense care and understanding. However, since the sending of the letter, that care has grown even larger. Your cards, e-mails, kind words, and hugs have meant so much to me. That care and understanding has helped me through some of the most difficult days I have ever experienced.
In a world that would use Jesus as a means of spreading hate and judgment, there was a comfort in knowing I was surrounded by a community that understands that Jesus came for all people and the love of God is so much bigger than any petty discrepancies we may have. And in spite of how backward this sounds: If I didn’t feel that love from all of you here, I would not be here preaching my last sermon to you. I would still be lonely and depressed, hiding away those deep, dark, secrets, hoping no one, myself included, ever found them. But your caring has allowed me to bring those deep, dark, secrets to the surface and allowed Christ’s light to shine on them. It is this light, the light of Jesus, shown through all of your lives, that has brought so much healing into my life. So for that I need to say, “Thank-you.”
Yes, you are a loving, caring, people but with every gift come a challenge. This gift of caring and healing is a great thing. Considering all the hurting people in the world, how can you focus the light of God’s Son, Jesus, into the darkness of the world? How can you take this love and care that you have shown to me and spread it out into the world?
Contemplation of spreading Jesus love can become frightening. It can take you to places you have never been and it can set before you totally frightening options. But it is in these hidden and frightening places that Christ’s love most needs to shine. And it is into these places that this congregation can move. There is so much love and care in this place that it can’t help but overflow. The care and concern that I have felt, if that were unleashed upon the world, the world would not know what hit it!
Christ’s love is at work in this place, thank you for sharing it with me.
Saturday, August 05, 2006
The "Good Bye" sermon
This is the text of the sermon I will be preaching tomorrow. I don't know if I will be able to make it through because I get choked up just thinking about it.