Sunday, June 28, 2009

Farewell Message

Here is the message I preached at church this morning: shorter than the normal message, but it was a good thing because I did get emotional. I realize this may not be interesting reading for everybody, but I thought I'd share anyway :)


This has been one of the hardest sermons for me to write, ever. I think it’s mostly because I don’t want to say goodbye. As I mentioned in the letters that I’ve written, in the newsletter and the one that was mailed to members, I am looking forward to my next endeavor, my first full-time sole pastorate with St. Peter’s Lischey’s in Spring Grove…but I would like it if I could just close my eyes and click my heels and be there without the messiness of moving and the tasks of packing up, and the especially hard task of saying goodbye.

However, I do believe there is sacredness in being intentional about everything we do in life, and that includes saying goodbye. There is closure and an important sense of the moment when we take the time to say a proper goodbye, instead of just rushing off to the next thing.

In the Gospel lesson for this morning, we have a healing within a healing. We have Jesus being approached by Jairus, one of the leaders of the synagogue, whose daughter is so ill he fears that she has died. While Jesus is on his way to Jairus’ house, another healing happens. This is the healing of the hemorrhaging woman, who we might also know in more modern language as a woman who the Gospel says has been menstruating continuously for 12 years. In the language of the temple and according to purity laws, she should probably not have been among the crowd; she certainly “shouldn’t” have touched Jesus. But she had faith and the conviction that “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” And it was so.

And Jesus knew that he had been touched—he felt a healing power go out from him and he asked who had touched him. Even in the midst of a crowd of people bumping and jostling up against him, he knew that this was a different kind of touch, one that had a different level of meaning and significance, where something had really happened, not just an unintentional nudge by someone rushing past.

It never really struck me in this passage until reading it this week that the healing of the woman happened while Jesus was on his way to do another healing. And so I’ve been thinking that we are all, like Jesus in the midst of the crowd, on our way to somewhere else. And for me as a pastor, I have to say that ministry is a bit like that at times. Ministry involves being on the way to something, whether it is a meeting, or planning worship, or making visits, and in the midst of being on the way, often something profound happens. Someone touches us, the ones who are supposedly set aside to touch others, and we are ministered to through the grace of God; or we somehow allow God and the Holy Spirit to move through us in a new and different way and have the chance to minister to someone who maybe, in all honesty, we hadn’t really planned on ministering to that day.

So much of what has happened here at St. John’s during the more than two and a half years since I began has been intentional, and planned, and so much has been of this other, more unexpected variety, where I’ve been touched when I thought I was on my way to somewhere else.

I learned about how much ministry could be done through the administration of the church; when I was working in the office I had the chance to get to know members of the congregation more deeply and with more regularity than I may have if I was only part-time as the assistant pastor for this whole time.

I learned how friendly and caring the congregation of St. John’s is—you not only offer up the serve, you do follow through. My first experience was coming here as a visitor when Pastor David was giving me more information about the Assistant Pastor position. He invited me to a Sunday service, but failed to let me know that it was Red, White, & Blue Sunday; you may have heard me tell this before…so I think I was wearing pink, and Don was wearing green, and of course we stuck out like visitors…but we probably would have anyway! Everyone was so friendly to us; helping us with the hymnals, just greeting us because we were unfamiliar faces. It was really impressive because that summer we had been visiting some other churches and did NOT experience that level of friendliness in many of the congregations we visited.

And the follow-through came quite quickly after that; I started working here when I was just about eight weeks from giving birth to Jack, and I remember the outpouring of cards that flowed after he was born.

Before Irene was born this past winter, I was rearranging rooms in our house and moved a box of those cards that were sent after Jack’s birth, and I know that when the cards initially arrived, they were signed with names of people I didn’t know very well yet, but when I read them through this winter, I knew every single person, and I knew of the love that you had shared with me and my family even when you barely knew us.

And certainly when Irene was born; the care and compassion given to us leading us to her birth and following was just tremendous, and made us feel like a real part of the family.

I think one of the hardest things about leaving will be moving our children to a new church from one where they have been so well-cared for. I hope that it is part of the culture at St. Peter’s Lischey’s to care for them as well as all the children here are, and I trust that it will be true.

On the Saturday prior to my trial sermon, when Lischey’s had an open house for the members to meet me and my family, we had told Jack that we were going to be spending the day at “mommy’s new church” (keeping our fingers crossed that we weren’t being too presumptuous.) One of the things he said that day that I will never forget was, “Is Jesus going to be there?” Of course, the reason that he asked if Jesus was going to be at church is because he knows that Jesus is here at this church. This is the place where he has learned about Jesus; we haven’t really delved into the life and times of Jesus in lessons yet at home (though we did touch on the resurrection the other day, not sure how well that went over…), so I know that he got it from Sunday school and nursery time here at St. John’s.

On the Sunday prior to my trial sermon, where we all got quite emotional, one of the things that brought me to tears was moving Jack and Irene away from this, their very first nest as newborn Christians, where they have been loved and held and taught. And I am so very grateful to everyone for that. You know the way to a mother is through her children, and this congregation will forever have a special place in my heart not only because of the love you have shown me but because of that very special love you have shown my little ones.

You have healed my heart and ministered to me in ways that I can’t even explain, and I’m going to keep this message short because by now I’m probably emotional, and we’ve chosen the hymn to give the essence of the Gospel lesson since I’m not really telling the whole story in sermon today.

As we’ve been on our way together, I trust that we have both grown and stretched, that we have nurtured each other and taught each other some lessons that we’ve all needed along the way. Now our paths will diverge, but will not separate completely. The beauty of the United Church of Christ, and York County, means that we will stay connected, collegially and spiritually.

I wish all of you amazing, manifold blessings in your lives and on your journeys with Christ. And I thank you many, many times over for the experience of ministry that you have given me here. Thanks be to God. Amen.


Songbird said...

Blessings to you and your family and your congregations both old and new!

mompriest said...

Sarah, it is never easy to say goodbye, even as one prepares for a new adventure. Blessings on your journey.

Also, I introduced your blog to the RevGals this morning. A great way to get involved with our ring is to play the Friday Five, participate in the Saturday Preacher Party and and leave comments on other posts and blogs.

Mary Beth said...

This is lovely! Welcome to RevGals, and to your new parish.


Diane said...

welcome to the Revgals blog ring!

and prayers for you as you move and grieve.

Sue said...

Welcome Sarah, and bountiful blessings in your new parish.