How does one say good bye after twelve years as your rector. I have thought about this a lot in recent weeks and looked in many places hoping to find just the right words and the right way to say good bye.The first words of parting I came up with, came from our hymnal. What better words of triumph and faith can there be than these words of Palestrina at Easter, “The strife is or’er the battle won! Christ’s victory over death is won! Alleluia!”
The sentiment is wonderful, it speaks beautifully to the triumph of the Church and Christ. But, as I thought about these words, I realized they spoke more to the reality of my journey these past few years than for most of you who are here today.
May 20th marked the end of a spiritual strife that had plagued me for four years.this is when I began feeling God was calling Maureen and me to do something new now that Kayleigh had left for college. When I arrived at St. Luke’s in 2003, I was clear with the search committee and the vestry that I could and would commit to being at St. Luke’s until our girls were out of high school. After that, all bets were off.
Well, as if on cue, the spring before Kayleigh graduated from West Genesee, a restlessness began to stir deep within my soul. I wasn’t sure if this meant it was time to go, or if it was time to do something new at St. Luke’s. Neither Maureen nor I were really ready or clear about leaving. Over the past four years many parishes popped up which would intrigue Maureen and me. And while there were a lot of rejection letters, more often than not, they came as a relief. There was always something that did not feel quite right, basically, they just didn’t measure up, they were not you, and they were not St. Luke’s. A couple of times we gave up searching, believing God was calling us to stay. But it never failed, another church would catch our interest and sure enough I would decide to see if this was where God was calling us.
So yes, for me the strife and battle of discernment is over and my spirit is at peace.
However, I realize for many, today it doesn’t feel as if the strife is over, instead, it may feel as if the strife is just beginning as you now enter fully into transition. So I realized I needed to seek a different avenue to find just the right words for this morning. I thought, why not look to Broadway. Lord knows, the Swan family is prone to the dramatic. And the words from The Sound of Music came to mind. “So long, farewell, alweiterzein , good bye. To you and you and you and you and you’re.” I could just picture us singing this as part of the recession, with everyone waving as I walked down the aisle. But, the truth is, we are not a group of adorable pre-teens trying to crash our father’s fancy party.
The search continued.
Finally, I decided to turn to Walt Disney for advice. After all, if anyone knew how to strike the right mood and words, it is Disney. His legacy now controls a majority of the entertainment media. And besides, most of us at some point in our lives spent countless afternoon singing, “Now it’s time to say good bye to all our company, M I C, see you real soon, KEY, why? Because we like you, M O U S E.”
I have to admit, I really wanted to go with this, but unfortunately, we don’t have the same advantage as the Mouseketeers. This is a real good bye, and I won’t be able to show up in your living again tomorrow.
It was not until I read this morning’s letter to the Ephesians that I found God had planned the right words for today all along. “Be steadfast in faith, put on the amor of Christ. “ After all, isn’t that what God has been telling us to do these past twelve year? To be, steadfast in faith.
I find it interesting that the Bread of Life series we just finished began with a storm. Who can forget our gospel from early last month when we found ourselves with the disciples being tossed to and fro while traveling across the Sea of Galilee. I find there is a wonderful parallel between that story and our lesson from Ephesians today. While Paul tells his audience to remain steadfast in faith, I believe the Gospel writers say the same thing by telling us, no matter what the storm or the problems may be, STAY THE COURSE.
Important words of advice as we find ourselves today constantly engulfed in a tempest of rapid change. It is as if every couple of years someone new has published a book or a guide on how to grow a church. When I arrived in 2003, it was the Purpose Driven Church, then it was Alpha next it was Via Media and then it was something else. All of them claimed if we follow their simple plan, use the right music, teach the right Bible studies our church would be growing by leaps and bounds.
The truth is, church growth programs do not grow churches. Staying the course, being steadfast in faith and being clear on what it is we are called to be is what grows churches. St. Paul tells us not only to be steadfast in faith, but to put on the armor of Christ, by putting on the belt of truth, and the Breastplate of Righteousness, and on our feet anything that will help us to proclaim the Gospel. We are to put on the helmet of salvation and then pickup the sword of Christ, the Word of God. In essence, Paul is telling his reader that we are to clothe ourselves in the armor of Christ so we can BE CHURCH.
Notice what I said, Paul is not telling his reader to be a brick and mortar institution, or to be THE church but to BE an active agent of God, BE CHURCH. So my parting words of advice to St. Luke’s as you now enter this time of transition. Don’t seek or try to find ways to grow as “a” church, but seek ways to improve at BEING church, at continuing to grow into what it means to be “the body of Christ” or how to be like Christ by being the bread of life to those around you.
I ask you to be church, by offering a foretaste of the Kingdom to all who will walk through these doors by continuing to offer the radical hospitality you are so good at. I also ask you to go a step further, by not just greeting the stranger at the door, but also by letting them enter more fully into the life of the congregation. Also, remember to be Christ to each other by supporting each other in our individual ministries. After all, St. Luke’s is only as strong as our commitment is to each other.
Finally, be Church. Not just on Sunday morning’s, but Monday through Saturday as well. Over the exit at St. James, Skaneateles, a sign once hung that said, “St. James 24:7. There is no twentieth chapter to the letter of James. It was a play on words. The sign reminded parishioners to remember that they are to make Christ part of their lives at all times. So be church 24/7 by making Christ part of your every day lives with prayer and study. And, by remembering, the real work of the church takes place out there, beyond our doors, in the real world. It is out there, when we are looking that we are likely to find God, and it is out there where God has called us to “be Church.”
So this morning, I ask you to remember today as a day of triumph as the Palestrina would, or as a day of frivolity and celebration for Maureen and me in a way only Rogers and Hammerstein can do, or even Walt Disney. I, also ask you to remember today as a day which calls us to be steadfast in faith, by putting on the armor of Christ as St. Paul would have us do. Because if we choose to do this, then St. Luke’s will continue to flourish for decades to come.
Now, the time really has come for me to say good bye, to say thank you for the honor of being your rector these past twelve years, for allowing me to journey with you during the most intimate times of life. And thank you for allowing me the opportunity to grow into the priest and person I am today.
Again be steadfast in faith, and know I leave you, filled with gratitude for the time we have journeyed together.