A Farewell Sermon
Have you ever noticed that sacred and scared are practically the same word. Just switch the c and the a and the one turns into the other. Sacred … Scared. I’m scared this morning. I’m scared because this is the last Sunday here for my family and me. I’m scared because I want to offer something truly sacred today. I want to honor this moment. I want to treasure being with you all. And, honestly, I’ve struggled with this sermon all week. I don’t know what to say that I haven’t said already.
Can I allow the “scared” to become sacred? In this sanctuary I have wrestled and wept and laughed. I have preached and listened. I have danced and lain down and found comfort and have felt my heart break a hundred times. I have been filled with joy. I have felt scared and stretched and ill at ease. I have been welcomed. I have been blessed. I have met God here, so many times and in so many ways.
Sometimes the room has looked like it does now. Sometimes I’ve come to the sanctuary in the early morning and and listened to the sounds you can only hear when the building is empty and watched the sun come through the window and light up the dust that floats in the air. I have sat in silence in here. I have taken — and offered — the bread and the wine here I’ve baptized young ones and said good bye to friends. I have felt the presence of Christ here. Sometimes it’s been in words spoken, sometimes in shared silence. Sometimes I have known where that presence is, and sometimes it’s been beyond my awareness, impossible to pinpoint but still here.
I have been cooked here. Listen to this verse from the poet Rumi:
If your knowledge of firehas been turned to certainty by words alone, then seek to be cooked by the fire itself. Don’t abide in borrowed certainty. There is no real certainty until you burn; if you wish for this, sit down in the fire.”It’s not a threat so much as an invitation. I have made mistakes and said the wrong thing and hurt people. I have been forgiven. I have felt stretched to my maximum. And I have found that my heart has grown bigger, and that the hearts around me have been big enough to include me each time.
I am leaving TCC not because I’m fully cooked, but because Chris and I have come to believe that we need a different community and Church to raise our children as we long to do. We are moving because know there is something sacred there for us, even though we are scared to take the steps to get there.
I lot of people have asked me if there are other circumstances behind the scenes that are contributing to my decision to leave TCC. What can I say? Many of you know about conflicts here. Personality conflicts. Conflicts of interest. Those who wish to preserve worn traditions struggle against those who have a wider vision of what this church can be. My wish for this church is that you can courageously confront these conflicts and find some unity.
There is another reason why I’m leaving. I feel like I’ve failed. I haven’t been good enough. Some of you may want to disagree with me and I appreciate that opinion. Or, you may want to agree with me, in which case I appreciate you remaining quiet. But the truth of the matter is that, when I look at who I was called to be, I wasn’t good enough. In fact, none of us are. No matter how excellent our lives, no matter how selfless or generous or compassionate we are, we can never measure up to the standards that are set for us. At some point, whether it is six days or six years or sixty years, we will fall short.
I wish had been a different kind of leader. I wish I had spoken up more when I saw people being pushed to the margins. I wish I spoke up for myself when I felt like the ministry at TCC was being sabotaged. I wish I had been more loving, more grateful, and more secure in myself. That’s why I like the imagery of being a Pilgrim. Not the people who landed on Plymouth Rock, but a pilgrim in the sense of a wanderer or a person on a journey. Christians are like temporary residents or exiles. There is little we can know for sure about how our faith journeys will turn out, except that we will be loved and forgiven when we allow God in. As much as we might like to think otherwise, life in church can be a messy, turbulent, disorienting walk. We would do well to be gentle with one another and with ourselves, as we are trying to figure it all out as we go along. There are no guarantees as to how the decisions we make as individuals of faith or as a community of faith will turn out. Some may succeed spectacularly, some may fail spectacularly. And it’s all OK. We can let go of the ways we try to keep ourselves safe, and mistake-free, and secure. We can let go of the times we have felt scared, and let something sacred emerge.
Although I feel like I have not been good enough, I want you to know that you are good enough, as individuals and as a congregation. We’ve had our ups and downs together, our successes and our failures, our times of great faith and times of great doubt, but in the end, I can say with confidence that you are good enough. Not because of anything you have done, but because of what I’ve seen God do through you. And I can say that because I’ve heard your stories. Over these past 6 ½ years, I’ve had the honor of listening to your stories and being a part of them. I’ve been invited into your homes. I’ve sat across lunch tables with you. I’ve talked with you on the phone. I’ve exchanged emails with you. And I’ve been listening to your stories.
So I want to encourage you today to keep telling your stories. You see those doors in the back of the sanctuary? There will be people coming through those doors who don’t know your stories, including your next minister. They need to hear your stories, not only because they are your stories, not only because they are these this church’s stories, they are God’s stories. And when you when you speak them out loud, when you give voice to them, you become who God created you to be. And I when I tell my story, you will have a special place in it.
All of us are figuring this faith out as we go along. The Bible does not offer us prescriptions for every circumstance in this life, other than the call to love our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves. What that looks like in day to day life, as we’re traveling through this pilgrim land, is up to us to figure out. So hear now these words from the great theologian . . . Dolly Parton.
Like the poor wayfaring stranger that they speak about in songShe sings about stumblin’, tumblin’, wonderin’ as we’re traveling through. Because it isn’t easy, but it is life, and in the midst of all the stumbling and tumbling and wondering and traveling, in the midst of all our risks and straying, and falling, we can trust in the God who abides with us as we figure it out.
I'm just a weary pilgrim trying to find my own way home
Oh Jesus if you're out there, keep me ever close to you
As I'm travelin', travelin', travelin', as I'm travelin' through.
And now, this chapter comes to an end. I have had several people say, “I’m not going to say ‘goodbye’ because that just sounds so final.” Yes, it does and yes, it is. But not when you consider what it really means. The word “goodbye” is a contracted form of the phrase, “God be with you.” To say “goodbye” is to entrust someone to God’s care once he or she is no longer in your presence. In the Christian lexicon, there’s a word that carries with it some of the same meanings. It’s a word we use a lot when we pray: “Amen.” Amen means “right on” or “let it be so.” It’s the exclamation point at the end of sentence that affirms the truth of what’s been said and hands it over to God.
I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed that I don’t end my sermons with an “Amen” as a lot of pastors do. I believe a sermon should only be the beginning of the conversation, not the end of it. “Don’t put a period where God wants to put a comma.” In other words, ending a sermon with “Amen” is like saying, “And that’s all there is to say about that.” I don’t believe that’s true, so I rarely say “Amen” at the end of a sermon.
But this sermon is a little different, because in some ways it IS the end of the conversation, at the least one between you and me. We are putting the punctuation on the end of the sentence at the end of the paragraph at the end of the chapter, a chapter that I humbly pray was “good enough.”
It feels like there’s still so much more to be done and so much we have left undone, but we’ll just have to turn that over to God and trust that the dialogue will be picked up by your next conversation partner. I can’t wait to hear what stories are written in your future. And until that happens, I am able to say with confidence, trust, faith and so much love, goodbye and Amen.