The Hardest Thing to Say

It’s tough to say goodbye to a place you’ve loved for six years.  My youngest son had just learned to walk when we came to St. John’s, and now he is a lightning-fast 7 yo who can outrun the whole family.  My oldest has been nurtured and encouraged, and my husband found community unlike anywhere else I’d served.

Saying good-bye to this congregation was tough, even though it was a good time for me to leave, and I felt ready to do it.  Even the wisest decisions can be heart-wrenching, and it really felt like a wise time step aside so that the congregation could welcome new pastoral leadership.

So instead of a last hurrah, a final “kick-butt” sermon, I just said some simple words about the importance of shared Christian life together.  You can read them below:

I agonized quite bit this week on what scriptures to choose, wondering which choice would be best to speak to everything that was going on this week.  Today is World Communion Sunday—a day when churches all around the world wake up and gather together and break bread and share the common cup.  A prophetic and anticipatory day that reflects our shared hope that the church, the Body of Christ, will soon be united more than it is divided.

It’s also, of course, my last sermon—which I had not really given any significant thought to UNTIL someone asked me about it last week.  That got me thinking.

So I wondered all week about what to say and how to say it.  I read the scriptures again and again.  But it was not until I closed my eyes and IMAGINED us all here today that some inspiration came to me.

I imagined us together singing our first hymn.  I imagined us passing the peace.  I imagined holding the bread at communion.  I imagined at the last, speaking and receiving the words of separation and forgiveness (which we will do at the service’s close).  And then I imagined walking up here to this pulpit, and that’s when I realized that what needs to be said today will not be said in the sermon.  It might not even be said at all.

When I imagined all of us coming together this morning in worship, I realized that what is important today is not what I say, it’s what WE DO.

We have gathered to sing God’s praises as a community.  We have already quite literally enacted reconciliation and peace by welcoming one another in Christ.  We have listened together for wisdom and guidance in God’s word.  We will in a few moments remember together our savior’s last meal and ministry and break bread and share cup in His name once again—this time, quite importantly, not only as a community at St. John’s but as a world-wide Christian community.  Then we will say good bye to one another in gratitude and grace and hope.

When I thought about the power of those actions, I realize there is not much I can say or add to them.  We forget sometimes as Christians, coming to church and going through these motions each week, the power of these actions we do—the power of shaking hands and smiling and welcoming, the power of reading scripture as a group, the power of giving.  We do things here we don’t do anywhere else in our lives.  But it’s so subtle, it’s easy to overlook.

The message that I received this week and the message I would share with all of you is a simple one—to remember and be mindful of what we do together; here in this place with all of you on the 6th anniversary, to the day, of my first Sunday at St. John’s, I say goodbye.  And it’s difficult to do that for as many reasons as there are people here in this community.  But there is something much deeper than words that binds all of us together.  We share a faith, we share a love, we share a grace that challenges us and forgives us.  We share a Christ who calls us to work, whoever we are and wherever we are on life’s journey, for the unity of the Body of Christ.

So instead of more words, let’s get on with doing exactly that.  Amen.

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