Sunday, July 19, 2015

Jesus will be there before we get there: Go with open hands, an open mind, and an open heart

Dear friends,

Today was my last Sunday at St. Paul's. It has been an emotional day on many levels. I preached and celebrated at all three services. My sermon is below.

I launched this blog, Fiat Lux, seven years ago when we came to St. Paul's. And while I have not posted much recently, this blog has been a major part of my ministry at St. Paul's, particularly in our first years when I posted nearly every day. We even started a few traditions here, like sharing Al Martinez's Christmas story every year.

This is the 1,529th posting on Fiat Lux – and the last.

And so Fiat Lux also comes to an end. I may start a new blog when we get to our new place: The Church of the Incarnation in Santa Rosa. I will let you know here in this space and on Facebook. By the way, this blog won't disappear. You can still go back and read some of my reflections from our time together.

In the meantime, thank you for you for reading, thank you for your many blessings. May God's light shine upon you! Fiat Lux!

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Today's gospel lesson: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

“And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.”

         Seven years ago, the week before Palm Sunday, Lori and I made our first trip to Charlottesville. We brought with us a small palm frond from California to help adorn this wonderful church.
We were hosted by the St. Paul’s search committee – a group of people who had been working tirelessly to find a new rector.
         After a long travel day flying here from Northern California, where I have lived most of my life, the search committee members picked us up at the airport.
         They had given each candidate for rector a code name to maintain the confidentiality our identities. My code name was “A-5,” and so Lori and I made lapel buttons so they would recognize us at the airport – mine said “Rev A-5” and Lori’s said “Ms A-5.”
         Actually, they knew what we looked like, so it was a bit of an inside joke. And we didn’t really need our identity protected. I was the interim rector at All Souls Parish in Berkeley, and my time there was drawing to a close. The entire parish in Berkeley was in on this, and the entire parish was holding St. Paul’s in their prayers while we were visiting here.
         Our St. Paul’s hosts took us to dinner and then to our hotel. The next morning would bring interviews and tours in earnest, so they gave us a little time to recover from our travels.
         When we walked into the hotel room, I heard music that was familiar to me, but probably not to many of you.
It was the music of the Miwok Indian tribe, and I have a CD of their music. The Miwok are the indigenous people of Yosemite, which for me is the most spiritually important place on the planet.
And on the television screen was a video showing scenes of Yosemite with Miwok music playing in the background.
This may sound odd to you, but I knew in that moment we were being summoned to go to Charlottesville, to join you in leading this parish. I knew in that moment I would say yes to this call.
I felt great reassurance in that moment that Jesus was with us, and would go ahead of us, lighting our path.
 I also knew in that moment that the day would come when we would be summoned to go back to Northern California.
Today, this moment has come.
Seven years ago, I knew that Jesus would bring us here, and then to the next place after Charlottesville, and the next place after that. I had no idea where that would be.
But this I know: Jesus always goes ahead of us.
This is a lesson I have learned over and over, sometimes the hard way. The lesson is right here in the gospel we hear today:
“And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.”

Many years ago, when I was a seminarian, I spent a long summer undergoing training as chaplain in a big urban hospital. I was assigned to the intensive care units.
         My supervisor was a Methodist pastor, Lisa Nordlander. On the first day of my assignment, I asked her if I was supposed to bring anything to the hospital rooms. A prayer book? A Bible? What tools should I bring?
         “Just yourself,” Lisa said.
         “Just myself?”
         “Just yourself.”
         Lisa told me this, and it has never left me: Jesus would be in the room before I got there and Jesus would be there after I leave. Go into the room with open hands, an open mind, and an open heart.
         This is a lesson I hope all of us will hold in the days and months and years ahead.
         My friends, this is my last Sunday sermon with you. I am not going to talk about the past. What has been done, has been done. What has not been done, has not been done. Let it be.
         You will have time enough to look in the rearview mirror and evaluate what we’ve done well, and not done so well, over these past seven years.
         But that is not for today.
         Today I want to urge you to walk into the future with open hands, an open mind and an open heart.
         Jesus goes ahead of all of us. He is there before we get there and will be there after we leave.
Jesus welcomes us with wide open arms when we arrive, bids us to linger awhile, and goes ahead of us to the next place.
He will embrace us with love, weep with us when we hurt, and leap for joy when we laugh. He is, as the New Testament proclaims, the chief cornerstone who binds us together for all time.
Jesus will be there tomorrow, next week, next year, and a thousand years from now.
         I know it is nearly impossible to think in thousand-year terms. But try for a moment.
         Think of the earliest Christians: Could they possibly have imagined that 2,000 years later, people would still follow Jesus? Could those early disciples have possibly imagined this city, this corner, this university across the street, or this parish?
         Can we imagine of who will come after us 2,000 years from now?
         Jesus bids us to go with him into this future with open hands, open minds and open hearts. He bids us to go, and to create this next world now. He goes ahead of us, he is already there to show us the way.
Will we go to where he has led the way?
         Author Lauren Winner calls this the “Easter question.” Will we go to where Jesus is already?
         The Easter question is the most important question facing St. Paul’s.
The most important question for St. Paul’s is not who will be the next rector, or how to balance the budget, or what social justice issues to confront in the community, or how to repair the building.
All of these are important questions, but they are but a flash in time.
         The most important question facing St. Paul’s and all of us is the Easter question:
         How will St. Paul’s go with Jesus into the future, opening the doors, bringing in new people, and sending people to go to the places of wonder, the places of healing?
         How will we go? Timidly or boldly?
         Will we keep the doors open and the lights on? Or will we close the doors, pull up the gates and think of ourselves as a tiny sanctified social club? Will our response be that we are too busy doing church things?
         Or will our response be: “Here I am, send me”?
Jesus beckons us to think as big as God’s abiding grace.
You will soon be going to a place of discernment as a parish – really, you are always in a place of discernment.
The word “discernment” is perhaps overused these days. It simply means to be open to the nudging of the Spirit.
Take this time seriously, look for the Spirit moving in yourself as individuals, and in this congregation. Trust in the Spirit and trust in each other. Be kind, be gentle, be patient with each other
Let down your guard so that you can hear the Spirit in each other. And have fun with this. This can be a joyful time if you let it. This can be the most fun you’ve ever had as a parish.
This congregation is vibrant. You are creative and caring, and you have many gifts.
Don’t get into the rut of thinking one ministry is in competition with another.
God brings all the resources we need and the people with all talents we need. Everything you need in this parish is here already. God’s abundance is bursting from the walls of this church because God fills each of you with abundance.
Find your path and go where Jesus leads you as individuals and as a congregation.
I assure you, the Spirit will lead you if you have eyes to see and ears to hear.
And know that Jesus goes there before you get there:
“And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.”

By the way, I never found out who put the hotel television onto the Yosemite channel.
Thank you for your prayers, your support, your friendship, your patience, your hard work and the many blessings you have bestowed upon us these seven years. God bless you, now and always.
Go! And Be Bold!

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