July 12-14, 2014
Grace and peace to you, from God our Creator and from Jesus our Lord and Savior. Amen.
If I still had my big, red spiral bound calendar from 1987 to show you, I would point out for you the entry for September 1 of that year. Because on that day, there were only two words written: They were: “Start Work.”
We live in a different era, and my calendar can now be found on my phone, and on my iPad. If you looked there at my entry for Monday, July 14, 2014, there are two words written: “End Work.”
That duration, the space between “start work” and that “end work” represents 9,814 days. (I counted) For 9,814 days, I have been blessed…really, I mean blessed, to serve with and along side you in ministry here in this community. (Really, it doesn’t seem like a day over 9,500.)
For the last few weeks, this is a sermon that I’ve been thinking about a lot, and have been nervous about writing. I don’t like good byes. I’m really not all that good at them. (Maybe that’s why I stuck around so long.) And saying good bye to a community that I love is…well, it’s hard. But yet, here we are. And on Tuesday, day 9,815, I will wake up and my life will be very different.
So I’ve decided how I want to spend these few minutes with you. There are three things I’d like to do:
- I’d like to remember
- I’d like to say thank you
- I’d like to look ahead
For the last few months, as the idea of moving our family and starting anew at Trinity Lutheran Church in Owatonna has become more and more of a reality, I have been almost overcome with all of the memories.
It’s like every time I walk into a room here at church, or I climb on Zippy the Wonderbus, or I sit down at Caribou (my other office), it’s like I’m surrounded by memories of experiences and people. Bible studies, events, concerts, AWOL trips, camps, youth gatherings, doing baptisms, doing weddings, the list goes on and on.
But the most vivid memories have come when I walk into my office, because of this bulletin board. For 27 years, I’ve had this board hanging in my office. On it are photos of just a small percentage of the young people I’ve been blessed to know over the years. And I have a manila envelope with hundreds of other senior pictures and other photos as well, already packed and delivered to Owatonna.
And so in the last few weeks, I’ve occasionally found myself standing in my office in front of this bulletin board, looking at faces, and smiling…or laughing…as I remember stories of life and faith and relationships.
Each face on this board, and in all of the other photographs I’ve collected, represents a story of how God has worked in the lives of God’s people.
There was Curt, the first person I met at Lord of Life when I came here. He had the softest heart. But when it came to service, he would work his tail off. He became a massage therapist, because he just wanted to make people feel better.
- Then there is Erin and Mary. Two goofy, high-energy young people who were so committed to growing in their faith. And they loved to sing…oh my gosh, they loved to sing.
- There was Kristi: smart and focused. Now she is a stay at home Mom who loves to bring her kids to the library up in Cook.
- There is Tim, super-active in high school; He worked at our Bible camp, Luther Park where he met Tiffany, who he is now married to and they’ve got two great little boys. Tim went on to become president of the congregation.
- I’ve got Angela, who is now a solo pastor in a community just outside of Chicago, doing amazing ministry;
- Rachel, who is in med school;
- Jason, Chris, Dave and Adam, these goofballs were the original C3 band. They volunteered here for 3-4 hours every single Wednesday. Now, they’re sort of grown ups… with kids of their own…
- and there is Jared…who is being ordained as a pastor right here, in this room, on Thursday. I’m so excited and proud!
- And then there is Ashley, Brad, Shelley, Matt, Jennifer and Sarah, and so many more…
All these faces…faces that made an impact. Faces that I will dearly miss.
When I look at these faces I can’t help but remember and smile…or laugh…I have stories about all of these faces…all of these experiences we’ve shared. God is at work in the lives of these people, and in all of us. And these faces…your faces…your lives, they tell the story of God’s work, and God’s love. And today, I want to remember faces, and stories. Here…everyone…smile… <take pano photo> (This photo will be on Facebook in about a half hour…please feel free to tag yourself!)
There are also hard memories. I’ve stood by bedsides as loved ones took their last breaths. I’ve led funeral services. I’ve been called to homes as people experienced crisis. I’ve listened to stories of pain, of broken relationships, and of addiction.
I will remember all of these, of your holy faces…the experiences…and the times that you have opened doors into your lives and allowed me to enter and to experience with you what God is doing. I am honored to have been a part of these moments.
This leads me to gratitude.
I am so thankful. I’ve always said that every year at Lord of Life has been better than the previous. That is still true.
I am so thankful for all of my colleagues here. The whole ministry staff at Lord of Life is amazing, and I am so thankful to have been a part of it. And my friends on the Children, Youth and Family Ministry staff…they are the best in the business. I am so thankful to all of them for their hard work and dedication to faith formation for all of our young people and their families.
And I love working with the pastors here. They are all so gifted, and I am so thankful that I can call every one of them a friend.
And all of this happens because of Pastor Peter’s great leadership. He has been a mentor, a coach and a friend to me. I have learned much from watching him do his ministry, and much of what I do at Trinity will be modeled after him…except for the goofy stuff. I’ve decided to do something today to honor him that I’ve never in 27 years done, and I guarantee that I will never do again. <socks>
And then there are all of you. I am so thankful for your acceptance and adoption of me into this community. I was young and kind of a knucklehead when I started out…over-confident and probably under-qualified. Lord of Life was physically in another building, and we were a church of just 1,800 when I came here. But you know Maple Grove…just add water and “poof,” instant suburb. And so we have kind of grown up together. And you have encouraged me, laughed with me, and when I made mistakes, you picked me up and helped me to learn. This was the community that celebrated with me when I married Lori…and rejoiced when we later had Nathan and Samuel. Together, we have been a part of something very special. I have learned much from you that I will take with me to Owatonna too.
Mostly, I’m grateful to the God who in the waters of baptism called me by name; and who drew me here. I originally figured this was going to be a 3-4 year stop on my journey. But God wanted me to call this place home. Here, in this community, Jesus love has been real to me. I’ve had the greatest job in the world. I’ve gotten to stand in front of people I love, and tell them good news. It doesn’t get any better than that. Thanks be to God!
Now at this point of the sermon, I begin to feel nervous…I worry that it is starting to all sound like a Memorial service, looking backward.
It isn’t. God calls us to look forward.
Our God is a God of perpetual motion. Nothing stands still for God. God continues to create…continues to redeem…continues to work within the lives of God’s people.
And while it’s good to remember these 9,814 days, and to celebrate what God has done. Today, what I’m really interested in is day 9,815; and day 9,816, and so on…and so on…
I believe that God has dreams and visions for each of our lives. I believe that a crucial part of our Christian faith is to open ourselves up to what those dreams and visions might be, and to let God work within us. To paraphrase Fredrich Buechner, God calls each of us to a place where our passion, our gifts, and the needs of the world intersect. As people of faith, our task is to look for this sweet spot. That is vocation. That is our call.
Jesus had a vision for the disciple, Peter. Peter sat in the boat, and saw his master walking out on the water. I can imagine that Peter saw Jesus first. “Look!” He said to the others. “Look at that!” And in his mind he’s thinking “I wanna do that!”
So Jesus said “Come.” And Peter stepped out of the boat. His foot touched the water, and he walked.
Today, this story feels a little like my story. I believe God has a new vision for my family and me. I believe that Jesus has said to us “come.”
This is also our story. Jesus calls all of us into motion. It would often be safest and easiest to remain in the boat. And there are times when being in the boat is exactly where we are called to be. But there are also times when God calls us out of the safe, and into the challenging…out of the comfortable, and in to the new.
It can be a hard. Remember that Peter, when he took his eyes off of Jesus and turned his attention to the wind and waves of the storm, began to sink. Likewise, we will take our eyes off of what Jesus calls us to do. But just like he did with Peter, Jesus will reach out to us, and will lift us up. This is the promise God makes.
This story is a story we all share. God loves you so much that he calls you to become something different than you are. Our faith empowers us to wonder where God is calling us next? What boat is Jesus asking us to step out of? For some of us, it may be a vocational change. For others, it may be moving away from an unhealthy relationship. It might be changing to a healthier lifestyle, or confronting an addiction, or asking someone you hurt long ago for forgiveness.
Jesus calls us to new life. And sometimes He calls us to new challenges. Be open to that call. Listen and look for Jesus…listen for him to say “come.”
9,814 days. It’s been a good run. In that time, I have seen God at work. I will remember Lord of Life and its people. You all have an important place within my heart. Know that I will miss you, and I will keep you in my prayers.
Know that my heart is full of gratitude; to all of you, and to God who called me here to begin with.
Remember that our lives tell the story of God’s work, and God’s love. And for all of us, I am really looking forward to seeing what God will do next. As hard as it will be to leave here on Monday night, I trust in God. And I know that Day number 9,815, and every day after that, brings new life in Christ, and begins a new adventure for all of us. Let us be open to the possibilities, and keep listening for the voice of Jesus, asking us to “come.”
God bless you all!