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April 30, 2006 (Easter III/Pastor Barber’s Last Sunday)—“Detaching With Love”
Pastor David Barber
Sisters and brothers, grace be unto you and peace from God our loving Creator and from our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
I want to assure you that I’m well prepared for this last Sunday. I come equipped with a very practical and original stole for a Sunday like this. As you can see, I’ve lined my stole with handkerchiefs just in case I might need several on this “Aloha Sunday.”
I have so much to say to you this morning so we might be here for a while. (Webmaster’s Note: Here Pastor Barber held up a bound set of papers about three inches thick.) But fortunately for you, I’ve edited and summarized all of this to just a few pages.
During my time here one member in particular has kept me supplied with appropriate and very poignant sermon material. Last fall when I got into a little bit of trouble by publishing a document called “The Papal Bull” which included a very dignified picture of the pope on the front cover, this person wanted me to venture into even hotter water.
He suggested that I use a picture that he provided. This was a picture of the pope consecrating the elements at a papal mass—nothing wrong with that. However, the elements were a chalice of beer in the one hand and a pretzel in the other.
This unnamed physician, who is also a colonel in the U.S. Army, also provided me with a fitting story for today about a pastor in a feud with the Choir Director at the Hickersville Church.
It started one day when the preacher preached a sermon about dedicating yourselves to service and the Choir Director chose to sing, “I shall not be moved” following the sermon.
The pastor wondered about the director’s selection but then thought he was just being overly sensitive. So the next Sunday he preached on giving, and the choir squirmed as the director led them in the hymn “Jesus Paid It All.”
By this time the pastor was losing his temper. Sunday morning attendance swelled as the tension mounted between the two of them. The next Sunday a large crowd was there to hear the pastor speak about “The Sins of Gossiping.” Would you believe that the Director selected, “I Love To Tell The Story?”
At this point there was no turning back. The following Sunday the Pastor told the congregation that if something didn’t change he was resigning. The entire church gasped when the Choir Director led them in the song, “Why Not Tonight?”
No one was surprised when the pastor resigned a week later, explaining that Jesus had led him to this church and now Jesus was calling him to another place.
And the hymn selection was—chosen by the Choir Director no less—“What A Friend We Have In Jesus.”
I believe as well that the Holy Spirit called me here, and through a process of discernment, I also believe that this is the right time to leave. But I’m thankful that we’re parting under different circumstances than the ones that were present at the Hickersville Church.
I like to think about it as “detaching with love.” Indeed, in our Scripture readings for the Easter Season, Jesus is preparing the disciples for his departure, and he models for us what it means to “detach with love.”
Just before our Gospel for this morning, Jesus walked unrecognized with two of his followers on the road to Emmaus. They stopped to eat, and after they recognized him in the breaking of the bread, he vanished from their sight.
Now Jesus reappears where the disciples were gathered in a room in Jerusalem. When they saw him, says Luke, “They were startled and terrified, and thought they were seeing a ghost.”
Jesus strives to comfort them and to reassure them by showing them his hands and his feet. He even invites them to touch him and to see that he’s not a ghost. To convince them even more, he takes a piece of broiled fish and eats it in their presence.
Because Jesus hadn’t gone to the cosmetic surgeon as yet, this was the same Jesus who was crucified, with nail holes in his hands and his feet. He teaches them and opens their minds once again to understand what has happened. Then he says, “You are witnesses of these things.”
These had to be tough days for the disciples. Their whole world had been turned upside down. They had heard Jesus say such things when he was alive, but there was no way that they could truly get their minds around what he was telling them.
And death—as sorrowful as it might be, at least they could understand it. They lived in a world of death. They were very familiar with death, and being familiar, even though it is sometimes filled with pain and suffering, at least we understand it, and it’s more comfortable.
But this—it challenged all that they perceived about life. No wonder they were afraid and terrified!
In talking about the fictional people in his hometown of Lake Wobegon, Garrison Keillor says, “My people aren’t paradise people. We’ve lived in Minnesota all of our lives and it took a lot out of us. My people aren’t sure if we’ll even like paradise: not sure that perfection is all that it’s cracked up to be.
My people will arrive in heaven and stand just inside the gate, shuffling around. ‘It’s a lot bigger than I thought it was going to be,’ we’ll think. We’ll say, ‘No, thank you, we can’t stay for eternity, we’ll just sit and have a few minutes of bliss with you and then we have to get back.’”
What we know is often more comfortable, isn’t it? A paradigm shift like this one boggles our mind and it shatters the very foundations on which we walk and live.
This day is certainly not as earth shattering as the death and resurrection of Jesus. And yet I think it gives us some clues on how to “ detach and depart with aloha and love.”
I don’t have any wounds to show you this morning—unless it’s the wound in my heart—but perhaps I can share with you some words of encouragement.
First of all, be good to each other. In keeping with your mission statement, “Welcoming to all,” welcome one another as Jesus welcomes every single one of you—with grace, with kindness, and with the dignity that belongs to each person as a beloved child of God.
That’s true not only for the stranger who enters into this community of faith, but also for the way you relate to your brothers and sisters who are already a part of this congregation.
About 10 days ago I had lunch with a Presbyterian pastor whom I knew from my early days in Colorado, and then we became reconnected here in Hawaii.
He asked me if there were any people acting out in the congregation. I responded by telling him, “not any more than usual for this congregation.”
The theory is that when a pastor leaves or whenever there is dramatic change in the life of a faith community, an environment of high anxiety and tension maybe created—thus causing folks to react in less than Christ-like ways.
Why does the Gospel of John, for instance, devote five chapters to Jesus’ teaching and praying for his disciples? Why does he wash the disciples’ feet and tell them to do the same to each other and to “love one another just as I have loved you?”
One of the reasons might be that in the vacuum created by his leaving some unhealthy and unfaithful behaviors might emerge to fill the void.
You are a community of love and faithfulness. You are a community that witnesses to the hope that is within you. You are a community that lives creatively in light of the Easter story.
You are a sign of the resurrected Christ not only in what you do together, but also in who you are and how you live together in this congregation. Therefore, be good to each other in this time of transition.
Secondly, trust in the goodness and grace of God for your lives. Just as Jesus left the disciples with a very precious gift—the gift of the Holy Spirit—so you are not helpless and alone. The Holy Spirit is with you, empowering you and enriching you for the ministry that has been given to you in this place.
When I was packing up my office—deciding what to keep and what to throw away—I came across the response that I spoke to my home congregation on the day of my ordination.
One of the refreshing things is that the words I spoke on that occasion are consistent with the thoughts and feelings I have on this day—thoughts and feelings that I’ve spoken and tried to model in my years of ministry.
I asked, more for myself perhaps, than anyone else, “Why should we be anxious? Why should we fear? If our God is a God of the past and present, he [God] is also a God of the future. Since this is true, we can accept what God has commended to us with confidence and hope even without knowing what may lay ahead of us.
Our true security does not come from hanging unto the past and our memories of the past but to accept that place where God calls us to be.
Only in accepting this call, whether it be the ordained ministry, or to any other capacity in God’s kingdom, will we find our true security. We will also find that in this kind of security we are not as helpless and inadequate as we think we are.
As children of God, we know that as God acted in the past through the lives of people, God will continue to do so in the future. We can therefore face the future with certainty, with boldness, and with confidence, which includes anything that the future has in store for us.”
Empowered with this assurance, it is surely fitting on this “Day of Aloha” to close with this ancient statement of faith: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end.”
Copyright © 2006 David Barber
Comments welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org