Sermon – October 27, 2019 – Reformation and Farewell & Godspeed Pastor Bob

Reformation Sunday and Farewell

“ . . . for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more . . . “For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. . . . If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

These Reformation texts, this theology of grace, is why I got into this business some decades ago.

Proclamation of freedom, inclusion, forgiveness, a second chance. Of a God who does not look away.  Who emptied himself for the sake of his people.   This is not just for the kid who ends up in juvy hall, or the guy who got a DUI. This is soul stuff. Liberty stuff that reveals a God of patience, love and grace and a bewildering justice. And no one is left out.

This is what saves us from consuming ourselves with our own pain or shame and sets us on the path that leads us to a place where we can set our feet and turn toward one another with integrity and new life and step forward in hope and rest in peace.

Free to be unbound from the limited vision and transparent motives of our would-be handlers.

Free to become something we never imagined – fully human, full of hope and able to rejoice that, because of the cross, our failure or sin does not have the last word in our life or in God’s eyes. That the past can be the past.

This is not available off the shelf. You can’t get this from a vending machine.  It is an outrageous, divine gift extended relentlessly to the hungry, hurting and the uncertain pilgrims. Like it or not, God does not give up on us or turn away. This is what I signed up for and what I tried in my own halting, sometimes irreverent, sometimes clumsy way to bring to the table as your partner and pastor. It’s a gift that I rest in this morning and for all the days we were together and all the days to come…… And it is exactly what you gave to me. Your wisdom, your conviction, your grace, your strength, your love, your abiding patience, all channeled through a community of faith that refuses to concede the center of Jesus Christ to anything else – not ideology, not politics, not fear, not comfort.

So I am grateful. Grateful. Specifically for your vision that sees the church is best articulated outside these walls, even as you care and commit deeply to the community and to your relationship with each other as disciples, a community that is celebrated as a place welcome to all.

Grateful to serve a community with the courage to try, experiment, fail, and move on in hope and unity.

I’m grateful for this church that refused to make any mistake or disagreement personal. When we differed he told me to my face, a great gift of trust and respect. Just as readily, you brought to my face your encouragement and your love.

Grateful that you wrapped your arms around me and my family, helped me find my voice, helped me raise my daughter, honored and embraced my wife and not just as clergy spouse but as leader and community asset.

Grateful that you welcomed my old mother as one of the family and treated her with grace and respect and fondness and then held me in your love and prayers as we released her into the arms of Jesus.

Grateful that you took my leadership seriously. Grateful that we practiced ministry not from the top down where you didn’t have a voice, or from the bottom-up where I didn’t have a voice, but shared in a mutual journey.

Grateful that you trusted me with your secrets and your fear and your struggles.

And grateful that you shared your joy and your hopes and your yearning.

Grateful that you trusted me with your children, to lead and encourage, and teach . . . . and learn.

Grateful that you welcomed me into the life of this congregation, into your family and into your friendship.

Grateful to the Spirit of God that brought us together.

Grateful that you laughed at my jokes, usually.

We are saved by grace through faith, not on account of our works, but as a gift from God. I am grateful to be a part of a global community that has made that proclamation central to all that we have to say, and grateful to you for letting me share that conviction and learn what it means.  It is the core of our identity, the narrative of our praise and thanksgiving, and the articulation of our common mission. And it will keep us safe as it secures our present and assures our future.

This was a match from day one – day one. I remember at our first interview, when Ann and I walked out into the parking lot after our conversation, we turned to each other and said “Wow!  This is our church…… But I have to say I am a little nervous about that Rudy Ebeling guy, I said.

It is a deep and abiding privilege that you have let me serve as your pastor. I can imagine no other circumstance, no other community where I would have felt more called, more fulfilled and more passionate than here at St. Matthew.

In all the ways that this was awesome that we worked together, that we imagined and achieved and grew and have become, it is because of who you are. You are a community unlike any other I have been a part – wise and kind, faithful and daring, patient, loving and deeply committed to the gospel.

Let me be clear as I go that I love each one of you. I have no axes to grind, hurts to nurture or grudges to bear.  If I have hurt you or offended you, if I missed a call or a cue or an opportunity to serve you or hear you or see you—and I know there were times when that is true–please accept my apology.

So, I thank you for the gift and the privilege and the honor serve you and to go out into this community and say, “I am the Pastor of St. Matthew Lutheran Church”. And I am grateful that even as painful as it is, that we leave in this spirit.

And, now change is here. In a moment you will release me to my next adventure. And I will go equipped with your prayers and holding you in my prayers for your continued unity, vision, passion for your neighbors and love of Christ.

So, it is these are the things that await the next blessed leader that the Spirit will bring to this place–unity, vision, passion, community, courage and faith–and you will confirm these things in your continued mission clarity, in the commitments that you will make to steward the next chapter of St. Matthew, joyfully staking your claim to the mission that continues and is to come. You will confirm these in your continued unity and mutual support and love. It will be confirmed in your faithfulness to the God who, through Christ, has promised to never leave us or forsake us.  And Christ will confirm these in this community, as he always has, with his love, and grace and mercy.  And all will be well.

So, thank you, God bless you, I love you.

Amen