Sunday, July 25, 2021

Farewell Service, Central United Church

 Ephesians 3

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Everything I know about saying goodbye I learned from the movies.

My first instinct was to recreate the end of the Salzburg Folk Festival, where Max says “the highest musical honour in the Ostmark goes to the family Von Trapp” (applause, spotlight in an empty entrance). The family Von Trapp…” Then someone shouts “They’re gone!”

The other option, of course, was to rewind the tape and sing to you:

Regretfully they tell us/But firmly they compel us/To say goodbye to you./So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, good night.

But I’m not going to sing, so that won’t work. This, then led to my perfect fantasy ending where a twister carries me off to some magical kingdom (maybe THE magical kingdom) and then I wake up only to discover that you’re all still with me—only now you’re transformed into various farm hands and my Auntie Em.

Sadly, I expect it will be more like the end of Casablanca, where you insist we get on the plane, remind us that we’ll always have Paris, and say something like “Here’s looking at you, kid.” That might work.

Better yet, we might want to look to our dear friend St. Paul for some direction on saying goodbye. It was my late mentor, the Rev. Doug Paterson, who once said “do you really think your preaching can improve on the words found in scripture?” He was talking about funeral homilies, but the point stands, because everything we need for learning, guidance, and inspiration is found in the pages of the Bible. Case in point:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4)

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4)

Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. (2 Corinthians 13)

But wait until the pandemic is over. I think you can see that Paul is giving us the perfect balance of encouraging the faithful, praising their goodness, and highlighting what truly matters. Now I’m no St. Paul, but I hope that in our time together I have spent enough time encouraging you to be faithful, praising your goodness, and highlighting what truly matters—the love and forgiveness found in our Lord Jesus Christ.

But this sermon is not about me. This sermon—and hopefully every sermon—is about what God can do through us, the grace and peace that we discover through Christ and share with others. It is about lives transformed and communities renewed, it is about the power of work and prayer, and it is about remaining open to where the Spirit leads. Paul captured this too, in our reading for today:

Now to God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Glory in the church belongs to God alone, and we, as God’s servants, get to share in that glory, to dwell in that reflected light, to participate in the next thing God will do in this place. As one chapter closes and another begins, we trust in God’s power to work within you and continue to write the remarkable story of this church.

In a few moments I will stumble over more words, try to express more gratitude, and finally say “auf wiedersehen, good night.” Whatever I say, and however haltingly I say it, the meaning is this: to serve here has been a great gift, a profound honour, and a blessing from God. Amen.


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