I shared these thoughts with the Calvary congregation in worship yesterday, the ten year anniversary of our work together as pastor and congregation. You can read about some of the things I’ve learned these ten years here.
The purpose of the Invitation to Give and Serve in the worship service is to help us remember why we invest in a community of faith like Calvary, to explore the many ways our church is building and nurturing spiritual community, joining us together to heal our world in real and tangible ways.
Of course we do both of those things because we are followers of Jesus the Christ, who calls us to radical lives and faithful generosity. So give. Give generously.
Today I want to use the Invitation to Give and Serve to talk about your pastors, because one of the many investments you make in this community of faith is the care you give us.
And you do it very, very well.
As you know, Pastor Leah is on family leave for the next ten weeks or so because she’s just become a mom to baby Lydia. Pastor Edgar is on sabbatical for the next ten weeks because he has served us for 15 years and he needs time to recharge and to write his memoirs. I will leave shortly after worship today for a few days of pastoral retreat where I will plan worship and preaching for 2014 and spend many hours in conversation with five other pastoral colleagues.
You are not required to offer any of these opportunities to us; you do because you care about us and you want to provide a healthy, supportive environment so we can do good work. Thank you for investing in us and for giving so faithfully and generously.
Today you may have noticed that the sermon was a little shorter than usual.
I did that on purpose because, well, really how much can you say about a story like that?
But I also wanted to leave a little more time for the Invitation to Give and Serve today so I could use it for a little pastoral heart to heart. Since we’re talking this morning about investing in your pastors, I wanted to share a few personal reflections on what (I realized earlier this week) is the exact ten year anniversary of the day you hired me. We’ll celebrate officially in September when everybody gets back, but today I figured that actual anniversary might win me a few minutes to talk. So, here are some thoughts.
In ten years we have been through a lot together. A LOT. Deacon chair when I arrived in 2003 and beloved long time member of this church, Howard Sorrell (whom I know most of you didn’t know) called me “the New Orleans Flash”—which sounds a lot like something you do during Mardi Gras, but was I think a reference to where I came from and what he perceived to be my push for change, constantly and quickly.
Although this will probably shock all of you, in point of fact I probably was a bit pushy. And young, and naive, and idealistic. I made a lot of mistakes. In fact, all of those are still true except the young part.
And whether it was because I was pushy, you were ready, or circumstances demanded it, we have been through a lot of change around here. We lived through a huge construction project; we’ve said goodbye to many, many faithful, long-time members as they’ve died; we’ve seen amazing people come to be with us and then leave to go on to other places in this city of transition; there have been traumatic events in our world and our city; there has even been intense conflict between us.
We have helped change laws and have taken prophetic steps within our denomination. We have created beautiful art and music and worship together. We have helped to heal injustices. We have cried together and laughed (a lot) together. We’ve seen each other through many changes. We have been a family.
And so today, on our official tenth anniversary, I want to tell you some of the things I most admire about all of you:
- You are not afraid to be courageous in taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ seriously. You know Jesus has changed and is in the process of transforming your individual lives, and you work hard at being part of a community that reflects that ongoing work of God.
- You welcome everyone who wants to follow Jesus here, even people with serious questions and profound doubts.
- You make room at the table of Christ for people who are so radically different from each other. You are often willing to suspend your discomfort and walk for a little while into places that are new and unfamiliar, intentionally living with the knowledge that Christian faith is not uniformity, and that we are richer for our differences.
- You live in relationship with each other in very healthy ways. You value honesty and you handle conflict well.
- You are not bound by the traditional ways we’ve always done church. You regularly try new things in worship, work hard to integrate the gifts of individuals, and open yourselves to things that are new.
- You give yourselves so generously to the work of God in this place. You take me seriously when I tell you that you should be here, be engaged, give your money, and share your time and talents with this community.
- You understand the legacy of this congregation and you work to live it out in your own unique ways.
- You’re not scared to say hard, prophetic, unpopular things, to take stands on issues confronting our society and world, not because of the issues themselves but because of the calling of Jesus on your lives and on the life of this congregation.
- You seem to understand and really, deeply know the theological underpinning that informs who we are: this is God’s work. Calvary is God’s church.
- In short, you are amazing.
So for all the many opportunities to live a radical gospel in this place, thank you. And for the love and grace you have shown me in these ten years, my heart is filled with gratitude today.