Sermon Text: Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen
I've been preaching to you for 25 years. That's a pretty long time.
Some of you have appreciated what I've had to say. So I want to tell you a secret. It comes from the best book on preaching I've ever read. I read this book long before I was ordained. The words are by a Presbyterian minister and writer named Frederick Buechner. This is his advice to all preachers:
Preach as you would speak to someone you love; not spectral, jargon language or public utterances.
Preach as you would speak to someone you love. For our 25 years together, that's what I've done. I may not always have been a successful preacher. But I do know this: I have been preaching to people I love. I want you to know this, and I want you to remember this: as your priest, I have loved you.
There have been baptisms and weddings and funerals. There have been Sunday services each week. There have been days in hospitals and nursing homes. There have been home visits and youth group gatherings and vestry meetings and committee meetings. There have been work sessions, play times, and lots of food. In all of these, you have enriched my life. You have made a difference for me. You have helped me see God more clearly.
St. Mark's is a really wonderful parish. And even though things are uncertain right now, this parish will move forward as God is faithful.
You have a great leadership team. Your wardens, Eric and Laura, have my deepest respect. You have a strong and faithful vestry. You have a talented, wise treasurer in Sue Surgent. You have Andy and Dorothy Pierce, one who does so much to keep this church connected online, and one who is the kindest and most faithful deacon you can imagine. You have Kathy Lasicki, the one I call "Sarge," in the office, and I have confidence that she will keep things operating smoothly and in a spirit of kindness and fun. You have a strong congregation. You will be okay.
Now, because I have loved you and you have loved me, there is pain at this change in our relationship. There are times when it hurts to love, because we can feel a loss. My friend Andy made me aware of an image of Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet, favorite characters around our house. The words that go with the image speak to me right now:
How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.
I would not trade this pain away. I would not avoid this sadness. Why? Because it means something. It means that there really is love between us. It means that we do care for one another. It means that our time together has been important.
Now, I have signed a covenant about you. A covenant is an agreement. And this covenant is required in our Episcopal diocese. When a priest leaves a parish, there must be a promise. That priest is to stay out of the life of the parish. This is not because I don't care, or I don't love you, or I am angry about something. It is because I want the next priest to succeed. For that to happen, I must stay out of the way of that priest.
If I were to try to keep being your pastor by doing weddings or funerals or baptisms or hospital visits, I would be undermining the work of your new priest. And even before your new priest arrives, I have to stay away to allow you to move on -- I hope you'll grieve a little, but I hope you'll mostly be thankful and move to the next chapter.
Like the broken bread of the Eucharist, we are being broken apart. But our faith says that after the breaking comes resurrection. The sorrow of this brokenness will lead to new life. That's what the Easter story says.
Now, the New Testament has always been the main focus of my life of study as a pastor and priest. And I have always been interested in the images of resurrection in the New Testament. Jesus did not use the images we see in popular culture...Jesus did not talk about clouds and wings and harps. When Jesus pictured eternal life with God, he used images like dinner parties, wedding receptions, and homecomings.
These very human and tangible images tell us that nothing will be lost. All of our joys will come home with us. Whatever is best about our time together is now, and always will be! It is part of our eternal life in God -- beyond time itself. None of our joys will be lost. Every one of them will be gathered up and woven into the fabric of that experience of eternal life Jesus talked about.
Still, I have to admit it. Goodbyes are not easy. This one is very hard. I have loved being your priest.
But once more I want to remind you of the history of that word "Goodbye." In old English long ago, at the time of farewell, people said, "God be with ye." Over time, the phrase shrank down to the word "Goodbye,"or even just "Bye!"
Today, I want to say it with its full, original meaning.
My friends, God be with you. God IS with you as much as in the past 25 years, and God will be with you in the future. You will always be in my heart.
And you will be in my love.
Life is short, and we don't have too much time to gladden the hearts of those with whom we journey along the way. So let us always be swift to love and make haste to be kind. And the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be upon you, and everyone you love, and the whole earth, today and always. Amen.