Saturday, June 13, 2015

Saying Farewell

The following was my final column in the Christ Church Chronicle, June-August, 2015

“And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”  Acts 20:32.

As I prepare to leave this congregation and community, I have been thinking a great deal about the Bible’s many farewells.  Some, like Jacob’s farewell to his wily uncle Laban were testy moments, with tension just below the surface.  Others, like Moses’ valedictory sermon (the whole Book of Deuteronomy), Jacob’s parting blessings for his sons, and Christ’s glorious ascension were uplifting and consoling times, full of healing and guidance for the future.

Saint Paul’s farewell to the Church at Ephesus, which is recounted at length in Acts chapter 20 is probably my favorite Biblical farewell.   Saint Paul was the first to bring the Gospel of Christ to Ephesus, and he had raised up a congregation of believers there and trained new leaders to oversee the church’s work.  But Saint Paul was a missionary, and in time he was called on by the Spirit to serve in a new place, among unfamiliar people.  The Ephesian elders accompanied him to his boat, St. Luke remembered, with prayers and tears.  And there on the beach, he offered a final sermon.

Saint Paul used this poignant time to speak of what God had allowed him to do among them.  He reviewed the great moments that they had shared, and warned them of possible dangers that lay ahead for him and for them.  But above all, he pointed them back to Christ, and to the message about Christ that had brought them together, and that would sustain their faith through all the changes to come.  The word of God’s grace, he assured them, would build them up and give them the precious inheritance of eternal life.  Christ was their true leader, not Paul, and they should put their full trust in Him.

Saint Paul’s gifts and accomplishments are unique, and any comparison between him and an ordinary parish priest like me is foolish.  But I have tried to take him as my model in my ministry as your rector.  Like Saint Paul, I have always tried to discern the Spirit’s call, understanding that I may be called on to new work in a different place.  I have tried to render faithful service in my ministry, though I have failed many of you in different ways.  I cannot claim the innocence that Saint Paul asserted in his words to the Ephesians. 

But like him, I have always tried to point to Christ, and to share His Gospel with you faithfully, even when it is challenging to hear.  If you trust Him, Christ will hold you together in the truth and in love of God and one another. 

I expect that when my ministry ends here in a few weeks, we will shed a few tears, as they did on the beach at Ephesus so long ago.  I have come to love you dearly, and we have shared many wonderful times together.  Though we will live and serve God in different places, we remain together in Christ’s one Body, the Church.  We go forth with the same message, and we are sustained by the same Spirit.  We must say farewell for now, but God will keep us in His grace.

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