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Wednesday, July 26 2017
Vicar David Sivecz
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Another parable. Another story about sowing seeds. Another explanation from Jesus. Last week we heard Pastor Randy tell us about the sower who went out to sow seeds. Without any care in the world, the sower threw seeds everywhere. It didn’t matter where they landed.
Some fell on the path where the birds could come along and eat them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground where they sprang up quickly only to be scorched by the sun. Other seeds fell among thorns where they were choked. Lastly, some fell on the good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
The sower had an abundance of seed. It didn’t matter where or how that seed was scattered. There was plenty to go around. So, just as God has sown an abundance of grace-filled seeds in our lives we too should go and sow grace-filled seeds in the lives of others. We don’t know who, what, when, or where those seeds will sprout. That doesn’t matter to us. What matters is that we be seed sowers.
At the very end, Jesus said, “Let anyone with ears listen.” It’s as though Jesus was being the new Sprint or old Verizon guy. Instead of asking, “Can you hear me now,” he’s saying, “Did you hear what I said?” He’s saying, “If you didn’t listen carefully you might have missed something. I hope you listened because what I told you was important.”
Today Jesus asked the same question at the end of our Gospel lesson. “Let anyone with ears listen,” or “Did you hear what I said?” It’s so easy to overlook what was said in these parables, especially when we don’t listen.
Throughout my seminary training, listening was one of the most useful skills I was taught. This might sound ridiculous. You might figure it was biblical studies, church history, or worship. But listening has been by far the most useful skill I’ve picked up along the way.
Listening to what the Scriptures say, listening to others, and listening to the world. That’s the part of communication that many of us need to work on. This isn’t meant for just the people who we are sitting next to us, but rather it’s meant for all of us. It’s meant for us who do most of the talking. That’s what many counselors teach their patients, especially when they are having relationship problems, is to listen.
There is so much we miss out on when we talk and don’t listen. Whether its instructions, certain details, or the main point of what someone said. In the case of our parable, if we didn’t listen we might miss out on something even more important. What we might have missed out on was what wasn’t directly said.
This completely changes what we heard Jesus say this morning (evening). If we didn’t listen carefully this parable could cause some anxiety and fear. Jesus talked about a sower who went out and sowed good seed. Then, in the middle of the night, someone came and planted weeds. When the slaves of the householder came and said there were weeds planted among the crop, they wanted to know how this happened.
He answered that an enemy had done this. If we weren’t listening, we might perceive this parable as a clear indication that we should decide what’s good or evil, moral or immoral, right or wrong. This is what we are accustomed to in our world.
We live in a society that does everything in its power to bring separation. Think about how often we separate ourselves in groups. Whether it’s democrat or republican, conservative or liberal, rich or poor, Christian or atheist, it’s one of the first things we do when we encounter someone new or different. It’s natural for us to notice the differences between ourselves and others.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s a good thing that all of us don’t think alike, act alike, and believe alike. We aren’t all the same because of our experiences. Sometimes acknowledging our differences can help us understand who we are as people. Sometimes acknowledging our differences and learning from others can help us get a greater sense of the world around us. We can only see as far as our eyes can take us.
However, too often we don’t look at our differences as something that can be useful and constructive. Instead, we use our differences to pass judgment, to determine who’s in and who’s out, or what’s good or what’s bad. But what’s the standard we use to make these determinations? Is it based on some form of ignorance? Is it something we saw in the news, or something that’s been indoctrinated in us, or through one bad experience?
When we start going down the road of making our purpose about selecting what, who, or where is good and evil we may very well discover that others will make similar conclusions about us. Every time we create a line on who’s in and who’s out we will be surprised to discover that Christ is on the other side.
So, we don’t know. We don’t know who, when, where, or what will sprout wheat. We might be so quick to make determinations that we might mix up the weeds and wheat. That’s why the householder didn’t want his slaves to uproot the weeds immediately.
It’s really difficult to tell the difference between weeds and wheat. I noticed this a few weeks ago. If you’ve driven around the outskirts of Clarence, or into Akron, you might have noticed how some of the farmers have been mowing their fields. This is the first time of the year where they were able to remove their first sets of crops. Some of them planted corn, others hay, and a few wheat.
As I was driving down County Road, I’ve noticed who planted what crops. Yet earlier this summer and into the spring everything looked relatively the same. It was really difficult to tell who planted what crop when I was going fifty miles per hour. At this point during the season everything looked the same, to my untrained eyes. However, I’m sure some of the farmers here could easily tell the difference.
Even when it came to hay, wheat, and weeds, on the side of road, they all looked the same to me. They had the same height, same color, and same density. But as I said, it’s only been later in the season when I could tell the difference. I could see the golden yellow of the wheat and the emerald green of the hay. I could also see many different types of weeds. For my untrained eyes it took some time to tell the differences.
For as much as we want to immediately determine the wheat from the weeds, it’s difficult to give it time. That’s the difficult part about our faith. There’s so much ambiguity around that we long to make those determinations immediately. Yet it’s not up to us; it’s up to God to decide. Furthermore, it can be difficult to have patience that God will act.
This is what we might not have heard in our parable. What we might not have heard is the need for patience. That we should have patience with others who don’t look like us, act like us, or believe like us. That we should have patience in those situations where we want to take immediate action.
This is something all of us are in need of today. We are so anxious to make determinations about what’s right and wrong, who’s worth our time and who isn’t, as well as when we will see fruits, we forget about the bigger picture.
Having patience in the midst of seeing the bigger picture was what happened to Adrian. It began one evening during a bible study at a church in Adrian’s community. This study was being led by Pastor Mary. In the middle of their discussion Pastor Mary randomly asked the people sitting there a question. She asked them, “What would happen if we adopted a policy of weed-pulling?” Everyone just sat there in silence staring at her as though she was from another planet. She said listen, “What if we drew a circle around our little town and made a vow that no evil would cross that line, or weeds would grow within that border?”
As they all pondered what she said they looked at one another and nodded in agreement. “So, here’s what we will do,” “ We are going to spend the rest of our lives protecting that boundary.” “We will stand shoulder to shoulder with pitchforks and clubs, making sure nothing gets in.” One of the parishioners chimed in, “Yeah, we will keep out drugs, alcohol, outsiders from those other neighborhoods, and people who don’t have jobs.”
“That sounds like a plan.” “It will take all of our energy and most of our time, but I think it’s possible.” Then Pastor Mary asked, “What if we did it? What if we succeeded? What would we have?” Another person said, “We would have a town without evil” “But is that the same as a town enveloped by the presence of good,” Pastor Mary asked?
After that meeting, they began to look at their church, community, and their lives a little differently. Before, many of them wanted to root out all the sources of evil in that place. They wanted to chase down the drug dealers and the deadbeat dads. They wanted to confiscate handguns and arrest child abusers. Instead of just preventing bad things, they started doing some good. They got outside of their building and comfort zone. They began a ministry for the children at the nearby trailer park.
They put up a basketball hoop, they told stories from the Bible, they put their arms around little children, and sang songs about Jesus. And two years after they started that ministry, two years of going out there Saturday after Saturday to do those things, the pastor got a note in her mail box at church. There were five words on it: "Adrian wants to be baptized.”
Adrian, who was the terror of the trailer park. Adrian, who was the little girl who had made their work the most difficult during the previous two years. Adrian, the one who really tested their resistance to weed pulling wanted to be baptized. Who would have guessed? Instead of pulling weeds in the field of where she lived, they just tried hard to be wheat themselves. Somehow, Adrian eventually saw that and fell in love with it and wanted it for herself. After she was baptized, there was a little more wheat in the field.
Years later when Adrian was in her late twenties, she never forgot this story. It’s the story she carried with her throughout her life. It was the story that she asked Pastor Mary to share during her ordination. This terrorizing little child, who could’ve been uprooted and cast out, remembered what Pastor Mary and that church did for her and she wanted to do that for others.
Maybe this was what Jesus meant all along. Just as we don’t know who, what, when, or where those seeds will sprout, perhaps we don’t know who, what, when, or where we will find wheat among the weeds in our lives. This is the reality that bad things, sin, or evil does exist in our world. But that’s not for us to decide; that’s up to God. Knowing that God is the One who decides, we focus on taking care of where we live.
In reality we might be surprised to discover that all of us are both wheat and weeds. Who has shown us patience when they could’ve given up? When have others continued to love us when our weed-side came out? Furthermore, who do we see on a daily basis that needs a little wheat of love? We should listen and have patience as we participate in God giving grace and mercy. We should listen and have patience with others, as God is in the midst of forming them into wheat and ridding the weeds in their lives.
This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in our day to day lives. This is how and why coming to worship on the weekend makes an impact through the rest of our week. It’s not to live in fear of being thrown into a furnace of fire. It’s listening, having patience, and participating with God in bringing the kingdom of heaven here on earth. It’s a kingdom where there won’t be any pain, suffering, or injustice.
It’s a kingdom, where God, the same God who judges, brings grace, mercy, and acceptance. That’s the kingdom of heaven we find through Christ’s death and resurrection. That’s the vision God desires for us to live. A vision where we are not the ones who judge, but rather love and care for all.
Monday, July 17 2017
Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23
“A mother took her ten-year-old boy to a doctor to get his ears examined, because it seemed to her he had difficulty in hearing. When, after a lengthy examination, no physical cause was found, the doctor put his hand on the boy's shoulder, looked him in the eye, and asked, ‘Son, do you have any trouble hearing?’ The little fellow quickly answered, ‘I don't have trouble hearing, Doctor. I just have trouble listening.’”
Man I can really relate to that little boy. Anyone who has ever been a kid – or anyone who has ever been the parent of one – knows firsthand the difference between hearing and listening. Sometimes my beloved wife Nancy tells me I don’t always listen. It’s not that I don’t hear what she is saying – but she’s right. I don’t always listen. I think that’s a common thing among us men. And ladies – sometimes it’s true for you too.
So it should come as no surprise that when Jesus starts his parable today the first thing he says to the crowd is one word. “Listen!” It’s like he had to get their attention first. So today – I hope you’ll not only hear, but you’ll listen to this message. SO listen!
And please understand that the parables of Jesus are not meant to mean whatever we think they ought to mean. No. Jesus tells these stories so that we can be transformed. Jesus is into transformation – in other words – the transformation of our hearts and our lives into all that God wants us to be. So Jesus tells stories – he tells parables – not only so that we can ask questions about them, but far, far more importantly – so that the parables can ask questions of us.
Now, many of us are familiar with this parable, The Parable of The Sower. But this parable is not just a parable about the sower. It’s also about the seed and the soil. Quite frankly, it’s about us. The sower is Jesus. The seed is the Word of God. And you and I are the soil. By the way – even though soil and dirt are the same thing, aren’t you glad I didn’t say, “You guys are dirt.” No – we’re soil. It sounds so much better. And what really sounds better is when you and I can be described as being “good soil.”
So in this parable we learn that people can be of four different kinds of soil. Hard soil – where nothing gets in. Rocky soil and soil full of thorns or weeds – but the seed planted there has no depth of soil and eventually the rocks and thorns choke the young plants. Or there is good soil. And the good soil – the soil with depth – is where the seed – or in our case, the Word of God – takes root and flourishes. It grows – it multiplies – it produces fruit – it produces more seeds.
And this is where I want to park today. This is what the parable is asking of us. It’s telling us that we can and we do make choices about what kind of soil we want to be. We can harden our hearts to God’s Word. We can listen and accept only those things that we agree with. We can allow the cares and riches of this world to choke things out. Or we can allow the Word of God to take root and produce the kinds of fruit that God is looking for in our lives.
When it comes to the Word of God – especially as it relates to this parable – two things are going on.
First – you and I are recipients of the seed – the Word of God. What happens to that Word of God that is planted in our hearts? Will it grow or die? Will it shrivel up or thrive?
Second – when the seed of the Word of God falls onto hearts that are good soil – when we gladly hear and learn it – something good is going to happen. Jesus says it will bear fruit in our lives – 30 times over – 60 times over – even 100 times over. So not only does a seed planted in good soil bear fruit – but fruit then does what? The fruit bears more seed!
Folks – do you know what that means? It means we are in many ways nothing more than seed planters ourselves. That’s what we are. And don’t for one minute ever underestimate the power of just one seed.
For instance, “Fred Craddock tells a story about the time he got a phone call from a woman whose father had died. She had been a teenager in one of the churches he had served as pastor twenty years before, and he would have sworn that if there was ever a person who never heard a word he said, that teenage girl was it. She was always giggling with her friends in the balcony, passing notes to boys, drawing pictures on the bulletin. But when her father died, she looked up her old pastor, the Rev. Fred Craddock, and gave him a call. ‘I don't know if you remember me,’ she started. Oh, yes, he remembered. ‘When my daddy died, I thought I was going to come apart,’ she continued. ‘I cried and cried and cried. I didn't know what to do. But then I remembered something you said in one of your sermons . . .’”
And Fred Craddock was stunned. She had remembered something he had said in one of his sermons?! This woman who, when she was a teenager, never paid attention! It was proof enough to him that you can never tell how the seed will fall or where it might take root.”
Folks, may I suggest to you that sowing seeds is never a waste of time? You – you might never know – or perhaps not know right away – it might even be 20 or more years from now before you find out. But planting seeds is never a waste of time. A smile here. A friendly touch there. A word of encouragement. A word of thanksgiving. A helping hand. A word about Jesus. A teaching moment to speak about the loving kindness of our Father in heaven. A word of grace and forgiveness – demonstrated – demonstrated as well as spoken.
These are seeds. These are the seeds that you and I plant. Whether as moms or dads when we talk about the things of God at home – around the dinner table – before the youngest child in the family goes to bed at night. As a Sunday School teacher or an usher or a small group leader – or any responsible adult who welcomes a child – or a stranger – into this place. You are planting seeds.
Some of you know that I love to tell the story of something that happened to me a long time ago. I had been here at Zion just a few years. One day I was shopping at Tops, just picking up a few items. And I was in a hurry. I don’t even remember why I was in such a hurry. But I was in a hurry. I stepped into one of the checkout lanes where a young lady was busy with customers in front of me.
She was slow. Maybe it was because I was in a hurry that she seemed so slow, but for whatever reason, I must have been in a foul mood. When it finally came time for me to check out the few items that I had, I was ready to give that young lady a piece of my mind. And I am not proud of that. Not just wanting to complain to her about being so slow, but with an attitude that might have led me to say something that I ordinarily would never say.
Thankfully – thank God – before I had a chance to open my mouth – this young lady spoke first. And she said, “You’re Pastor Milleville aren’t you!” Let me tell you, my attitude changed just like that. And I smiled broadly, and said, “Why yes. How did you know?” And she said, “I was at your church this past Sunday with my friend Amanda.”
Can you imagine the damage I had done if I had given that young lady a piece of my mind – pieces by the way – which I can no longer afford to lose!
When it comes to planting seeds – not only should the seeds we be sowing come from God’s Word – you know – love God, love your neighbor – but we need to be careful not to be planting bad seeds. Seeds that will grow nothing but weeds.
When it comes to sowing seeds –let us be sure that the seeds we sow are good seeds. And here’s why. It’s because sowing seeds – sowing good seeds – is never a waste of time. You just never know what kind of soil will be receiving those seeds you will be planting.
Let me share a reflection by a man whose name is Johnny Dean, and then I’ll sit down.
“One summer, for some reason I have yet to discover, I volunteered to be a summer camp counselor and resident musician for a group of 23 pre-teenagers. It was a trying time, that loooong week, but we all made it through somehow without maiming or killing anyone.
“On departure day, the vast majority of the campers were crying, sad to be leaving camp. I take that as a sign that they at least had a good time. But just so you will know that every great once in a while, we ARE accorded the rare privilege of seeing the seeds beginning to sprout, let me share this with you.
“On the last day of camp, I went around to several of the campers and asked them, since I was music director for the week, which songs they had gotten the most enjoyment out of singing. I expected their choices to be the rowdy, lively songs we had sung, like "Pharaoh, Pharaoh," or "Rise and Shine," or "Do Lord." But the song most of the campers I asked said they would remember most from camp was a little praise chorus I had taught them, "Lord, You Are." Do you know it? It's a quiet, beautiful hymn of praise.
“Lord, you are more precious than silver;
Lord, you are more costly than gold.
Lord, you are more beautiful than diamonds.
Nothing I desire compares to you.”
And then Johnny Dean goes on to say, “Now, you can call me a dreamer, or call me a cockeyed optimist. You can say I was grabbing at straws, trying desperately to see something positive coming from that difficult week. But I think I saw a few sprouts that day. Will they grow? God only knows. But what joy there was in the sowing!”
Folks, it seems to me that that’s what Jesus is saying. We who have been – and still are receptive to God’s Word – we’ve seen the difference that it makes in our lives – now find ourselves as seed sowers. Sowing the word of God somehow someway. And we don’t need to worry about the results. That’s in God’s hands.
We just need to remember that we are good seed sowers. And that sowing seeds – sowing good seeds – is never a waste of time. Amen
Monday, July 10 2017
Pastor Becca’s Last Sermon at Zion CC
Like many good sermon ideas, the idea for this sermon came while I was doing something completely unrelated to my ministry work as your pastor. I was straightening and packing, getting our house ready to sell, and I was listening to the Broadway Showstoppers channel on Pandora Radio. And a song from the Broadway musical Hamilton came on.
Hamilton is the most popular musical on Broadway right now, by a VERY wide margin. It’s written by Lin-Manuel Miranda about one of America’s founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton--and it’s unlike anything else ever seen on a theatrical stage. Miranda uses hip-hop, rap, traditional Broadway, jazz, reggae, R & B, British Pop, and other musical genres to tell the story of Hamilton’s life. The cast is multi-racial, so major players in our nation’s history are depicted by mostly Black, Latino/a, and Asian faces. I have to say, even if you’re not a rap fan, you haven’t lived until you’ve heard Daveed Diggs as Lafayette bust out one of the fastest rap songs ever made as he tells about his victories in battle.
Anyway, while I was packing, the song “One Last Time” from Hamilton came on. This is the song where George Washington tells Hamilton he’s not running for re-election for President, and asks Hamilton to write his farewell address. Hamilton is stunned. He keeps trying to convince Washington to run for re-election, but Washington is insistent that stepping down is the right move. Washington sings:
One last time, the people will hear from me, one last time,
And if we get this right, we’re gonna teach them how to say goodbye, say goodbye, you and I.
And I heard those lyrics, while packing to leave, and I was like HOLY COW THAT’S MY LAST SERMON AT ZION! THAT’S IT! While I was preparing to say goodbye to you all, God spoke to me through that song.
Here’s why this song struck me-- we humans typically stink at dealing with goodbyes. Seriously. Most of the time, we hate goodbyes. We don’t want them to happen. We want things to be the same, to never have to say goodbye or lose someone. Hamilton spends a huge chunk of the song trying to convince Washington not to step down, but Washington knows that leaving is the best thing for the country. By leaving, he’s teaching the nation how to say goodbye, how to transition between leaders, so that in the future they would be able to do it effectively.
Washington understands that goodbyes are a part of life, so people need to be taught how to not stink at dealing with them. We need to be taught how to say goodbye.
And since I’m leaving Zion, and this is my last weekend with you all—this song made me think—how does GOD teach us how to say goodbye?? And what does the Bible teach us about saying goodbye??
So I went to my Bible and I found three major stories about people saying goodbye. They are all really great stories of people saying goodbye to one another. What’s interesting is that you won’t usually hear these Bible texts read and preached on-- in Mainline Protestant congregations, at least. We use something called the Three Year Lectionary, which provides a rotating cycle of Bible passages we read in church every week, and it lasts three years, and then it starts up again.
And none of these saying goodbye stories in the Bible are included in our Three Year Lectionary, except the Gospel reading from Luke, which is only included for use on Ascension Day—that’s a special day on a Thursday near the end of the Easter season when the Church celebrates the resurrected Jesus being carried up to heaven. And most churches do not celebrate Ascension Day. So very rarely are these Bible texts read and preached on in church.
Which made me even more excited to pick these texts to preach on, and look at these texts with you today. We need to be taught how to say goodbye. Let’s look at these Bible passages we almost never look at, to see what we can learn from them-- how God is teaching us to say goodbye. Sound good??
So when I was reading these stories, I saw three major themes jump out about saying goodbye.
-Saying goodbye is important.
-Saying goodbye is emotional.
-Saying goodbye shows us God is faithful.
So first, saying goodbye is important.
In the first reading from the Old Testament, in First Samuel, we see two best friends saying goodbye. If you were confused about the weird shooting arrow stuff at the beginning of the reading, it’s because it was a code David and Jonathan made up together. Saul, Jonathan’s dad, was super angry at David and really jealous of him. He was worried David would be king rather than him. Saul wanted David dead, but David was Jonathan’s best friend, and you know, he liked his best friend alive rather than dead. So they set up this code, so David would know to leave town if Saul was on the warpath. Turns out, Saul was—so Jonathan and David put their plan into action, and David knew he had to leave to stay alive. So these two best friends have to say goodbye to each other.
What’s really interesting is that their code and plan could have been carried out without them saying goodbye to one another. David could have found out he had to leave away from Jonathan—in fact, that probably would have been safer for everyone, since Saul is Jonathan’s dad. But they specifically set it up so that if David had to skip town fast, they could still say their goodbyes. Saying goodbye was important. They needed that closure before David left.
In the second reading from the book of Acts of the Apostles, Paul is saying goodbye to the elders, or leaders, of the church in Ephesus. He gives kind of a mini-speech about how he traveled in Asia, teaching about Jesus and serving in Jesus’ name. Paul talks about how the Holy Spirit is sending him to Jerusalem, even though the Spirit told him that jail time and persecution will happen to him. And then they all say goodbye, before Paul boards his ship to head to Jerusalem.
The thing is, Paul wasn’t leaving Ephesus when this goodbye happened. He was actually leaving a place called Miletus. He specifically sends a message to Ephesus, asking the elders to meet him before he left. Paul knew that he and the elders needed time to say goodbye. He knew that saying goodbye was important.
Our third reading from the Gospel of Luke tells the story of Jesus’ last words with his followers, the disciples, before he ascended into heaven. He tells them about how he fulfilled the prophecies about the Messiah in the holy scriptures, and he tells them that they are to witness to this truth, that they should share the good news of forgiveness and resurrection to all nations. He promises that they will receive power, and should stay in Jerusalem until that happens. Then he led them to Bethany and blessed them, and he was carried up to heaven.
What I find interesting about the resurrected Jesus’ ascension into heaven is that he could have ascended whenever he wanted. He could have just told the disciples “Yo, I’m going back to heaven tomorrow, see you later!” But Jesus chose to leave them in their presence. He chose to spend time with them to be clear about their mission, to say goodbye and bless them. He made saying goodbye an important part of the story.
So in all three of these Bible stories, the people make saying goodbye a priority. It’s an important part of the human experience—saying goodbye is part of the closure process we need. And honestly, we instinctively know that. This is why family members and loved ones usually rush to be near when a loved one is dying. This is why we have funerals and have burial services. This is why we have special things like “Farewell and Godspeed” that we do in church, to officially mark the goodbye. This is why we feel kind of lost when a goodbye doesn’t happen, and we find other ways to say goodbye, like flowers and visit to a grave, or a phone call/email/letter. I’ve had more people come to visit me in my office in the last few weeks than I have the whole time I’ve been here! It’s because we have that need to say goodbye. We know that saying goodbye is important.
OK, so we know that saying goodbye is important. I’m probably not telling you something new when I mention our second theme-- saying goodbye is emotional.
In David and Jonathan’s case, the Bible says both of them “kissed each other, and wept with each other.” They weren’t afraid to let out the emotion they were feeling when they were saying goodbye to one another. And not everyone will feel as strongly as someone else when saying goodbye—it says “David wept the more.” Sometimes, one person saying goodbye will feel more emotional about the goodbye than the other person or persons.
When Paul is saying goodbye to the Ephesian elders, it says “There was much weeping among them all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, grieving especially because of what he had said, that they would not see him again. Then they brought him to the ship.” So the Ephesian elders and Paul were also not afraid to be emotional and weep and embrace while they were saying goodbye—in fact, it describes them as grieving. Sometimes, saying goodbye is a grief process. Clearly, it’s a grief process if someone dies, but even if someone is alive, saying goodbye can also be a form of grief. If you’ve ever dealt with a break-up or a divorce or know someone who has, for example, when that goodbye happens and that relationship ends, it can be natural to experience grief.
When Jesus and his disciples say goodbye when Jesus ascends into heaven, there is a very different emotional response. It says that after he is carried up to heaven, the disciples “worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.” So rather than grief and weeping, the disciples experienced joy in saying goodbye to Jesus, and were even drawn to worshiping frequently. So saying goodbye is emotional in all three stories—but what type of emotion isn’t always the same for everyone and for every goodbye.
Saying goodbye always has emotions attached to it, but those emotions can be very different depending on the person and circumstance. When saying goodbye, you could feel sad and cry and grieve like David and Jonathan and the Ephesians and Paul, or you could feel joyful like the disciples and want to praise God. And you could feel anything else in between when saying goodbye—angry, relieved, or even numb, which is an emotion by itself. And you could feel angry one minute, and sad the next, and numb the next— because feeling multiple feelings when saying goodbye can happen too. No matter which emotions you feel, saying goodbye is emotional. These stories show us that it’s OK to feel emotions, whatever emotions you’re feeling, when saying goodbye. It’s normal and natural to feel those emotions, and to show them.
OK—so we’ve got that saying goodbye is important, and saying goodbye is emotional. This is the third and last theme—saying goodbye shows us that God is faithful. God is still with us and has a plan.
When David sees Jonathan’s code and knows he has to leave to stay alive, the first thing it says he does is that he “rose from beside the stone-heap and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.” Stone-heaps were made all throughout the Old Testament to commemorate a specific time when God acted in human history. And laying on the ground face-down was a typical prayer position. So as soon as David knew he had to leave and say goodbye to his best friend, his first response was recognizing God’s actions and to pray. And then while they’re saying goodbye, Jonathan says to David: “Go in peace, since both of us have sworn in the name of the Lord saying, ‘The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants, forever.” Even in the middle of an emotional goodbye, the men acknowledge that God has a plan and is with them and their descendants.
And Paul also talks about God’s presence and God’s plan when he’s saying goodbye to the Ephesian elders. Paul says: “And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me.” Paul knows that the Holy Spirit is with him and his guiding him to do ministry in Jerusalem, even though it will be hard. God’s presence and God’s plan doesn’t mean it will be all hugs and puppies and rainbows. But Paul knows that God will be there through it all, and he’s telling that to remind the elders (and us!) that God is always there and has a plan. God is faithful.
And before Jesus ascends into heaven, he explains to the disciples how God had a plan. Using the scriptures, he tells them how it was foretold that he would suffer and rise from the dead after three days, and that repentance and forgiveness is Jesus’ name is to be told to everyone around the world by the disciples themselves. And he promises them that they will be “clothed with power from on high”, which will be the coming of the Holy Spirit to them. Then he blesses them—and literally while he’s in the middle of blessing him he ascends into heaven. So Jesus is very clear that God has had a plan all along, and still has a plan for the disciples to be witnesses, and that the Holy Spirit will come to them and be with them and give them the power to do these things. And Jesus even blesses them as he is leaving them.
So—we saw in all three Bible readings people saying goodbye, and learned that saying goodbye is important, saying goodbye is emotional, and saying goodbye shows us that God is faithful. Since we learned those things today, we can say that through the stories of the Bible, as Washington said in the musical Hamilton—God is teaching us how to say goodbye.
In my last sermon here at Zion as one of your pastors, as I speak to you “One Last Time”— my hope is that God has spoken through my words to help us say goodbye to one another, to teach us how to say goodbye. As we learned, marking this goodbye is important, and it is undoubtedly emotional.
But as we also learned, God is faithful. God is always with us and has a plan. God is up to some amazing things at Zion, and my leaving doesn’t change that. The Holy Spirit is still here at Zion, and still has a plan. And as Washington sings in “One Last Time,” saying goodbye can come from a place of strength, to help people move on and to teach people how to say goodbye, both now and in the future.
As I was writing this last sermon for you all, I found myself singing that Hamilton song in my head. And Washington’s words became my own words, with me singing to God the Holy Spirit:
One last time, the people will hear from me, one last time,
And if we get this right, we’re gonna teach them how to say goodbye, say goodbye, you and I.
May my saying goodbye to you all today help God teach us how to say goodbye. Amen?