“Sweet Sorrow”

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

I asked a few pastors how best to break the news I was leaving and what I could expect when I do. They had all gone through this before. I have actually done this before, myself, when I left Zion Lutheran Church in Idaho to go to seminary. Just like last week, I was a blubbering mess.

One said it’s like a divorce, but that can’t be true in this case because we’re not parting because the relationship isn’t working out. These have been six of the very best years of our lives.

One said it’s like leaving your family and moving overseas. This is closer because we’ve always thought of you as family and I hope you have seen us in the same light. I’ve witnessed hard goodbyes in airports when a family member is leaving. It’s never easy.

Both times I have said my goodbyes it’s been two of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It would have been so much easier to stay, and I would have avoided all that. Yet, I believe with every fiber of my being that this is God’s calling for us just as I was sure of His call to seminary and sometimes following God’s call can cause heartache.

The weakness and anxiety goodbyes can bring, sometimes causes us to become deaf to the Lord’s calling, but I could not properly serve Him by having my own agenda.

This can be especially hard for the congregation when a pastor is leaving. It’s like starting over. It means, for a time, that the congregation will be without a shepherd, though here you have some very qualified people to carry on the work of God in this place. That’s probably the hardest thing to live with, knowing that your leaving could bring about a burden to the congregation you are departing from.

In Deuteronomy chapter 31, Moses is talking with the people he has led to the promised land. He’s 120 years old and, because of a past mishap, has been told by God that he will not be allowed to enter the land with those he’s walked this long journey with.

These people must go on without the one man they have looked to for strength and guidance.  Moses knows this, so he tells them in verse 6, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread…, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will never leave you or forsake you.” 

Now, I am no Moses. Not by a long shot. But my message to you is the same. If God has a plan for me, that also means he has a plan for you. If God sees great things for the congregation of Prince of Peace, then He also see’s great things in your future. Over the six years that I have been so blessed to be your pastor, I have seen a congregation with willing arms open for God’s next great adventure and I’m certain He will send you just the shepherd you need to lead you there.

Being called to a church is a great blessing. The excitement can be overwhelming. You’re wondering if everything will go OK. You hope people can accept your little quirks. You pray that everything will go well and that they’ll forgive you when they don’t. You have come to make a kingdom difference and you want your new congregation to see God’s vision for them and accept it. So many things to be concerned about. So many self-doubting hurdles to get over.

But it doesn’t take long and you’re in the swing of things. At Redeemer, you all made the transition from student to pastor seamless. You welcomed our family with open arms and you allowed me to grow in my vocation. You encouraged me when I needed it and you gently guided me when I went off track. I couldn’t imagine a better first church for any new pastor. It wasn’t long, and I was smitten with love for all of you.

Paul only knew the little church that could in Thessalonica for 3 weeks and he adored them. He was especially encouraged when Timothy brought him good news of their faith in Christ Jesus.  In Paul’s first letter to them he gave them this advice, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.   And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the week, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-22)

Far be it from me to give better advice to you than Paul. Let’s break that down. First Paul asks them to respect those that God has placed over them. In fact, he says, “Esteem them very high in love because of your work.”

God already has a great plan for you and He, in His infinite knowledge, will send you someone to lead you to your next step in ministry. Whether you take that step is up to you. His plan is already taking shape and whoever He brings you will need the same kind of support you have always given me. Help him in his journey with Christ and give him a chance to shape his ministry as God leads him. Encourage him and challenge him when needed. But do everything in love.

Next, Paul advises them to admonish the idle. Just what does this mean? I think I’m going to speak of the idols in life we have and not the idle in life. Though idleness can be a killer also. God expects all to do their part.

No, I want to speak of those things in life we idolize that may get in the way of our faith in Christ. You are to have no idols. Not your free time, not your sleep schedule, not your entertainment, your greed or your selfishness. Anything you put before God in your life is your idol, and, if not controlled, those idols may one day become your God. Make everything you do a ministry. Glorify God in every deed. Pray constantly by taking every step with God in mind.

Next, Paul advises the church in Thessalonica to display patience, not just for the ones God sends you but for all people, especially the faint-hearted and the weak. You have all been blessed with so many good things but there are those who have traveled a much more difficult path than you, who need your guidance and the message of salvation you have to share. This takes patience and endurance, but the task God is calling you to is great. Soon, to serve others will be part of what defines you and you will learn what real, godly joy feels like.

Next Paul tells the people not to repay evil for evil, but always seek to do good. Revenge has broken up more churches than almost anything else. I don’t like His style so I’m going to gossip about him. I detest the things they believe in so I’m going to turn the church against them. They shouldn’t have handled this situation that way so I’m going to give them the cold shoulder. They’ve upset me, so I’m just not going to go to church anymore. None of these are Godly solutions.

Handle adversity in love. Admonish with a gentle spirit. Stay away from hatred and malice because these things are not of God. There are no problems that the guidance of God cannot get you through. Always seek the goodness of God in everything you do and find forgiveness in your heart, even for those who you feel have wronged you.

Paul says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” It is God’s will that you have things to rejoice for. It is His will to bless you with good things. It is His will that you have many things to celebrate and he eagerly waits for the opportunity to shower you with love and peace.

You have so many reasons to rejoice. You have a God who loves you so much He allowed His son to die on your behalf. He has given you a church family that you can count on, share concerns with, and celebrate with when the occasion calls for it. He has given you everlasting life so that the celebration you start here on earth doesn’t have to come to an end. He has given you family so you don’t have to face the darkness alone. So, rejoice!! God has promised to take you to places of joy that you could have never imagined. Let Him guide you to green pastures, lead you beside still waters, restore your soul and lead you to paths of righteousness for His name sake.

Finally, Paul ends his urgings to them with one simple sentence as sort of a summary of the whole, he says, “Abstain from every evil.” In this world the devil will attack you every day. He will try to tell you that right is wrong and that good is bad. We know this because it has saturated our world so secretly that it’s becoming the prevailing thought in all of society.

Do not let go of what is right and good simply because society is telling you something different. Do not listen to the lies the devil is spewing to confuse you. Do not let yourself become weak to worldly charms and continue to make Redeemer a refuge from the world and a place for truth. Always demand the truth of Christ.

The definition of truth rests in God’s Word to you so do not forsake your daily reading of godly wisdom. God’s almighty ears yearn to hear from you, so do not forsake your constant prayers shown even in how you live your lives. Keep up your communication to the one offering you eternal life and the forgiveness of sin. Share with Him in all honesty and urgency and trust in His guidance and not in the guidance the world is offering you.

The only way to abstain from every evil is to trust in God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Trust in Him to make you whole again through repentance and complete forgiveness. Trust in Him to lead you.

I titled this sermon “Sweet Sorrow” because that is what I am experiencing right now. On the one hand I’m excited to see what new opportunities God has planned for us, but on the other I am filled with sorrow at leaving people I love. Some of you are upset, others are sad and there might be a few of you wondering why it took me so long to go. Whoever you are, please understand I did the best I could. I always tried to follow God’s lead even if some of you thought I might be taking the wrong path. I always had the best interest of Redeemer in mind within every task I took on and I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

Thank you for being so very kind to my family and me. Thank you for your patience, your laughter, your hugs, your encouragement and even your admonishment. All of it helped me to grow into a much better pastor.

To end, I borrow from Paul again in his letter to the church of Thessalonica:

“May the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.” Amen.

 

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