I was reminded after the most recent Sunday when children were baptised, that some of the earliest words that we learn to say as human beings are “Hello” and “Goodbye” and there variations, like “hi” and “bye-bye”. In the past few days, my family and I have being saying a lot of the latter, after several years in the community, to people we have know and served with over those years.
It has caused me to reflect on some of the things that Bishop Anderson said in his sermon at my induction and installation in October, 2011, as we said hello to each other. In particular, he pointed out that you had spent time praying for a parish priest. Pointing at me, he said, “There he sits. What’s next?” Bishop William went on to talk about the role of a parish priest in the parish and for the necessity of everyone working together for the common good. He also pointed out that having a parish priest is a gift – having been given by God to the community for a time, however long or short.
In recent days, I have heard expressions like, “There he goes, so what about us?” There has been a lot of what I would describe as low level panic as I encounter people from various churches in the city who are genuinely grieving the departure of their clergy, most are leaving because it is time to retire. Others are leaving for family reasons and yet others are leaving because of what God is doing in them and they are needed in another place and space within his dominion. Plus, as a diocese, there is the electoral synod that will take place in October to elect the new bishop. This event will have to dovetail with the path you will walk to draw in a new Rector. I say this to remind you of a promise that was made concerning God’s people as there was transition from Moses to the new leadership under a new leader. The new leader was Joshua. The promise is recorded this way in Numbers 27:
“Moses said to the Lord, “May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.” So the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit of leadership, and lay your hand on him. Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence. Give him some of your authority so the whole Israelite community will obey him. He is to stand before Eleazar the priest, who will obtain decisions for him by inquiring of the Urim before the Lord. At his command he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in.”Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He took Joshua and had him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole assembly. Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, as the Lord instructed through Moses.” (Num.27.16-23)
You are not left alone – you are in the care of God, as you and I have always been.
Something important that needs to be sought is what the Scriptures have to say to us this morning. In this moment and if you are like me, there are lots of feelings running around inside. There is encouragement from the Scriptures to remember that the Spirit is here, in the midst of what we are feeling, ready to help deal with the fear, the sorrow, the pain of going on and ot parting. The Spirit aids believers in suffering. The Spirit helps in prayer and groans to communicate well beyond words inexpressible. It is the kind of thing that you see in Jesus in the Gospels, when Jesus is deeply moved; deeply moved from the guts. The Spirit shares with us and prays for us within the will of God, that God’s will would be done in each of us and in all of us.
To the question, “what about us?” it is time to pray again for the renewal of the ministry of this parish and this diocese. There is a path to be walked that will draw in a bishop elect and a new rector. I will be with you in that. And I remind you of what the Scriptures say, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37.4) We have been blessed over the past six years, and some of blessings have had strange names. We have come a fair distance in the past several years. We have been enabled to do a number of things by God; one or two of them have been spectacular.
If there is a piece of counsel I would offer in this moment, it would be this: be careful what you pray for, you might just get it. As I have reflected on my coming to you, there were lots of worries about this ministry or that class or that service within the congregation. Congregations often seek ministers who will do their bidding and try to this make this parish great again. They might eventry to take you back to a time when things were better or at least less difficult. I would call on you to consider carefully what kind of person you need to come alongside you to enable ministry. No priest no matter how good that person is or how gifted that person might be is going to be able to “save” you – that job has been taken. So it is important for you to look for a priest who will love you and care for you and show you how to do that for each other. Look for someone who will build you up and raise up the level of community in this place – without which there is no reason for this beautiful building to stand.
As for the Gospel, I like the idea that the kingdom is like a net. A net is like a box of chocolates, you just never know what you are going to get. The net does not worry about what (or who in the case of the kingdom) is being drawn in. It draws in all that it touches. The sorting out (the judgement) will happen when the time is right. God continues to draw you together. You are not the same people that you were six years ago. You are not the same congregation I came to six years ago. God has been calling us and drawing us to himself. He has been teaching us and helping us to grow, building us into the Church that he wants us to be. So I encourage you to be ready to be surprised by God and the things that God is going to continue to do in your midst.
Part of that grow is to be taken, blessed, broken and sent. When we dismiss this morning we will sing these words:
Send us out in the power of your Spirit, Lord,
May our lives bring Jesus to the world!
May each thought and word, bring glory to your name.
Send us out in your Spirit, Lord, we pray. - Ruth Fazal.
Today, God will take us, bless us, break us and send us on our way. And though we are bound by Christ and though we may be a part for a time, we will be together again, and next time, forever.