“For Just Such a Time As This” June 21, 2020
New Philadelphia Moravian Church
Today is my last Sunday serving as your pastor. And it is not an easy day for me, for my family, and for many of you. Change is never easy. Over the last month, knowing that my ministry with you was drawing to a close, I have appreciated hearing from you, whether in an email, a text message, a card or letter, or making time to spend a few minutes together, to actually be able to SEE each other. Your words and your presence have been invaluable to me as I have spent time remembering and reflecting on all of the ups and the downs of the last three and a half years.
There is a certain amount of irony in the fact that it is so difficult for me to leave you now. A few weeks ago, I wrote in the weekly newsletter about how difficult it had been for me to accept the call to come to New Philadelphia in the first place. Four years ago, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to come and join you. And now, I know that I don’t want to leave you.
God’s call is like that. It can be so challenging to hear God’s call. It often comes to us as a voice from an unexpected place in an unexpected time, just as it came to the young Samuel in the middle of the night. He didn’t have trouble hearing the voice calling his name, but at first he didn’t know that it was God who was calling. He only knew it was God calling after 3 times of hearing that voice and assuming it was someone else because Samuel didn’t think that God would be calling him. And even then, he had to rely on Eli to help him realize that it was God who was calling him.
It is the same with us. Sometimes, not very often but sometimes, God’s call comes loudly and clearly. But far more often it comes quietly and unexpectedly. So we have to be listening, we have to be aware, we have to be awake, to hear God’s call. And even then we need to rely on others to help us to hear and know both who is calling us and what we are being called to do.
When I got the call to New Philadelphia, I did that. I listened for the voice of God, along with the voices of the PEC and the New Philly Joint Board. I prayed about it, I thought about it, I pondered it, and, despite MY hesitation, I heard God calling me to New Philadelphia. So I answered “Here I am, Lord. Speak, for your servant is listening.” And on October 9, 2016 I was installed as your Associate Pastor.
We have been through a lot together the last three and a half years. Together we have seen the retirement of Worth Green after 30 years of wonderful and impactful ministry, we have faced the challenges thrust upon us by Resolution 14 from the 2018 Southern Province Synod, and we have been dealing with the unexpected and unprecedented effects of the COVID 19 pandemic. And those are just the big things!
We have also experienced the everyday ups and downs, joys and sorrows, opportunities and challenges of life together. We have welcomed new people into our church family through birth and baptism, and those seeking a new church home, a safe place to practice their faith. We have seen our young people confirm their faith and commit their lives to Jesus and then go out to serve others. We have said goodbye to people we have loved and lost, through death or by their choosing to move onto other places and opportunities. We have been together in sickness and in health, for better or for worse. We have been the church, seeking to live, to love, and to serve like Jesus.
And now that time has come to an end. At least it has for me as your pastor. I am confident that you will continue to be the church that God has created you to be, that Jesus calls you to be, and that this community needs you to be. The good work that has begun in you and among you and through you will continue. You will continue to live, to love, and to serve like Jesus. You will just be doing it with another pastor.
My hesitation to leave this congregation has been just as great as my hesitation was to come to this congregation. Over my years in ministry, I have left congregations before. And it has always been of my own choosing, as I was answering God’s call to serve in another place. But that is not the case with this leaving. If it were up to me, I would not be leaving New Philadelphia. Yet that choice is not one that I was able to make. And over the last month, I have experienced anger and sorrow and grief and loss. But over the last week, after spending such quality time with so many of you, I am beginning to gain a sense of peace about it all. I still don’t want to leave you. However, I am beginning to see that perhaps God called me here for this specific time.
During these last few days, I have been recalling a verse from the book of Esther. Esther is one of those often overlooked OT stories about a Jewish girl who reluctantly married the King of Persia. Using her royal authority, she was able to prevent the annihilation of all of the Jewish people living in exile. While she is at first hesitant to intervene, her cousin Mordecai asks her the question that helps her decide to save her people “Who knows?” Mordecai asks, “Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”
I feel the same way. Not that I have done anything as momentous as Queen Esther did. But more in the way that Esther was Queen of Persia at just the right time, I feel that perhaps God called me to New Philadelphia for “just such a time as this.” It was a blessing to help guide you all through these unexpected and unwanted times and situations. And while things may not have ended like we wanted them to, while we may lament many of the changes that have resulted from these last years, I feel that New Philadelphia is now in the perfect position to follow where God is leading the congregation to for the future.
As I contemplate both the future of this congregation and my future as a pastor, I am not afraid. I recall the words of Corrie Ten Boom that were shared by a colleague of mine- “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” Rev. Victoria Lasley spoke those words to senior high campers at Laurel Ridge and they apply just as well to us today. We don’t know where God will lead New Philadelphia in the years to come, and I don’t know where God will lead me in the months to come. But I do know that God will lead us both where He needs us to be. Our futures may not be known, but the God who creates us, redeems us, and sustains us is known. And we can place our full faith, our complete confidence, and our unending hope in the God we know.
The “last words” that I want to leave with you are echoes of the first words I shared with you on the Sunday I was installed as your pastor. On that day, we read the same scriptures that we heard this morning- John’s beautiful words about love.
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. 1 John 4:7-12
One of the things that I have seen over my time here at New Philadelphia is how much and how well this congregation is able to love- to love God and to love each other and to love our neighbors. I have seen the love of God perfected in you and among you and through you. I have seen God living in you and among you and through you. And that is something to hold on to, for it will serve you well as you enter into this unknown future with our known God.
But one of the things that I have also seen in you as the congregation of New Philadelphia is that too often you fail to heed the words that John shares later in this same letter. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” Too often, I have seen this congregation respond with fear rather than with faith. Fear of change, fear of losing what you have and what you know, fear of not being what you think you should be. Too often, New Philadelphia has let that fear cloud your love, rather than letting your love cast out your fear.
So remember, as you move into the future, an unknown future that will continue to bring change, that will continue to have loss, that will continue to not always be what you think it should be, remember to respond with faith, not with fear. Remember to rely on the perfect love of God to cast out whatever fears you may have. And remember that it is all about love. Nothing else matters.
The first sermon I preached here was titled “It’s All About Love” and that is even more true now than it was then. For then I didn’t really know you. I didn’t know the love that you were capable of showing and sharing and giving. And now I do know you and I know your capacity for love. And I know that as long as you make sure that no matter what you do, if you make sure that it is all about love, at the beginning, at the end, and during everything in between, then everything will be alright.
God is calling. God is calling us all into an unknown future And he is calling us to different futures. The future that God is calling me into is different from the future that God is calling New Philadelphia into. And though we part ways today, we do not part in our hearts. For it is truly all about love. It is all about the love that God has for us, that we have for God, and that we have for each other. It has been since the beginning, through all that we have been through together, and it is about love now that we have come to the end.
Brothers and Sisters, friends, don’t stop listening for God’s call. Don’t stop answering God’s call, don’t stop saying “Here I am, Lord.” Don’t be afraid of that unknown future. And most of all don’t stop loving- at the beginning, at the end, and at every moment in between.