Yesterday, I led my final service at Maranatha. It was a day of mixed emotions. There was a feeling of accomplishment in a job completed, joy that a new pastor had accepted the call to minister there, hope in two more babies baptized, and sorrow in parting.
I’ll likely have more to write in another post, but for now, here is yesterday’s message based on 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4,11-12
It’s already been a year here in York.
It was actually more than a year ago, July of 2015, when Jerry made the first contact with me, wondering if I would be interested in talking to the search committee about being your pastor. I told him I wasn’t interested in a full time call, here, or anywhere, and I thought that would be the end of it. He called again two weeks later.
“What about an interim position?”
I came, and visited with your executive, came, and preached on the fourth of October. That week, the executive extended an offer of a one year contract as your interim pastor beginning November 1st.
Jocelyn and I were hesitant. York was a big congregation with two Sunday services, there was a building project trying to get underway, the job was pretty far from our home in Huron County, and we had both become pretty used to not having a regular job since Lucknow had found a full time pastor.
The biggest issue though was housing. We had spent some time with Frank, and decided that we couldn’t justify buying a house for a one year contract, so renting was the only option. The rental market in this area is almost impossible.
Thanksgiving weekend, it has been a tradition to camp with J’s bother and his family. Last year we came to Long Point and on the Saturday made the drive to Caledonia house hunting. After scouring Kijiji, and the local papers, we found that there were two apartments in the area that would be available for a November 1st rental. One was in Caledonia, and when we visited was found to be totally unacceptable, the other was a converted two car garage, outside of town, well appointed but very small. It would do, and we told the landlords as much, but they had others coming to see the unit, maybe wanted to have some choices besides a middle aged pastor and his wife, were concerned about two people living together in such small space. They told us they wanted to give others a chance and would let us know their decision on Monday evening.
We were discouraged, it looked like coming to York was going to be out. We prayed together, and decided that if the apartment did not come through we would decline the contract to York. In a sense we put out a fleece. After a bite to eat a Tim Horton’s we headed back to Long Point, back to our trailer. On the way out of Caledonia, I asked J to check my phone. To our surprise, there was a text message from the landlord, he had called his other prospects and told them the apartment was rented. Our fleece was wet. We knew we were to come to York.
And now it has been a year and I can echo the words of Paul to the church at Thessalonica, his words of thankfulness, his words of boasting. It’s actually sort of cool that the lectionary happened to assign this text as the epistle reading for today.
Paul had started the church in Thessalonica, arriving there from Philippi, but had only been with the congregation there for eight months, a shorter time than my time here. His first letter, which used virtually identical words of thanksgiving for them, was written very shortly after he left, the second is thought to be very shortly after the first.
Paul boasts about this church.
He boasts about their faith, the way it is growing and growing, he boasts about their perseverance in the face of persecution. He wasn’t with this church very long, he didn’t spend decades as their pastor, but still he boasts about them to others.
Boasting, I think, always has something to do with the one who boasts as well as those that are boasted about. Paul boasts about the church in Thessalonica, not because he made and formed them, gave them faith, the strength to persevere, he recognizes that as the work of the Holy spirit, but because he was part of them, he was there at the start, God allowed him to be part of something great, and for this reason he has a right to boast. He has some ownership in what has happened.
After a year here, I boast too. Not because I have done anything amazing, but because in this past year I have been part of something. There is much to boast about here. God has been and continues to be faithful, the Holy Spirit continues to move.
We can boast about God’s blessing of children and young families in this congregation, packed Sunday School rooms, and a very busy nursery. While many churches fear the end, as only grey heads remain, this congregation can look to the future with hope.
We can boast in God’s provision with this new sanctuary, boast about the vision that was given, the planning that went into it, the skills and talents that decorated, the generosity with which members shared their money, the patience that has been displayed as we have been inconvenienced by construction over this past year.
We have reason to boast as well about God’s faithfulness to us in times of trouble. My time here began with tragedy. Almost every week has had one or more of our members in hospital, often with very serious issues. Our prayer list has never been empty. Often those prayers were answered in amazing ways, but not always, and during this year God has carried us through grief and loss a number of times, walked with us through dark valleys, the community has rallied around, we have struggled, and yet using Paul’s words I boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.
There are many other things we could boast about this morning, that I could boast about because I was privileged to be here, to be part of them, to be part of you.
It’s the second part of our text this morning really provides me with my parting words
With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.12 We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.[c]
That will be my prayer as I leave you,
That God would make you worthy of his calling.
And what is that calling?
We’ve talked about calling a lot over this past year. My messages often used the words “God is calling us this morning” our benedictions often began with the words “go now and” God’s call on your lives as God’s children and the life of this church as Christ’s body, has been clear.
We are to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly[a] with your God.
We are to lift the downtrodden, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner, and feed the hungry.
We are to share the good news that God is near to a world thirsty for any sort of Good News.
We are to be models of love, push away hatred, and fear.
We are to be kingdom bringers, agents of change, God’s hands and feet in our communities and in our world.
I pray that God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, would give you the strength, would give you the desire, would make you take hold of your calling, to be worthy of it.
The second part of my prayer borrowed from Paul this morning is that God would bring to fruition your desire for goodness.
Last Sunday evening, as an ending to our series on the Holy Spirit, we talked about a big word: Sanctification. We learned that Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit, that to sanctify, means “to make holy.” We learned that immediately following the work of Christ in our lives, the work of justification, the grace filled taking of our sins and nailing them to the cross, the work of sanctification, making holy, begins. It begins immediately. As Christians it is our desire to be sanctified, to be made more and more holy. We have what Paul calls a desire for goodness. And it’s only through this work of sanctification that we can indeed be worthy of our calling, that we will have the desire and the strength to be kingdom bringers.
And finally, along with Paul I pray that God would bless every deed that is prompted by faith.
I pray that God would continue to bless every initiative you a congregation embark on, prayerfully, in faith. I pray that every time the mission team goes out, every time we work to reach our community, every time we reach out to those in need around us, every time that we collect funds, make milk bag mats, volunteer our time at thrift stores, food banks, pregnancy centers. Every time we reach out to the refugees languishing in camps, wrap our arms around someone who is grieving, visit someone’s bedside, that God’s hand of blessing would be on those actions. That through the blessing our efforts would be redoubled, that we would be spurred on to more, and higher. That those around us might see our good deeds and give glory to our Father in heaven
That is why I pray this prayer, a prayer to make you worthy of God’s Calling, to move you toward goodness, to bless the work and actions of this congregation, not so that the good name of Maranatha CRC in York might be lifted up, so that I could boast that I was part of that church’s history when it was just small. Not so that this church, or even you as individuals, might be praised for your faithfulness, recognized in the community for you social action, for your spiritual fervor, for your self-giving attitude, but so that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ would be glorified.
This is our calling, this is my prayer.
It is so easy to pat ourselves on the back isn’t it. So easy to point to this new sanctuary, the seats filled this morning, the many children we have been blessed with, another baptism this morning, the programs we are running, the causes we support, the huge pile of Christmas Boxes that will be here in a couple of weeks, and become proud. It’s easy to feel like stopping here for a bit, slowing down, enjoying what we have accomplished, to drink in the blessings. But we are not called to stop, we don’t bring anything to fruition if we stop, there is no blessing in standing still. Our calling is still in front of us, our desire for holiness, for goodness, drives us on, and God’s blessing awaits us in the good deeds we are prompted to perform.
God is at work here. I have felt the Holy Spirit whispering through you seeking to move you. I have seen you searching for direction, striving to answer God’s call on your life as a church, I know that you continue to reach for holiness, continue to desire to grow in faith and in community. I have heard your desire for blessing, and have seen the result of that blessing already and know that there is much, much, more to come. God has great plans for you, plans for you to bring glory to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, plans that have been crafted in grace, through grace and with grace.
Grace is what it’s all about isn’t it.
My landlord extended grace to Jocelyn and I when he canceled those other appointments a year ago and told us the apartment was ours. He didn’t have to do that, he could have checked out the others first just to see if they might be more suitable, to see if they might stay a little longer, been less demanding. He didn’t do that though he extended grace and without even knowing it, or knowing God, became part of God’s plan for this church.
God doesn’t hold back grace either. And that’s why I know my prayer for you will be answered that our God will make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he will bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.
My prayer will not be answered in any way that you or I can now imagine, because God is bigger than that, but I know that in grace, and through grace God will answer that prayer.
Because that, in the end, is what it is all about, God’s grace to us and God’s love for us.
Let us pray.
Loving, living God,
be among us now.
Show us your ways.
Guide our steps.
Live in us,
that we may be people of steadfast hope
Help us hear your words,
Help us remember
that all we are and all we have
are gifts from you,
gifts to be shared in service and love
To glorify the name of our lord Jesus Christ
Holy One among us,
help us be a holy people
who receive your word with joy
and live your message with love.
Relying on your grace we pray.