Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, Luke 24:1-9
June 24, 2012
Fay an I went to see “The Avengers” a few weeks ago, and as we left the theater she said: “I see a lot of sequels to this movie.” If there's anything Hollywood loves better than a sequel, it's a whole series of sequels ala' Friday the 13th, Halloween, Spider man, Batman, Harry Potter, And, of course, the sequels that invented “Prequels,” Star Wars. Now,as I stand here, before you all, on the last Sunday of my local church ministry, I can only say: “I see a lot of sequels in my retirement!”
Solomon, the wisest of the Israelites, saw that life was a series of sequels. Death follows life, reaping follows planting, peace follows war, joy follows sorrow, and so it goes. Life is a series of sequels. My life with Fay is a sequel to my childhood; the births of the girls was a sequel to the years we were just two; answering my call was a sequel to my life as a layperson; the empty nest and grandparent-hood is a sequel to life with the girls...and so it goes, one sequel after another. And the more we try to guess what's next, the wronger we are....like Thomas Watson, IBM CEO who, in 1943 predicted: “I think there is a world market for maybe 5 computers;” or the Western Union executive who turned down a chance to purchase Mr. Bell's new telephone. A few weeks ago I was reading about a 1962 “future of Washington County” report. They anticipated a lot of new food processing plants—no mention of hi-tech, no mention of the suburbanization of the east end of the county, no mention of Nike; and they're still waiting for the food processing plants to materialize.
The fact is, none of us know what the future holds. Those who have poured over their Bibles, calculators in hand, to predict the end of the world have, thus far, always awakened the day after. So far there have been over 200 dates proclaimed as the last day—all of which have past away while the world keeps on spinning. The Millennial Bug that threatened economic collapse on Jan. 1, 2000 never left its nest. Just last year billboards incorrectly announced the May 21, 2011 end of the world; and I missed it! I know I'm not the most observant guy in the world, I don't always notice that my wife changed her toenail color—but how'd I miss the end of the world? I can only assume it didn't happen. I predict, and you can hold me to his prophecy, I predict that the Mayans will prove to be just as wrong. We do not know, we cannot know, what the future holds—but we can and do know the one who holds the future.
The women who went to the tomb on that first Easter morning faced a bleak future. One they loved, one they depended on, the One they thought would save the world was dead. Now they came to anoint and prepare the body of Jesus, close the grave back up, mourn his death and look to a life without him. (but that's not what happened. Instead, they found: (Reflections, He's Not Here Anymore) They certainly didn't expect to find the stone rolled away and two angles in radiant white clothes greeting them. They did not expect a resurrection; yet, just as he said, but no one really believed, Jesus rose from the dead—and all history since is a sequel. For the followers of Jesus, the resurrection eliminated fear of the future and compelled them to step out boldly proclaiming the gospel.
I don't know what my retirement holds—I know what I've planned: continuing my fire chaplaincy work with Jackson County Fire District 3, continuing to preach and hold healing services in any church that will have me, improving my mandolin playing and learning the banjo, learning how to make a pie crust, some travel with Fay, and, just maybe, a little golf and fishing. That's what I've planned, but is it what God has planned? I don't know, I'll just have to live each day as it comes and follow the heeding of the Holy Spirit.
For the past 25 years I have preached and pastored. For the past nine years I have been blessed to do it in this place. It's been a good, but the time has come to say farewell; the time has come for me to move on and for someone else to pastor and preach in this place. I don't know about you, but I hate good-byes. As exciting as it is to move on into a new phase of my life, it also saddens my heart to leave this place that has been home to Fay and I longer than any other place we have lived in our married lives. In fact, that big old house on Oatfield Road where I spent 12 of my growing up years, is the only place I've ever lived longer! And I guess that makes leaving even harder. Where do I start? Who do I thank first? Who gets the last hug?
Actually that's the easy part. Fay, without whom nothing I have accomplished would have been possible, gets the first thank you, the first hug, and the last hug. It's been a great ride, so far, Honey, and I look forward to finishing the trip with you.
I think if there's one thing I want each of you to know, it is how much you have honored me by allowing me into your lives at their most intimate and vulnerable points: the births, the weddings, the joys, the tragedies, the deaths, and the grievings. Together we have rejoiced, laughed, praised, sung, wept, and mourned—through it all upheld and uplifted by the peace, presence and power of the Holy Spirit. As I leave and you prepare to receive first Pastor Bob, and then, Pastor Mark, I urge you to welcome them into your lives the way you have welcomed me.
For the past nine years, I have been preaching to you to be open to change. And in the past nine years a lot has changed: some of it good, some of it not so good; but life is change, and without change there can be no life. This is a big change, a big change for me as I transition from work to retirement, and a big change for you as you welcome your first new pastor in almost a decade, and the first new pastor for Hope United Methodist Church. If you will face these changes, as major as they are, with the same openness and willingness that you have faced change in the past, the change will be smooth and good things will happen.
Today there are a lot of festivities planned, and it is fitting that we celebrate the good times we have had together. But first, nine years ago we introduced ourselves with Holy Communion, and I think it is only proper that we say our farewells in that same way. Our Lord has prepared the feast. The table is set. Come, Celebrate, and give thanks, Let the party begin!
Blessings to you all,