Monday, December 29, 2014

My Last Sunday

Well, it is Monday morning and I have preached my last sermon at Karl Road Christian Church as the full time pastor of the church. 

We go today to Toledo to continue Christmas celebration with Chuck's family so it certainly does not feel like the "beginning" of retirement.  And there is still a celebration party next Sunday so it is not the "end" of my time at the church yet.

But I am almost there.

I have not blogged much this month because it has been such a strange and weird time that I haven't felt able to put it into words.  Even yesterday people asked me how I felt and my answer was "weird."

But this morning I just think I will unpack some of the emotion of all of this transition in my life and in the life of the church.

My decision to retire has been a long time coming - probably the seeds were planted two years ago.  I have noticed a lessening of energy and resilience within me.  At the same time I wondered whether this truly was a movement of spirit.  My original "plan" was to wait until August or September of 2015 but as this year began I knew in my heart it was the last year of full time  ministry for me.

What I have always known is how much I love being a pastor.  I love spending time with God's word and wrestling with the weekly message that becomes a sermon.  It is not easy but it is extremely satisfying.  I love doing Bible study and watching the way the Word comes alive and we truly grow together.  I love being with people in times of trouble and joy and representing God's presence and love.  And I love praying - alone and in community and trusting and sometimes seeing God's activity in our lives.

The past two months have been a time of "letting go" in so many ways.  As budgets are formed for the next year and new leaders are being sought I have known that I will not be present for this year. The elders are in a process of discernment about the interim minister and I have certainly learned to trust them.  But it is very strange to let go ......

The greatest awareness of this time has been my understanding of how much I felt  the health and future of the church rested on my shoulders. And letting go of that burden is (going to be) a gift.
I still feel it as I sit here   but I know that gradually it will be gone.  You can say - that it is Christ's church and it is the congregation's burden too.  I remember going on a retreat and praying that I could just lay the church on the cross.  And maybe I did for a time.  But my reality is that gradually I start to feel responsible and this burden.  And maybe this has something to do with having less resilience than I used to.  Anyway, today I know that it was time to let go  on every level.

The worship service yesterday was overwhelming for me.  There was the awareness that this was "the last time" and it felt heavy.  At the same time I wanted us to remember that it was, of course, about God.  And the gift that God had given to me of this amazing relationship with the people of Karl Road Christian Church.  My sermon was slow in coming and I found myself still working on it at 6 AM Sunday morning.  My entire family was present - all three girls and their families and 2 brothers and their wives - who drove from North Carolina and New Hampshire respectively. 

Carol and Sharon Fry did a duet that touched me immensely, Kerry and Nikki signed "Jesus the Center of my Soul," we ended the service with a litany for retirement and then the children - including 4 grandchildren - sang a "Thank you" song to me.  At the end the entire congregation stood in my honor. It was unforgettable and overwhelming.  And then last night my family came together at the Spaghetti Warehouse for a dinner in my honor.  Whew!  It is a lot!

And so I sit in my basement on the computer in what will soon be my new "office" and ponder all of it.  At this moment I just am awed by the incredible blessing of being a pastor.  During my sermon I quoted Ruth Haley Barton about this peculiar role being called by God to lead God's people:
"the great paradox of calling: God was saying in essence, it is all about you (because you are the one I have called) and it's not about you at all (because it was all about me and my work in and through you.)"

I have had some wonderful and amazing experiences during these years - like mission trips, leading retreats, walking in the gay pride parade, going to Nehemiah Action meetings, doing countless reiki treatments, officiating at weddings and funerals, leading games at VBS, being part of the Acts of Faith for the 12 Days of Christmas - it has been fun and really fulfilling.

I wonder what is ahead and truly who I am going to be when I am no longer a pastor.  I have learned to trust God through it all.  And I do.

My Final Sermon at Karl Road Christian Church

Luke 2:22-40

22When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

25Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.

 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared in the presence of

 all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.

34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”


On this last Sunday of this last year – a year of living boldly.  I kept thinking what did I want to preach about and finally decided I would stick to the lectionary. And allow it to guide me

And so this week I have spent time with Simeon, an old man, an old priest  who blesses the baby brought by Mary and Joseph. As a 65 year old woman with 30 years in the  parish leadership who has dedicated quite a few babies – I can identify with him.

As I spent time with him – I saw him as an example for us of what you might call mature faith.  I find in him the gospel message that I want to leave you with.

First of all – the Bible makes clear that “the holy spirit rested” on him.  He is guided by the spirit.

As Oprah says - this much I know is true – that the holy spirit is real and it guides us. I know this and I hope you know this.

Some examples from my own life – many of you know that I came to this church as  Reiki practitioner and some of you have been trained in reiki – and we have performed hundreds of reiki treatments over the years.  And reiki – KI – is about spirit.   It is a prayer form of spirit – and when we pray for one another and lay hands on each other God is working.  Bringing peace, a sense of being loved and sometimes verifiable healing.       It is all about spirit.

I know about the guidance of spirit when I have walked into a hospital room immediately following some very bad news from the doctor. It was as if God sent me there at that moment of need.

Simeon is guided by the spirit and sometimes I am and you are.  That is mature faith – and it is all about connection – and disconnection.

Spirit comes as we ask for it, as we wait for it, as we take risks in faith, when we are open to it. Spirit comes the most when you are on your knees and don’t know what is the next thing you are supposed to do.

I have a secret that I am now going to share with you – and it is that I am pretty inadequate.  This is not false modesty  - this is just true –preaching every week is relentless,  hearing about members being sent to the emergency room, just a prayer in a meeting – there are moments when I don’t know what to do – and I can testify to divine help – without a doubt.  God’s spirit flows through this world, this church, my life and your life. Sometimes.

We can ignore it, block it, dismiss it.  We can get full of ourselves, our anger and addictions.  But I am telling you – God’s spirit is real.

Second thing I see in Simeon is he is a prophet – has spiritual vision and sees the baby and knows that he is  the one they have been waiting for and he say: – “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel” 

 - He understood, or saw – the power, the purpose, the paradox of Jesus. And really the heart of the transformation that God wants to do with us as we follow Jesus.  He is Destined for the falling and rising of many.  Which means he is going to be a stumbling block.

If you read the Bible you will see a lot of people that trip over Jesus  - the saducees and the Pharisees, and Herod and Pontius Pilate and the rich young ruler       And of course -   the disciples – Jesus can be a stumbling block.  

Think about those men:   do you remember the story of James and John who wanted to be on the right hand of Jesus – in a position of status and power – because after all don’t we all want power and position

James and John  also wanted to call down fire from heaven on the Samaritans who rejected their message – give them what they deserve

Do you remember Peter – who rebuked Jesus when he said he was going to suffer on the cross – isn’t following  you is about avoiding pain?

They stumbled over the teachings and the path of Jesus  And don’t we as well

How many of us stumble over his words of forgiveness – unequivocal words of forgiveness to our enemy – looking for loopholes

How many of us stumble over a kingdom where every person is of value not matter what –

How many of us stumble over his message of non violence –we are called not to attack or defend but to be peacemakers –

And of course at the center of it all is the call to love – A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Richard Rohr wrote – “but do know this: every time you choose to love, you have also just chosen to die…..every time you truly love you are letting go of yourself as an autonomous unit and have given a bit of yourself away to something or someone else.”

Here is what I have learned – you WILL stumble over these teaching –they stretch us – and  they force us on our knees

But this phrase – destined for the falling AND the rising of many. The rising comes as we recognize God in the midst of it all!

 I receive an email meditation from Richard Rohr every day – this morning he wrote:

We each move at our own pace, mostly very slowly, with many stumblings and regressions. Yet at every stage we see grace (unearned love and growth) at work.

It's not primarily up to us. God is here – and  living itself within us, even in spite of us. We are simply invited to join in the dance with our intention and desire, to allow grace to flourish all the more freely and abundantly. And as we practice being conscious in our loving, we find an always available love becoming our most foundational way of being

So -  it is in the falling – that we find Jesus and then there is the Rising to answer his call upon our lives.  To love – to live in love

Simeon  - full of spirit – saw Jesus in all of his  power – and he praised God for the blessing of this encounter

This passage is called the Nunc dimittis[1] is a  canticle often used as the final song in a religious service    And so how appropriate – it is a song of gratitude and appreciation.

This is a song of deep satisfaction – as he see that God is at work in the world and bringing Jesus who comes to  save us.  He is saying I can die happy, I can die in peace.

And that is my song this morning. – Appreciation for all that God has done for the past 11 years – in and through our ministries together.

And I come before you today and sing a song of praise – celebrating the good news of Karl Road Christian church – that works together and grows in faith.  I praise God from whom all blessings flow – because I have been blessed here and  Chuck has been blessed.

Finally, Simeon is the perfect figure for  today because ultimately  Simeon fulfilled his role – he is here for just a moment in the text to bless this baby and do his part in sharing the gospel – to Mary. And help Mary in her pondering.

In much the same way, I hope I have fulfilled my role here. I have preached, done baby dedications, officiated at weddings and funerals.

I have led Bible studies, attended meetings and had lots of conversations of spirit with so many of you.  I know that I have not been anything close to perfect – and I ask your forgiveness so that you can be open to spirit as God leads you to the next leader who is going to take this church into – I hope – new mission and new territory for service

But what I do now is praise God – for you – for your faith. For the honor and blessing of seeing God at work in your lives.

Several years ago I had an insight into who I am – I think you know that my name Margot is a nickname and that my real name – is Margaret. I am named after mother and grandmother – now with daughter and granddaughter who continue that name. 

Margaret means pearl – and I like that  - a pearl as you know is formed as an object intrudes in the oyster and the friction somehow produces a beautiful gem. That will preach!

But I am one of this line of Margarets – and I am one of a series of pastors at this church – and a series of pastors in your life. One on a string who did what we could to serve God and God’s people in this place.  And grateful to fulfill whatever role I had in your ongoing spiritual formation and in the life of the churches I have served.

If you have been here during these years you know – we have done quite a bit – core values, bedrock beliefs, a motivating vision – Ignited by God – changing the world – first years

We have had years of reading through the bible and years of appreciation and this year of being bold.  We have developed some new ministries and some old ones have ceased.  We have marched in parades and done Family Fun Day and Vacation Bible School and all kinds of activities.

And through it all my prayer is that we have been faithful to God’s leading.  Let me end by saying that honestly – it has been an honor and a challenge to be in full time pastoral ministry.  Because today for me – is the end of that – I think.

Pastoral ministry is a very peculiar calling –Ruth Haley Barton wrote – “the great paradox of calling is that God was saying in essence – it is all about you – because you are the one I have called – and it’s not about you at all – because it was all about me and my work in and through you.” (from Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership)

There is no doubt in my mind that I have at times been led by the spirit, and it is also true that there has been a fair amount of stumbling – falling and rising but I leave with a sense of awe and gratitude for the blessing of being here with you.

People keep asking me – what are you going to do now and where are you going to worship? I don’t know

I hope I can find a church that  takes seriously the call to welcome all people – black white brown gay straight young old rich poor, conservative and liberal.  It is not just what we say – it is the choices that we make in worship and mission that helps us to continue to be a church of inclusion

I hope I can find a church that takes   the risk of being guided by the spirit and the values of Jesus.  Which means – sometimes we make choices that may not seem practical or financially sensible – because we have been guided by spirit.

I hope I can find a church that risks radical hospitality – reaching out to people in the margins even though it will mean stains in the sanctuary and probably disorder in the brand new fellowship hall

I hope I can find a church that loves the  way Jesus loves – genuinely caring for each other and our shut ins – as well as confronting systemic injustice in our community and reaching out to all corners of the world

Finally I hope I can find a church where I can laugh and sing and dream and celebrate the freedom grace and abundance of this life with Jesus.

It has been so good to find that church here – at Karl Road.

It has been good , friends – a real adventure for my soul.  And I pray that as we part we continue to be guided by the spirit, not afraid to stumble over the hard teachings of our Lord and be ready to praise God in all times and places.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Joy in Advent

I have not written in this blog for almost a month and finally, finally I am.
Right before Thanksgiving I purchased a new computer - preparing for my retirement and tired of the frustrations of the old one.  However.....there seemed to be a problem.  It was slow, slow, slow and more frustrating than the old one.

So, I messed around with it and worried and wondered what to do - and finally last night Jason came over and fixed the problem - I had purchased an antivirus and put it in - before removing the one that was already on the computer for a trial run. 
And wow - 2 antivirus fight with each other and slow everything down.  I think there may be a sermon illustration in this  about self protection - there can be too much and it can prevent us from doing what we are supposed to be doing??  Yes, I think that is it.

Anyway, we are now fully into the season of Advent and I have not reflected at all on it - so this is a beginning.  I may find myself writing a lot more for the rest of the year - because there is a lot going on.

The theme that we selected for this season is JOY and we even purchased a devotional - "Joy in Jesus."  I want to highlight three occasions for JOY that come to mind as I look back on the last few weeks.

First, I led an Advent Retreat - my annual time at Camp Christian.  The theme was "Comfort and Joy" and it really did provide that for me and I think for most of us.  We spent the morning reflecting on the discomfort of our lives and then receiving the comfort that God has for us.  Some of our activities included coloring mandalas, meditating on Bible verses and praying for one another.  It is always powerful to be in a small group who listens and then prays.  The afternoon was all about joy and we sang and danced and did our craft.  The joy comes when we can really trust God and let go.  I often see signs on facebook that says - "Choose Joy"  and there is something to it!

Second, I have done three baby blessings and dedications in the past two months with the third and final one being for my granddaughter Maggie.  I cannot overstate the blessing of being able to be part of this.  When I walk a baby around the sanctuary - it is like I am carrying a lightbulb as everyone smiles and reaches out for him or her.  Maggie is a very expressive baby and her smiles brought even more smiles.  What a gift for me!

Finally, we had our Acts of Faith present acts of faith service on Sunday night.  We had a lot of people come from our church as well as from the community.  And it was just uplifting and fun.  We ended as we did last year with the 12 days of Christmas and I got to join the group with the 5th day - "5 songs to Sing."  It is me letting go and having fun and truly experiencing joy in the season. 

There is a bittersweet element to everything for me as I am so aware that this is my last....district meeting, board meeting, elders meeting, acts of faith concert. Etc. And yet in it - the joy is almost palpable as I live in deep gratitude for the gift of being a minister here at Karl Road Christian Church.

Lots of questions about the future - for me, the church, but I think this is a time to choose joy.  In the midst of the struggles of the world and the question of the future - there is the present.  And I choose joy and get glimpses of God at work - always.