Romans 5:1 - 8
"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we
boast in the hope of the glory of God.
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;
perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us."
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Well, today is the day…the day when some of us are preaching our last sermons, at least for the Open Door Churches. And it is so hard to say goodbye. But today is not the first time I have had to say goodbye. Coming and going is just part of being a United Methodist pastor. If you think about it, we go through our whole lives saying goodbye to people. Maybe our best friend in grade school moved away. We said good bye. When we graduated from high school we went separate ways from several close friends. We said good bye. And to family and friends who have died, we said good bye.
Over the course of his or her ministry, a pastor may serve a number of congregations. I have served many churches over the last almost 40 years, in many different kinds of settings. I won’t go into detail about that, but if you’re interested there is an article about me in the Open
Door Churches Newsletter. As a pastor we often get deeply involved in our members lives. We share their joys like the
births, baptisms and
confirmations of their children. We share in the joy of their weddings and anniversaries. We teach them God’s Word in classes, Bible Classes, and Vacation Bible School. We get to celebrate special days with them like Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, church anniversaries and the like. We also share their sorrows such as hospital visits, lingering illnesses, counseling problems, and the death of loved ones. After all these contacts, there are strong emotions when a pastor leaves especially when 3 pastors are leaving.
I don’t know all of you as well as I know the Trinity folks, but there are many of you I have come to know and love over the last few years as we’ve worked together, so those strong emotions are what I am experiencing right now. I think it is harder for me to say goodbye this year, with the coronavirus keeping us from worshipping in person, no goodbye hugs, no fellowship groups to meet and share stories or meals with. No way to visit people in homes or the hospital. And of course there probably won’t be any opportunities to say our goodbyes later, because your new pastors will be here and you will need to develop relationships with them. The other part that makes things hard for me this year is because I don’t have a church to move on to. Retirement is a whole new thing. We are required to pick a church to move our charge conference membership to, but I haven’t had any chance to attend any other church in the area. So I can’t move on to say hello.
We were lucky to get moved into our new home, just before the stay at home order came. And there has been plenty of work to do, but I have missed the familiar life we led in Salem and we haven’t been able to meet our neighbors or learn where things are in Albany yet. We don’t know when it will end. It is scary being one of those “at risk” people. And for the first time ever, you have two new pastors coming that you don’t know, and may not see in person for another few months. So what do we do? How do we get through this time of craziness?
I think these words of Paul to the Romans can help us make it through these difficult times, however long they may be. Life for Paul was never easy either.
He tells the church “And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;
perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
Now I have not really been suffering, over the last 3 months even though I wanted to see other people, and I had to learn a whole bunch of new things. Like preaching into my phone. Which has required perseverance and a little character to get out of bed and get dressed!
But many people have been suffering. The families who have lost loved ones due to police violence, or to the virus itself. People losing their jobs and their homes. And so many others. Perseverance has been really hard for many.
Yet Paul reminds us, that as Christians we can rejoice in the midst of any circumstance because of where our hope is placed. Hope is the highway that gets our faith from point A to point B. Hope is what keeps us moving and rejoicing through whatever circumstances life throws our way. So how do we have hope to see our faith realized?
We have hope when our faith is resting firmly in Jesus. Then it doesn't matter when suffering or persecution comes our way, because hope lets us rejoice in the midst of it. Paul knew that a byproduct of suffering at the hand of this world was perseverance. Perseverance is endurance, and consistency no matter what happens.
Perseverance allows our faith to mature and produce hope. Hope gets us through to the end goal, which is the glory of God. This blessed hope is what we await patiently for.
Hope is what we all want and need, not just in the difficult times, but also in the good times, because if we have hope, we can bring that hope to others.
We have done many things together over the last 6 years I have been in Salem. While you and I will no longer be together here doing those things, Jesus will still be with you all, walking with you and guiding you to get those things done here. After all, each of these congregations is not so much YOURS as they are HIS. You proclaim HIS Word, not what a great bunch of people you are in your individual congregations.
I want you to know that as I leave your midst, I do so with a lot of joy and satisfaction in my heart. That’s because Jesus was with us all this time, leading and directing us through his Word, as he granted us wisdom from the Holy Spirit. I leave in the confidence of his promise to you: He will always be with you, to the very end of the age, because you are his Church bringing hope to the world.
So goodbye Open Door Churches. Thank you for everything you have done for me and my family. You will be in my prayers and my love always.
Persevere even when things are difficult, and be filled with hope that your lives will continue to reflect God's glory.
by Rachel Held Evans
God, go with us. Help us to be an honor to the church. Give us the grace to follow Christ’s word, to be clear in our task and careful in our speech. Give us open hands
and joyful hearts. Let Christ be on our lips. May our lives reflect a love of truth and
compassion. Let no one come to us and go away sad. May we offer hope to the poor, and solace to the disheartened. Let us so walk before God’s people, that those who follow us might come into his kingdom. Let us sow living seeds, words that are quick with life, that faith may be the harvest in people’s hearts. Amen.
—Quoted in “Provocative Christian writer Rachel Held Evans, dead at 37, still speaks to many.” The Wired Word, (May 12, 2019, second lesson), TheWiredWord.com.