These two congregations St. Andrew’s and Deer Park have embarked on a bold journey to worship together. That Journey must be continued and deserves to be continued. Today I end my congregational ministry with St. Andrew’s. But while this is an ending, it is also a beginning, a continuation. So today I would speak to you about where the energy to continue comes from.
I offer you no words of looking back. I’ve experienced enough retirement sermons in which the retiree takes the role of the old pro holding up gems of spiritual wisdom gleaned from decades of congregational ministry. That would be self-indulgent and more than a little conceited. It would be like a eulogy. To preach like that would be false to the present moment, for this is a time for you to look forward, not back. The momentum of these two congregations must come not from nostalgia but from your vocation. What we have started must continue through your best effort to answer the calling which the Spirit of Jesus makes to you.
Nor is this a moment for me to propose grand strategies or detailed plans about how you are to answer your calling as churches together. That again would be self-indulgent and presumptuous. We must not be afraid to acknowledge the ending. Today we bide each other “Adieu.” Remember that “Adieu” means literally “to God.” We entrust each other into the hands of God. I pass the responsibility of congregational leadership to the Rev. Catherine Elsdon. It is such a blessing that the Spirit has brought Catherine to you. She has great gifts to offer as you join with her in the adventure of becoming the people of God that God intends. But none of us, neither Catherine nor you, sees fully what God intends. Our future in God rests hidden in the counsels of the Holy Spirit.
But I do want to commission you, to leave something with you. It is a reminder, which needs to be short and simple. And it is this. As you go forward — as we go forward — remember that Jesus journeys alongside. That is what I would name and proclaim to you today. The Spirit of Christ carries us from the blessed past that God has given you and me in our journey together and carries us into our future. The Spirit of Christ. The presence of Christ. Paul the Apostle calls it “the mind of Christ.” He says, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”
The “mind of Christ” — in you and me. That is how Christ is present in and through us. “Mind” here is more than our intellect. It is our whole self: our thoughts, emotions, character. Christ is present in the world as who and what we are gets shaped more and more closely to who and what Jesus was. Christ is present as we aim to be God-focussed, the way he was. He is present among us as we imitate his knowledge of God, his intimacy with God, his power in God. Everything of his speaking and acting that echoes throughout the Christian Scriptures. All the stories from Jesus — his parables and one-liners. All the stories about Jesus which express the mystery of God at work in him. All the power and wisdom available to us under the label which I have used for years now: the Way of Jesus. Christ walks the world when we walk the Way of Jesus. That is the reminder I would leave with you. So all I need to say by way of commissioning you is summoned up in the last three lines of the hymn we shall shortly sing:
Go and be salt. God and be yeast. Go and be light.
But that does not means that Jesus leaves it all up to us.. In order to sustain us in walking along his Way, he created through is followers this potent ritual of the Shared Table. He invites us to come and share it now.
Come and share. In this way our parting will be superficial; we will remain together, nourished by his presence, “Pilgrims on a journey, fellow travellers on the road.” Even as we pursue diverging paths, what God has been doing among us will continue as long as we bend our steps, each day, along the Way of Jesus.
May it be so.