First let me say thank you for coming this morning. I am grateful for your presence, and I am hopeful you are grateful for each other’s presence. We had a glorious celebration last week; we remembered, we expressed our thanks, and we said our good-byes. Today the reality hits. There are only two at the altar this morning instead of 3. Mother Beth has retired and will no longer be here. That reality brings with it emotions, for many, some sadness, for some, apprehension as to what happens next and honestly for a few, happiness at a new beginning. It is important to pause and acknowledge these emotions, both as individuals and as a community. In some ways it is like a death, a little death. Something important has ended. And being together as a community is what we do in times of mourning. So, thank you for being here today.
A wise friend of mine, Brenda Patten, told me that the “little deaths”, those separations, those ends of relationships, those changes of jobs, those graduations, emotion-filled as they may be, help prepare us for the “big death”. We learn with each moving on what is lasting and what is eternal. It will continue to be important that we come together regularly in this transition time. We can be both comforted and strengthened in each other’s presence in this sacred place.
We are fast approaching the end of the liturgical year and the darkest part of the natural seasons; the days just keep getting shorter. At this time of the year the lectionary focus, both on Sunday morning and in the Daily Office turns to the Parousia, the time of Jesus’ return to earth. While we as a church do believe that Christ will come again, we profess this in most of our Eucharists, I’m not sure we have it in the front of our minds on a regular basis.
As human beings we can be lulled by what is going on right now into thinking that life, as it is, goes on forever. There are times however where we are reminded that is not so.
Sometimes that is at a funeral or even a move away from home. Perhaps it becomes clear as you mark a young child’s growth on the doorframe and see what a difference a few months can make. And sometimes it is a day like today when the meaning of a rector’s retirement hits. The realization that life does not stand still can come through something simple or something large. These moments cause us to see the reality that always is. Our time on this earth is limited. Each day is not exactly the same as the one before. While sometimes change is slow and subtle there are other moments when the truth of beginnings and endings becomes crystal clear.
This is when the central message from today’s lessons can anchor us.
God through his son and through his prophets tells us to get our priorities straight. We do not have forever to put things off. There is a strong urgency that comes through these passages this morning. The challenge for modern day Christians is to hear the urgency they express.
In the readings from Malachi and Luke, the message of the “day of judgement” is clearly spelled out. It is depicted as a time of destruction. The wicked will be burned; there will be great earthquakes; nations will fight against nation; there will be famines and plagues.
In some ways it reads like a current newspaper, doesn’t it?
The problem is that it has seemed so to every generation that has heard these words. And so, people generally have stopped listening. The point being made in today’s lessons is not how to predict when Christ will come again but rather to be reminded that it will happen. These scriptures do that in no uncertain terms.
The question then is how does this change the way in which we live? What are our priorities as we live our day-to-day life in the knowledge that it will come to an end?
That answer comes in part from a closer look at Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians. In his first letter to that church, Paul reminded them that the Lord’s return will be as a thief coming at night. In other words, only God knows the time. We cannot know it and we will not know it. As we hear in this morning’s epistle, Paul’s second letter to the same church, there were many people who took the fact of Christ’s return as an excuse to sit around doing nothing. The attitude Paul challenges in today’s passage is, oh, well, this is going to end soon so I might as well sit back, relax and enjoy myself.
Instead, Paul taught that being a follower of Christ means that we must cultivate what is lasting. Paul stresses that we are not to give up on our normal practices even when we are not so sure about the future. Sometimes this uncertainty is helpful as it causes us to sort out what is most important.
The questions raised for us through these end-time lessons are especially important for us to consider in this time of transition. What is essential and important in our life? And what is unnecessary and trivial? What is lasting and true and what a is distraction from that truth?
Each November, as the liturgical year is ending, we are called to reexamine our priorities. This particular year, it is even more crucial. We are reminded that God calls us to a just and peaceful life. We are to love God, to love our neighbor and ourselves, and yes, to love our enemies. Living in this way requires our time, especially when there are so many other things that can get in the way.
None of this is easy and we might just as well wish to avoid it. We, like those Christians in the first century can be lulled into complacency and become lazy. But we too, need to heed the reminder from these passages to attend to the important things in life. After all, our time on this earth does have a limit. And, there are some things for our spiritual health that we cannot put off.
Does this mean that we are to get all spun up about this, filled with worry and anxiety? No, our example, as in most things in life, is to follow Jesus. As he neared the end of his life on earth, he did not become anxious, worrying about what he was to do or to say. Rather, he continued in his work, in healing, in teaching and in prayer to the very end.
This is what I believe these lessons today are calling us to do during this time of transition. We are to remember our priorities and to continue in the course we know to be true. We are to pray, to study scripture, and to follow Jesus under all circumstances. We are to continue in our work to spread God’s message of healing love to all. We are to come together regularly at the altar here to gain and provide strength to each other. We are to give of ourselves for the spread of God’s kingdom. These are the Christian basics. This is what it means to be Emmanuel, to be God’s church in this place.
While the scriptures today remind us of the temporary nature of our lives on earth we also are given the wonderful truth of eternal life found in Jesus Christ. Jesus is with us in all times and in all things. God’s love is unchanging and unending. God accompanies us in all our journeys. He will guide us in these uncertain times and comfort us in all our emotions.
In a few moments we will begin the next phase of our journey together. While we have looked at the past with gratitude, now we will look forward with hope. As we commission the search committee to do their work of discerning who God is sending us as the next rector of this place, let us each promise to continue in our work, in our prayer and in our actions for the spread of God’s kingdom.
God is faithful to us, and his love is eternal. We ae called to renew our faithfulness in him.