Transition, Change and Farewells
Written by D.S. Barbara Certa-Werner
June 4, 2023
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
One of my first memories of the St. Croix Falls, Central and Atlas charge was during the pastoral change from Pastor Kook Ho and Pastor Ran to Pastor Jenny. We met at Atlas and there were many tears, some anger and frustration. I remember that the move came suddenly and unexpectedly.
I remember walking into meeting full of nerves – not knowing you and you not knowing me. We had to figure out how to work together for the glory of God and the ministry in these communities. It wasn’t and hasn’t always been smooth sailing – we have had to work through, live through and mature through a pandemic, through a post-pandemic reality and financial strain.
And you all have been personable – caring about each other – truly loving and you have included me! I have been welcomed through food, fellowship, conversation, laughter, forgiveness, and hope. You even celebrated my birthday with me one year!
And through it all, we have been able to keep moving forward with the business of the church through Zoom – and through the consistent care of the members. I have been so appreciative of the loving and willing hearts of these three churches! You are examples of perseverance.
As I prepared for this sermon, I referred to 2 Corinthians about Paul’s parting words to the Corinthians and thought about the lists my mom would leave for us to complete while she was gone. Today, we text those things – like, don’t forget to clean your room, take out the garbage, feed the dog/cat – those sorts of things. Do you remember those lists, or do you now make them?
Paul says, “Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”
First on the list – “put things in order.” Friends, we are a hot mess. We are struggling in a world that does not have the same values that we do. People see Christians as judgmental, harsh, hypocritical, and self-righteous. The mass appeal of Christianity has faded not because Christ is irrelevant but because the ways in which the people of God have lived their lives.
This means that we Christians are at a point in which we need to understand our faith more fully. We must be able, willing, and open to sharing our faith with others in ways that are meaningful and life changing. How has Jesus changed your life? How do you see God active and alive in your life?
Now this may seem like a major leap for some of you. This may be a little much to jump from attending worship to sharing your faith story with others. Here is what I offer. Start small. When in conversation, offer words of gratitude for the blessing you have received. Acknowledge to whom all your blessings have flowed from. And when someone asks or there is an opportunity, be prepared to share your praise about God with that person.
When I was the Executive Director for HHCS, I participated in a non-profit training on fundraising. The one-day workshop had each person or team from the organization develop an elevator speech. The elevator speech was to communicate with someone why their organization is vital and the work that they do is worthwhile in a short, concise manner that would begin and end in an elevator, thus the term elevator speech.
Think about this for a moment. We have people practicing sharing the importance of non-profits for the homeless, parks, rehab centers but we do not encourage people who have been saved by Jesus to practice sharing their testimony with others. If you had 30 seconds with someone to share how God has worked in your life, what would you say?
Henri Nouwen, a Dutch catholic priest put it so beautifully, “to follow Jesus means to live our lives as authentically as he lived his. It means to give away our ego and follow the God of love as Jesus shows us how to do it” And you then may add how Jesus has helped you live authentically.
Another way to go about sharing is keeping a gratitude journal. Take time daily to thank God for the blessings of the day, to thank God for the challenges so that you may grow, and to thank God for promises of love, companionship, and salvation.
Moving forward in 2 Corinthians, the next part is a series of instructions, “listen to my appeal, agree with one another and live in peace.” Paul is urging the church to remember what they have been taught, to be focused and to find ways to be at peace.
If we thought sharing our testimony was hard – here we go! We are to be the church of Jesus Christ that is invitational, engaging, involved, and transforming. We have slipped into a way of “being” the church that is non-biblical, that is based on what was and not what is.
Here is the most difficult reality – people who have been part of the church previously are probably not coming back. This is such a tough pill to swallow. We have wasted a lot of energy trying to woo those that have left. We need to refine our focus to bring people to Christ by going to them, to our communities and to our world. We cannot wait for people to come to us or to hope that maybe someway/somehow, others will return.
We must say farewell to the way we have been and be made new in Christ Jesus for a world that is hurting with loneliness, fear, selfishness, violence, hate, and abuse. We are called to reach out – and be out there in the community and the world as a living testimony to the power, grace, and love of God.
We cannot portray ourselves as loving people when we stay within the walls of the church building waiting for them to come to us. We cannot proclaim a transformational Christ that is leading us in perfecting love while we remain the same. We cannot inspire others to join us – stating all are welcome – when we operate like a country club – for members that look, and act like us.
To be the Church of Jesus Christ, we must agree that on our purpose, our focus, and our mission and in so doing, we will experience a sense of peace, knowing that we share the same value and vision for the church. We have spent time, energy, and talents on divided purposes that have led to intense conflicts and divisiveness. Now is the time to be a united church. It is the why of what we do and how we do ministry for the glorification of God.
Our focal point has been given to us in the great commission of Jesus Christ found in Matthew 28:19-20,’‘to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
My hope and prayer is that we will keep our minds, our hearts and our strength on Jesus Christ, living out his example in this world. May we fully and completely embrace the words written by a United Methodist lay woman, Janet Johnson Anderson wrote, “I don’t just want salvation, simply to rest in peace, I want to dance with joy, I want to live my life like the One before, alive with summer sunlight, hungry to seed the world with courage, feed divine instinct by the spoonful to others, walk with hope as plentiful as water, and words spilling out of love each utterance a flower. I am not willing to live without love, will remain stuck on the promise, ao that I can’t move an inch without moving closer to God, so that I can’t take a breath without filling up on God.”!!!! Amen.