Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Beacon Presbyterian farewell sermon, 1.22.12

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 2a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 7a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

9What gain have the workers from their toil? 10I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. 11He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; 13moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.

Colossians 3:12-17
12As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

            What is a church? A church is a community, a family, a home. A church is a hospital for sinners and a training ground for saints. A church is a place where everyone is welcomed as a child of God, and a place where we practice forgiving others because as God’s children we always come up short. A church is a place we come to recharge our spiritual batteries, to find refreshment and sanctuary from the challenges of our daily lives in the world. It’s also a missionary station where we get ready to go into the world renewed by Christ’s love to invite other people to join the family.

            Inescapably, a church is an institution with structure and organization to give shape to our life together. As an institution led by people any church will always be imperfect because we are imperfect. At the same time, miraculously, the church is the body of Christ. All of us together across the universe and across the divide of time are one community and we make up Christ’s body in the world.

            Like everything else, the church is always changing. As Solomon reminds us in our reading from Ecclesiastes, everything comes and goes in its season. At its beginning, Beacon was a small group of people who felt there should be a Presbyterian community in this neighborhood.

Over the years, in response to God’s calling and in conversation with the world around them, the saints of Beacon ministered to their neighbors and their world in Christ’s name. At some points in their history the Sunday school was the main focus of their ministry. Other times music or youth work or ministry with working families took the foreground depending on the needs of the neighborhood and the gifts of the leaders of the church.

There were times of growth and times of decline; times of sorrow and times of joy. There were brilliant ideas and unfortunate mistakes; there were moments of inspiration, months of careful planning and generations of faithful ministry.

Through it all, God has been faithful and this congregation has been faithful as well. Elders and pastors, teachers, singers, workers and members have come and gone, lived and died in the faith. Children have grown up learning the story of Jesus and his amazing love. People have come to these doors for help paying rent or a compassionate ear and have found the love of God shining through ordinary women and men.

Men and women have grown in faith and service here through the word proclaimed, bread broken, wine poured and the water of the baptismal covenant. Kids who didn’t know Christ came to know him through vacation Bible school or Sunday school. Seniors at Penn Home were reminded that Jesus still loves them through hymns and lessons and the simple service of daily care. People have found support when they needed it most because God used the hands and hearts of this community to minister to those in need. There is lots of great ministry to be grateful for here at Beacon.

For everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven. As this congregation has grown and ministered and weathered years of challenge, now it’s time for this congregation to say good bye. This is not a failure and it’s not a defeat. God has used this congregation to do amazing ministry over the years. God has also used these last years of hard struggle to train you who have stayed until the end to lead and to serve. Wherever God leads you next in your discipleship, the skills and love you have learned in your ministry at Beacon will equip you for the next stage of your calling as Christ’s disciples. Whatever church you join next will be stronger for your experience at Beacon, just as the church I serve now benefits from what I learned from you.

And God is using the building you have cared for in a new way through a new ministry. The transition has not been as smooth as might be hoped; there is hurt and need for forgiveness throughout the process because we are not perfect people. But the cycles and changes in life whether smooth or rough are part of the path God uses to lead us to redemption.

This congregation has been incredibly faithful to the mission Christ has set before us. We have struggled and worked hard to continue to minister in Christ’s name to this neighborhood. Today we close this chapter in our lives and in the life of this community of faith. We recognize that as there was a time for founding and growth, so there has been a time for faithful decline and now this ministry has run its course. It is time to release this building for other leaders to seek new ways of ministering on this corner. There will still be a witness to Christ’s love on this corner; it will be a different witness and with God’s blessing it may reach people we were not reaching in our ministry.

It’s time too to release ourselves from the weight of carrying this ministry. I know you have all worked hard to keep Beacon going. There has been grace in that ministry, but it has been hard work just to keep going with such a small community. I believe that as we release this building to a new future and release each of you to new congregations there will be joy and freedom in that as well.

Imagine how much fun it would be to go to choir practice and sing joyfully in worship without worrying about how you’re going to keep the lights on another month. Imagine how nourishing it could be for your soul to be able to attend adult education without having to organize the class first. Imagine having Sunday school for kids with a bigger pool of volunteers so teachers can rotate between teaching and worship.

It’s sad to close this chapter because this congregation has meant so much to each of us. Some of you have spent your whole lives worshiping at Beacon; others first came to know Jesus through this ministry. The legacy of that ministry continues even though we say good bye to Beacon Presbyterian Church. The lives changed by love have still been touched; the stories will still be shared.

And each of us who has been nourished by this community will take the love of God we found here to the places we go next. There is great ministry to celebrate and fond memories to share. There is also a bright future of new ministry ahead for each of us. The God who called you is faithful and God will lead you forward in faith in every stage of your life until he calls you home.

Thanks be to God.  

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