June 17th will be my last Sunday at First UMC Cedar Falls. With a Sunday of vacation and my attendance at Annual Conference, it has dawned on me that I have five sermons left to preach at First UMC in Cedar Falls.
When a pastor finds out that she or he is making a pastoral move we are all faced with what we should say in our last opportunities as we worship with our congregations. It is important in those last sermons, last acts of worship, and last opportunities to share with a church family things you believe will aid them in the transition to new pastoral leadership and allow you to appropriately bring to a close your pastoral relationship with them.
I believe in those last sermons it is always important to be encouraging. Change is always stressful. Change brings about new opportunities for service, ministry, fellowship, and friendship. Change can bring fresh perspectives and new ideas. But still, change is scary for all of us. As human beings we long for the familiar well worn paths even when that path may not be the one we should continue on.
I also believe it is important hold up the future of the church. First UMC is a great church which is going through some big changes and transitions. We are in major building and renovation project. We are working hard on invisioning and planning for the future which also will require changes in ministry, leadership, service, and yes changing our very selves for the cause of Jesus Christ.
I believe that attitude is a huge part of the success of any institution but especialy the church. Our attitude about our church and the cause of Christ makes a huge difference in our ability to serve God. If you look at the Emmaus Road ecounter with Jesus, we see that those on the road to Emmaus were dejected, stressed, grieved, and hurting from the death of the beloved teacher and friend Jesus. Their attitude was one of defeat even though Jesus Christ was already risen. But their attitude, created by not realizing the risen Christ’s victory, meant that they could do nothing for the cause of Christ. But when they discovered that Jesus Christ is risen indeed it changed their attitude, their actions, and their lives.
In the United Methodist Church right now we are worrying about the same issues that all of the mainline churches are worrying about. We are worrying about shrinking membership numbers, not enough young people in our churches, and shrinking resources. Because of that in some ways we can fail to remember that we live in the light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Like those on the road to Emmaus, we can fail to live out the full joy of what God is doing for us because we are looking at all the wrong things. We have Jesus walking right beside us but we fail to see him because we are dejectedly staring at our feet.
Well as a long time admirer of the United Methodist Church who has now embraced this family of faith, I can tell United Methodists that in may ways we are too hard on each other. The United Methodist Church has powerful gifts and graces to share with the world. Our Wesleyan theology of grace and love and our acceptance of people gives us a great message to share with the world. We are an Easter people living in the Great Fifty Days of the resurrected Christ and we need to quit moping around about what isn’t working and instead share with the joy the message that God has for us to share. If we recapture our joy as a people of God then the other problems will take care of themselves.
I also believe in a pastors last sermons in a church it is important to say those thank yous to the church for their love and support. The church needs to receive a pat on the back when they’ve done good. They need to know when their pastor has been loved and supported and how much a difference that made in their life, ministry, and the lives of their family.
So I’ll close this post by saying something I intend to say several more times in the next few week. Thank you First UMC Cedar Falls for taking care of me and my family these past two years, for making us a part of your family, and for giving me strength and allowing me to lead among you because of your support, love and prayers. Thanks be to God for your witness on behalf of our risen Savior!