Saying Goodbye (2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20)

This sermon was preached by Rev. Jill Sander-Chali on June 15, 2014, at University United Methodist Church.

 It is very hard for me to believe that this day has come.  My last Sunday as the pastor at University United Methodist Church.  

I think back to my first Sunday here in July of 2010 and what I remember the most was that I had been told that it was my responsibility to turn on the lights, air conditioning, and the sound.  Dan Barrett came and made the coffee and put out the Visitor Parking signs.  I dutifully arrived early and turned everything on in the whole building the way that Alice had showed me.  When she arrived, she informed me that we don’t actually use every room on Sunday mornings and so, she helped me turn the units off in the rooms we would not use!

What a difference four years makes!  This morning Adam did all the Sunday set up, including turning on the lights and air conditioning and Greg is working the sound.  In addition, we’ve added the worship leader position and we have some fantastic talent that is shared every Sunday.  In fact, I could go on and on naming the many people who now work together to make Sunday mornings a warm, inviting, and welcoming worship experience.

Perhaps this sticks out in my mind because I believe that it is one marker of how we have grown and worked together over the years.

I have grown in my understanding of the church as the body of Christ and the pastor as the one who organizes and administrates the body of Christ for ministry.  If I or any leader in the church try to do it all myself, I am actually denying the God-given gifts of all of you, the members of the body.

At the same time, I believe that this congregation has grown in taking ownership of the ministries that you love and care about and want to see flourish.  I see people stepping up without being asked to do things the church values.

I am grateful for many things during these four years.  Personally, of course, I am grateful for the birth of my daughter and the ways that you all supported me and Chali and loved us through a difficult pregnancy.  It will always be special to me that this is the church that I was serving the year that I was ordained and committed myself to a lifetime of service through the office of elder in the United Methodist Church.

But, I am also grateful for the way that I have grown as a pastor while I have been here.  I know that when I came to you, many of you were a bit nervous about this young girl who wasn’t even ordained!  I was nervous, too!  But, through the grace, love and encouragement that you showed me, I have grown so much in my pastoral identity and in identifying the specific gifts for ministry that God has given me.  I have learned that I have gifts in administrating the church, that I’m good at helping a church find a new direction and shift courses, and that preaching is something that sustains me in my ministry.  I’ve learned what I’m good at and what I’m not and who I need to partner with to be successful and effective in sharing God’s love with more people.

Over these four years, I have seen many gifts in this congregation, both individually and as a whole.  I have said to some of you personally, but I say publically today that this congregation is comprised of the most talented group of lay people that I have ever worked with before in my life.  You all bring a wealth of personal and professional experience that is a gift to the ministry that you do together.

I believe that one of your greatest gifts, that you may not have known you had, is your openness to new ideas and the way that you encourage and mentor young people to find their passions (especially young pastors!)  You are a healthy church with natural gifts for teaching and training young clergy.  Your openness gives young clergy an opportunity to try out all of the innovative things they learned in seminary, and yet your wisdom gives young clergy the guidance they need to learn from mistakes and move on with stronger vision.

With this pastoral transition, you are entering a new phase of ministry and I want to share with you some words of challenge.  When I came to UUMC, the Staff Parish Relations Committee shared their desire to see the church become filled with younger people and more diverse people.  This mandate was also made clear to me by the district superintendent. 

As I got started at UUMC, I struggled to find the solid footing that I needed to move the entire congregation in that direction.  This is, in part, where the drive for a new mission, vision and values came from.  As our small “MVV” team, prayed, studied, listened and learned, it became clear that becoming more intergenerational, international, and multi-cultural was a dream for many at UUMC, not just a small group of leaders.  So over the course of at least a year, we worked on finding the language to name the core of who we are and what we do as a faith community in our mission, the dream that we believe God has for us in our vision, and the things that we try to live every day in our values.

We had named this new direction and barely begun the work of living into it when I announced that I was moving due to the new job opportunity for my husband in the Great Plains Annual Conference.  I felt frustrated with the timing because selfishly I wanted to take you all into the promised land!  I wanted to see the fruit of my labor grow!

However, when you all, leaders and members of the congregation started asking me questions like “Can we still do this new ministry with international students?”  “Can we still hire a staff person to work on cross-cultural ministries?” “Can we keep our new mission and vision when our new pastor comes?” I began to realize that the vision is taking root in your hearts, desires and dreams in a wonderful way.

Because, you all, ultimately, are responsible for the ways this vision will come to life.  No single pastor can do it all, not me and not Rev. Diane.  Your pastor comes to you simply as a partner, to work alongside you with her gifts in making the dreams of God come to life in this place. 

With time, intention, and attention, you will find ways to live the vision more fully.

As you do this, remember the words from our gospel reading this morning.  The scripture reading describes some of Jesus’ last moments on earth with the disciples.  This is during the period of his resurrection appearances, before he ascends to heaven.  The eleven disciples are gathered around Jesus, excited to see him again.  They see him, they worship him; and some doubt—that sounds like UUMC doesn’t it!?

But, Jesus gives them very specific instructions to “Go [therefore] and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (v. 19-20a)

As you live this vision, know there will be times when you believe and times when you doubt.  Times when you know that God is God and times when you wonder.  Times when you see the vision springing forth and times when it feels like nothing is growing. 

But through it all, remember that Jesus is sending you to make disciples of all nations.  Remember that you are called to share the love of the Triune God with others; you are called to offer the sacrament of baptism; you are called to model a life of love and teach others to do the same.

Some of you have experienced a pastoral transition in the United Methodist Church before—you all understand that pastors come and go, but the work and ministry of the church continues.  For others of you, this may be the first time you have experienced such a transition in pastoral leadership.  It’s scary and uncertain for all of us.

So, as I go, I must share with you some insight into our clergy code of ethics.  Today is the last day that I will be your pastor. 

As I leave, I move to a new place of ministry.  I will love and serve the people in southeast Wichita and Christ Community Church.  Because of this transition, I will not return to UUMC for at least a year.  I will detach myself a bit and I won’t be calling you, emailing you, or following you on facebook.  After a year passes, I will come back to UUMC only at the invitation of the Senior Pastor.  This time is critical for me.  The period of a year gives me the time I need to grieve moving from this place of ministry and grow to love my new congregation and community.  However, you need to understand that I am not abandoning you and that my leaving does not sever all relationships.  What it means is that I no longer serve in the role of your pastor.  Instead, in the future, I look forward to connecting with you as a friend and I hope you will contact me if you ever pass through Wichita.  As you probably know by now, Chali and I always have an extra bed and we love having people stay with us!

This period of a year is also important for you and Rev. Diane.  It gives you and Rev. Diane the time that you need to form a pastoral relationship and learn to love one another.  Our tagline sums up how I pray you will embrace one another.  Let her be herself and bring to you her unique gifts for mission and ministry.  Love her dearly and embrace her husband Adam as well.  Make a space for her in this place so that she might know that she belongs to God and belongs here at UUMC.

I promise that I will pray for you as individuals and as a church.  I will pray for your ministry as a congregation—that you find the courage to live the vision.  I will pray for your new pastor and her husband.

I want to leave you all today with the words from our epistle reading from 2 Corinthians…

11 Finally, brothers and sisters,[a] farewell.[b] Put things in order [or should I say, keep them in order!!], listen to my appeal,[c] agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.

13 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of[d] the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

Now and Always. Amen.