Sunday, May 19, 2013

Son Burn (Acts 2:1-21)

When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting.  They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them.  They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.

There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.  When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered.  They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages.  They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them?  How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language?  Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!”  They were all surprised and bewildered.  Some asked each other, “What does this mean?”  Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”

Peter stood with the other eleven apostles.  He raised his voiced and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem!  Know this!  Listen carefully to my words!  These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning!  Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy.  Your young will see visions.  Your elders will dream dreams.  Even upon my servants, men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days and they will prophesy.  I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.  The sun will changed into darkness, and the moon will be changed into blood, before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.  And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Today is Pentecost Sunday – a great Christian festival with Jewish roots that occurs exactly 50 days after Easter Sunday.  The day marks the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the first followers of Jesus, as we have just read in our scripture passage from Acts 2.

Today’s sermon is interactive.  You all have received Holy Spirit ribbons this morning when you arrived, and when you wave it, if you use a little imagination, it might look like a tongue of fire in your hand – a representation of the Holy Spirit, And so, every time during the sermon when I say, “Let every Christian pray,” you wave your Holy Spirit ribbon and respond, “Come, Holy Spirit.”  Let’s practice.  May we pray.

Many Christians mark today as the birthday of the Church.  I know of many churches who are having birthday parties today, complete with cake and ice cream, balloons and streamers, party hats and noise-makers, to say, “Happy Birthday, Church!”

Our celebration today highlights a different facet of the story.  Namely, when the first followers of Jesus received the Holy Spirit, they had a fire lit within them, and the mighty, rushing wind of the Holy Spirit blew them out into the world outside to declare the good news of God’s grace for all people.  And so, we have gathered on the lawn today, a sign of being blown out of our own comfort zone as the first disciples were so long ago, a reminder that we are to take the message of God’s love for the world in Christ outside of ourselves, and share it freely with the world around us.  “Let every Christian pray” – “Come, Holy Spirit!”

The book of Acts recounts the Church’s beginnings, a time when the Holy Spirit could be sensed upon every member of the church.  It was a time when the Gospel was proclaimed boldly and clearly, when believers were said to be of one heart and mind and shared everything they had with each other.  Read to the end of chapter 2, and you’ll see that on the first Pentecost, because of the Holy Spirit, the church grew in one day from 120 to 3000.  “Let every Christian pray” – “Come, Holy Spirit!”

Like any golden age, it didn’t last for long.  Just a few chapters after the Holy Spirit is poured out, you’ll find those early followers of Jesus bickering, gossiping, fighting, and acting like – well, ordinary people – people who probably sincerely desire to follow Jesus, but for whom the cares and ways of the world too easily crowd out the influence of the Holy Spirit.

But, just because the Holy Spirit-filled church was short-lived, doesn’t mean it was unimportant.  The description of the church on that first Pentecost stands as a beacon of what can be, and foretaste of the heavenly kingdom, and if it happened once, it can surely happen again.  “Let every Christian pray” – “Come, Holy Spirit!”

Part of the reason we celebrate Pentecost is simply to remind us about our own story – that we as the church, as the followers of Jesus, as the body of Christ on earth – are at our God-given best when we are filled with the Holy Spirit.  Let me say that again: we, as the church, as the followers of Jesus, as the body of Christ on earth – are at our God-given best when we are filled with the Holy Spirit.  Pentecost is an opportunity to reset our spiritual compass to true north, to invite the fire and wind of the Holy Spirit to burn off and blow away everything that keeps our lives from reflecting the glory of God.  “Let every Christian pray” – “Come, Holy Spirit!”

How can we know if we are filled with the Holy Spirit?  Galatians 5 gives us a glimpse with The Fruit of the Spirit.  Just as you know an apple tree by the fruit on its limbs, people know Christians when they see the fruit of the Spirit – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Another way that I think of the fruit of the Spirit is that they are like a sunburn.  Stay with me for a minute.  So, when I was a junior in college, I shared a house with five other guys, four of whom were already starting to lose their hair.  I wasn’t one of them, and so of course I poked fun at my balding friends.  But, you know how they say, “You reap what you sow?”  True story!  One spring afternoon I went out to play golf – covered, like always, in sunscreen on my face and neck and arms, and when I came home that evening and ran my hands across the top of my head – ouch!  It was a little tender up there.  It turns out some of my natural cover had gone missing, and I now had a sore, red, badge of honor on the top of my head that let everyone know I had spent some time in the sun.

Likewise, the fruit of the Spirit – love  joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – these indicate that we have spent some time in THE Son – the S-O-N Son of God, and that our hearts have been filled with the Holy Spirit.  “Let every Christian pray” – “Come, Holy Spirit!”

Last Sunday was Ascension Sunday, in which we stood among the disciples as they watched Jesus ascend into heaven.  He promised us the gift of the Holy Spirit, but told the disciples to do something in preparation.  He told them to watch, and to wait, and to pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit.  There were a full ten days between the Ascension and Pentecost, during which time the disciples devoted themselves fully to watching, waiting, and praying for the Holy Spirit.

What would happen if we did the same thing?  If we had the same dedication, the same devotion, the same desire for the Holy Spirit to be poured out on us?  In no way do I want to suggest that we somehow can turn on and off the Holy Spirit like a light switch, but at the same time, we can certainly let God know there’s room in here.  The Spirit is always on the lookout for open containers – hearts that are willing to be blown open, and lives that are willing to burn with holy fire, all for the glory of God.  “Let every Christian pray” – “Come, Holy Spirit!”

On Pentecost, we are reminded that we are at our God-given best when we’re filled with the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is fuel for the fire and wind beneath the wings of anyone, anywhere, who is doing the work of God in the world.  “Let every Christian pray” – “Come, Holy Spirit!”

The Holy Spirit is still on the move – in every place where mighty winds blow open locked doors, and where the barriers to God’s unconditional grace are being burned to the ground.  The Holy Spirit is still on the move, bringing God’s good news to all people.  The Holy Spirit is still on the move, and we get the privilege to tag along.  “Let every Christian pray” – “Come, Holy Spirit!”

Tom Long tells the story of teaching 3 10-year-old girls in a small church he served the basics of the Christian faith.  He got to the story of Pentecost, and asked, “Do you know what Pentecost is?”  They didn’t.  So he said, “Well, Pentecost is when the church was all gathered in one place, and the Holy Spirit came down as tongues of fire from heaven and landed on their heads and they spoke the gospel in all the languages of the world!”

Two of the girls took that rather calmly, but the other’s eyes turned as big as saucers.  When she could finally speak, she said, “Reverend Long, I must have been absent that Sunday."

He said, “The beautiful thing is not that she misunderstood.  The beautiful thing is that she thought it could have happened in our church, that God’s Spirit could have come even to our little congregation and given us a word to speak that [our neighbors] desperately needed to hear.”

The beautiful thing about Pentecost is not that it only happened once, long ago, in a land far, far away.  It is still happening, in exciting, and – yes – unpredictable ways – in hearts that are open to the Holy Spirit.  On Pentecost, we celebrate God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to the church.  We are tinged with holy fire and blown out into the world with God’s good news.  “Let every Christian pray” – “Come, Holy Spirit!”

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Cleared for Takeoff (Acts 1:1-11)

Theophilus, the first scroll I wrote concerning everything Jesus and taught from the beginning, right up to the day when he was taken up into heaven.  Before he was taken up, working in the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus instructed the apostles he had chosen.  After his suffering, he showed them he was alive with many convincing proofs.  He appeared to them over a period of forty days, speaking to them about God’s kingdom.  While they were eating together, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for what the Father had promised.  He said, “This is what you heard from me: John baptized with water, but in only a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”  As a result, those who had gathered together asked Jesus, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?”
Jesus replied, “It isn’t for you to now the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority.  Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
After Jesus said these things, as they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight.  While he was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them.  They said, “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven?  This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven.”

It is estimated that by the time today is over, American consumers will have spent $18 billion on Mother’s Day.  Those flowers, cards, lunches, and spa passes can really add up!  The greeting card industry certainly knows the meaning of the phrase “golden opportunity.”
Today, I would like to suggest that the greeting card industry has missed one.  Today is Ascension Sunday, it is the day we in the church commemorate that Jesus was taken bodily into heaven 40 days after Easter.  In local drugstores, you will not find one single Ascension Day greeting card.  Not one!  Since the greeting card companies seem to have missed this opportunity, I am inviting all of you to get in on the ground floor of an untapped market.  If people will spend $18 billion for Mother’s Day, just imagine what they’ll spend for Ascension Day!
The marketing campaign practically writes itself - Ascension Day balloons (filled with helium, so they rise on their own, of course), Ascension Day climbing gear so you can ascend into the heights, I’m telling you, the sky is the limit!  When it comes to potential, this idea has nowhere to go but up!
I’ll stop here with the puns.  All joking aside, why should any of us care about the Ascension?  Why does it matter, as we affirm in the Apostles’ Creed, that Jesus “ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty?”
When John Wesley edited the Prayer Book from the Church of England for use by the early Methodists, he left out all the holy days that didn’t occur on a Sunday, except for three, because they were too important to skip.  Those three days were Christmas, Good Friday, and Ascension.   So, it’s obviously important, but why?
That’s a question I wrestled with all week.  The Scripture we’ve read today is complex and mysterious, and so today, rather than looking for neat and tidy answers, I simply invite you to lean into and embrace the mystery.
We know that Acts is written by Luke, the author of the Gospel by the same name.  His first book, the Gospel, was an account of the life and work of Jesus, and this book will be an account of what his first followers - the apostles - did.  The Gospel began with a detailed description of the birth of Jesus, and now Acts begins with the birth of the Christian Church.
Luke, the physician, always shows a concern for the body.  To Luke it is important that Jesus spent his existence in a physical body, made of the same flesh and blood as ours, prone to frailty and vulnerability just like us.  It’s important that Jesus, in his body, was born and grew from infancy to adulthood.  His body experienced hunger and thirst and exhaustion.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus was touching and being touched by people.  He touched children and blessed them, he touched lepers and blind people and disabled people, he touched people who were considered unclean and sinners, he touched women and foreigners, he touched outcasts and those on the margins of his society.
Jesus did all the things in his body that we do in ours - he ate with friends, he slept when he was tired.  When one of his closest friends betrayed him, his body suffered and eventually died, just like ours.  Luke places such strong emphasis on the physical body of Jesus lest we should miss the point that there is nothing in this life that we go through - whether joy or pain - that is unknown territory to Jesus.
Jesus is no stranger to our situation - a reminder that whatever you’re going through in your life right now, whether that is good or bad - Jesus has been there, too, and indeed, Jesus is going through it with you.
But, we also know that the body of Jesus has gone where our bodies have not.  Even when he tasted death, the taste didn’t stay in his mouth for long.  Death itself was not strong enough to keep Jesus bound, and so central to our faith is a grave with a vacancy sign hung outside.  Everything his body experienced from cradle to grave helped him get to know us; but everything in his life from the empty grave forward helps us to know and experience the new life in him.
The resurrection wasn’t the end of the story; rather, it was like a new beginning.  After he was raised from the dead, the physical body of Jesus was still with the disciples - still eating and laughing with them, still teaching them about the kingdom of God.
This is where Luke picks up to begin writing his second volume, the book of Acts.  And the first thing that happens in the book of Acts is that the physical body of Jesus - that body that was so important to Luke throughout his Gospel - is taken into heaven.
But here’s the important thing: Jesus isn’t gone.  Jesus hasn’t disappeared.  Jesus hasn’t left the building.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  During his earthly life, Jesus lived a bodily existence full of God’s Spirit.  Now, his ministry will be carried forward by a body of people who are filled with God’s Holy Spirit.
Jesus indicated as much immediately before he ascended.  He said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
But, before that happens, the disciples are going to have to get it together.  Only moments after Jesus departs, they are still standing on the hilltop, staring into the sky like first-time tourists in midtown Manhattan, when two men in white robes show up and say, “So, uh, what are you looking at?  Why are you staring off into space - that’s not what Jesus told you to do!”
For a moment, the disciples are like the crowd who followed Forrest Gump while he was running, running, running, back and forth across the country, until one day in the painted desert, he decides he’s kinda tired, and thinks he’ll go home now.  As Forrest turns his back and walks away, the crowd looks longingly after their departed leader, and someone voices the exasperation they’re all feeling - “Now what are we supposed to do?”
The disciples, fortunately, do remember what Jesus told them to do, and so they go back to Jerusalem where they will watch and wait and pray for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit.  Only that gift will empower them to do what Jesus is counting on them to do - namely, to be his witnesses and carry on his mission.
Sure enough, the rest of the book of Acts will fill in the details on the outline from this one verse, as the disciples receive the Holy Spirit, and are empowered to carry the message of Jesus outward, outward, outward - like ripples in a still pond, spreading until the whole world receives the touch of Jesus.
Friends, the call on our lives, as those who follow Jesus, is exactly the same.  During his life, Jesus was the embodiment of God’s Holy Spirit on earth.  Now, we embody what Jesus did.  Our hands and feet are his hands and feet upon the earth, and every fiber of our being is meant to witness about who Jesus is and what Jesus does to the world around us.  Our lives are a show-and-tell about who God is and what God is up to in the world - not in our own strength or power or cleverness, but only through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the only influence that can move us from doing good things to God things.
Being a disciple of Jesus means being a witness for Jesus.  It’s not enough to simply stare into the sky and think good thoughts about days gone by with Jesus.  Living our lives for Jesus isn’t a spectator sport, rather, it’s full-contact with the Holy Spirit and touching the ends of the very same world Jesus touched.
Next Sunday, we will celebrate Pentecost, the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church, with worship on the lawn - a tangible reminder that when the first disciples received the Holy Spirit, they were literally blown out into the streets - out of the safe confines of their comfort zone.  We will remember and we will pray for the Holy Spirit to be poured out on us in the same way, that God’s anointing might be received fresh and new in each generation.
But, there is a lag time, a waiting period, if you will, between the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the fulfillment of that promise. 10 days between Ascension and Pentecost, during which time the disciples watched, and waited, and prayed to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, knowing that without that gift, their work would be in vain.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to do as Jesus did - to embody God’s Spirit upon the earth, to be the love of God with a human face.
For today, it is the essential thing, to watch, and wait, and pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that the kingdom of God may come upon the earth, and that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

To Be Continued. . . (2 Timothy 3:14)

*Before you start reading, this ended up being a much more controversial sermon than I had intended or hoped it would be.  It's a classic case of something not quite engaging between an idea's inception and its execution.  It was the design of this sermon to offer a word of hope and encouragement to a congregation that has struggled with and overcome much - a place where God is clearly on the move and doing some amazing things in the lives of people in the congregation.

I was trying to paint a picture, as a reminder, of where the church once was so that people could look back and say, "Wow, look how far we've come - Praise God for bringing us this far!"  The hope was that this reminder would be, in a season of pastoral transition, a call to press ahead and trust in God as the church moves into its next chapter.  Instead, I think I painted such a robust picture that it came to life and became present reality.

A reminder for us all of the power of words to shape and define our world.  Here is a message I sent to the congregation that afternoon:

Dear friends - 

During this morning's sermon, my hope and intention was to share that God's been up to some amazing, transformative work in this church, and in the last four years in particular, I've had a front-row seat to see what you and God have been up to together.  My hope had been to celebrate that, and acknowledge that God has had, still has, and will have even greater things in store for this church.  All of this is a story that you and God have been working on and will continue to work on, and my intent this morning was to encourage you to keep up the good work.

Going back to this morning's Scripture from 2 Timothy 3:14, "continue in what you have learned . . . You know who taught you."  The last four years are not about anything you've learned from me, but indeed, what you've learned from God.

That was what I had hoped to say this morning - a pat on the back, a celebration of God's good work in our church, and how proud I am of the ways you have grown, and perhaps an earnest plea to continue to be aware of the things that take a church backward (which every church struggles with!!!), that those things not be a hindrance for the bright future I know you have.

However, I am aware that either through my tone, the examples I used, or whatever else today, that message was lost, and in fact, it was possible to receive a message that was the exact opposite of what I intended.  For that, I am sorry from the depth of my being.  My aim and my goal was to encourage you to stay the course with the good and faithful work you are doing with God and that God is doing among you, to not lose heart, and to welcome the next chapter of God's redemption story as it is being written here.

That's what I wanted to come across today - God is doing great things here; keep up the good work.  If I missed getting that message across to you today, I am sorry.  If you'd like to talk further about any of this, let me know and we'll find some time together.


C 2012 Will Vernon
But you must continue with the things you have learned and found convincing.  You know who taught you.

There is a moment, about 45 minutes into an hour-long season finale, in which you realize there’s no possible way they’re going to get the episode wrapped up in the remaining 15 minutes.  The episode will end with three ominous words: “To be continued . . .”
It makes you wonder, “What happens next?”  “Now what?”  Whatever happens next is up to whatever is going on in the minds of the writers, the vision of the director, the go-ahead from the producer, and the ability of the actors.
Monday morning, you all began to find out that I will be leaving at the end of June and a new pastor will come to lead you.  Perhaps it was something of a “To be continued” moment - in one way or another, you probably wondered, “Now what?”
As my tenure as your pastor comes to a close and you prepare to welcome your new pastor, my prayer for you echoes the advice from a teacher to his student found in today’s scripture reading from 2 Timothy 3:14: “But you must continue with the things you have learned and found convincing.  You know who taught you.”
In this Scripture, the real teacher is Jesus, and his course of instruction is the experience of new life in him.  Whoever wrote this is not saying, “Follow me,” but rather, “Follow Jesus.  Learn from Jesus.  Walk with Jesus.  You know who taught you - not me, but Jesus.”
The prayer of this verse encourages the timid to do one thing: keep making progress in the same direction like the redemption of the world depends on it - because it does.  God’s redemption story is a masterpiece in the making, but what does the next chapter look like?  
The verse joins us, mid-spiritual journey, with someone who has already been on their road for awhile, but who still has some way to go.  Could that not describe each of us individually, and indeed, could it not describe us as a congregation?  We have been on this journey for some time, but God isn’t finished with us yet.  Our journey is only partially complete, our story is still a work in progress; and the terrain of the next mile, the tone of the next chapter hinges on your hearts being open to God’s direction, that your mission and ministry may not shrivel up and die, but continue to unfold and blossom in the sunshine of God’s delight.
So, do just that: continue to be a church that seeks to be the heart of this thriving neighborhood, so that there’s not a person nearby who doesn’t know that God wants nothing more than to gather each and every one of them in the loving embrace of a faithful parent.  That’s not a new story!  It’s the same one we’ve been working on for the last four years together, and indeed, it’s the story God has been writing since the very beginning.
By the grace of God, may you, Pastor Carol, and God work together to write, not a brand new story, but a continuation of the same story we have all been working on together for the last four years, which is but a small part of God’s grander story of transformation.
Continue in that story.  Allow God to write the story indelibly on your heart.  Write the next chapter, and keep the story going.
Over four years, I have been privileged to be a front-row witness to God’s transforming work in this church.  God has moved you from a place where you were literally struggling to survive to where you are today: full of hope and health and vitality.  In some ways, it’s hard to remember where this church was four years ago, but let’s see if we can’t try.
When I received the phone call to let me know that I would be appointed here, this church was described by the District Superintendent as “a unique and challenging opportunity.”  By the way, you never want to be described as “a unique and challenging opportunity.”  That’s code - it means, “God bless, and good luck!”
In short, things were not good here.  Scott Ferebee, one of the elders whose wisdom and experience I have been grateful for in my time here, said this church was “dying on the vine.”  Your own Staff-Parish Relations Committee described the church as “stuck in a decades-long spiral of decline.”  If things didn’t change for the better, and if they didn’t change soon, it wasn’t going to be long before the doors of this church were closed forever.
Side-note here: The Conference doesn’t close churches.  Churches close themselves – through their own attitudes and decisions.  I came across an article last week called Autopsy of a Deceased Church, which outlines some of the most common characteristics you’ll find among dying churches.  I’m not going to go into detail on that here, but I’ve left copies of the article in the narthex for you.  I encourage you to take a look at the warning signs in that article, and see how many of them could have described this church four years ago, and how close we really were to closing down.
But here’s the good news: God is not done with this church yet, and no one is thinking about closing this church’s doors now.  You are not the same church now that you were even four years ago!  “Continue with the things you have learned and found convincing.”
Four years ago, how many children were part of this church?  Zero.  For six months, Jack Waynick faithfully came and sat on these steps with me for children’s messages, because we had no children.  Today, look at how many beautiful children and their families are growing in their faith here.  Praise God.
Four years ago, how many young adults in their 20s and 30s were regularly and consistently involved in the life of this church?  Not many.  Today, we have a vibrant group of young adults who not only worship here, but are involved in all aspects of congregational life and have moved into key leadership positions, including Lay Leader, Finance Chair, and Outreach co-coordinator.  Praise God.
Four years ago, this church’s finances were in poor shape, as well.  Not only were you not paying your district and conference apportionments in full, you hadn’t paid them in full  for 19 consecutive years - that’s going back to when Clyde Penry was pastor, FYI.  Today, you have paid 100% of your apportionment for the last three years.  Praise God.
Four years ago, this church had a reputation among pastors in the conference, and it wasn’t good.  This church was not a desirable appointment.  In the first year I was here, when other pastors found out where I was appointed, their first reaction was, “Oh, I’m sorry.”  Your reputation was that a handful of this church’s members made it their purpose in life to chew up and spit out pastors, and then start licking their chops to sink their teeth into the next one. 
I heard some wisdom this week about dealing with difficult people that seems appropriate here: “Don’t let yourself get sidetracked by people who aren’t on track.”
Several of those pastors who were mis-treated while they were here joined us in last Sunday’s Homecoming celebration; their presence here is a sign of God’s healing in their lives.  Today, your next pastor is a bright, passionate, gifted young woman with a beautiful family who is excited and eager to get here, and wants to lead you for a long time.  Praise God.
Four years ago, how many new people were being welcomed into the life of faith as lived out through this church?  Not many.  If, over the last four years, you have started attending this church, re-attending this church, or grown deeper in your walk with Christ, would you please raise your hand?  Praise God.
Keep ‘em raised for a minute.  When I see the raised hands of people whose hearts have grown closer to God’s heart through the ministries of this church, I see that, despite ourselves, we must have been doing something right here.  Despite whatever failures or shortcomings or mistakes we have made, God is still at work among God’s people, and God’s great redemption story is still being written.
And so, I reiterate my prayer for this church in this season of transition: continue with the things you have learned and found convincing.  You didn’t learn those things from me.  You learned them from Jesus.  God isn’t finished with you yet.  That’s a great story.  It’s time to move forward, and write the next chapter.  I can’t wait to see what you and God come up with.