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Great Arrivals and Great Departures
The Reverend John Leedy
March 12, 2017
A Reading from Genesis
Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Of all the memories I’ve accumulated throughout my life, few stand out with such prominence as the moments of great arrival. Those big life moments that come following years of preparation and waiting.
I remember that moment of arriving at college before the start of my freshman year. The family car loaded up with clothes, school supplies – my dad helping me set up my desk, my mom stocking my pantry with boxes of easy mac and cans of soup.
I remember watching through the tears in my eyes as they drove away, leaving me standing in front of my college dorm. I turned and looked at my new home, took a deep breath, and knew that this was a moment of great arrival.
I remember, years later, the feeling of standing on the chancel steps of Grace Presbyterian Church in Houston wearing an ivory colored tuxedo as the music of Pachelbel’s Canon swelled around me. I watched as the back doors of the sanctuary opened and my bride began to walk down the aisle arm in arm with her dad. As she stood in front of me, the pastor speaking the words of the wedding liturgy, I was overwhelmed by the feeling of great arrival.
Then there was the moment where I knelt on the hard wood floor of this church and felt the weight of a hundred hands being laid upon my shoulders. That great prayer of ordination being spoken over me, the blessing of the saints of the church bearing down with such tremendous weight that I knew in the marrow of my bones that I was living out a moment of great arrival.
The most recent moment I remember is when, after nine months of waiting and the most harrowing 12 hours of my life, I saw the face of my baby girl for the first time.
Holding this tiny new creature in my arms, watching her yawn and open her eyes, took my breath away. What a moment of great arrival.
And I’m sure we all can remember such moments of arrival in our own lives as well – moments that created a pivot point in our world, a shifting of reality to something drastically new. Perhaps these moments have looked like graduations, new homes, new jobs, new relationships, new babies, long awaited travel to that dream vacation spot, an accomplishment you’ve worked years toward achieving, your last day on the job before retirement.
We’ve all had those moments of great arrival haven’t we? You know the ones. Those moments you think back too that shaped who you are, your sense of self, your calling in life. Those moments that you’ve yearned for, hoped for, dreamed for – that when they arrive allow you a moment to pause, breathe, and bask in its pure delight. We have all had those moments of great arrival.
“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.’”
Can you imagine a greater moment of arrival than that? I mean, can you imagine? Now, the Bible gives us very little context surrounding this moment between God and Abram. We know that in the verses preceding this encounter we are given a genealogy of the ancestral lineage of Abram, who would one day be renamed Abraham – who together with his wife Sarah would become the first patriarch and matriarch to the people of Israel. We aren’t given any clues to why God chose Abram.
And we aren’t given a play by play of how the interaction went down either. Maybe God spoke to Abram in a dream? Maybe Abram was out in a field tending livestock when he heard a still small voice inside him. Maybe the message came upon Abram as a sudden realization, an out of nowhere bolt of awareness that God had called him to do a new thing. Or maybe Abram had been listening for just such a message from God for a long time. Maybe Abram had been seeking out the Lord’s will in his life for 75 years and it finally came.
The moment of great arrival – Abram arriving before the throne of God, hearing the charge to go, to journey, to trust that God will show him the way, to become a great nation and a blessing to the world. After waiting and waiting, Abram has finally arrived at his moment of calling.
The Bible also doesn’t share much about how Abram felt about that calling, that moment of great arrival. Was he stunned? Was he in ecstasy? Was he terrified? We do know that this moment had to be so convicting that the text says, “Abram went.” That’s it. No hemming – no hawing. No checking to see if there was enough travel money in the bank account. No career counseling. No visits to Travelocity.com to find the cheapest rates on camel rentals. Abram went. Such is the profound nature of the calling voice of God. We know it when God is talking. We know it in our gut – in the deep center of our being. We know when we’ve arrived at one of those moments where God is calling us to something new, something purpose-giving, something thrilling beyond measure. We know those moments, don’t we?
For the past two years, we have been waiting. We have been preparing. We have been longing. I remember the day when our former pastor, San Williams, announced his retirement plans in a staff meeting and later that evening to Session. We remember the months of preparations, the tearful farewells, the wandering in uncertainty. And we’ve had our ups and downs over the past two years of transition. We’ve lost friends and made new ones. Babies have been born and loved ones have died. We’ve tried on new leadership roles and stepped up our giving in faith.
We’ve weathered the storms of this season of transition and come through it all to find ourselves here, today, at the last Sunday before our new senior pastor arrives in office. I know I’m breaking all of my liturgical rules for Lent here, but Alleluia! (Seriously I’m giving you all a free pass here, Alleluia!?)
And just as we as individuals have moments of great arrival in our own lives, so does the church have moments of great arrival in its common life. And I’ve got to say, this feels like one of those moments. This is one of those moments we have been waiting for, hoping for, and now it’s here. Our new pastor has arrived. Over the last 125 years of our church’s life, there have only been a handful of people whom God has called to lead us in this way, and our new pastor, Matt Gaventa, has been called by the Spirit and by the people to take up the mantle and be our shepherd. It is a historic moment for us. It is a joyful moment. It is a moment of great arrival.
As I think back on those memories of great arrival in my own life, I recall that each of those experiences had moment of stillness. A moment of stillness where I stood looking at my new dorm, a moment of stillness admiring my new bride, a moment of stillness kneeling in prayer, a moment of stillness holding my daughter in the early hours of the morning.
How brief those moments of stillness were. Just a few minutes perhaps in the grand scheme of all that has happened in my life. And how quickly those moments of great arrival turned into moments of great departure. That first step out of the stillness and into the journey. That first step, like Abram’s first step, is an act of faith. We trust in our Ever-Calling-God to be with us, wherever our steps take us.
It was in faith that I took that first energetic step walking onto campus, ready to start a new adventure in college – knowing that God was still shaping my heart and mind.
It was in faith that I took that first bounding step down the aisle as husband and wife into the new adventure of marriage – knowing that the grace of God lie ahead to pave the way.
It was in faith that I took that first shaky step after kneeling when I rose up as a pastor into the adventure of ministry, knowing that God’s call had laid claim to my life’s work.
And it was in faith that I took that first awestruck step with a baby in my arms into the new adventure of fatherhood – secure in the trust of God’s great love for God’s children.
That first step of faith – that moment of great departure into a new adventure – into the unknown wildness of God’s calling upon our life.
I wonder what Abram’s first step after his calling from God felt like. I wonder how swiftly Abram and Sarai’s departure came after that moment. Did they wait to gather their things, say their goodbyes, and make sure all was in order before stepping out? Or did they just go, running with what they could carry into the night, not wasting a moment of this new adventure.
Friends, today we are at one of those moments of great arrival in our church’s life. It is a moment of stillness, a moment to reflect on how far we’ve come these last two years. But tomorrow morning at 9:00 am, we take our first step of faith out of the stillness and into a moment of great departure – departure into the new adventure to which God is calling us all.
What are you being called to in this moment of great arrival? I wonder what calling you will hear from God.
I do know that you and I will welcome Matt, Sarah, and their son Charlie into our lives and into the life of this church. You and I will welcome his leadership and vision, his voice and teaching. And you and I will depart together on a new road, joined by new friends, and together we will continue to step up, to try new things, to embrace this wild adventure that we call church.
You will continue to teach our children, mentor our youth, befriend our UKirk students, and empower our adult members for service and witness. You will continue to care for the aged, build houses in Mexico, serve up cinnamon toast, and cart thousands of pounds of food onto shelves. You will be unfailing in hospitality and steadfast in your commitment to one another. What an amazing journey we all have in store.
At long last, we have arrived at the end of our formal time of transition. Let us now depart together into the future to which God is calling us. Amen.