My last sermon at 1925 Birkdale as the Director of Ministry turned into more of a letter than a sermon, in the style of the good apostle Paul. Either listen to the audio below or read the text. It was fun to craft, hopefully fun to hear. Enjoy!
Good morning! This is my last Sunday with you at St. Michael, man, where has the time gone? I’m no good at saying good-byes, so there will be none of that today. Instead, I’d like to leave you with a gift, a letter to the congregation. This letter began as a class assignment in seminary two months ago, and looking at it I thought hmm, this could make for a half decent final sermon too.
Show of hands, who here has read one of Paul’s letters in the New Testament? Biblical scholars tell us Paul wrote between seven and thirteen of the letters found in the New Testament, so odds are you’ve read something of his.
Paul’s letters in the New Testament contain some unique quirks you don’t see in too many other places in the Bible. He likes to ask rhetorical questions, and then answer them. This answer is often translated into English as “by no means.” At times he even makes fun of his own handwriting. Listen for these kinds of things in this letter to you.
Paul’s letters also often follow the same structure, there’s a certain order and style he likes to use in each one. His letters begin with a salutation where he greets the community, often giving thanks for them, lifting up the gifts they possess in a positive way. He then typically challenges the community to show the love of Christ to each other in new ways. Paul’s letters then close with personal greetings and a final blessing. Listen for these pieces.
Paul also likes to send people in his letters. Many times Paul is in a distant land when the letter is read locally. The person that brings the letter is tasked with reading it to the community. Often the person Paul sends is asked to stay with the community for a while, to help build them up. For this particular letter to the people of St. Michael, I ask you to suspend reality, just a bit, and pretend two things. One, that the writer is in some distant land far from here, perhaps in prison. And two, that the reader of this letter is, well, not me. Pick someone else in your mind.
Ok, let’s get on to reading this letter, to you, an Epistle to the St. Michaeleans.
Ryan, a Christ-follower and good buds with Paul of Tarsus, and called to be Director of Ministry these past two years among the people of St. Michael, writes to you from afar in St. Paul Minnesota, where he currently resides, a prisoner of the educational system at Luther Seminary. While away in this distant land our Savior has placed the people of St. Michael on my heart yet again, with the Spirit gently nudging me to share many things with you. As I sit here, putting finger to keyboard with mine own hand, while using the Calibri typeset and a font of twelve points, I greet you, above all else, with grace and peace from the Father and our Lord Christ Jesus.
Thanks to the community
Now as you know I have dwelt among you these past five years, first as guest, then member, then seminarian and finally as employed servant. Most importantly I claim a new title for you, beyond guest, member or colleague: I now count you as friends. When I first visited your community, pained from hurt suffered in the church of Boca Raton, you welcomed me, with arms stretched wide, into fellowship among you, to a church that boldly proclaims God’s radical welcome for all.
These years have been a time of healing and spiritual growth as you have modeled to me what a healthy body of Christ can be. Indeed, looking back on previous dark times and also in my prior work in the kingdom of Corporate America, I see now as Paul saw, that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to this purpose. I thank Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior, each and every day of my life, for sending me to you.
All are welcome
Indeed, as brother Paul of Tarsus eloquently states, and you so faithfully follow, you exemplify that there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, that all of you are one in Christ Jesus. As the community has active among you Greeks and Jews, males and females, and even goes further with inclusion of the straight and LGBT it is clear you take the oneness in Christ Jesus to heart.
With Pastor Weiss, a female, leading you, you include and welcome many fully that other groups of Christ followers do not embrace. That the people of St. Michael welcome groups that others do not, to not just participate but to lead, without hesitation, it speaks well of you. This boldness shows the Spirit is alive in you, calling you to new places for the sake of the gospel. I give thanks to our Lord Christ Jesus for your role in expanding the kingdom in ways that embrace, empower and celebrate the diversity of all people, both within St. Michael and the town of Wellington.
All are not present
But does St. Michael fully reflect the local community in representing everyone in this area according to their presence? By no means! As you know the Haitian, the Latino and Americans of African descent, reside in our city and the surrounding countryside. Indeed, the apostle Paul exhorts us to contribute to the needs of the saints by showing hospitality to the stranger. Living in America, the land of immigrants, and knowing this can we choose to do otherwise?
Therefore, to reflect the fullness of Christ we must come together and include the neighbor. And to do this we must be intentional, to take the gospel to new places. It is not enough to invite those not present in the community. Instead I encourage you, go to them, both the believer and those with doubt, embrace all you meet with the love of God, where they are, as they are. For we are one body in Christ, and have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us. If we are not one body in Christ, and instead do not include the neighbor, how much less are the gifts we share?
Atrocious boom box music
While the people of St. Michael are vibrant and full of love, they are not without disharmony on occasion. During a time of change, where you expanded worship of Christ from the traditional hymn to include more modern musical stylings, some among you grumbled. But the Father beckons us to live into the fullness of Christ in new ways. This can be a particular challenge for those that more readily embrace their own ways of worship, their own style. Again, the apostle Paul guides us well, encouraging people of faith to sing psalms and hymns, and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts e. As we seek to embrace newness of life in Christ in more ways, ways that excite some and terrify others, let us not forget why we join together in worship: to make melody, lifted to the Lord, from our hearts.
Sending of Another
You may have heard that I will be leaving you soon. This is true. I have been called to preach the good news of our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus to the people of Holy Spirit Lutheran, in Juno Beach, for my intern year. You may find yourselves asking, who will lead us in Beer and Hymns? How shall the men’s Bible study go on? Will we again come together for family movie nights, dining on pizza and popcorn while wearing pajamas in the sanctuary?
Fear not, fellow Lutherans! While I mourn the loss of our time together, as some of you also mourn, while others surely rejoice, I am sending someone to this fine community to serve as the new Director of Ministry. This person has been vetted with Pastor Weiss and the Staff Support committee, with all involved parties placing great confidence in their abilities.
This person brings gifts I do not possess, namely an intimate knowledge of outreach needs in our local area, and how to partner with organizations already doing good works here. When the time comes to make this announcement, which will be soon, please welcome this person with open arms into this role as they walk humbly alongside you. Help them, to help you, fulfill the St. Michael mission: to be the Hands and Feet of Christ.
Greet Pastor Weiss, who has worked hard for the sake of Christ Jesus, and who risked her neck as both an early female clergyperson and outspoken advocate for those in our society treated as less than. Greet Music Director sister Shirley, who has brought new musical life to the congregation and continues to blend worship tastes both old and new. Greet Administrative Assistant sister Deisy, the Catholic, a diligent worker for Christ that brings joy and humor to all she does. Greet Custodian sister Diane, a gentle spirit, who cleans without complaint. Show her the love of Christ in all ways. Greet Nursery Assistant brother Jared, who possesses great gifts in wrangling children and also teaching them in Sunday School. Greet Youth Director brother Tim, and heap extra prayer on this brother as he continues to recover from time spent at the National Youth Gathering and editing video for our recently completed Vacation Bible School. With the efforts of Tim and the youth we model the love of Christ to many, including the people of Detroit and Wellington.
Greet those belonging to the brotherhood of the Dirty Old Men, in all their numbers, as they work toward the never-ending, and dirty task of keeping the church grounds in tip-top shape. Greet the many who had led Vacation Bible School these past several years, including brother Gregg, sister Holly, brother Andy, and sister Kelly. Their vision and leadership continues to bring new life, and new people to experience this special community.
Greet brother Vern, who journeyed with me recently, in mission to Haiti, and also leads your Outreach committee. Vern serves as a man of few words, when he speaks listen well. Greet sister Barb, who works diligently and with passion across so many groups among you including the Fellowship committee, Facilities Utilization, the Crafters, and most recently worked tirelessly with youth and children for VBS. Greet sister Sue, who puts great effort into the Facilities Utilization and Tenant Boards. Sue performs these tasks with both strength and kindness, a rare and valuable combination. Greet sister Mary, who heads up the Finance committee and now serves as the Church council president. Mary knows, more than many, the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for you. Finally, greet all the members of Council, thanking God for sending them to help lead you, the people of St. Michael, in new and exciting ways. Greet all of these people for me, and also others unnamed, with a holy hug.
Final Instructions and Blessing
I urge you, brothers and sisters, lift up each other in all that you do. Continue to embrace all, regardless of their gender or orientation. Work diligently to embrace all, regardless of their race, ethnicity or status as believers. Embrace all musically, including those that find God in worship by hymn and those that find God in worship through more modern musical forms. For to serve our Lord Christ we must not focus on our own appetites, but instead serve joyfully those who may not look the same, or worship in the same ways as do we. In this way we become one Church, unified in common mission to go forth, boldly proclaiming the good news of our Savior. And in this same way we are better equipped to truly serve as the hands and feet of Christ.
Finally, may the God of peace sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit, soul and body be kept sound and blameless as you look to our Lord Jesus Christ for guidance. The one who calls you is faithful in all things, and will do this, both now and for eternity. Amen.