This morning I am preaching at Monticello UMC in Shawnee, KS. This is their transition Sunday, the Sunday after their minister's last Sunday and the Sunday before their new minister's first Sunday. When I was asked to preach, they told me they would be wrapping up a sermon series on Transitions and they would like mine to be the last one as they prepare for their minister. Since this is happening all over the connection of the UMC, I thought I'd share my sermon here, just in case it might be helpful to others as well. I hope it is a blessing to the wonderful people at Monticello UMC, it was certainly a blessing to me as wrote it.
A Different Perspective
I had this sermon all done and finalized several weeks ago, and then last Sunday happened. See at Leavenworth First UMC, we are also in transition with you. Last week was our minister’s last Sunday and next week we are getting a new minister to love and be in ministry with. It was a hard Sunday.
My daughter is best friends with our former Pastor’s daughter so she was completely distraught as she listened to the last sermon and the farewell and then all the songs that were sung just brought tears to her which meant to me as well. And then it suddenly all came rushing back to me. You see, I grew up a United Methodist preacher’s kid in the North Texas Conference and back in the day, you moved every 3 to 4 years and it was hard.
I hated appointment time. I hated moving. I was terribly shy and making new friends wasn't easy for me. I liked things to stay the same. But, as a United Methodist minister's family we moved more often than I liked. I can remember asking my daddy during our last move why ministers had to move so much and his reply has always stuck with me. He said, “Well, we all have gifts and talents to share but we don’t all have the same gifts and talents so we go to a church for a while to share what we have to offer and then when we’ve done all that we can, we go to share our talents with another church and another minister comes to share their gifts and talents. It keep things from getting stale, ministers from burn out, churches from complacency.”
Transitions are hard. Change is hard. In fact, when I was a young girl, I often said that I would never marry a preacher because I hated moving. And then... eventually... I fell in love a handsome young man who waited until after I fell in love with him to join the army!! So, after a childhood of moving for the church and over 20 years of moving for the military, I’m still not a fan of moving or of being left behind when others move.
Moving is hard. It’s hard to start all over, to make a new home, to make new friends, to find good schools, to find new dentists, grocery stores, restaurants and so on. It’s a scary process. I’ve always been very shy so it was especially hard for me. At least as a preacher’s family, we didn’t have to find a church! And that usually had a few friends built into it but it was still hard. You never knew what people were going to expect from you. Some people expected you to be perfect, to always be well-behaved, to be sweet and almost angelic. Then there were those who thought the exact opposite! They thought you were the worst, always getting into trouble, fake and so on. It was hard, I just wanted to be me but I was afraid to be. I felt pressured to be who everyone thought I was. I remember when I was in junior high, I didn’t want the other kids to know I was the preacher’s kid because they might treat me differently. Sometimes they wouldn’t tell jokes around me or certain stories. I hated being treated differently. At school, a teacher found out my dad was the new preacher in town and I begged him not to tell anyone and so he called me the farmer’s daughter instead.
But as much as I hated all the moving, my family and I have made many friends who have lasted through the years and across the miles and I wouldn’t trade a one of them.
Now, as an adult, I’ve been on the other side of the itinerancy of the United Methodist Church, having to say goodbye to a beloved minister and still welcome in a new unknown minister. I remember when we lived in Tennessee, we joined a church and we loved the minister. His name was Paul. But just a few months after we joined, the announcement was made that Paul was moving. We were mildly heartbroken. It was the first time that the minister at a church we attended left before we did! My son had gone through confirmation with Paul and so we were all rather attached. I tried to talk to my family about it and tell them that it wasn’t a bad thing, just a different thing. But, the first Sunday with the new minister, as we filed out of the sanctuary, the minister spoke with each member of our family. When he got to my youngest who was 6, he reached out to shake her hand and she turned away and in her most pouty voice said, “No, you aren’t my preacher.” I was so embarrassed and he was a bit shocked though he laughed and told her he understood and hoped she would learn to like him too. Which she did, eventually. She still talks about him and HER confirmation class with him. We left there 5 years ago and she is now 15 years old.
Transitions are hard and we experience them all the time in life. They are unavoidable. Even in the Bible they experienced them. Think of Abraham and Sarah. They were told to leave their home and go to a new land. Talk about transition! I imagine that it was a lot harder back then. There were no moving trucks, no realtor.com, no GPSes, no interstate highways or for that matter, no street signs or streets at all! They had the sun and the moon to guide them. Better yet they had God to guide them. When God asked them to go, he promised them that he would make of them a great nation and that he would bless them and make their name great so that they could be a blessing. God gave them hope for their future. Abraham was 75 years old at this time, I bet he was pretty set in his ways, I’m only in my 40’s and I know I am! Always have been! Anyway, Abraham took that hope God offered him and set out in obedience.
What about the Israelites? As they left Egypt? Now, that was another BIG transition! One they wanted... They wanted to be rescued from slavery but when it was finally happening, they complained. “It’s too hard! Maybe we should have stayed slaves at least that was familiar!” They didn’t fully trust Moses or God. They wanted things to go the way they wanted and the way they thought it should go but Got wanted them to trust him. He wanted them to love him, to be in a relationship with him. He wanted their full commitment and trust. When they were hungry he provided quail and manna, when they were thirsty he provided water. When they didn’t know which way to go he led them with a pillar of clouds by day and a pillar of fire by night. God took care of them and their needs always offering HOPE.
My son is 19 and is in the summer between his sophomore and junior year in college. He’s an awesome young man as I am sure all your kids are as well. He left last month for basic training. Not what I was hoping for his life but as he talked to me about his decision and how he knew without a doubt that he was supposed to go in the army I heard today’s scripture in my mind. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find; if you seek me with your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord.”
It brought me peace and comfort and suddenly I felt good with my son and his decision. God has a plan for him and my son recognized it and is following it. He searched for it and found it.
In the United Methodist Church, as appointments are being made, all through the appointment process, those on the Bishop’s cabinet, those who are making these decisions, are in prayer. Prayer for themselves as they as make decisions that effect lives; prayer for the churches entering into transition that they will find a good fit for them; and prayers for the clergy and their families as they change their lives... again... All of this process is covered fully in prayer. Isn’t that comforting to know?
The clergy who are moving and even those who are not, are all praying as well, and all the churches involved in these moves and all the churches in the connection are all praying across the country. This congregation is being lifted in prayer today and all week too.
Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Be comforted knowing that the peace of God is yours, that he is guarding your hearts and minds. The prayers and petitions of many are being sent up on your behalf.
Next week as your new pastor and their family arrives, open your hearts to them. Welcome them with open arms and unconditional love. Be ready to accept them for who they are, for who God created them to be. Give them a chance. A chance to love you, to serve you, to be one of you. Know that they are nervous too, know that they are following God’s call on their life to be here with you and I encourage you to answer his call on YOUR life to be here with them, in worship and in ministry with them. Pray for them, pray for this church and the church as a whole connection, that we can all answer God’s call to be in ministry for and with him sharing HIS unconditional love with our communities and the world.