Parting Words

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May 20, 2018. As Pastors Penny and Keith retire, they leave us with a twofer sermon. These are their parting words to the congregation of Christ Lutheran Church.


*** Transcript ***


[Pastor Penny]


Well, you’re getting a twofer for today. We decided we would do everything together. So you’ll have two messages, but they’ll be short.


And it will seem strange after we retire when Sunday comes and I won’t put on my clergy shirt. But sometimes I’ve worn that clergy shirt outside of worship, and I don’t wear it very long without remembering that I have it on. If I go to the grocery store, this being a predominantly Catholic community I always get a few looks. And I know they’re thinking, “A woman priest?” Or maybe a smile or two and right away I remember I’m wearing a clergy shirt. And my demeanor and my actions might change. I hope not, but they probably do because I realize that I am a witness, or as our gospel said, one who testifies to our Christian faith.


But in truth, whether you’re wearing a blue t-shirt or not, we are all witnesses. We all testify to our faith by our demeanor, by our actions. And that’s good because the gospel today says we really should testify to the world. But what exactly are we supposed to testify? What is it that we want to convey to the world about our faith?


I was at Rolling Ridge nursery in Webster Groves last week and a friend came up who was buying mint. His mint died. We had a pretty rough summer last summer, even though that’s a hardy plant. He looked at me and said, “You’re a woman of the cloth. Maybe I should have just had you come over and resurrect my plant.” And then he said something really interesting. He said, “Resurrection, that was a one-time thing, wasn’t it? It was kind of a ‘one-off.'”


And I thought he was right, that really is the heart of our faith. And that’s what we hear in the gospel: that the world does not really get Jesus because he was so different, because he really was a “one-off.” And in fact a lot of times we don’t get Jesus because we are really part of the world. The world of nature is beautiful, especially at this time of the year. Everything that can bloom is blooming. But the laws of nature are not so beautiful: survival of the fittest, dog eat dog. The natural law is that we are born, we decay, and we die. Even where we live, the accident of where we happen to be born, sets something in motion that doesn’t seem to be able to be changed. Being born in the United States gives us a much different path than if we were born in a Palestinian refugee camp.


So the world seems to move with laws that just keep going along. And then there’s human nature. And there too, we are kind of set. We know as humans that we are born selfish. Of course, sometimes we can do things that are better. Often our minds and our bodies lead us to hurt people, and later we feel bad. The church of course has words for this: original sin and guilt. But if you just set those church words aside, the simple truth that we all know is that we are human and we are born selfish. And so we hurt people and we hurt the world.


In short, we are caught. With the laws of nature and the laws of human nature, we are trapped. We are in this machine that seems to go on without any sense of justice, that just keeps moving along. And we are caught up in it.


But God would not tolerate that. God interceded. Intervened. God threw a wrench in the machine and stopped that cycle, first by giving unmerited goodness to the people of Israel as we hear in the Old Testament, but most perfectly we see that God intervened in the life of Jesus Christ. He lived for justice, and in truth he gave everything and died for justice. And with Jesus, his life defies selfishness and his resurrection defies death.


Now on this Pentecost, we are celebrating that the Holy Spirit came to Jesus’ followers long ago. But we also celebrate that it came to us when we were baptized, and that it is with us daily, giving us the strength to testify to the world. And we testify by our actions, by the way we treat people, by the way we raise our children, by the way we spend money, by the things that give us joy and the things that make us sad. We testify. We testify something amazing.


We testify that in a world that is caught and trapped in inevitable selfishness and death, Jesus brings grace. And what that means is there is forgiveness. There are second chances, do-overs. There is the opportunity to turn your life around a hundred and eighty degrees. With Jesus there is mercy for those who don’t deserve it and bread for those who haven’t earned it and salvation for all, and life. Life here and life after this life.


So in short, we testify. We testify that there is grace in the world. By the love of God and by the life of Jesus Christ there is grace, and that changes everything.


[Pastor Keith]


In our gospel today, Jesus says I will not leave you bereft. He’s preparing his disciples for the fact that he will not be visible to them anymore, but that the Holy Spirit will come to them. And through the working of the Holy Spirit, they will have his presence to be with them all the time.


The red banner that’s before us today is one that was made by my mother on the occasion of my ordination back in 1974. And on that day, I acknowledged the call of God to let the Holy Spirit work through me as a minister of the gospel. The banner shows the main tools that we have to work with as they have the spirit working through us, the word and the sacraments of Communion and of Holy Baptism. And so it’s through these ways the spirit works in the congregation.


So as Pastor Penny and I take leave from you, there will be others who will come with the consecration of the spirit to preach and to teach and consecrate Holy Communion. These gifts of the Spirit will continue to be with you. We need to remember that the Holy Spirit doesn’t just work through pastors — that’s the main thing — but works in the congregation through the people of the congregation. Those of you who are gathering here as a people of Christ Lutheran Church, God’s spirit will continue to work through you.


While it’s not completely accurate because it doesn’t really capture the spirituality of the work, I often think of my role as a pastor of being like a coach. The coach brings guidance to a team, but the real playing is done on the soccer field or on the football field or on the basketball court, whatever the sport is. It’s the players who do the playing and score the points. At the church, it’s the spirit who works through all the people to do the real playing of the church in the world. The pastors kind of guide as coaches.


So we’ve been here and we’ve endeavored to be good coaches for Christ Lutheran. We’ve spoken God’s word to you the best that we know how to as you’re gathered on Sunday mornings. Maybe worked and hopefully coached you well enough. We’ve worked with you in different ways through committees, and confirmation classes. We’ve been with young people. In all kinds of ways, we’ve tried to exert the influence of the spirit. We’ve encouraged the music of worship which helps people to internalize the work of God’s spirit in us and to lead people to live in that spirit.


But as we know one person can only do so much. When many get involved a whole lot more can be done. So our goal has been to lead in a way that all of you, or many of you, will become more and more involved in different ways of living out the gospel, not only here at church but especially out in the world. Just this week we heard of yet another person in the congregation say, well I do this and I do this and I do this in service in the community, another member of Christ Lutheran. We’ve been hearing that for years. We’ve been hearing people saying, I do this, I do that.


And that’s the key thing. It’s mostly not what happens here on Sunday, but happens Monday through Saturday. That’s the important work. You come here and then you go into the world to serve, and that’s what we’ve been about. That’s the court. That’s the playing field. That’s where things happen. We hope that our coaching here helps you be the church out in the world. Coaches have different styles. Some do everything but play the game, as they point out every little play that’s supposed to be done on the court or on the field. Other coaches do their work in the locker room where through the work we can do all the preparations — say this is where we’re at, this is a strategy. Now you go do it. We know that the Holy Spirit has been unleashed upon the world. Jesus says, I’m only one. It’s much more effective, Jesus says, that I leave and that the spirit comes so that you can be out there in the world living in my name, sharing my word in the world.


And so it is with pastoral leaders. Pastors are only one. They can’t do all the living of the Holy Spirit on Earth, but they can coach and teach and inspire others to live the Christian life. And I have no doubt that the spirit will continue to be active among you as you continue to accept your role as people of God in the community and in the world. So as I speak my parting words to you, I want to remind you of that phrase. Really Pastor Penny was kind of talking about this too, we hadn’t coordinated quite well enough, but there’s that phrase we are saying a lot last fall especially: live generously.


So on the Thrivent and t-shirts, live generously. I think that’s a key phrase I want to leave with you. I preached about that several months ago as well. I just really think that’s a key phrase for where we are: to live in the spirit of the gospel. God was so generous that he gave us the life of Jesus. There’s no greater gift or sacrifice one can make than what Jesus made for us. God has shown us that and God said to us: live generously. I’ve been generous to you. I gave you my son. Now with that same spirit of self giving live generously to the world. Luther reminded us of that original sin that means that we’re basically selfish people. Adam and Eve were tempted right away and they succumbed to the temptation that was come to them to live for their self-interest. We as human beings are so inclined to turn in on ourselves. Jesus has given us a different way, as ones forgiven to live generously for the sake of others.


This congregation has strived to do that and done it. Endeavor to do that in the spirit of generosity that lives this life that way, and I pray that you continue to do that — to live generously as people of his congregation and as a congregation in the world. That will be a sign that indeed the Holy Spirit is alive and well among you. Because the Holy Spirit calls you to do this, I have no doubt that you will live in the way of Jesus.




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2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, podcast, sermon, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, Pastor Keith Holste