Sermon for the Day of My Retirement
Independence Day Sunday, July 2, 2017, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Texts: Ephesians 1:15-23
Sermon Theme: “You Didn’t Come Together to Fall Apart”
(Sources: Online “Freedom in Christ”; Online “How to Say Goodbye”; Online “How a Church Survives When a Pastor Leaves”; original examples, illustrations, and Ideas; Footnotes, Life Application Study Bible; Footnotes, Concordia Self-Study Bible)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
When my mother was 13 years old, Trinity Lutheran Church in Fedor, Texas, where she and her parents attended, started up a Mission church in Dime Box, with about three families. Fedor was not all that far away from Dime Box, but when it rained, the roads were difficult to manage even with the horse and buggy, — that was the reason for trying to establish a new church.
The church worshipped on Sundays in the one-room rural school where the kids went to school during the week. If a supply preacher could make it on a Sunday, they would have a short, simple service; if not, then they said a prayer and went home. In those days, each person owned his own hymn book, and there was an old piano in the school, but there was no one to play it. Well, even at 13, my mother could play by ear, but she couldn’t read music.
Her parents wanted so much to sing the hymns that they bought her a ‘how to play the piano’ book, she studied it, and taught herself to read notes. Every week, she would teach herself to play a new hymn. As she learned to play, they added a few new members.
However, there were two or three disgruntled members who hated a worship service without the liturgy, so a few people drifted back to Fedor where there were “real” Lutheran services with the full liturgy, played on a pipe organ. So my mother tried to master the liturgy, but playing the Lutheran liturgy on a piano rather than an organ was very difficult. The new church was so small that losing even a couple members to Fedor was catastrophic.
But God had called them to be a church, and they survived. Decades later, they had a beautiful wooden church on a hill and 300 members. – and an organ with all the bells and whistles. Eventually they had a lovable old pastor, named Pastor Socha, who hugged everybody, and my mother couldn’t imagine life without him, — even though she almost swatted him with a fly swatter once, because he hugged her.
Pastor Socha died, and they all grieved. And grieved. And grieved. When the new Seminary graduate they called arrived, they gave that young whipper-snapper the cold shoulder. To reach out to the congregation, he held an open-house Christmas party in the parsonage, with lots and lots of homemade Christmas edibles. Not one member showed up for his open house. He told his sad tale to Peg and me one day. By then, Pastor Socha had become a saint. I guess Mama forgot she once wanted to hit him with a fly swatter!
You know, God calls people to be a church, and each church is a part of the Body of Christ. Trinity Lutheran Church was Christ’s church, even when it was a one-room, rural school house. It was never Pastor Socha’s church, no matter how much he helped it to grow, and how much he loved the people, and how much they loved him. He knew that. But I’m not sure the congregation did.
You see, what they didn’t realize was that Trinity Lutheran Church, Dime Box, was Christ’s church, and they, the members, were the Body of Christ. THEY were the church, but it belonged to Christ. Pastor Socha was PART of the church, but he wasn’t the church.
Actually they were very good people; I knew them well. They loved the Lord with all their hearts. But no church should ever be so dependent on a pastor that they can’t make the transition from one pastor to another. Christ works through every pastor He sends to His churches.
The Apostle Paul was similar to a Circuit Counselor, and you know from the letters he wrote to the various churches that some of them had more difficulties than others, and some were like models of what a good church should be like. The congregation at Ephesus was one of the good ones, and Paul begins our sermon text by thanking God for them and asking Him to give them knowledge and wisdom and enlightened hearts. He concludes by reminding the Ephesians that God put everything under Christ’s feet and appointed Him to be Head of the church, which is the Body of Christ. This speaks to you, too.
Clearly, Christ is the head of the Church. Clearly, you are the Body of Christ. You and Christ are one. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am.” Members come and members go. Pastors come and pastors go. But the Body of Christ always remains the Body of Christ. That doesn’t mean we don’t miss members who pass away or who transfer to another church, nor that you won’t miss a pastor who has served you faithfully for many years.
What makes a church like the one at Ephesus a model church is not the size of the edifice, not the number of members, not the amount of money in the offering plate, and certainly not the razzle-dazzle accoutrements ( ). I’m just amazed at the insides of some contemporary churches, even contemporary LUTHERAN churches, — they look like the Ziegfield Follies with Strobe Lights, — “There’s no business like show business, that I know business . . .”
No, what makes a church a model church and integral part of the Body of Christ is the faith, the obedience, the love, the dedication, the caring, the sharing, the giving, the oneness of the people, — for Christ, with Christ, and in Christ! If you have that, then the loss of a member or a pastor does not mean the destruction of the church. As the Body of Christ, you did not come together to fall apart!
Even if Paul and the other pastors in the Circuit were killed, which was certainly a possibility during times of persecution, model churches like Ephesus would stand strong and weather the storm.
There’s no doubt that losing a pastor, whether to death, or to retirement, can be a time of upheaval for a congregation, especially if he has been there for many, many years of faithful service. There’s no doubt that replacing him will take a lot of time and work. There is no doubt that he is sad to go, and you are sad for him to go. There is no doubt that the church will fear for the future and wonder if they can even get another pastor.
In such a case, just remember nothing happens that is a surprise to God! It is His will when the pastor is called into service, and it is His will when the pastor is called into retirement. In both cases, He has assured us, in Romans 8:28, that all things work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
And just remember that Christ builds His church, not you. Also remember that God has a purpose for each church, big or small. This is a time to re-discover that purpose. And you will be in my prayers, and I ask you that you put me in yours. Today is the beginning of something new and wonderful, so please remember you didn’t come together to fall apart! Don’t go to Fedor because they have a pipe organ! Don’t go to Fedor because they have a pastor who isn’t leaving!
You are a good and caring and loving congregation. You are like Ephesus. I give thanks to God for you, remembering you in my prayers. And I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, will give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him, and that He will have the eyes of your hearts enlightened. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.