Sermon (Last Sunday at FCUCC, Asheville): “Peace I Leave with You, My Friends” [John 20:19-23] (3/13/2022)

First Congregational, UCC, Asheville, North Carolina

Hi.  It’s hard to believe our time together is ending.  Things were so different–in our church and in the world–four years ago, when I became your pastor.  But the crucible of the pandemic has clarified many things.  For me, clarity has come around the need to be closer to family.  As it turns out, there’s also a church close to my family–United Church in Tallahassee, Florida–that will be a great fit for ministry.  In addition to being just 2 and a half miles from the state capitol–which, if you’ve been keeping up with the news, needs a lot of help–I’ll be baptizing four little ones on Easter Sunday.  I am eager to begin my work with the UCT congregation.

Which in no way diminishes the profound sadness I feel in leaving First Congregational.  We have accomplished some good things together, not the least of which is getting through a pandemic together.  The Arts and Social Justice ministry also is a significant accomplishment.  Do be sure to check out the “Feeding our Neighbors” art gallery exhibit this month.  Being your pastor, working with our phenomenal staff…it has been a profound blessing.  I am grateful to you.  I want to thank you for the ways you have invited me to be your pastor, for the ways you have participated in our ministry together.

In her visit with folks during Rap with the Rev her last week with us as Admin, someone asked Casey to name her hope for First Congregational.  Her response:  “I hope peace for you.”  When she said it, I realized that that’s my hope for you, too.  I hope peace for you.

Three days after his death, Jesus’ disciples are cowering in a locked room when the risen Jesus appears to them.  His first word to them is:  Peace be with you.  It’s a good bet that peace was far from what they were feeling.  They’d been traveling around with Jesus, teaching, healing, sharing God’s love, when Boom!  He’s arrested, then executed.  If Jesus could be executed on trumped up charges, what might to happen to them?

A few days after I sent the letter announcing my resignation, someone emailed me and used the word “trepidatious.”  Yes.  This time of transition might feel trepidatious.  You might be wondering what’s going to happen to you and to the church.  

As I leave you, I want to say, Peace be with you.  You are a strong congregation.  You will figure this out.

After showing the stunned disciples his hands and his side, the disciples rejoice that Jesus is again with them.  At that point, Jesus says again, “Peace be with you.”

In the days to come, as you work together to find your way forward, I encourage you to remind each other that “peace is with you.”  No matter what’s happening, all shall be well.  All shall be well.  And, as Jesus did with the disciples, you might have to say it more than once.

Jesus’ next words to the disciples also are good words for us to hear:  “As my Abba has sent me, so I send you.”  Pastoral transitions can be hard.  Even as we deal with all the trepidatious-ness, though, one thing does not change–the work to which we are called.  In the grand scheme of things–the grand scheme of God’s kin-dom–a pastoral transition is a tiny thing.  The big thing for us is continuing to do the work to which we are called–feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, working to create a more just society, sharing God’s love with the least of these.  As I leave, and as you enter a period of transition, remember that the work to which we are called is still there, waiting for us to engage it.  

As I leave–as God is sending me–God also is sending you…to do the work to which you have always been called.

After Jesus reminds the disciples of their call to the work of God’s kin-dom, he breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  Breathing in and breathing out at the beginning of the service…It’s quick.  It’s simple.  And it’s become an integral part of our worship together.  Some of it, I think, is simply the physical power of breath. Re-oxygenating our blood increases our focus.  Some of its importance, I suspect, comes from the fact of the pandemic.  If it’s taught us anything, the pandemic has taught us just how precious a gift breathing is.

As I leave, I remind you to breathe…and even more important, I remind you to breathe together.

As Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on them, he says to the disciples, If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.  In the service of farewell we’ll be doing in a minute, we will ask each other to forgive the mistakes we’ve made in our relationship as pastor and congregation.  That might be the most important part of the liturgy, the most important thing we do all day (besides party!):  to forgive each other.

Our time together hasn’t been perfect; no ministry is.  We have made mistakes.  But here’s the thing.  If we hold onto those mistakes, if we bear grudges, we won’t be able to do the important work to which we’ve been called.  It’s telling that the first instruction Jesus gives the disciples after commissioning them is to forgive.  Perhaps that’s because clinging to our resentments hamstrings us in our work for the Gospel.  Resentment can lead to bitterness.  It’s hard to share God’s love when you’re bitter.

The other thing that’s telling is that Jesus doesn’t call on the disciples to forgive until after he gives them the gift of the Spirit.  This is good news.  It means that, when it comes to the hard work of forgiveness, we don’t have to go it alone.  God’s spirit will help us.

As I leave, I encourage us (including me) to forgive mistakes we have made with each other.  If we do, it will free us up to do the work of God’s kin-dom…which is the whole point, right?

As I leave, I have three final things to share with you.

First, be brave…especially when it comes to your interactions with each other.  I know.  Speaking the truth in love to each other is hard, hard, hard.  It’s way easier to talk about someone to another person than to speak directly to the person you have an issue with.  I encourage you to be brave in your interactions…and help each other to be brave, too.  True community depends on honest and open communication.

Second, be kind.  This First Congregational community is such a gift!  Just look at all these beautiful people!  Each one is a beautifully-created beloved child of God.  I encourage you to remember that in your interactions with each other.

My last word to you is this:  be playful.  Sometimes–especially, in stressful times, like pandemics and pastoral transitions–playfulness gets shoved to the back burner.  And yet, playfulness, light-heartenedness..it’s what makes living fun, right?  That’s why we do all the hard work, why we attend so intentionally to the ways in which we follow Jesus…we do it all because being human should be fun, joyous!  I pray playfulness for you.

Be brave.  Be kind.  Be playful.  I suspect that tending to courage, kindness, and playfulness will go a long way in nurturing peace among you.

And so, as I leave, as, as the Quakers say, way closes on our ministry with each other, that is my final word to you, that is my deepest hope for you:  peace, peace, peace.

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  © 2022

About reallifepastor

I'm a pastor who's working out her faith...just like everyone else.
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