Trinity Sunday – Memorial Day Weekend
Pastor Donna Buell
I’ve found myself thinking back on how hectic life was for us in the Spring of 2015 when Marty and I were preparing for our new appointment here in Stillwater. We spent several long days after Easter with Ryan, our real estate agent, looking for a place to call home. Having lived in church-owned parsonages for our entire married life, this was a first for us. By the end of the 2nd week we put in an offer and a few weeks later we closed on our townhome on the western edge of Stillwater. So, at nearly 60 years of age, we were first time home owners. It was a bit daunting, but also kind of exciting.
The townhome was quite a bit smaller than the parsonages we had lived in for almost 30 years, so it required significant downsizing on our part. We hauled 3 car loads of accumulated stuff to the church for their annual spring rummage sale, and donated or sold some pieces of furniture.
While all of this was going on, Marty’s mom sold her townhome in Woodbury and moved to a senior residence in Oakdale, and I was searching for a place in a memory care facility nearby so that my sisters and I could move our father closer to one of his daughters later in the summer.
All of that was on the personal side of our transition. But there was also the professional side. During those transitional months we spent time with your pastor, Linda Gesling and the SPRC to learn about the life and ministry of this congregation, and we met some of you informally at one of your Wednesday evening meals.
But there was still much to do in Northfield, as we worked together with staff, committees and ministry teams to prepare for their transition in pastoral leadership. This also included visits with the newly appointed pastors, Rachel and Jared Morey, so that we could share with them about the Northfield church and its life and ministry in preparation for their move.
And of course there was all the ongoing work of ministry which continued as it always does: planning worship services and writing sermons, celebrating year end events like confirmation and graduation, the end of the Sunday school year and Pentecost, attending Annual Conference, providing pastoral care and all the rest. Was it any wonder that Marty and I felt a bit overwhelmed?
This time around things are a bit simpler for us. Because we are retiring, we don’t need to become oriented to a new congregation, and because we are staying in our townhome, at least for now, we don’t have to pack up for a move at the end of June. So I find myself thinking a lot about Dan and Monica Bader, for their experience is far more like ours in 2015.
And I find myself remembering something that happened over 25 years ago when we were living in Cass Lake, MN. Marty and I decided to rearrange our living room furniture to open the space up a bit. And later that day our son Nate, who was 3 or 4 at the time, looked at us with despair and announced; “I don’t like the change!” “I don’t like the change!” became one of those phrases Marty and I have used whenever one of us is struggling with a change in our lives. We’ve said it more than a few times during our previous pastoral transitions. And I know that a few of you have been saying and thinking things like that, as well, as you anticipate the changes that are soon to happen here. A lot of us don’t particularly like change. But we all know that change is an inevitable part of life.
When I was a teenager I remember seeing a poster which read, “Remember, no human condition is ever permanent.” In the midst of my adolescence I was just beginning to discover how true that statement was, and the 45 years since then have only served to reinforce that truth. Those words are the first part of a quote from Socrates; “Remember, no human condition is ever permanent. Then you will not be overjoyed in good fortune nor too scornful in misfortune.”
There are so many things that bring about change in our lives. Perhaps everything has been going along fine when suddenly the rug gets pulled out from under you. Or perhaps you find yourself at the end of your rope and don’t know how you are going to go on, when suddenly something shifts and you begin to see a way forward. Whether that human condition is good, bad or something in between, it isn’t permanent. And over the years I have learned, sometimes the hard way, that when we don’t allow ourselves to face the inevitability of change we set ourselves up for a lot of heartache and suffering. So that poem I quoted at our Easter Sunrise Service, urging us to “lean on the earth as it rotates toward Eastered light” continues to speak to me.
Brian McLaren in his book, We Make the Road by Walking, wrote these words about the hardships faced by the early church in the decades following Jesus’ death and resurrection: “Hardships make us bitter…or better. They lead us to breakdown…or to breakthrough.” And he goes on to write that at those times when we feel we have reached a breaking point, when we’ve reached the limits of our own resources, we sometimes find a new aliveness, which he describes as “the life of the risen Christ rising within us.” Perhaps you’ve had that experience of waking up in the morning with a fresh sense of perspective. Or at your darkest moment someone speaks a kind word or offers some help, and you entertain the first tentative thoughts of a new beginning.
What is it that helps us “Lean on the earth as it rotates toward Eastered light?” What is it that allows us to rise up again and again after we have been knocked down by life? What is the source of that resilience? Well, there is no formula – no easy button to push. It’s not that simple. But if you’ve heard me say this once, you’ve heard me say it at least a hundred times over the past 3 years: God loves us and is with us always, in all times, in all places, and in all circumstances. That is the bedrock of my faith. And whenever I find myself struggling in life, it is that deep assurance about which we just sang that keeps me going, that helps me rise up again, that helps me lean on the earth trusting that it will rotate toward Eastered light, that helps me to say “it is well with my soul.”
A couple of months ago, as we were introducing Pastor Dan to people at our Wednesday night dinner, I was taken right back to those first months we spent here in Stillwater in 2015, to that sense I had in each conversation, in each meeting, in each gathering that we were all trying to feel each other out. Oh, don’t get me wrong, you made us feel welcome and you were very kind and gracious. But you didn’t know us yet. You didn’t know what kind of pastors we were going to be. You didn’t know how we were going to make this husband and wife co-pastor thing work. You didn’t know what kinds of changes would come with our presence and what that would mean for you. And so you were all a bit wary. And so were we. It took us all a while to warm up to one another, to get to know one another, to learn to trust one another, and to begin working together to discern what it was that God was calling us to do and be together as pastors and congregation. The first months of each of our pastoral appointments have been unsettled times as we and our congregations grew to know and love one another, and to live and work together.
So please remember that in the months to come as you get to know Rev Bader. Please remember that as you begin to discover who he is, with his own unique gifts and skills and experiences, his fresh perspectives and questions, his passion and commitment to the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Remember that the Spirit who came upon the disciples at Pentecost will continue to be at work in Dan and in all of you, as you grow into your ministry together. Remember that transitions like this take time, and patience, and a whole lot of grace. They take minds and hearts that are open to change. And most importantly, they take faith and trust in the loving presence of the living God.
This morning we heard familiar words from the prophet Isaiah. Words of assurance spoken to God’s people who had been living in exile, and who were wondering what would become of them in the face of life’s hardships. And though the changes we face as a congregation don’t begin to compare to what they faced, these words can be of comfort to us, as well, in the midst of whatever transitions and losses and hardships we may face in life. So let us listen again to these words of the prophet Isaiah.
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. God does not faint or grow weary; God’s understanding is unsearchable. God gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
I know you will manage this transition just fine, because of who you are as a congregation, and especially because of who God is. And I trust that the same will be true for Marty and for me as we lean into our new life in retirement.
In that book I mentioned earlier, Brian McLaren reminds us that times of hardship teach us to live in dependence upon God, and they also teach us to live in interdependence with others, which moves us from “me” to “we.” And that is certainly going to be important for all of us to remember through this time of transition.
You may not be aware that for two years when we were living in Cass Lake, MN I worked for the Minnesota Public Radio station in Bemidji. One of my responsibilities was to coordinate our station’s portions of the on air membership drives, back in the days when they let folks at the local stations do that. So I’ve always been somewhat attuned to MPR membership drives. A few years ago I noted that they were using recordings of members from around the state talking about why they supported MPR. And at the end of each of these recordings, the person would say “My name is Donna Buell, I live in Stillwater, MN, and I am MPR.” It reminded me of that 1960’s hymn “I am the church. You are the church. We are the church, together.”
It takes many people to be the church. Pastors and staff – yes. Committee and ministry team members – certainly. But it also takes all of the many people who give of their time and their energy, their gifts and their service, their love and their compassion, to help the church be the church – to keep it healthy and vital and growing and faithful.
A transition in pastoral leadership doesn’t change any of that. So now is not the time to sit back or to pull away, or to stand with arms crossed, just waiting to see what is going to happen. Now is the time to trust in the presence of God who is with us always. Now is the time to look back in gratitude – yes, celebrating all that has brought you to this place. And most importantly, now is the time to lean in and pitch in and invest in the life and ministry, the vitality and faithfulness of this congregation as you move forward with your new pastor. Now is the time to discover new ways to grow in your love of God and in your love of neighbors near and far, here at the corner of Greeley and Myrtle. For I, and you, and we are the church, together. We are children of God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. We are Easter people, followers of our risen Lord Jesus Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life. We are Spirit people, who rise up again and again through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Thank God.
I want to leave you with a reading about this life to which we are called from a book called Little Sermons of the Big Joy by James Broughton:
Shake out your qualms.
Shake up your dreams.
Deepen your roots.
Extend your branches.
Trust deep water
and head for the open,
even if your vision
Quit your addiction
to sneer and complain.
Open a lookout.
Dance on a brink.
Run with your wildfire.
You are closer to glory
leaping an abyss
than upholstering a rut.
Intrepid all the way
Walk toward clarity.
At every crossroad
to bump into wonder.
Only love prevails.
En route to disaster
insist on canticles.
Lift your ineffable
out of the mundane.
Honeymoon with Big Joy!