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Sermon – Thank you.

Sept 10, 2023

Grace to you and peace in God our Creator, Christ, and Spirit of Life, amen.

I’d like to start by saying thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

When I was a teenager, Pastor Bruce Gelhorn asked me, “Jeremy, have you ever thought about being a pastor?” At the time, I wasn’t so sure. I wanted to be an astronaut. But as time went on, the question kept coming back to me. As I led music in church, as I led programs at Luther Village, as I became involved in youth ministry, folks from time to time would ask me, “Jeremy, have you ever thought of being a pastor?” And all the while, the Spirit was stirring in my heart as well, wondering where God was calling me.

Almost four years ago, the Spirit was stirring, here at Abundant Life, and also at Prince of Peace, and the Spirit moved you to call me as your pastor. And when you did that, you gave me the opportunity to answer that call that God had placed on my heart. You gave me an opportunity to be a pastor, and more than that, you gave me the opportunity to be your pastor, and for that I am deeply grateful.

I am deeply grateful for the time that we have spent together. For your love and support; for the conversations that we have shared; for inviting me into your homes, and your lives, and your hearts; for allowing me to share this amazing message of God’s love with you; for giving me the privilege of baptizing in this place, and sharing the Lord’s supper with you. For all these things, and so much more, I am deeply grateful.

We have been through a lot together. When you first called me, I think we had a bit of a honeymoon period. We were excited for what this new relationship would bring. And at the same time, this shared ministry between Prince of Peace and Abundant Life was still new. You were still figuring out what it meant to be in shared ministry. There were still some wrinkles that needed ironing out.

Four months in, we encountered a new challenge, one that would define much of our time together. A pandemic. The world seemed to change in an instant. The world went into lockdown, and we found ourselves asking how can we be church together, when we can’t be together in-person?

All of a sudden, I found myself in an empty sanctuary, preaching to my cell phone, and uploading my sermons on YouTube. A little while later, I found some puppets in a drawer – a tiger, and a chick, and sure enough they became my new friends for Children’s Time – Terry the Tiger, and Chelsea the Chick.

We found ourselves in waves of changing restrictions. In the summer, when the restrictions loosened, we found ourselves worshiping outdoors on the lawn together. It seemed that every month or two, things would change again, and we’d have to figure things out all over again. And through all of this, we stuck together. We were kind to one another, we were patient with one another. We listened to each other, as we tried to figure out the best way forward.

You found ways to care for one another. Prince of Peace started a calling and caring committee; Abundant Life started a phone tree. We checked in with one another to see if we were alright. We prayed for one another. You cared for me as well, by sending me encouraging notes and cards and emails.

Through all of these things, we learned new ways of being church together. We learned that pajama church, and communion on Zoom, and worshiping out on the lawn, and texting “Peace be with you” to one another, and singing Silent Night out on the church porch in the freezing cold could all be a part of being church together. In the midst of all of this, we also discerned a new name together – Spirit of Life Ministry – and we chose to be in deeper relationship with one another, as a two-point parish.

I remember the joy that I felt when we could finally worship in our own building again together. The joy when we were finally able to sing together again. The joy when we felt safe enough to take off our masks and see each others’ smiles again. Joy when we were finally able to enjoy coffee together, and meals together. As we emerged from the pandemic, we found new life, new energy, a new sense of God in our midst.

Today, we hear Jesus familiar words, which are a promise to all Christians: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Jesus was there, among us, in all these things. Even when only two or three of us were gathered, even when we were gathered six feet apart, or gathered online, Jesus was there, among us. In the joyful times, and the challenging times, in the scary times and the hopeful times, Jesus was there among us.

Our communities are different now than they were four years ago. Some of our loved ones have died. Some folks have moved on to other seasons in their lives. Others perhaps have become a bit more distant, and some perhaps just need a little bit more encouragement. And at the same time, we have new faces in our communities as well! New families, new friends, new babies, new energy, new perspectives. We’ve celebrated baptisms and confirmations and weddings. Our communities continue to change and evolve and grow, as the Spirit has continued to stir and move among us.

And that Spirit – God’s Spirit, the Spirit of Life – has certainly been with us, through all of this. Guiding us, sustaining us, empowering us, giving us gifts and teaching us how to use them. Stirring new faith in our hearts. The Spirit of Life called us to be together. The Spirit sustained us and led us through what seemed like a wilderness time. The Spirit has re-energized us to share the love of God with one another and with our neighbours. And now, the Spirit is doing a new thing.

I believe that the Spirit is calling me into a new season in life. A season of using my gifts as an engineer. A season of spending more time with the ones I love. And a season of doing ministry as a volunteer, instead of a full-time pastor.

And the Spirit is calling you into a new season in your life as well, as a congregation, and as a Shared Ministry. And the Spirit of Life will continue to lead you, and guide you, and sustain you, and stir within you, in this new season.

I believe that one of the ways that the Spirit has been moving and active is by calling Rev. Murray Still to be your interim minister. Reverend Murray has many gifts to share with you. He has a lot of wisdom, and a great sense of humour, and I know that he loves to sing. I think that you will enjoy getting to know him, and I believe that you will learn a lot from him, and that he will learn a lot from you as well. Revered Murray will be there to walk with you, as you discern where the Spirit is leading you in this new season.

So thank you. Thank you for this beautiful gift you have given me – this gift of being your pastor.

If it’s alright, I would like to pray for you.

God of love and life, thank you for this beautiful gift that you have given: this gift of relationship as pastor and parish. You have been with us in the joyful times, and you have been with us through the challenging times. Your spirit has been stirring among us, leading us, guiding us, sustaining us, teaching us what it means to follow you. Be with Spirit of Life Ministry, with Abundant Life and Prince of Peace, as you call them into this new season. Guide them by your Spirit. Give them courage and wisdom, give them patience and kindness. Increase in their hearts faith, hope, and love. May the light of your love shine brightly in this place. May this community of faith be a place where all are welcome, and where all can hear the message of your abundant and unconditional love for every human being.

Be with Reverend Murray, who will begin his interim ministry here in a few weeks. And send your Spirit upon this community, to guide them as they discern where you are leading them in this new season.

O God, we are finite, but you are infinite. Our lives are temporary, but you are eternal. Seasons come and go, but you remain, constant and faithful. Teach us to trust in your promise, to hold fast to your faithfulness, to abide in your peace, and to share in your love. We ask these things in the name of Jesus Christ, your Son. Amen.

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