Thanks Be to God
Gratitude can be a great antidote to grief. It’s not a panacea cure, but it can help to treat the pain of loss.
Sherril and I are grateful for the many expressions of thanks for the years God has given us in pastoral ministry together here at First Pres. This has been, quite simply, the greatest church community experience of our lives. We give great thanks to you—and to God—for that gift. Your expressions of thanks have often been coupled with words of sadness over the necessary losses that the upcoming change requires. We understand that and are feeling it, profoundly, as well. As we continue to reflect upon the pastoral transition that my upcoming retirement necessitates, we’d all be well served not only to honestly name the reality of looming loss, but to keep prominent in our minds and spirits the goodness of giving thanks to God in all things.
It is no secret that we are in a season of “lasts.” We have had our last Christmas and Easter services together (and I have delivered what will likely be my last Christmas and Easter sermons, since churches rarely need a guest preacher on the “high holy days” of the liturgical calendar!). We have had our last of a variety of gatherings at the manse; Sherril and I have enjoyed immensely offering hospitality at the home that you have generously provided for us and for which we are so grateful. My last Sunday will be August 27th—a sad/happy day of culmination of what has been, yet a day accompanied by hope and anticipation for the new thing that God is about to do in our midst.
As we experience the “lasts,” we need to be mindful of the “firsts” that are yet to be—first sermons and worship leadership by your Interim Pastor, followed by same from your newly installed Pastor down the line, first celebrations of the new leadership that God always raises up in deacons, ruling elders, volunteers and staff, and first new ministry ventures that you as a congregation will begin, collaborating with your leaders, with the promptings of the Spirit of the Living Christ—all this is yet to be. Thanks be to God! There is much to anticipate, all of it good because it will be inspired by the goodness of the steadfastly faithful and generous God of grace.
OK, I know it is still disconcerting because it is so unknown. It is fair to fret over what we don’t know. I’m actually doing a bit of that regarding the unknowns of what retirement life will be like—mostly looking forward to newfound freedoms, but not yet knowing exactly how I will use them! But fretting isn’t spiritually productive. We would all be well served to keep prominent in our minds and spirits the Christmas/Easter message, “Do not be afraid!” God in Christ is perpetually born in our midst and comes to us as Spirit of the living Christ to dispel our fearful fretting and propel us along our journey, to go where we never dreamed we would go, accompanying us every step of the way.
We can be immensely grateful that God is gracious and good, God is for us and always with us. His generous, loving, grace-filled nature simply makes it so.
Thanks be to God!