A lot of things hit you when you move. There are bills to pay, arrangements to make, services to cut off and turn on; there are items to pack or give away, cars to tune, maps to create, and routes to print out; but the things that hit hardest though are those that have to do with other people.

We have been here for almost seven years now; the first four years in seminary grounded us in this city, the last three have been years where my wife and I have been able to stretch and grow where we have been planted. When we first arrived we weren’t sure that we wanted to root ourselves in this odd little city.

Thinking back, that first year was difficult as we tried, sometimes succeeding sometimes failing, to connect with people around us. It took a while but we started to warm up to our surroundings and take root in life of the seminary. We met some people at school and work who helped to till the soil where we lived and nurtured us both individually and together. It is hard not to grow when the environment is friendly.

With a little patience and openness, we have made great friends through our experiences here in Richmond. Some of our friends remain in this city; others have already forged ahead in new places.

Regardless we now know people that we will choose to know for the rest of our lives, no matter where we or they live. Above all else, it is these people that made our time here special and extraordinary, and I am thankful for every minute that we spent and will spend with our friends.

As I remembered our years in Richmond, I also thought about my last two years in this congregation, and I realized that if someone were to judge my time here, I could be accused of being biased in a number of ways. However, I also realized that everyone is a bit biased and I quickly forgave myself for my idiosyncrasies.

In the midst of that rumination, there were two accusations that bubbled to the surface. First, I realized that I could be accused of being a dreamer. Second, I can be accused of talking to you about how special each one of you is in the eyes of God.

I have always been a dreamer. Not as much a vivid images while I’m sleeping kind of guy, but more of a thinker about the way things could be.

I thought that I might share a couple of the things that I have dreamt about or thought about over the last two years. The first has to do with worship.

I have heard on a number of occasions that worship is boring or we do the same stuff all the time. The preacher wasn’t uplifting and didn’t make someone feel better. The service was too slow and restrictive.

Now, being a good Presbyterian, I know that our worship can sometimes feel or sound like a funeral service, with all of the ritual and confession and prayer. Sometimes, the preacher can get onto a subject we don’t like, or call up feelings that we don’t want to experience.

My dream is that each of us will wake up one Sunday morning and realize that worship is not about you, nor is it about me or any other person who inhabits this pulpit, it never has been, and a good worship service never will be.

Worship is about God and having a dedicated time to encounter God through our relationships with one another and our relationship with scripture. The only one who is to be pleased by our corporate act of worship is our audience, God.

Ideally, we would take our offense at scripture, our offense at a prayer, a sermon, a song and find out why it affects us. Rather than blame someone for making us feel uncomfortable, find out where the uncomfortable feeling comes from and dig into it, pray about it, wrestle with it.

A second dream I have pertains to the whole church. When my wife and I visited Alaska recently our sea kayak guide told us that the number one natural cause of death for bald eagles is drowning.

You see, eagles can carry their weight in food, but sometimes when they fish they grab a hold of more than they can carry. There is a lot of speculation about why this occurs, and most scientists believe that when an eagle digs its claws into its prey it cannot let go easily.

This reminds me of how we operate as a church sometimes. We bite off more than we can chew, we dig our claws into a meal, and end up drowning ourselves in the process.

My dream is that we let the mystery that God is reign in this world and instead of fighting over issues in which there are no definitive answers, we get about the work that we have been called to in this world. To love God, and love one another as we love ourselves.

This leads me to the second thing I can be accused of, telling you how special each one of you is in the eyes of God.

I don’t have the vocabulary to describe how important this is. To believe this simple thing is to believe God’s gift of your being, apart from anything that you do.

This idea is not just meant for you though; it also means believing every one is a recipient of the same gift of grace and redemption from God. And like the householder, we are to be patient and tend to what ever is growing in the fields around us. We are not to be quick to judge, nor are we to slash and burn everything before us, because a lot of good is lost in that process.

Just about every sermon I preached from this pulpit dealt with the idea that our worth comes from the simple acts of God: love, remembrance, hope, strength, and belief; and, in response we are called to love, remember, hope, be strong, and believe in whoever God has planted in our lives.

When we move we have the opportunity to take stock of our lives and the time we spent in one particular place. We have the opportunity to separate the wheat from the weeds and take what we have learned and plant it somewhere new.

One of the greatest things I learned during my time here in Richmond came out in a conversation with a friend recently. I can’t remember what we talked about, but I remember making this statement, “without art and music and dance and story, I could not believe in God.”

These dreams and parables are meant to awaken our long dulled senses to the presence of the Holy in our midst. Ambiguous stories and fanciful dreams are meant to pique our interest in a God that is an active voice in this world.

But art is not limited to canvas and sheet music, our world, our relationships, each person is a work of art created by a master painter. So, open your eyes and clean out your ears, take what has been given to you, and see the beauty before your eyes.

If I could impart a little wisdom to this congregation before I leave it would be this: live kindly, live gentle lives, love each other— especially those whose voices are different from your own, and give generously and freely of the greatest gift God has ever created, give generously and freely of yourself.



Visit InfoServe for blogger templates