Monday, December 11, 2006

An Installation in Smallville

Last evening I participated in a service of installation for a new pastor in my presbytery (new to the pastorate as well as to our area). I was asked to give the charge to the pastor, words of encouragement with which to begin the new call. Here is what I wrote.

I confess to some melancholy around this. It was poignant for me to see the huge party, the family and friends from far and near, the love just swamping this lovely young man. I hope, someday, to have a call to a church in which, like people getting married, we pledge to live together in covenant relationship. So, like so many sermons preached by so many ministers, these are probably words to myself as much as they are to the new pastor.

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In the epistle of James, the brother of the Lord encourages us tenderly, “Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.”

As I reflected upon what might be the appropriate charge to you, my friend, on this joyous day, I couldn’t stop thinking of that fact that your installation is taking place during Advent, this beautiful season when we are drawn both to what is brand new and what is the most ancient story of our faith, the season in which we remember something that happened long ago and look ahead to an unknown future that is nevertheless blessed with God’s covenant promise to us. The more I think about it, the more I believe Advent is the perfect and fitting time for a church to receive a new pastor into their embrace, and for a new pastor to take a congregation into his heart.

It is Advent, the season when, as the days grow darker, we kindle greater and greater flames to remind us that the light of Christ has come, the light of Christ is here, and the light of Christ is coming soon.

It is Advent, the season when everyone, from one to 92, learns lessons about waiting.

It is Advent, the season in which we not only prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, but in which we actively remind ourselves that God’s reign is still not fully accomplished.

So I charge you, my friend, to keep Advent in your heart and your heart in Advent as you serve the good people of Smallville.

Jesus Christ is the light of the world, a light no darkness can extinguish. I charge you, my friend, to remember and to draw near and to kindle your own love of the light of Christ, in bright and cheery days of halcyon success as well in moments of difficulty, confusion and darkness. I charge you let that light be your comfort, your consolation, your battery recharger and your hope.

The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth. I know that in many ways the waiting is behind you… waiting for graduation, waiting for a call, waiting for ordination, waiting for your installation. Still, I charge you, my friend, to keep an attitude of expectant, joyful waiting. There are few things in life that require an immediate, instantaneous response, and I encourage you to learn what they are and what they are not. You can model faithful waiting as you resist the temptation to respond immediately, to fix immediately, to swoop in and rescue. You can plant seeds, but you have to wait until God gives the growth. You can nourish relationships, but you have to wait until trust blossoms. You can respond to the needs of your people, but you and they can wait to be sure that their pastor has had enough sleep and has spent enough time with his family. I charge you to learn the waiting that knows that God remembers God’s promises, and that God’s promises can be trusted.

Though this service of worship marks a beginning, it is also true that today you join a story already in progress. I charge you, my friend, to know that this new beginning is really somewhere in the middle of God’s story for the people of Smallville. They come to you with their history, their ancestors in faith, their pet peeves, and their hearts filled with longing. I charge you to love them for who they are, to be to with them, fully present to the people they are becoming, and to remember that they will be here in this beautiful little corner of God’s country long after you are gone.

I pray for God to strengthen your heart to do the work to which you have been called, and I ask God to bless you, in the name of the One who has created, redeemed and sustained us all. Amen.

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