What of the future? The future belongs to God –
There’s a story of a small congregation – not ours but in some ways similar – in which at the end of the service, no matter what the hymn, Harold, the oldest member of the church, slowly gets up and takes the acolyte candle snuffer from the back of the church and feebly walks three quarters of the way up the isle, step by step, at a speed befitting of his age…and then Harold hands the acolyte taper shakily to his 10-year-old down-syndrome great grandson Bobby. Bobby then in turn precariously goes to the altar with the candle snuffer, gets the light of Christ, snuffs out the candles, and then carries the light of Gospel out into the world. [pause]
I first heard this story from the Rev. Dr. Thomas Long, who then goes on to point out that watching this ritual Sunday after Sunday at his home congregation is like watching the whole story of the church through the years being played out right before his eyes. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is passed down from the feeble hands of one generation to the precarious hands of another. And it reminds me of the stories we’ve seen and heard this evening as we celebrate our congregation through the years. A similar scene takes place even in Scripture (we hear this story shortly after Christmas) when old Simeon finally gets to hold the baby Jesus in his ancient arms, blessing God in that moment – “my eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord, a light to all people” – and then with shaky hands and wobbly knees Simeon leans forward and passes over the baby of Hope and Salvation for the entire world. He passes Jesus over to a precarious teenage girl, mother Mary.
I’m afraid that I can’t and I won’t dictate a detailed picture of the future for Shepherd of the Valley as your current pastor. I can’t and I won’t prescribe the future; but what I can do—as we briefly reflect on the future—is to ascribe that future to God. That’s my only vision—that the future of Shepherd of the Valley be God’s. My prayer is that as we move off this mountain top back down into the valley, that may we together lean and let go into God’s future, like the passing of the light of Christ in our worship service, entrusting it all–entrusting the life-saving Word and Meal—the Living Water that quenches our thirst and saturates us for faithfulness—the stories that we love to tell of Jesus and his love, handing it all over, perhaps with feeble and tired hands, passing it all over—the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the hands of our children and our grandchildren to be carried like a “light” into this dark world.
And as I look out this evening—a personal point of privilege—I want to thank you, all those who have leaned forward and passed the light of Christ over to me, entrusting me with this Gospel of Truth to be shared.
I’ve often heard that as Christians in this age, we’ve gotta do a better job of standing up/firm for our faith; there are so many pressures all around. To stand up for our faith we’ve gotta believe we’re right. But to lean instead into our faith and let go, then we have to believe there’s a God.* [pause] May we move into the future leaning, like Harold, and entrusting our whole selves and our congregation…to God. AMEN.
*Thomas Long, Sermon at the Festival of Homiletics 2010, Nashville, TN