Our First Scripture reading comes from the Book of Genesis. After stealing Esau’s birthright, Jacob is on the run and he sleeps at a place called Bethel. There he has a dream of angels ascending and descending a ladder – it is the dream we know as “Jacob’s Ladder”. When Jacobs wakes up he recognizes the presence of God. Listen to what he says:
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The Second scripture reading is from Paul’s letter to the Philippians – which is a joy filled letter despite Paul’s current imprisonment. He is clearly very fond of the Philippian community and wishes to uphold them, encourage them and bless them.
Listen for the word as inspired by God.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things . . . And the God of peace will be with you.” (8-9)NIV
Now, I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating because, well, whether or not it is real, it is for me, a true story. A man in Atlanta, Georgia decided to write a book about churches around the country. He started by flying to San Francisco and worked east from there. Going to a very large church, he began taking photographs and making notes. He spotted a golden telephone on the vestibule wall and was intrigued with a sign, which read, ‘Calls: $10,000 a minute.’ Seeking out the pastor, he asked about the phone and the sign. The pastor answered that this golden phone was, in fact, a direct line to heaven, and if he paid the price, he could talk directly to GOD.
The man thanked the pastor and proceeded on his way. As he continued to visit churches in Seattle, Dallas, St. Louis , Chicago , Minneapolis and other cities around the United States, he found more golden phones, with the same sign, “Calls: $10,000 a minute” and the same answer from each pastor. Then he arrived in New England. Upon entering a church in Vermont, he saw yet another golden telephone. However; this time, the sign read:
Calls: 35 cents.
Fascinated with this; he asked to talk to the pastor, ‘Reverend,’ he said “ I have been in cities all across the country, and in many churches I have found a similar golden telephone. At the other churches I was told it is a direct line to Heaven, and that I could talk to GOD. But – in the other churches, the cost was $10,000 a minute. your sign reads only 35 cents a call,. Why?’
The pastor, smiling benignly, replied, ‘Son, you’re in Vermont ….. You’re IN God’s Country … It’s a local call from here.”
Now we have our very own golden phone – thanks to Doug!
“It’s a local call from here” – and that has been true for me here in Hartland, in this church. God’s presence so palpably felt and known in this community, in worshipping together and in interactions and relationships with each of you.
For me, “It’s a local call from here” is a true story because of you. And I hope that it is a true story for you as well. I hope that you experience the closeness of God’s presence in the life of this church – whether that be in a committee meeting or in Monday Bible Study, in the sharing of joys and concerns or in the songs of praise, in church school creativity or in the gift of a prayer shawl – or in a variety of other ways – I hope that you too have and will continue to experience an intimacy of the Holy presence in this faith community. Because it is indeed a local call from here.
“Surely the Lord is in this place – and I DO
did not know it! . . . How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Gen 28:16-17
I stand here today filled with a multitude of feelings – mostly though, I am filled with deep gratitude for these 13 and a half years. You are an incredible church and I have been deeply privileged by this time with you. You welcomed Michael and me into this church. You supported Michael’s return trip to Vietnam and honored his stories, you shared cups of coffee and conversations AND the choir really built Michael’s confidence as a singer too! Through this church, Michael and I felt woven into the fabric of life in Hartland and the Upper Valley. And when Michael was in the hospital, your prayers carried us through those long weeks.
You helped to raise Micah and Asher and even smiled when paper airplanes littered the balcony on a Sunday after church. They each experienced an intergenerational extended family watching out for them at church and in the community. You modeled servant leadership and faithfulness, you taught them in Church School and Confirmation, and sweated alongside them on Mission Trips and played spoons late into the night, you were interested in their passions and in their antics You have been a part of Micah’s and Asher’s coming of age, growing from boys into adults. And I am so grateful that you were a part of their lives at such a critical time. When Leah came into our family, you welcomed her with open arms, engaged Leah in conversation and graciously included Leah in the choir and in church. And then, when Kess came to live us – you welcomed Kess into the life of the church, sat next to Kess in the pew and embraced Kess. Our family life has been deeply entwined with the church and that has been such a blessing for all of us.
Together, we built something very special here. We – you and I – with a lot of help from the Holy Spirit – did so much in this season of the First Congregational Church in Hartland – you became an Open and Affirming Church, sponsored and supported 12 youth mission trips, 2 Puerto Rico trips, plus numerous local mission weeks with Habitat for Humanity and let us not forget, one mission trip to Iowa! Hundreds of Church World Service School kits and Back to School backpacks and prayer shawls, dinners for Hixon House and the Hartland Christmas Projects, Roast Beef Suppers – by the way, I was moved from the kitchen to the dining room when I broke three pickle dishes in one evening – Confirmation Class, star words, Lady Bs, book discussions, game nights, youth group meetings, women’s retreats, church school, Christmas pageants, worship services, baptisms, weddings, funerals, we have laughed and we have cried, we have searched for God’s story in our own stories. Oh I could go on . . .
Do you know that never, not once, did any of you say “we never did it that way before” – which isn’t to say that you enjoyed or even embraced all of my ideas because you did let me know when you didn’t like a change, but you were willing to try, to explore, to stretch beyond your comfort zones to join the great faith adventure.
The point of all this is that we did it together. It is really easy when a pastor leaves to say “she did that”, but that’s not the case, we did it – you and I and the Spirit did it together. And I’ve come to understand that that matters – the fact that we did it together, because my ministry here is a season in the life of this church. And you are New Englanders, so you know that the seasons turn and change and that each season has its unique joys and challenges, gifts and beauty. So now we are at a changing of the seasons in the life of the First Congregational Church of Hartland. My season here is ending – while your life in the life of this church, your walk with Jesus, your faith journey – continues into a new season with Rev. Amy Davin journeying with you. No doubt, such transitions are challenging . . . and there is a time of grieving . . . .and such transitions are also hopeful . . . because new ministries and relationships, new insights and revelations will unfold here as you go into a new season in the life of the church. You are at a changing of the seasons in the life of the First Congregational Church of Hartland and you know that the seasons turn and change and that each season has its unique joys and challenges, gifts and beauty.
After his Retirement, Reverend John Buchanan wrote in the Christian Century Magazine (Sunday Morning Blues, Aug 2013): “One thing I have learned from this experience is something I should have learned long ago: ministry is not my personal possession. Ministry belongs to the church, the congregation I served for a while, the denomination of which it is a part—and to the whole church, holy . . . apostolic. In the painful process of letting go I am learning to let the church continue to be the church, performing a ministry that began before it allowed me to serve and continuing after I left.”
I find these words both helpful and hard. There is that voice in me – sometimes a very loud egotistical voice – wondering if this church, and people, will be okay without me, and especially in this hard time of pandemic and political strife – will you be okay? I worry about you, a lot. . . . And then, there is the other voice that reminds me, strongly and clearly, that it isn’t all about me, nor all my responsibility, because God is indeed in charge. And that this church was here and healthy, a place of strength and service, long before I arrived and will be here serving the world long after I leave because this isn’t “My church”, it is Your church and it is more importantly, God’s church. And as long as you listen for God’s guidance and are willing to grow and evolve with the Spirit’s presence, and serve in the name of Jesus, you will be okay and this church will be here long after any of us.
Remember Paul’s words to the Philippians – really listen to these words because these are words for you: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I am at peace because I know that God is in this place and I know that you can rejoice and that I know that you can look to the future with hope. Working with Amy these few short weeks has been such a joy. She is a gifted, insightful minister and above all, she is loving and deeply desires to serve you. Be patient with one another, be gentle as you get to know and to trust each other. Allow Amy’s ministry to grow and Finally, brothers [& sisters, companions], whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things . . . And the God of peace will be with you.” (8-9)NIV
You are an extraordinarily gifted church and a blessed people. Serving here has been one of the greatest privileges of my life. Thank you for enthusiastically embracing this season and know that I will be praying for you as you turn to a fresh season in the life of this church.