Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Not Just Another Service

In the PCUSA, tradition and the Book of Order dictate that soon after a pastor is found and voted into service by the congregation there will be a Service of Installation. In our Presbytery these take place around 4/4:30 on Sunday afternoon, not exactly prime time to get heavy attendance. I try to go to these things, but admit that if I have not been asked to be in it, I rarely make it. Admittedly, women have a higher priority as I want to show my support, but in general a Sunday afternoon worship service is not high on my agenda.

As mine approached I kept treating it lightly. "It's just another worship service," I kept saying. I shrugged my shoulders as we sent off invitations and only sent them out to a broader spectrum because my Mom told me to. "It's just another service... no big deal."

Now I knew this wasn't really true. The reason why I was saying it was because I was trying to keep my emotions in check. My friend was coming up from North Carolina to preach, clearly it was NOT just another service.

Nothing could have prepared me for what it became. I had friends arrive from the church I grew up in. I had the former Associate Pastor and his wife from that same church there. There were people from my last church there and the congregation was full of MPC'ers (current church) and other clergy from the Presbytery.

The service opened with me standing between the pastor emeritus (long since retired) and the associate that worked with him for over twenty years that has also moved on. And from that moment, the stage was set. This was not just another service.

For me it felt like a dividing line. That was then, this is now.
And I sure am ready for now.

At the end of the installation service, the now installed pastor is invited to come forward and do the charge and benediction. I don't remember what I said word for word, but this is a pretty good paraphrase. The bold is the benediction.

It was not so long ago when I was reflecting with a group of friends that I told them that I felt like I was standing on the edge of a cliff - not because I was going to jump - but because when I looked out I saw no one there. I felt alone. Someone wise told me to turn around and then tell them what I see. I did... and this is what I saw.... you.

I see the parents who always said I could do whatever I wanted to do.
I see the friend I grew up with in church and the pastor from the church I grew up in. I see my friend's mom and dad who helped raise me because it took a village!

I see a group of friends who would do anything for me as I would do for them.
I see a congregation that welcomed me right out of seminary and let me love them while they loved me. I see folks here who when I arrived there drove all the way down to Florida for my ordination.

And I see you, the congregation of MPC and I am so excited about the places we are going to go.

What a wonderful thing this fellowship of believers is and how blessed we are to be in it.

I believe that God has commanded us to love God with all of our hearts, with all of our souls, with all of our minds and all of our strength because God knows that at some point in our journey we will only have one of them left and that one we may just be barely grasping onto with our fingernails.

My charge to you today is that if you find yourself in that place, you keep somewhere in your body, soul, heart or mind that God is good.... all the time. All the time... God is good.
And just. keep. walking.

Go out into the world in peace.
Have courage.
Hold onto what is good.
Return no one evil for evil.

Strengthen the faint hearted, support those who are week, help those who suffer.
Honor all people.
Worship and serve the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Amen.