This is a daunting day for this pastor. No question. I am full of emotion and gratitude, and tempted to be too maudlin on this day of great import and turning, my professional retirement day. But it is Pentecost. And a farewell must yet speak a vision. So I must speak about you and the Holy Spirit.
We know the Holy Spirit’s mighty work by way of the Acts recounting just rehearsed. I think of the first Pentecost as the Holy Spirit’s “coming out” party that both reverses Babel’s fracture and honors difference. We also know that the Spirit works on us individually and intimately, described in John’s way as if Jesus’ breath into us is a kind of spiritual CPR. The bulletin cover of original art by our own wonderful Kate Paxton captures the Christ, Creator of all, yet personally “wild” giving you the viewer the holy breath of life. So John 21: “And he breathed on them, saying ‘receive the Holy Spirit.”
You have been so breathed upon. The Holy Spirit, who is promise fulfilled, now is our Advocate, our Guide, even our Therapist; all that, as it were, from the inside out. The Holy Spirit has been active in every one of you, sometimes (maybe even still) against your resistance and preferred ways of thinking, but working in each of you uniquely nevertheless all the time, because Divine Love never quits.
The same Holy Spirit gathered you as this congregation for caregiving as an outpost for God’s love. The Holy Spirit who breathes into you so intimately also made of you all a public people for a larger public yet. The Spirit led you to pray and to act for God’s justice. She equipped each of you to trust God through valleys of grief and over heights of joy with hope beyond hope fulfilled in love. When the Spirit’s public acts fuse so well with you who know the Holy Spirit’s intimate life in you, the result is A Healing Place like Christ the King Lutheran Church. And this is what Christ’s Spirit still will have all you be together and individually: allies for healing in God’s beloved fractured world.
We have come through so much together. It has made our too brief five-year journey seem, well, longer. On the front end was Harvey damage, on the now back end the pandemic. These and what was in-between challenged us. Still, we grew. Worship attendance grew the year before COVID, then digitally soared upward. So much more importantly, many of you grew spiritually in marked ways over these years.
Your faith matured and attracted others like those today who ally as members with Christ the King. You deepened your commitment to serve God’s gracious justice and for CTK to become known for it. You studied deeply, sometimes with authors whose vocabulary was stranger than mine. But faith was deepened and action taken. You marched. A lot. You showed dedication to God’s mercy to people who had not seen us before. You increased support for myriad good causes in Christ’s name. You deepened kinship through House Churches, the Young Professional Adults, Brews and Blues, right there with more blessing from Bach. Many were shaped more in faith, love, and leadership by a pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine. Not least, your lay-led improvements in financial management and policies made us much healthier for continued robust mission in Christ the King’s name.
Of course, all this happened because you said “yes” to the most important thing we do, to our proclaiming the Gospel of God and administering the sacraments of holiest grace. You said yes to the Spirit given you in your baptism, who has stirred since in your hearing of the Gospel and nurture of Christ’s very self in the Eucharist.
These essentials are and must be expected, as is the great privilege of pastors and believers together sharing holy quieter moments at births, before weddings, at sickbeds and death beds. It is also great grace that we have done more together than what we expected. But the work, of course, is not complete. Loving service never is. And after COVID, it will take time to get our personal and congregational abs back into shape, but we’ll be more buff than before. But all that has been and all that will come highlights Ephesians 3:20; the Holy Spirit has done far more with us than we could ever ask or imagine. Now the Spirit says: “You are not burnt out. You are on fire and you are not consumed! Now breathe deep. Discern. Act. Move on to what God desires next.”
What is next? We knew, but learned more with emotional force during the pandemic how people yearn for community. God gives CTK what is necessary to serve as A Healing Place in glad answer to peoples’ need to know they belong to God. That includes the spiritual challenge as to whether you will say yes to the request of another congregation to assume its history and resources for new creative ministry. That is not merely a property matter. The question is whether faith here will help grow faith elsewhere, just as was the call to the apostles when the Spirit appointed them. You have the necessary gifts in persons and wisdom with the Spirit’s advocacy and guidance to manifest the gracious reign of God at the major intersection of Gessner and Memorial Drive; for renewed outreach to diverse communities seeking community together in Christ; for witness with the Abrahamic community in Houston; for newly purposed ministry at Rice and increased presence with the Latinx community. What a vision! Do you trust in the Holy Spirit? Today is the Pentecost with newly en-Spirited breath to hold the vision that both during and beyond a pastoral transition will connect more people to deep life together in God.
It all bears out the truth of what dear Luther wrote for us in the Small Catechism that the Holy Spirit “Calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies.” The Holy Spirit connects us from deep to deep. The Spirit gives us a graced depth of kinship we cannot otherwise know. We know this when we experience it. Like Jesus said to Nicodemus: we can’t tell when the Holy Spirit will happen nor where it will come from, but when it happens we know its whence and our whither!
We know our whence in God. We know and rededicate today to our whither for God’s world. Beyond farewell, there is the reunion around God’s own realized promise. Jaroslav J. Vajda wrote a hymn many of you know and love dearly, “Now the Silence, Now the Peace.” It speaks to the gift of God’s presence in the Eucharist. He also wrote a hymn titled “Then” to the same tune, about God’s promise of what shall come with God’s reign in its fullness. Hear the words that we soon will sing. Because they shall be, our becoming unto beauty and joy is secure.
Then the glory
Then the rest
Then the Sabbath peace unbroken
Then the garden
Then the Throne
Then the crystal river flowing
Then the splendor
Then the life
Then the new creation singing
Then the marriage
Then the love
Then the feast of joy unending
Then the knowing
Then the light
Then the ultimate adventure
Then the Spirits harvest gathered
Then the Lamb in majesty
Then the Father’s Amen
Then Then Then
Joen and I have experienced deeply here the Spirit’s power for us and have seen the Spirit’s power in you, though the journey together has been much too brief. We say farewell, as you know, because of our need to amplify God’s blessings for our life together with our family. I could have been given no better colleagues in ministry, no better congregation, no better people and place for my own work for God’s reign to have been at its best and for my professional ministry to conclude. Joen and I now will depend on and be profoundly grateful for your prayers and ongoing friendship. In Joen’s and my new chapter closer together trusting God, no matter what comes and no matter our physical distance from you, by the Spirit’s grace of binding deep to deep we will be close with you. We so love you. We are so full of gratitude. For what good has been with all of us here and for what blessing will be, indeed God the Father says ‘Amen.’
Duane Larson Christ the King Lutheran Church, Houston, TX May 23, 2021