Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 1, 2021
Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15; Psalm 78:23-29; John 6:24-35
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
On this Hi and Bye Sunday, Ben Kerswell saying hi and myself saying bye, one thing is sure – we have all we need right here: Whoever comes to Christ will never be hungry and whoever believes in Christ will never be thirsty. And no worries, we will not make the Hi and Bye Sunday a new liturgical feast day. That would be too stressful.
Ben will feed your ears with music; and your hearts and souls when leading you in your own musicianship as the singing assembly, the singing Body of Christ. That is not a small thing. How often do I feel fed in singing, the organ guiding, supporting us, while our voices join poetry and music together, all of us proclaiming, praising and praying together. It is actually a physical experience in which I am elementally fed, just like eating, chewing, savoring a piece of delicious bread.
I am looking back on 19 years of being called here to preach and teach and live the gospel with you; administering the means of grace in water and word, in bread and cup, feeding you the bread of life – metaphorically and literally.
I was not the first female pastor here. There was Linda Leinen, and for a very short time three young female pastors all at the same time, Allison Werner Hoenen, Beth Warpmaeker and myself with Robert Moore as senior pastor. Kathy Haueisen became pastor for faith formation. I stuck it out the longest, first with German Language Ministry, then Godly Play, then all of Faith Formation, and then transition, transition, transition during which time I made myself worship director together with Cantor Rick Erickson, for you all’s benefit!.
Because as staff we worked so well together, some of us for the same 19 years now (Beverly Davis and Linda Schoene), I never gave much thought to the fact that being a female pastor is different. But female pastors are perceived differently and we, all of us, women and men, still drive the traditional structures where it is special/ noteworthy when a woman is a leader, or anyone who is perceived “different.”
So, as a leader whom you called and in whom you put your trust I preached and taught and cared and administered, in the pulpit, the classroom, at your bedsides, in the hallway and parking lot, in the cemetery, in the office, at the keyboard (countless hours of editing and drafting).
What does it mean, to preach the Gospel?
The gospel in itself is simply the declaration of what God does; that God makes Christ the bread of life. Christ saying “I am the bread of life” is all we need. And that is what the gospel declares.
Of course we also want thorough theological elaboration on who Christ is and God, and how that all works. Yes, volumes of it. But in a nutshell, or a morsel of bread, that is all we need to know.
Pastors, deacons, and all of us are just the mouthpieces for what God does. Sometimes it’s easy to “declare the gospel”; but sometimes preachers seem to have a talent to make the gospel a bit more complicated/obscure than it needs to be.
Today, the gospel really is just this: what we need to live and breathe and have faith is Christ, the bread of life. In Christ we are alive, forgiven, redeemed, loved, hopeful and trusting. Christ stills our hunger and thirst.
I don’t know what feeds you the most, only you know that, – the liturgy, the music, serving the people here and elsewhere, the sermons, receiving the bread and the wine, touching the water, the study classes, house churches, visiting with your friends, the trusted conversations. It’s all part of the whole. And while you are fed, you feed others by your presence, and for once it is ok to be really consumerist and greedy for this bread of life that makes us hungry no more and for the cup of salvation that stills our thirst.
And as you go on now in your continued life as Christ the King Church, keep an eye out for what you are hungry – is it the Bread of Life, for you and for the world? Will you declare the gospel in the best, most suitable way for this time and this place?
I tried to feed you as best I could. Help you access the grace, the love, the peace, the consolation of our God, grasp it with heart and with mind. With body and with soul. With fun and joy and seriousness. Sometimes you found me too German, and decidedly too stubborn. That was Pastor Moore’s biggest complaint.
In the Christian community we build each other up with that Bread of Life, we feed it to each other, bite size and sometimes too big to swallow. Whichever way, the Bread of Life does not come down a one way street. It goes both ways. That’s how the gospel comes fully to life, is it rightly declared producing more blessing, more joy.
You have fed me in many ways. I have received so much, affirmation, love, forgiveness, your precious trust; cards, prayer shawls and meals in times of need. Also the gifts from children that touch your heart and a couple very sneaky ones.
Here is a little finger puppet, folded from paper, my haircut, my glasses and a big smile. This is a tally of all the Alleluias said and sung and printed in the bulletin on Easter Sunday 2018. 137 of them all together! On a stewardship card from the back of the pews. What a great way for a number hungry child to soak up the Easter celebration!
Here is the sneaky gift: two bow ties. An anonymous gift, obviously not for me but for Matthias, the Herr Professor! One day they were in my mailbox. Receptionist Mike Shelton kept his lips sealed, maybe they were snuck in after hours. Narrow cut, old fashioned, but super stylish and 100% silk. Matthias wore them several times waiting to see if someone had a big grin on their face, but no one ever came forward. Thank you to whoever it was!
Our children and youth fed me all the time, giving me joy, gratitude and the sense that we are doing something right here.
During Sunday School time, when I walked through the hallways, peeking through the windows, I was awed by the palpable holiness of the Godly Play circle, children and adults deeply immersed in the story or their work or praying or serving each other the feast.
We started with one Godly Play room in 2003 and built five altogether. I give thanks to our teachers, the families, and all who donated the funds to make all this possible. It could be that here in Texas we are the only church with this many Godly Play rooms. Jerome Berryman himself was directly involved in teaching us, and no one here is more devoted to the child’s spiritual formation than Marie Monroe.
In confirmation class I was privileged to work with our youth, many of whom had come through the Godly Play classes. The spiritual formation they had received at home, in worship and in Godly Play expressed itself in how they engaged in conversations about the stuff of life, besides being normal 12 and 13 year-olds, often tired, stressed and distracted. Expertly guided first by Tim Lenz and now Deacon Ben Remmert.
As my last show and tell, I want to read you a couple of cards that we would invite the youth to write with questions and comments. (We didn’t answer them all, but some we did!)
“Why am I the way I am? What is heaven like? Who is God in my life? Who put the books of the bible in order? Global warming. When do I know that I have faith? Why do we have to memorize, not just understand the Small Catechism? How am I supposed to keep up with homework and other labors in my life? We should have cookies every week. How will Jesus return?”
Every single one of these questions cuts right to the heart of faith. Including the one asking for more cookies. I am hungry!, I am growing, I am tired, I am wanting, and need to be fed. Rightly so, in body and through faith.
These are the holy things we do here together, sisters and brothers: feed each other, come and be fed, keep each other safe, listen and speak, receive and proclaim. Declaring the gospel. You have fed me in many more ways than I can express in words of gratitude.
What we know is that even today as we part, we have everything we need. You and I; Pastor Derr, the deacons and all ministers. The Bread of Life is ready to feed, to guide, to help you stop and listen and keep declaring the gospel, in times of trial and in times of joy.
For your journey ahead, Christ the King Lutheran Church, may almighty God feed you with the bread of life, strengthen you with power through the Holy Spirit, that Christ may live in your hearts through faith. Amen.