December 29, 2019 Sermon

Pastor Jeff's Final Sermon, 12-29-19

How many of you were here 13 1/2 years ago for my first Sunday?
Quite a few of you. I am going to try to get through this. We'll see how well I do. 

On that first Sunday here, we were strangers.
And you had no idea who this person was.
And I shared with you a reading from The Velveteen Rabbit.
I'm going to try to share that again, in a somewhat different context.
And I'll use some of the tricks that I tell people at weddings and funerals: I will be spending some time looking up.

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others.
He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath. And most of the hairs on his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger and by and by break their main springs and pass away and he knew that they were only toys and would never turn into anything else.

For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful. And only those play things that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

"What is real?" asked the rabbit one day when they were lying side-by-side near the nursery fender?

[I'm not sure what a fender is, but...]
Before Nana came to tidy the room,
"Does it mean having things that buzz inside you?
And a stick up handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made,"
said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you.
When a child loves you.
When a child loves you for a long, long time.
Not just to play with but really loves you."

(Pause for tears and sniffles.)


"Then you become real."
"Does it hurt?" said the rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful.
"When you're real, you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up? Or bit by bit?"
"Oh, it doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse.
"To become takes a long time.
That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily,
or have sharp edges,
or have to be carefully kept.

Generally, by the time you are real, most of your hair has been loved off and your eyes drop out.
You get loose in the joints and very shabby.
But those things don't matter at all.
Because once you are real,
you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

I have not been the pastor for you that I wish that I could have been.
But I think that I can say, that I have been, for you, the best pastor that I could be.
I have learned that you are real.
I have learned that for some of you, the rough edges have been partly worn off.
I have learned that you are not perfect.
And I've learned to love.
I hope that by this time, I have become real.
Not just whatever you imagine the pastor is supposed to be.
Not just someone filling a role.
But someone who's had... let's see, how did the Skin Horse put it? "Had most of your hair loved off." It's still there, thanks be to God, but I was showing Beth some pictures as I - honestly I'm cleaning out my office- honestly...
As I was cleaning it out and ran across pictures from my early days here, and she said, "Oh, that's when your hair still had color."

"Your eyes drop out.
You get loose in the joints and very shabby."

In our time together, we have shared so many things...
For many of you, you have called me into a place in your life, either of great joy.
or great pain or

Such a privilege to be a part of your lives.
That I know that I am going to miss.
In our time together you have, I trust, learned that I am not perfect.
There are some things that I think I do well.
And there are some things I know they're not particularly my strengths.
And I know that there are different personalities.
Some of us mesh more naturally together than others.
It is a miracle of God that God has created each of us to be different from one another.
What a boring world it would be otherwise.

There's a new phase coming in the life of this church.
And a new phase coming in my life.
Most of you have lived through a pastoral change. This one will be a little different because you have gotten so used to me you have at least put up with me for so long that when Natalie comes in, it's going to be different.
And I suspect for some people in some ways, it'll be a shock.
Natalie will be trying to get to know you, individually and as a congregation.
Next Sunday, she's not going to be real.
You're not going to know who this Natalie Scholl person is.
But you will be together for 6 months.
Oh, probably not enough time to have the hair rubbed off and the eyes fall out, but good enough to get to know each other.
Maybe, enough to even find some of her foibles as well as her strengths.
God is at work.

Our transition is going to be a little different, because I will be going from being your pastor, being invited into those special, holy times of your lives to no longer being a pastor, or, as somebody has said, "No longer serving a congregation," cuz I don't think you ever stop being a pastor.
But, I said, it really, even now, hasn't hit me yet.
I think it'll start about the middle of next week, when a part of my mind says, Oh, what's the scripture for Sunday? What are you going to be preaching?
And the answer is I'm not.
And I don't need to worry about what the scripture is.

You have been a true blessing in my life and in my ministry.
Most of you have heard me say before this is the healthiest congregation that I've ever served.
Most of my appointments, the first year or so I come in and I find out what's broken in this congregation- what needs to be fixed?
And then I go about trying to bring health to places that are unhealthy in a congregation.
So when I came here in 2006, that's what I started looking for.
And, I think it was Winnie the Pooh who said, "The more I looked, the more it wasn't there."
Now don't get me wrong. You are not perfect individually, or as a congregation, but you are healthy. This church has the least, in the types of cliques that churches have, of any place I have served. This church has the least in terms of competition and envy in between one another than any church that I have served.
You know how to love one another and you do it well.
And not only those who gather within these walls, but the others outside, who need God's love.
So there's going to be changes.
That I can guarantee.
But the spirit of God that lives in this congregation - that's not going to change.
The love that you share for one another.
Your love of God. Your desire and ability to put that love into action -
that's not going to change.
I thank you for giving me the opportunity to become real.
May God bless each of you and all of you.

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