Monday, July 18, 2016

Farewell Sermon for United in Christ, Pastor Leah Schade

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
July 17, 2016

[You can watch a video of the sermon here:]

“Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes.  I’m afraid it’s time for goodbye again.”

That’s a line from a Billy Joel song that has been playing in my head over the past five months.  Earlier this year I received the phone call that I was being offered a position at Lexington Theological Seminary in Lexington, KY, astheir new Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship.  And as happy as that made me, it also meant that I had to begin saying goodbye to all of you.  There is a time for everything, the writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us.  Now is the time to say goodbye.

I wish I would have had more time. I would have loved to help shepherd our Confirmation students through the end of their program and help them plan their Affirmation of Baptism service next year.

I wish I could be here to watch the babies I baptized sitting on their parent’s laps in worship, 

and see them go into Sunday School, to teach them about their First Communion, teach them silly games like Will You Be My Cupcake in youth group, and plan more amazing services like Good Friday 

and Holy Humor Sunday.

  I wish I could be here to help the youth plan for the ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston. 

 I wish I could be here to see all the new folks who keep coming to our OAKs Monthly Senior Center;

 to see the faces of those we serve through the meals and the service projects and the Rich Huff Fund. I wish I could be here to see what other new ministries this congregation will dream up with the guiding of the Holy Spirit.

I wish I could be here for the meetings . . . no, really!  I know most people dislike meetings, and I do admit that it will be nice to have my evenings free for my family.  But meetings are where ministry happens.  I liked being with a group of people committed to a certain area of church life and mission, being of like mind, brainstorming different ideas, checking in on where things are, planning what will happen next.   Many pastors dread meetings, but I can honestly say that I always looked forward to them.  Any pastor would be grateful to have a Council that has been this high-functioning and fun to work with!  

And what a blessing it has been to serve with our staff – Frank and now Terry as our sexton; 

Glen and now Marilyn as our organist; 
Ben and now Terri as our office administrator.  

We really enjoy each other and can share laughter as well as our frustrations in life and work.  To quote another Billy Joel song, “This is the time to remember, ‘cause it will not last forever.”

I wish my children could be here to continue on their faith journey.  I wish Benjamin could be playing the drums and Rachel singing in the House Band.  Benjamin has asked me to tell you:  “I will miss every single one of you,” and to “continue your journey in this church.  Remember the way of life in Jesus,” he said.

And Rachel wanted me to share this with you:  “Thank you for being so welcoming and supporting our family so much.  I’ll never forget how generous you were in supporting the youth to grow in their ministry.  I hope you’ll continue to do that with the next pastor.”

Both Jim and I have been so appreciative of the care you have shown to our family.  And I have to tell you that it has been my husband who has enabled me to do this ministry.  He has made so many sacrifices so that I could answer the call to ministry, serve in this church, and now follow a new call to the ministry of education.  Many of God’s most faithful servants labor behind the scenes where no one notices their dedication and hard work.  Jim is one of those servants.  There wouldn’t be a Pastor Schade without a Husband Jim, a Daddy Schade, and I give thanks to God every day for keeping our marriage strong and healthy through this very demanding time in our lives.

He, also, wanted me to express to you that he was amazed at how fast it worked out for us to come here five years ago – like it was meant to be.  “You took care of us for five years.  Out of all the churches I’ve been a part of, this one feels the most like family,” he said.  “No matter what challenges this congregation faced, everyone always came together.  And . . . I love all the great food!” 

In preparation for this moment of leave-taking, I’ve tried to be open to the Spirit’s guidance for having a grace-filled end to this pastoral relationship so that both of us, as the pastor and parishioners, can learn from and affirm our journeys together.  It’s been a time for us to have full closure so that we can each enter into the next chapter of our respective journeys.  Saying goodbyes are important because as we experience the alternating waves of sadness, exhilaration, uncertainty, and vulnerability, it also opens us up to experience the grace of God through Jesus Christ in a new way.
Saying good-bye to Elwood Brown. Photo by Dan Hyde
 Because no one knew better what it means to say goodbye than Jesus.  This text that I read from the Gospel of John is the prayer that Jesus prayed to God on behalf of his disciples on the night before he would be taken from them.  This is the gospel reading I had for my ordination service – nearly sixteen years ago.  At the time I read it as an inauguration prayer, and it worked well.  But I return to this text now with different eyes, at a different stage in my life and ministry.   And as I read this passage, three Greek words stand out for me:  heis, apostello, agape – the word for “one”, the word for “sent,” and the word for “love.”

It was love that brought them together.  God’s love for Jesus, Jesus’ and his disciples’ love for each other, and God’s love for the whole world.  Love is what enabled Jesus and his disciples to carry out their amazing, miraculous ministry, the likes of which the world had never before seen.  But it was also love that led Jesus to make the ultimate sacrifice and show these disciples and all who hear the story, that God’s love is stronger than all evil, all violence, all death. 

We, too, bear witness to that miraculous, sacrificial love in the ministry that we have carried out over these years.  It was love that brought me to this congregation.  It is our mutual love of God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, which has bonded us to each other in these past five years.  And it is God’s love of Creation – and the need to protect and preserve that Creation – that has been such a powerful force in my life.  
Academic graduation robe given as a gift by the congregation of United in Christ.
That force of love lead me to pursue my doctoral degree and to discover how preaching and caring for God’s Creation can be integrated, like a tree with deep roots drawing up clean water from the soil.  I have been so grateful that you as a congregation have been patient and tolerant of my academic work, as well as my advocacy and activism for the land, this air, this river, this earth we call home.
Preaching about climate disruption as the character of the Holy Spirit.
I said back on Easter Sunday, that there’s no place like home – you don’t need to look any further than the pew in front of or behind you to find the love of God you’ve been looking for.  The Susquehanna Valley and United in Christ have been home for us.  The people who I’ve come to know in this community through my work to protect against shale gas drilling, and with the Tire Burner, and many other causes – I have learned so much from them and made important friendships in this place we’ve called home.

And here at United in Christ, I knew we were home from the moment Cami met us in the parking lot and directed us to the kitchen entrance instead of the front door.  “We’re like family here – everyone uses the back door!”

I will never forget the kindnesses you showed to us in our own home.  Bob and Sue, Bob and Carol bringing us a platter of food and groceries on the day we moved in so we wouldn’t have to worry about cooking a meal for days!  Frank helping Jim to fix the garage door.  And the two Bobs hanging swings on the pin oak tree in the yard so our children could swing and swing to their hearts’ content.

You have welcomed me into your own homes as your pastor.  Sometimes the visits were convivial and comfortable, sharing a sip of wine and a bit of bread for home communion.  Sometimes the visits were solemn and sad in the days leading up and then after a loved one’s death.  Sometimes the visits were tense and touched with anger.  But that’s what happens in family – every emotion comes to the fore at some point.  This is one of the most honest and authentic groups of people I have ever met.  When we had problems to work out or difficult things to discuss, you trusted me enough to be forthright with your feelings so that we could find a way through and allow our mutual commitment to ministry be the thing that really mattered.  And through it all, God’s spirit of love, patience, forbearance, forgiveness, curiosity and utter joy have been guiding this church family.

But as often happens in families, there comes a time when we have to say good-bye.  Today is that day.
Framed poem from the congregation presented by Council President Bob Swartz.  Photo by Lisa Rabuck.
But we do not say good-bye to the love.  Because it is love that sent each disciple out into the world to share the news of this love of God. In Greek, the word is “apostello.”  It’s the root of the word “apostles” - the sent ones.  We, too, are being sent out.  You will continue to be sent out to your neighbors, your co-workers, your family members, friends, your hairdresser, your buddy at work, anyone who hungers to experience this life-changing love of God through Jesus Christ.  I am being sent to train future pastors to preach and lead worship creatively and with conviction, helping congregations to do the kinds of ministry we have done here. We are all being sent to share what we have learned in this Bible, what we have experienced through our agape-love, what we have witnessed God being able to do through our ministry together.

Which is why Jesus reminds them that even though they will be separated by time, distance and the inevitability of change, they will still be united by being one in God.  This is what will happen with us.  After the tears have dried and the dust has settled, I have no doubt that God will enable us to experience the oneness in God, even when the rest of the world around us feels fractured, scattered and lost.  When we are reading the Bible, living and enacting our agape-love, baptizing another saint into the family, and gathering at this table, we are one with Christ – truly United in Christ. We will continue to see God at work in us and through us to make Christ known, share our love, be one in each other and in God, and sent out to the world to share.

For me, it will be at the communion table when I remember this oneness most vividly.  When I come to the table, no matter where I am, I will be joining all of you at your table, no matter how separated we are by time or space.  I will be remembering all the times when we shared this meal together.  Especially today, my last time to do this with you as your pastor.  I think that time will be the most difficult part of this day for me, handing the bread to each of you, the bread of Christ’s body which he handed to his disciples in their final meal together.  Those words, “For you,” may be drenched in tears, but you’ll know that I speak them with Christ’s love for you in my heart.

As intentional as I’ve tried to be about the closure of my ministry, it still did not happen as I had wished.  There were so many people I wished I could have visited.  I wish I could have had the time to write a note or a card to the countless individuals who have touched my ministry and my life and my family.  I wanted to be able to say, “Thank You,” in a much more personal way.

I can only hope and pray that you will each understand how greatly I have appreciated and admired your faith, your dedication, your caring, and your willingness to engage in the Christian life with me and my family.  I am so proud of you - what you do for each other, what you do for your own individual faith journeys, what you do for our surrounding community, and what you do for people you don’t even know halfway around the world.  I will be bragging about this congregation for the rest of my life, giving thanks to God for inspiring you to the great ministry I know you’ll continue in the future.  I’ll be lifting you up in prayer, and holding you up as an example of what is possible when a gathering of Christians steps forward and says, “Here I Am, Lord.” 


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