Genesis 12:1-5a,? I Corinthians 12:12-31a,?Mark 10:13-16

October 4, 2015 by Ken Dale

Needless to say this sermon has been a challenge in many ways.? I guess it started some weeks ago when a friend and colleague ? one of those retired guys in this church ? suggested Abraham.? He was heading out but he didn?t know where he was going.? Good image ? I?m heading into retirement and I don?t know where I?m going.? This church is heading into transition and who knows where that will lead.? But as I read that much loved story of Abraham I couldn?t help but notice that it was clear ? Abraham was heading for Canaan.? Maybe he didn?t know much about where or what that would be, but he trusted the God who was calling him forward.? So yes ? Abraham works.

As I continued thinking of course I thought about church ? this church, the other two churches in and with which I have served, (Carmel for 6 years and Dover-Foxcroft for 20).? I love Paul?s image of the church as a body with its many parts.? I bet I?ve come close to an annual sermon on it for annual meeting Sundays.? Churches are different like body?s are different.? Their body parts are too.? And yet they are so similar and they are who they are.? I couldn?t help but think back to my first church ? in Carmel.? I had to candidate twice because the first time they didn?t have a quorum for the necessary meeting.? It was no different the second week so they called me as their interim ? I remained so until I was ordained four years later and was installed as settled pastor.

Two years after that I went to Dover-Foxcroft.? I left Carmel when things were going very well.? In those 6 years we never lacked for a quorum again, lots of growth in lots of ways and worship attendance was up to around 75.? Long time church members compared my time as pastor to be ?like back when Bob Mitchell was here.?? That would have been 15 years earlier when the church was at a peak.? After leaving I remembered a conversation with then Interim Associate Conference Minister, and now a long-time friend and colleague, Bill Dalke.? We had lunch together and I made the comment that if anything was really accomplished while I was in Carmel ? time would tell.? Bill responded with words that I never forgot.? He said, as a pastor, the impact you really have is in the lives of the individual people you serve.? You don?t change the church.? Over the years, as it did before I arrived, Carmel continued its history of peaks and valleys ? the church hasn?t changed.? The 20 years I served in Dover-Foxcroft and the 11 here in Newcastle, like the 6 in Carmel ? there is so much to celebrate in accomplishment ? church renovations and additions, steeple projects, capital campaigns, miracle Sunday offerings, mission outreach at local and international levels, going through visioning processes and becoming ONA, celebrating growth and mourning loss, and the list is long.? But those wonderful accomplishments and getting through difficult and challenging times happened when the church worked together with a common focus.? I really don?t think it was the pastor ? for the pastor is just another one of those body parts.

I have been passionate about serving as a pastor and I deeply appreciate all with whom I have served as pastor.? The connections are very special ? which is why it is so difficult to sever those connections which we do this day.? I will not be able to officiate at your weddings and funerals and baptisms and serve in that role as pastor and share that sacred ground.? But ? come to think of it – ?that may have a bright side to it!? When I left Dover-Foxcroft I made that statement ? specifically about ?I can?t come back and do your funeral.?? One woman spoke up ? ?Then I ain?t going!?? We all laughed ? but she is still alive and has outlived most if not all of her peers in that church.

What a privilege to serve the churches I have served as pastor.? What an honor to share in the journeys of faith and life of all those body parts – with the joys, sorrows, laughter and tears and everything in between. ?I have always considered it sacred ground. ?What a mixture to celebrate in being one of those body parts ? again Paul?s image works so well.? And Paul cautions us about thinking one part is more or less important than another.? A week ago I came across a wonderful little reflection by Brian Volck.? He and his wife were visiting friends and enjoying an evening of good food and even better conversation.? His wife made a comment about what other people accomplish and how she couldn?t help thinking about all the things she should be doing ? working to stop the death penalty, saving starving children and things like that.? Her friend paused and pondered and then said, ?All those things are important, but we?re all part of the body of Christ, and we have a role, however small.? So what if you?re the nose hair?? You?re there for a purpose.? You may not have any idea what good you?re doing, but that?s still your job:? to be a nose hair in the body of Christ.?? Brian Volck ponders it and states that if we?re to take Paul?s image of the body seriously, then not only are we not the best judge of our own significance, we may not even understand what it is we do ? he concludes ?somebody, after all, has to be the appendix.?

If as the church we are like a human body ? like the human body itself ? there is a greater mystery at work.? Just think of your body ? and all the systems of blood and nerves, skeleton and muscles ? ?then add to that the unseen ? the world of bacteria and germs that sometimes work to our benefit and sometimes actually against us.? The power of life is so vast ? so tiny yet so great.? Beneath it all is the breath of God that gives us life.? And in the church it is no different – beneath all our actions there is a greater power at work ? that is that same breath giving life to the church and seeing that body through all those peaks and valleys.

That is the faith of Abraham as he set out on his journey ? whatever he knew or did not know about where he was going.? He set out trusting what God had said ? and God was the constant presence ? even when Abraham doubted and took matters into his own hand ? God was faithful and continued true to God?s promise.? Look at the long history of God?s people since Abraham ? and we are part of it!? It continues.? So how important it is to hear those words of Jesus we hear in the gospel lesson this morning!? ?Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.?? Children come open, and trusting, and willing and seeking.? That is how we are to come to God ? seeking guidance, not telling God how it?s going to be.

These are times of transition for us ? for me as a pastor, for this local church, indeed for the world wide Christian Church which we are so mindful of on this World Communion Sunday.

But the bottom line remains the same ? God is God ? and we are not. In Christ God has revealed the awesomeness of God?s love. ?And perhaps when we realize who God is, with great fear and trembling, or wherever we may be in that journey of knowing God ? we respond with humility ? we may be a nose hair ? but we can join with Thomas Merton who prayed this prayer:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.? I do not see the road ahead of me.? I cannot know for certain where it will end.? Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.? But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing.? I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.? And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.? Therefore, I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.? I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. (From ?Though the Year with Thomas Merton?)