As I have gone through February, I am acutely aware that I am doing things for the last time. The last pot luck. The last business meeting. The last board meeting with the deacons. The last donut consumed at the ministerial association meeting. The last Thursday prayer meeting in our lovely prayer room. Next week will be the last time I will sing with the worship team.
Yesterday was my last sermon. ( I will be sharing my thoughts and farewell "wisdom" with the congregation on March 8th, but it will not be a sermon. Next week the minister who will be serving as the interim pastor will be preaching. The following week, Ken will do the honors.) Soon it will be my last time to bless the bread and cup. I do not want to think about that.
Two years ago.
Yesterday could have been so difficult. I chose to do a series on Gideon, one of my favorite Bible characters, before I knew it would be my last series at this church. Yesterday was the forth and last message in the series. God knew, and preaching this has been more Holy Spirit led than I could have dreamed. Yesterday was not difficult, though I did get teary-eyed a couple of times. Instead, the presence of God was so real, my joy in preaching so profound, the response of the people (as we gathered around the altar area and sang "The Battle Belongs to the Lord") so heartfelt, that I have felt like I am soaring.
I am not saying it is all peaches and cream and glory. I have cried, been afraid, questioned--pretty much run the gamut of expected emotions. But over all I am so full of expectation. I believe God hand-picked, so to speak, the man who will serve as interim and lead the church through the transition. I can say with total honesty that I believe the church is more healthy that it has been in the last 25 years. I envy the pastor who will come, because there is a very different group of people than when I arrived. They are ready to embrace change in a way that is astounding, and they are sadder but wiser. The three deacons will share honestly with each other. They will pray earnestly. There is not much likelihood of tense undercurrents or of completion.
Last night was the last Valentine's dinner. I did not want to attend. I thought it would be sad or difficult in other ways. It was not. I have not laughed so hard in a long time. We all laughed, and laughed, and laughed some more. The connections between us were wonderfu and it was fine to realize that those connections are about to change forever.
What a wonderful group of people about to be baptized (last summer).
The thing that brings tears to my eyes, that brings a catch in my heart, a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach is the awareness that these "last things" will perhaps not just be the last at this church, but the last. Period. That is a real possibility. If I have learned nothing else over these last ten years, I have learned that there are no guarantees. I will stand on three things;
1. God loves me.
2. The Lord has promised to be "with me" till the end.
3. God's plans and purposes are not for me to know. Maybe in the life to come, but most certainly not in this one.
About 15 people have said or written the same thing about my future, something I don't want to share here yet, but something good. I hope they are correct, but I have no assurance of that. Sometimes things just make no sense. Sometimes life is totally unfair. Sometimes dreams are shattered. Sometimes faithful servants of God are overlooked and forgotten. Sometimes unfaithful ones appear to prosper. I used to think (how naive I was!) that if I did the right, honorable, ethical, obedient thing, God would bless and prosper my ministry. I now know, as I said, that there are no guarantees and I can have no expectations upon the Almighty but those of love and presence.
Where does that leave me? Clinging to God with all my might. Other than that, I have no idea what to expect.