Sunday, May 25, 2008

Farewell Sermon to my Parish

Preached at St. George's of Middlesex Centre, on the Second Sunday After Pentecost, 25 May, 2008

It’s hard to believe that almost four years ago to the day, Kay and I came here for the first time. We were both in London for synod, and we knew that I would be coming to Ilderton for an interview in a few days time, so we thought, let’s go check the place out. It was a warm, quiet afternoon and we didn’t see a soul, but we were both entranced with the beauty and tranquility of the two churches. As many others have before and after us, we sensed that God’s Spirit was here in these places, even though God’s people were out and about in the midst of their daily lives. We both went home that day with a feeling of hope that this would be a wonderful place to come and begin ministry, and four years later we thank God for these four years with you.

I speak for both of us when I say that Kay and I consider ourselves blessed to have spent this time with you. You have opened up your arms and your homes to us, and we have known many acts of kindness from you. As a freshly minted priest you’ve been very patient with me as I experimented with the liturgy and tried out some things, especially those times when the service stretched out over ninety minutes. Last night I was thinking about some things I’ve learned in my time here. Here’s my top ten lessons that I’ve learned here:

1) When you’re in a small town, never say anything bad about anyone to anyone else, because they’re probably related.
2) Pancake dinners just aren’t complete unless they include potato salad, cole slaw, and buns, but don’t worry, all that cholesterol is the good kind.
3) Always check the chalice for flies before starting communion.
4) Sheep in the bible are way cuter than the ones in real life.
5) The secret to a good Christmas pageant – lots of grandchildren.
6) The secret to good worship is good music, whether the hymns are old or new.
7) The wisest things said in church often happen during the children’s talk, and they aren’t often said by the priest.
8) It never hurts to pray for miracles.
9) God’s people are like fudge, sweet and a little nutty.
10) Finally, and I have this on good authority, no one was every saved by a sermon that lasted longer than twelve minutes.

Seriously, I have learned so much in my time here. I’ve learned about love and forgiveness, about friendship and self-sacrifice, about family ties and history, about the needs of newcomers and about welcomes that turn strangers into friends and members of the community. I’ve learned what makes strong families. I’ve shared laughter and tears, and stood with you before God at baptisms, weddings, and funerals. I’ve seen how God works in the stuff of our daily lives, strengthening us in the sacraments and sending us out, week by week, to be his body in the world. It’s been a privilege to be your pastor, and now it’s time to leave.

As I told you when I announced my resignation last month, I believe that God is calling me to give more time and energy to serving the men and women who serve our country. Some of you have asked me what my ministry will be like in the Canadian Forces. It will be certainly be different. The language will be less polite, for one thing. As one soldier told me, "the army is full of loudly self proclaimed atheists and going to talk to the padre is perceived as a sign of weakness by the troops”. But God, as you know, is persistent. Let me share something that this same soldier told me about his experience in Afghanistan.

On my first night outside the wire I fired a warning shot at an oncoming truck that wouldn't move over. I was scared and this guy had a lot of opportunities to move over, there could be no question in his mind that he was approaching a ISAF (NATO) convoy as every vehicle in front of him was hustling off the road as we approached. Anyway; I followed the ROE (rules of engagement) and fired my C7 (rifle) at the road in front of him.
For days and days this event started eating at me. I was terrified that I might have killed the driver accidentally. Of course I kept all this to myself. After a couple weeks I got the opportunity to go back to KAF (Kandahar) and I went to see the padre. I broke down in my meeting with him and cried, I felt so horrible, I went to Afghanistan to fight Taliban so killing was something I was prepared to do but I wanted to kill 'Bad Guys' not some poor sap who was just trying to feed his family. I hadn't cried since I was eight.
The Padre really helped me. He was Catholic so he asked me if I wanted to do confession. Now I am Presbyterian and come from a Orange family if you know what I mean so normally I wouldn't even consider such a thing but in this case it sounded like a good idea so I did it and I instantly felt so much better. Not because I asked the Pope for forgiveness, because as far as I'm concerned I wasn't reading the confession prayer to the priest or the Pope but directly to God …
Telling someone else about what happened was only a tiny fraction of why I felt better after talking to the Padre, it was what the Padre said that made me feel better along with having a good talk with God.

I thanked my friend for sharing this with me, and I told him how helpful it was to me. It was helpful because the chaplain in his story did not do anything mysterious. He did not have any secret words for this young man who, like of our soldiers, has to do a terrible and demanding job. All the chaplain did was to remind the soldier that God’s love was enough even for that moment, even for him, and especially for him. The chaplain reminded him that God was bigger than Orange or Catholic, that God’s forgiveness was there for all who call on Christ crucified, and God’s hope was there for all through the power of Christ’s resurrection. Most importantly, the chaplain reminded the soldier that it was possible for him to have a “good talk” with God.

You know these things. Recently one of the altar guild told me that it is not uncommon to find finger prints on the altar rail, prints left by those who have come here during the week to pray. You are people who come here week by week to have a good talk with God, to pray, to show the strength and the love of the people who are the body of Christ. I think this is why the Canadian Forces requires its chaplains to spend at least two years in a civilian parish before they start serving in the military. Those two years aren’t just so the chaplain can learn to conduct a service or preach a sermon or learn other practical skills. Those two years are so that the chaplain can learn about the power and presence of God from God’s people, and so carry the good news of God’s love and grace to people who need it.

Dear people of God, you have given me four years with you, four years to learn how God lives and moves amidst you. For these four years of love and friendship, Kay and I thank you. For your faithfulness and for your service and worship, I thank you. I know that these four years will strengthen me for the work God is calling me to. I know that God will continue to be present here, in this part of the body of Christ called Grace and St. George’s. God bless you and keep you. And as Tom Robson would say, keep your stick on the ice, and your head up going into the corners.

Soon to be Padre, 14 Wing, Canadian Forces Base Greenwood, Nova Scotia

1 comment:

styler said...

The army is no place for a decent man; just the sort of place Christ sends his disciples.

Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


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