When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. I Corinthians 2:1-3
Yesterday was my last Sunday.
Next Sunday the church I have served the passed five and half years will vote to leave the ELCA and the day after that I will move to a new home.
I usually use the above text for my farewell sermons. This time there was no farewell sermon. I just didn't have it in me to preach that kind of a sermon under these circumstances.
It's been very difficult for me to find the balance between forgiving, leaving gracefully but not being "Minnesota nice" and pretending everything is okay and normal. To me the answer as been to live those words of Paul - to decide to know only Christ and him crucified.
I've been in conflicted congregations. I've been targeted by "alligators" I've been a scapegoat. Most pastors have. It's not pleasant but you learn to deal with it.
I've never been in a congregation where the people just basically stopped listening to you.
The last year there has basically been absolutely no respect for me as the pastor. People chose to believe things they read from strangers on the internet instead of me. People pretty much ignored me except for that cursed "Minnesota nice" where they are nice to your face and turn around and say God knows what about you behind your back.
But the one power they could not take away from me was the power to preach the gospel.
I still got in that pulpit every Sunday and preached the Gospel. The more they complained about "Gospel lite" and "too much grace" the more I preached grace and forgiveness and God's love.
Many ignored it, some tried to argue against it, but I'm convinced some heard it.
All I had was Christ and him crucified and the Gospel and I preached it.
And that's how I survived.
Until the last day when I had no sentimental tear jerking farewell sermon. All I had was Christ and him crucified and that's what I preached.
And to me it just proves what I've suspected all along---there's lots of things people think pastors ought to do these days and that's all fine. But Lutherans have always taught the ordained ministry is about the Word and the Sacrament.
Yesterday all I had was the Gospel and the words - "Take and eat, the body and blood of Christ, given and poured out for you, for the forgiveness of sin "
I will say more about what I learned this past year. But I still need time to figure out how to say it in a way that helps me forgive this congregation but also recognizes that they do need my forgiveness.
I needed forgiveness too and of course part of the problem was that they were pretty unforgiving.
Pastors need forgiveness. Forgiveness helps me repent.
It's so backwards when we insist repentance comes first.
It is when forgiveness is withheld from me that I turn to justifying and rationalizing and excusing myself. It is when I am forgiven that I can humbly accept my error and resolve to do better next time.
Being unforgiven leaves a gaping wound.
If forgiveness is not forthcoming then the only way to heal that wound is to forgive the unforgiveness.
Love. Grace. Forgiveness. That is all there is.