Monday, May 7, 2018

Sharing in the Gospel (Acts:1:1-8; Phil. 1:1-6,9-11) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A friend of mine retired a few years ago from the San Diego Sheriff’s Department after a career of over thirty years.  He retired as a commander.  I asked him how he liked being retired.  He remarked that it was strange.  He said as a commander, he had absolute authority over his deputies.  I ordered them to go here or do this and they obeyed.  Now I no longer have any authority.  I am just another civilian.”

I thought, you know, I can relate to that, I can identify with him.  Being a pastor of a congregation is like being a commander in the Sheriff’s department.  I have absolute authority over the congregation.  I tell members to do this or go there and they do it instantly.  On the other hand, maybe not.  It’s really more like herding cats.  But after 42 years, I will find out what it’s like to join the ranks of civilians.

The 19th century Christian Danish Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote: “The role you play in life is like a cloak which you can put on and take off.  Your identity is deeper than your role.  At your core you are a child of God.  In retirement I am taking off my role as an installed pastor, minister, reverend.  And by grace I am privileged to have more time to put on and wear another cloak, another role, Grandpa. I can’t think of a better role in retirement.

In our lesson from the letter of Philippians, the Apostle Paul writes to a church which he personally planted: “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.”   He is writing this letter near the end of his ministry.  And he fondly remembers sharing in ministry with the people of the church of Philippi in Greece.  He warmly recalls their love and support and hard work.  I thank you for allowing me to share in the ministry of the gospel with you.  The gospel is the message of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world from sin and our participation in God’s work of reconciliation today.   Out of love, God sent Jesus Christ into the world to save sinners.

Being a pastor is a privilege.  You become deeply involved in people’s lives and lead a congregation in worship and ministry.  Is it ever taxing?  Sure.  Do pastors ever feel sorry for themselves?   Do they ever whine?  Yes, I confess I sometimes do.  Like can you believe it, I had three session meetings this month, or I had meetings almost every night this week, a person called to share some problems, I taught a class, had a funeral on Saturday and still had to prepare a sermon for Sunday.  Oh, woe is me.”

And then pastors, that is, yours truly, remember II Corinthians 11.  Listen to the Apostle Paul tells of his hardships:

I have been imprisoned, I have endured countless floggings, and often been near death.  Three times I was shipwrecked for a night and day, I was adrift at sea, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own people, in danger in the wilderness, I was beaten with rods.  Once I received a stoning, often without food, in toil and hardship, through sleepless nights, hungry and thirsty, cold and naked.”   That’s when my whining stops.  I think, You lucky guy, think of what pastors have to deal with in the Middle East, you only had a few meetings this week.”

I am thankful for so many things.  I am grateful for your allowing me to share in the gospel with you and to serve alongside you as we have strived to follow Christ’s vision of people bringing people to Christ.  I have truly enjoyed sharing in worship and preaching over these past 12 years.

I am thankful for your listening to stories about our grandchildren, who by the way just happen to be here this morning.  I also know we are not the only proud grandparents in the congregation.

I am thankful for our music program, for our Director, Esther, for our organist, Anne, for our talented and dedicated chancel choir and sounds of worship.  I appreciate the formula Esther has put together in blending traditional and praise music, in leading our handbells and in bringing guest instrumentalists to join us in worship.

I am thankful for our leaders, that is, our elders and deacons, with whom it has truly been a pleasure to serve with in ministry.  I am also thankful for having the opportunity to work with our staff.  I have been impressed with their enthusiasm, gifts and abilities as they lead us in ministry.

So many memories stand out over the past 12 years.  Like your overwhelming personal support for me when I lost my voice for about three months in 2011.  Ministry and laryngitis are just not compatible.  I honestly thought: “Well, I can’t speak, I can’t talk, they might say: Alan, we like you, it’s nothing personal, it’s just business, but standing in the pulpit staring at us each Sunday just isn’t cutting it.  Maybe its time to move on.

But you didn’t, instead, you brought in guest preachers, you allowed me to not talk so the healing process could begin, you asked me questions and then quickly said, “Oh, don’t speak, just nod yes or no.”  You supported and prayed for me and I will always remember your love and kindness and patience.  Thank you.

You likewise supported Nancy, through prayers, meals, cards, visits, stories, loaning us walkers and canes with Nancy’s recent hip replacement surgery.  We both felt your genuine care and support.  We thank you.

I remember the many good, faithful, and dedicated members and friends of our church who have died over these past 12 years.  We indeed miss their personalities, their contributions to ministry, their friendship, their participation and support, their humor, faith and witness.  God has called these dear people to his heavenly home and we truly believe, based upon the word of the Risen Lord and the promises of scripture, that we shall see them again one day.  They are just ahead of us on the journey.

I shall remember your commitment to sharing in God’s work in the world.  Just before his ascension, Jesus called together his disciples and issued this command: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.    You have not only participated in ministry within these walls, but you have served God in the world.

God has called our congregation to a variety of opportunities for mission: serving homeless people through providing meals to some 100 people every Sunday night and our mail service, which provides homeless people an address where they can receive their mail, volunteering in CCSA, providing animated movies and pizza to families in the community on Friday nights for eleven years, hosting our community wide Graffiti Day aimed at cleaning up PB, participating in the annual Pacific Beachfest on the board walk and in operating our preschool which serves families over 60 children five days a week.   You heard God’s call and obeyed it.

I want to also highlight some of my themes over these years:

First, be thankful!  We read in I Thessalonians: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  Being thankful is God’s will for us.   Thankfulness, gratitude, is the root of happiness, the key to contentedness, the path to a positive mind and attitude.  There are plenty of negative forces and powers in life that strive to supplant a grateful spirit like greed, jealousy, resentment, anger, hate, forgiveness, and entitlement.  These always pose a threat.  A thankful person is a healthy person. God’s goal in creating us is that we might become grateful people because that spirit leads us to care for and engage in other people’s lives.

The psalmist says: “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for God is good.  I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before you I sing your praise, I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness.”

Second, love with Agape love!  Agape love is the love God loves the world with.   It is giving love, self-less love, sacrificial love, love with no requirements or strings.  It is undeserved love.  It is the because God first loved us kind of love.  We see it in the gospel.  Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and forgiveness on the cross was pure grace.  C.S. Lewis wrote: “Christ’s death on the cross has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start.”   Christ died while we were still sinners.  We couldn’t earn it and we didn’t deserve it, but out of love Jesus died to bring salvation, by grace through faith.

Today we see quid pro quo love, something for something love, a favor for a favor love.  Agape love, where we expect nothing in return, is a love we are capable of giving when we come to faith and have the power of the Holy Spirit in us.  It is the kind of love that changes lives.  Whom do you know who needs agape love from you?

Third, trust that your service in the Lord is not in vain!  It is easy to get discouraged.  In I Cor. 15: we read:  Therefore, my friends, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

I remember a mother at a former church.  She was estranged from her adult daughter for many years.  The daughter refused to have any communication at all.  The mother continued to pray, to write letters, to occasionally leave a brief message on the phone.  I prayed with her on many an occasion.  Finally, after over 10 years, her daughter phoned her and invited her mother out to lunch.  This mother’s faith and perseverance was not in vain.  It was a glorious day where a mother and daughter were reconciled.  Praise God.

Fourth, be an encourager!  Can you be an encourager in an imperfect world with flawed people, like you and me?  Of course.  This is the only world we have.  Jesus was an encourager to his disciples and to the crowds.  The Apostle Paul was an encourager to the churches he planted.   Barnabus, Paul’s companion in mission was called the Encouraging One.  This is the day.  Now is the time.  There is no better time than today.  Look for the possible.  Look for the good.  One word can change how someone’s feels about himself or herself or set them on a path for their future.  There is always something we can see in a person to encourage them about.

I like the story about a concert where a rather squeaky tenor had just finished his solo.  The applause was less than enthusiastic.  Someone in the audience exclaimed: “’Extraordinary!  Bravo!’ ‘Excuse me,’ said a puzzled women sitting next to him, ‘but I teach voice and I think his voice was quite inferior.’ ‘Voice?’ replied the other man, ‘I wasn’t thinking of his voice, I was praising his nerve.’”

Thank you for calling Nancy and me to PBPC in 2006.  Your call started as a temporary designated relationship and developed into an installed relationship. You brought us back to San Diego, our hometown, back to the beach from the mountains of Colorado, and to a caring and creative and faithful Christ-centered congregation.

Hear these words as you move ahead:  I Corinthians 16: “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.  Let all that you do be done in love.”   God has guided and empowered our church since 1888, 130 years.  Like our past, our future lies in God’s sovereign will.  In this light, I close with my favorite verses from the book of Proverbs 3:5-6: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, do not rely on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge God, and God will make straight your paths.”  Amen!