Leaving the Church

leavingJuly 27, 2017

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

I have been a parish pastor just barely a month shy of 9 years. Monday will be my last day.

And for my last sermon as a pastor called to a congregation, it seems like I’ve been handed a box of odds and ends, the kitchen junk drawer of parables. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed…yeast…treasure hidden in field…a merchant in search of fine pearls…a net thrown that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind.

It’s kind of a mess. And I’ve got to admit: it suits.

We’ve all heard about one’s life flashing before their eyes in the last moments. In these last moments of my life as “Pastor Sarah” a jumble of visions from first call in Virginia to this call in Iowa come to mind:

Shooing away the cows in a parishioner’s driveway to find they had licked the salt off every inch of my car, leaving the windshield a smeary, opaque mess…Catching the crickets (and one time even a tiny, hopping green frog) that had snuck in from the suburban garden to make their home near the baptismal font…balancing thimbles full of wine and a stack of wafers on whatever surface I can find in so many hospital rooms…The random bits that tend to collect in every office space I’ve every occupied: scattered business cards, bunny ears, post-it-notes with indecipherable scribbles, a Santa hat, that bulletin board I always intended to hang on the wall, Tibetan prayer flags, a giant plywood pig… Standing alone in the sanctuary talking to myself for hours until the scripture feels like it is a part of me…Picking up the phone so that I can have that conversation I’ve been dreading with someone who is so very angry at me…Lifting up a toddler so he can kiss his mother’s face one last time before they close the casket…The stories I love to tell, the ones I can’t repeat, the ones that make me cry.  

As in parables, these the kingdom of God moments have defied explanation and challenged expectation. The wheres and hows and shoulds of what it means to be in ministry and what church looks like repeatedly troubled and sometimes even turned on their head. But even in the midst of the worst, the most wonderful gifts have emerged.

Such it is with these parables. There is no separation, no distinction in the messy kingdom of God. No place that is unholy, no thing that is to be set apart. It is the way of holiness to be revealed in the profane, redeem the worthless, and resurrect the dead. It is the essence of holiness to surprise us and speak the good news with the last word we ever thought we’d hear.

The unwanted weed is actually the greatest of shrubs. The unseen forces are at work, bringing forth new things. The treasure is hidden, but it it’s there.

Walking out the door, I know that I am not leaving the church. I am going out into the world to discover anew the church already present in the world.

Pastor Sarah