GOD CALLS ABRAM
Today, after worship, we are having our Annual Congregational Meeting. As has been our practice, last week, we went through the goals and objectives for 2023 so that you could have some time to think about them before today’s meeting when you will asked to pass them. We also went over our revised marriage policy and talked about the reasons for the changes. All of that was done last week.
So, what am I going to talk about this week? I’d usually be finishing up the preview for the Annual Meeting but that’s all be done. There is nothing left to do on that really. So, this morning, I want to do something a little different as we head into the Annual Meeting.
Last week I said that 2023 is going to be a pivotal year for Cottam United Church. We are going to be looking for three new programming staff. We are also going to start welcoming guests to the Kyiv House.
It’s also going to be a big year for Ruth and me. I retire at the end of May after almost nineteen years as your pastor. To put some perspective on that, after today and taking into consideration the vacation I have to burn before May, I will be leading worship in this church exactly eight more times. The clock is ticking and the end of this part of our journey will be here before we know it.
So what I’d like to do this morning is try to put some context on that and reflect for a while on what that means for all of us. And perhaps I will answer some of your questions about what this all means for Ruth and I and our relationship with Cottam United Church because I think it might be helpful to see what this part of the puzzle may look like. As always, let’s ground ourselves in Scripture by reading a short passage from Genesis 12:1-4a (NIV) which is God’s call to Abram or, as he came to be known, Abraham:
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran.
This is one of the pivotal stories in the life of the people of Israel. The patriarch, Abram, hears God’s word. God tells him that he is sending him to a new place where he has never been. All of the familiar things in life are about to change. Abram will leave his country, his people and his father’s household and take his family to a new place which God will show him.
It’s interesting that Abram has no idea where is about to go. He does not know where this new land is located or what he will find when he gets there. All he has is the call of God on his life. After hearing that call, he has to decide what he is going to do. Will he be obedient to God’s call and journey to the new land or will he ignore it and stay put? We know what he did. He chose to be obedient and leave the comfortable and familiar to travel to a new land and start the next stage of his journey before God.
CALLED TO A NEW PLACE
Does that sound vaguely familiar? I believe God is calling us to go to a new place. Perhaps it’s not a new place in a geographical sense. But it is a new place in terms of our ministry. We – and when I say we, I mean you as a congregation and Ruth and me as a couple – are going to a new place in ministry. We don’t quite know where it is or how to get there. We aren’t sure what it will look like but God has called us to leave the familiar and step out in a new direction into the unknown. That’s not always comfortable but, ultimately, it was inevitable. Every pastoral relationship must come to an end at some point. The fact that we have had almost nineteen years together is something to celebrate and the fact that it is ending is also a time of grieve what we will be losing.
It has been my great honour to be your pastor for all of these years. When we arrived in 2004 one of the things that was said to us is that Ken Bauman, my predecessor, had taken this congregation as far as he could. The hope was that I would be able to help this congregation get to the next level.
I’m going to echo that same sentiment this morning. We have done some incredible ministry together. This congregation has changed significantly, not just in the people who are here but also in our sense of mission and sense of self. I could go through the list of things that have been accomplished but you know what they are and we’re not really here to pat ourselves on the back today. We are here to glorify God and what he has done both for and through us.
What I can tell you is, whether or not you know it, this congregation is held up by many in the United Church as a model of what the church can and should do. Our community engagement is second to none. When we look at things like the Prayer Garden, the way we bring the community together for the Turkey Supper, the way we make our building available to the community for this like community gatherings and, most recently, the Winter Chill music events in January, and the way the community has supported us in the Kyiv Home Project, we see that we have done an excellent job of engaging our community, of being the hub which we have sought to be. And the icing on the cake has been the positive comments on the chimes that restarted within the last two weeks. The church has a great reputation in Cottam and in the surrounding communities. I seriously don’t think most of you understand just how well thought of this church is. Is it perfect? No, of course not. But we have sought to be faithful and I truly believe that God has blessed that faithfulness.
As my job was to help this church get to the next level after Ken Baumann retired, so one of the jobs of the next minister will be help you find the next level again. Together with whoever that will be, you will journey to a new place in ministry and you will build on the foundations that we have created in the past nineteen years.
That can be a bit scary because we don’t know what God has planned. All we can do is trust that God has a purpose and I believe that God does. Because we can be certain that God does have purpose we can also be excited about where that journey will take us.
OUR NEW JOURNEY
People have asked, however, what all of this means for Ruth and me. That’s a good question and I think it’s time to fill you in on some of our thoughts and some of our plans. Perhaps in sharing some of where we think our journey will take us, it will help you on your journey. And maybe we will still be able to do some journeying together.
To begin with, people might wonder why I am retiring. That’s a valid question. The reason is because I think it’s time for a change. I’m due for a change. I confess that I still enjoy ministry. I still enjoy our ministry together but I have felt a nudge the last couple of years to do something different even if I haven’t always been sure what that might be. I have worked in ordained ministry for thirty-six years and it’s been quite a ride. But there comes a point in life where you realize that there are a lot few years in the headlights than there are in the rear view mirror and you wonder how you want to spend whatever good years you have left.
That’s where my spirit is now. I turn sixty-eight in May and it’s time to step out – maybe for the last time – on a new journey to see where God takes me. And yes I have some plans which will unfold in good time. I don’t plan to be idle and I’m not very good at sitting around the house watching TV. We will see where that goes.
Ruth and I, as a couple, have decided that we are not going to be moving anywhere anytime soon. That, of course, might change in the future but for now we plan to continuing living right across the street from the church. We like Cottam. We have friends here. We have connections here. This is our home and we feel no call to leave.
We can also tell you that while I am retiring, Ruth is not. She plans to work at her job for at least another year and then reassess.
It is also our hope that we can continue to be part of Cottam United Church in some form. At least, that is the plan now. We do now yet know what that will look like or how it will come about but, currently, that is our plan.
The biggest challenge is that it is absolutely vital that we do not interfere with the ministry of the person who will be your next minister. I will no longer be your spiritual leader. I will no longer your pastor. And so we will have to work out what that means.
In the past, it was church policy that retired ministers should stay away from the congregation that they served for minimum of a year or two. That policy was changed by our regional council a few years ago and the regions now provides a process by which retired ministers and their previous congregations can enter into an agreement in which the retired minister becomes a Voluntary Associate Minister. It is a formal agreement that is agreed to and signed off by the new minister, the retired minister, the Church Board and the Regional Council. We are exploring that now at the Church Board and we will see where it takes us.
What I am now doing as retirement approaches is stepping off various committees one by one. In fact, when I retire at the end of May, the only committee I plan to remain on is the Kyiv Home Project and the Turkey Supper Committee. I simply need to step back from all of the programming and administrative committees such as Finance, Worship, Pastoral Care and the Christian Education Committees. All those things. Part of that is because I need to untangle my life from the ministry of this congregation but it’s because I need to take some time away from this church. What that means is that when I retire, I need to stay away from Cottam United Church for a period of time so that we can get used to being apart.
There are number of ministers in the area who have successfully remained with their congregations after retirement. We been looking at them to see how they did that. The most recent example was John Van Omme who retired from Epworth United Church in Kingsville four years ago. When he retired, he agreed to stay away from Epworth for a minimum of three months which he and his wife did. On Sunday morning, they went somewhere else to worship.
After three months, Epworth had not found a new minister and so they asked John if he might come back and help them with things like sacraments, weddings and funerals. He agreed to do that and also did some pastoral care in the community as they continued their search for a new minister. It took a while but Epworth finally called a new minister, The Rev. Joshua Kang. In fact, we had his covenanting service last Sunday afternoon.
When Joshua arrived, John and his wife again left for three months. This was to allow Joshua and his wife Jasmine, to get established at Epworth without any interference from John. That three months is now past and John is back worshipping with Epworth and doing his level best to support Joshua and not interfere.
That is one model that has worked quite well so far at Epworth United Church. Will it be the same here? We don’t know. It might be. It might not be. Epworth and Cottam are very different congregations and the people involved are very different personalities. The point is that, if we choose to, we might be able to work things out to everyone’s satisfaction.
But we also always have to keep in mind that we don’t know what the future holds. God sent Abram to a new land where he had never been before. And God didn’t give Abram any warning. He simply said, “Abram, this is what you are going to do so you might just as well get packed.” Ruth and I know from personal experience that God sometimes takes us by surprise. But if we, like Abram, choose to follow God, God will provide and God will work things out for God’s purpose. On that we can be certain.
So, do Ruth and I have any plans for the near future? Yes, we do. We’re actually booked on a European river cruise in the first two weeks of July. We’re flying to Hungry and boarding a river boat in Budapest. There are stops along the rivers every day and we end up in Amsterdam two weeks later and fly home. We are so looking forward to that adventure. That will burn all the rest of Ruth’s vacation days for the rest of the years so that will be the only major trip we make in 2023.
One new part of retiring is that we will have weekends off. We may take our trailer and do some weekend camping which is something that we’ve never done before.
There are, of course, some projects around the house that I want to get done and I have some ideas for some new landscaping in the yard.
The other thing I really want to do is spend a lot of time with music. I am looking forward to playing a lot more piano and guitar and taking voice lessons from Stephanie. I have no idea what I am going to do with that but I’m having so much fun with it.
And finally, I plan to get a part-time job. I’m the type of person who needs a purpose, a reason to get up in the morning and a job has always been a big part of that for me. Also a part-time paycheque will help to pay for some of the traveling that Ruth and I want to do in the next few years. But that job will probably not be in ministry. I may do some pulpit supply every now and then but I don’t really have any interest in doing a long term part-time church gig. I want to do something that involves less stress, fewer decisions and has more flexible hours. And, believe it or not, I’m discovering that there are all kinds of jobs out there that offer those perks. So we will see how that unfolds.
FINDING THE COURAGE
God has called us to a new place. The old is passing away and the new is on the horizon. But let’s be clear about something. This change will come with some speedbumps along the way. It won’t always be easy for any of us.
Not only did Abram believe God’s promises, we also know that God was faithful to fulfill his part of the covenant. Abram did indeed become a great nation. He was the physical father of the Jewish race. He was also the spiritual father of the Christian faith. That means that both Christians and Jews can trace their ancestry back to Abram. All of that took courage. It’s not easy to step out in a new direction.
Abram found the courage to put his faith in God, pack up all of his household and belongings and journey to the place where God led him to go. If he had stayed in his homeland, many things in this world would be very different now. But always remember that the reason why God was able to fulfill his promises to Abram was because Abram first chose to follow God.
Never forget that. Never forget that you have a part to play in God’s plans. Never forget that God created you. God called you. God needs you. God’s desire is that you live your life to fulfill his purpose. And God gives us the courage to do it.
Just as Abram was blessed when he chose to follow God, so too are we blessed when we say, “Yes,” to God. He still guides us. He still strengthens us. He still blesses us in ways that we could neither expect nor imagine.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God of Might and Grace, we your people come to you in prayer. We come out of our need for we are needy people. We also come out of our gratitude for you have blessed us abundantly in more ways that we can even begin to imagine. You gave us the gift of life when you filled your Creation with your living breath. The evidence of your word surrounds us: the tulip bulbs that sleep below the surface of the ground; the squirrels that play in the trees ; the birds that sing us awake in the morning. All of this comes from you. You give it freely and without reserve to fill the world with beauty and splendour.
We thank you for the commitments that people make around your church. We thank you for those who teach Sunday School and plan worship, for those who sing and read, for the parents who ensure that their children are here to learn about the faith and to come to know Jesus as their Saviour and Friend, for the various committee members and those who serve on the Church Board. Be with us today as we approach the Annual Meeting after worship. Continue to enable us to fulfil your calling for this fellowship of faith.
We place before you the needs of the world represented those things for which we pray this evening. We pray for the people of Ukraine as they seek to win back their country and find peace. Watch over our the refugees in their quest for safety and security. We think, especially, of the Ukrainian families who are here and those who will be coming to Cottam. May we give them the support and assurance that they need.
We also would pray for our community. There are more poor people in this town than most of us realize. But we also are blessed with an abundance of generous souls who are willing to reach out to others. Thank you, O God, for providing the balance.
God of Heaven and Earth, hear our prayers and the prayers of all of the faithful who call upon you in the name of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
March 5, 2023 / Lent 2
Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; John 3:1-17; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
CALL TO WORSHIP
ONE: Let us lift our eyes up to the hills
ALL: and witness the glory of God
ONE: God is our Guide and our Protector.
ALL: our Strength and our Defence.
ONE: Let us worship the One who gives us life.
Praise be to you, O Glorious God. Your voice whispers in the cool winter breezes. The snows cover the ground in a blanket of your purity. Your grace is heard in the songs of the birds as they gather to feed and sing in the winter sunlight. You, O God, are in all Creation. You are the Centre of all things, the Author of all life. You are above us, beneath us, beside us and within. Come to us, we pray, and fulfil our desire to feel your Holy Touch.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
We see you in all things, yet we often deny you in our own lives. We try to live without your Spirit. We attempt to make choices before coming to you in prayers. We seek guidance in many things but forget to read the Scriptures. You , O God, are in all things. You are in all life. Forgive us when we try to exist without you, when move outside of your love. Lead us back that we may hear your gentle voice.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The life that God gives is the only life worth living. When we repent and seek reconciliation, we are forgiven and given a new portion of life and light. Thanks be to God for this great and healing gift.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
All that we have comes from your hand, O Christ. All that we are is the creation of your imagination. Enable us to honour your creativeness and blessedness as we use these gifts to the glory of your name.
May God’s road rise up to meet our feet. May Christ’s love lead us in the paths we should walk. May God’s Spirit fill us anew with the blessings of new life.