The lectionary text read this past Sunday by Deacon Ida is from a remarkable chapter in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. I want to strongly suggest that you read it over and again not just this week but every week until the search for a new pastor is completed. I say this because of two things. First, because it is simply remarkably powerful scripture. Second, because we all know you are about to be tested.
Here’s the verse from that second chapter I have in mind:
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy,
2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.
4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.Philippians 2:1-4
I am about to step out of the circle called Riverside after leading you for 28 years. Your leaders are working diligently to fill the pulpit and provide an interim pastor so they can then launch a search team for a permanent replacement. This is going to take time which means you will need to be patient. This is not going to be easy which means you should roll up your sleeves and offer your service, be it collecting an offering or cleaning up after Koinonia. I now want to put into caps what is pivotal in those verses just cited: BE OF THE SAME MIND, HAVING THE SAME LOVE, BEING IN FULL ACCORD AND OF ONE MIND.
How in the world do we make that happen? The answer is in the third and fourth verses. Be humble. Be helpful. Be positive and consider the interests of others as important as your own. Do not gossip. Do not raise your voice or disrespect anyone, particularly those who are volunteering their time to sort through this process and find persons to lead. Attend worship and do so with the joy of Christ overflowing in your hearts.
The circle will be unbroken if you do that. People step into and out of the circle of fellowship all the time. But the circle does not have to be broken. Find a way to achieve consensus. Do not give naysayers, backbiters, gossips or negative people your time. I don’t believe we have many of these at Riverside but any human institution is going to have folks like that. Keep your eyes on the prize.
This community of faith is worthy of your best efforts. May the Spirit of God provide you peace so you are not anxious but hopeful. You are and ever will be in my prayers. ~PSTR
Sing praises to the Lord, O you faithful ones, and give thanks to God’s holy name.Psalm 30:4
This time of year reminds me of rip tides at the ocean. You know, those currents that pull a person beneath the waves, running fast and swift. The warning to swimmers is, don’t try to swim directly to shore because the power of the current is too strong. Instead, swim parallel to the shore and at an angle in order to avoid being pulled under. Why does that come to mind this time of year for me?
There is a steady ratcheting up of emotion and marketing at this time of year, beginning with Thanksgiving and then culminating at Christmas Day with people having spent lots of money and time at festivities. This cultural riptide can be a threat to sincere and authentic religious life. But I don’t believe the solution is to swim against that current and raise complaints about whether or not people say Merry Christmas or Happy Winter Holiday. Swim parallel to this current. Enjoy some eggnog, decorate your tree without guilty conscience (you’re not a pagan for doing so), exchange some gifts, wear ugly sweaters. Just keep swimming parallel to the shore at an angle until you step out of all that cultural bluster and the Silent Night of Christmas Eve ushers in the quiet beauty of the Good News given to Shepherds. One way to “swim parallel” is to worship in this season. Worship provides a safe refuge for us in this season and it also aims us in the right direction.
So Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. May your travels be safe if you’re journeying. And I hope you can sense that I’m praying thanks for all of you. For the gifts of God, for human friendship and companionship and joy, for the gift of life, give thanks.
Grace & Peace. ~PSTR
I know you’re familiar with the song, Circle of Life, from the Lion King. I’m thinking more these days of Harry Chapin’s song, All My Life’s a Circle. Both speak to the seasons of our lives, the changes, the inevitable partings and hopefully new beginnings. I love both of those songs.
Speaking of circles, on Sunday December 8th we’ll be celebrating two circles that have come “full circle.”
First, we’ll have a baptism and I have the privilege of baptizing Alexandra Greenwood. This is such a joyful story! Alexandra is the granddaughter of Rev. Robert Troutman, formerly pastor of Riverside for some 14 years through the 1970s and 1980s. He really had a major impact on shaping our progressive Baptist identity. I met Bob in 1983 as a participant of the Baptist Peace Tour through Baptist Peace Fellowship—we had traveled with a large contingent of folks who wanted to counter the “evil empire” rhetoric and embrace our brothers and sisters living in the Soviet Union and remind them that we loved them. Anyway, Bob and I got to know each other; he heard me preach in Volgograd and then some 7 years later, he recommended me to the pulpit committee of Riverside. The rest is history as they say. Now here I am, at the end of my ministry at Riverside and who walks in the door? Alexandra, his granddaughter and she wants to be baptized. Her mother, Bob’s daughter, Karen and her husband James are hoping to join us that Sunday for her baptism. This will be very, very special indeed.
The second circle on Dec 8th will be our friends from Westminster Presbyterian Church joining us in worship. It has been just over one year since we left their fellowship and care of us to enter our new building. I thought it important that we get together again. So Ruth will likely join me in preaching that day (we each will keep it brief) and then all of us will return to Westminster for a catered lunch. Our choir and musicians will lead us in a time of singing hymns and some Advent carols. This will be an outstanding day of friendship and hope.
Finally, let me remind you that that Sunday is also a day of communion so we will have worshipped together within the great circle of these sacraments, baptism and communion. You won’t want to miss this.
Our choir will present Christmas music on Sunday, Dec 15th. And as you know, my last Sunday as your pastor will be Dec 22nd. All my life’s a circle…. Thanks be to God who makes us the Church and assures us that the circle will be unbroken.
Grace & Peace, ~PSTR