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Final Sermon
The final sermon preached by the Rev. Jeffrey Shilling Gill on November 18, 2012

Sermon for Pentecost 25 (28B)
Final sermon at Christ Church Andover
November 18, 2012


1 Samuel 1:4-20; 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Mark 13:1-8


I hardly know where to begin here today…

We could begin with the beautiful and touching story of Hannah and Elkanah, a couple who desired a child, but who could not conceive.  Hannah promised that if she had a child, the child would be dedicated to the Lord.  She conceived, and the child grew to become the prophet Samuel.  It is a story with deep sadness and lots of painful emotion.

Or we could begin with today’s Gospel – the “little apocalypse” from Mark.  But it is dark, and contains more than a little bit of fear and trembling.  I was already feeling enough of that, when a couple of weeks ago we were talking about plans for today’s service at staff meeting, and someone suggested (half-jokingly) that we could sing that first hymn in Wonder, Love, and Praise – “Signs of endings all around us – darkness, death, and winter days – shroud our lives in fear and sadness, numbing mouths that long to praise.”

That felt just a little too raw – too poignant, and perhaps too dramatic on a day like this.  I’d just been having lots of good-bye conversations;  all our belongings had just been moved out of the rectory;  I’d been going through all my papers in the office, including so many notes and cards and letters I had received from many of you over the years; and I wasn’t sure how many more “signs of endings” I could take.

I have struggled for the words I would use here today.  And I’m very aware of how woefully inadequate my words will be at expressing what I feel, or what it is that I would like to leave you with today.

What I feel more than anything else is gratitude.  This is, after all, a day (and a week) for Thanksgiving – and I do feel oh, so full of gratitude today.   I’m grateful for the privilege it has been to serve as your rector here at Christ Church over the past decade.  I’m grateful for every person who is part of our life in this place, from the youngest child to our oldest senior.  I’m grateful for all those who have devoted themselves to the spiritual formation of our children and youth, which have been one of the highlights of these past ten years for me.  I’m grateful for those who have devoted themselves to serving others here in our parish through pastoral outreach, ministries of fellowship and prayer and service.  I’m grateful for all who have devoted themselves to serving others beyond our own four walls through ministries like Esperanza Academy, or Habitat for Humanity, or Neighbors in Need, the Thrift Shop, or the many other ministries of feeding, clothing, educating, and empowering others.  You have shown us what it really means to live the Great Commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself.  I’m grateful for how this parish has embraced our partnerships in mission in Haiti and Rwanda and other places around the world.  I’m grateful for all who have cared for our buildings and grounds, those who served for years on our organ and building committees and those who care for our finances and so, so many other practical things that keep us healthy and strong.  I’m grateful for those who sing in our choirs and play instruments to the glory of God – and for everyone who helps us lead worship.  You truly help lift our hearts to God in praise.  I’m grateful for all who give, and all who serve in quiet ways, some known and some unknown to us.  I am grateful for many, many things. 

This is also a day for reflecting on the journey we have shared together.  We have been fellow pilgrims in life for a time.  We have made memories and shared experiences that will always bind us together.  I won’t even start to name them – there are just too many!  I remember in years past when I have done the Walk for Hunger, which many of you have also done.  You start the 20 mile walk with a group of people – it could be large or small – but rarely do you finish with exactly the same people.  Some go ahead and others fall back at a slower pace.  Sometimes you bump into one another again along the way.  And you also find other people with whom you spend part of the day walking – perhaps someone you know from some other part of your life.  And then you meet people you’ve never known before, strike up a conversation, and perhaps even make new friends along the way.  Your paths crisscross, come in and go out from one another.  Life is like that – a journey in which we come in and go out of one another’s lives.  I feel that way about these ten years we have shared.  We have shared a part of our life’s journey together;  but we go on, and we may well meet up again as our paths through life take their course, pilgrims on a journey.

As I look out at your faces here this morning, the stories flood my memory.  I’m sure to have more than a few emotional moments today as I relive the experiences we have shared together.  You have shared your lives, with all their joys and sadness.  We have laughed together and we have cried.  We’ve been through births and deaths and everything in between.  We have come through some real challenges together, and we have celebrated blessings beyond belief.  Little could I have known when we began this journey together a little over ten years ago where it would lead us, what the issues and challenges might be, or how we would grow in grace, and grow in our experience of God together.  I have grown as a priest and as a human being during these years, and I thank you for all the ways, many of them you’ll never know, in which you helped me on my own journey with God.

It’s a day also for confession.  I confess that there are things I have done that may have hurt or offended you, and there are many, many, many things I have left undone, and I beg your forgiveness.

It’s a day of both endings and beginnings.  It is my final Sunday with you as rector of Christ Church.  It’s the last time I will celebrate the Eucharist with you here.  But the wonderful thing about the body of Christ is that neither distance nor time can separate us from the relationship that is ours in Christ.  That goes on and can never be broken.

The somewhat ominous tone of the Gospel today is consistent with this season of the church year, in which we are approaching the end of one year, and the beginning of a new one, which will begin two weeks from today with the First Sunday in Advent.  Next Sunday is the Last Sunday after Pentecost, also known as the Feast of Christ the King, on which we celebrate Christ’s final triumph over all, and God’s reign of justice, peace and love. 

Some have suggested that this day ought to be our patronal feast day, even though Christ Church was named “The Parish of Christ Church in Andover” long before there was such a feast day as Christ the King.[1]  I have certainly warmed to the idea over the years, and so now will use some of my last authority as rector to make it official!  So, I hereby proclaim the Feast of Christ the King the patronal feast day of the Parish of Christ Church!  (Wow, that felt powerful!  The canon lawyers will have to decide whether I really have the authority to do what I just did or not.) 

It’s a day that completes the story, ending one year and pointing us toward another.  We would not be Christians if we didn’t conclude every ending with the expectation of a new beginning.  That’s what resurrection is all about!  Death is never the final word.  Endings are only occasions for new beginnings.  And that will be the case for Carolyn and me, I trust, as we make our way to a new ministry in Seattle, and it will certainly be the case for Christ Church, too.  Just think of all the things we never dreamed of ten years ago.  And now think of what the next ten might bring – new things that are yet to even be dreamed.

We joked about beginning this service with that hymn – signs of endings all around us.  But to close this sermon, I’d actually like to sing with you (unaccompanied – just voices) not the first verse, but verses two and three.  So take out Wonder, Love, and Praise and go to hymn #721, the first one in the book.  And get ready to turn the page for the last line of each verse. 

Can it be that from our endings, new beginnings you create?
Life from death, and from our rendings, realms of wholeness generate?
Take our feats, then, Lord, and turn them into hopes for life anew;
Fading light and dying season sing their Glorias to you.

Speak, O God, your Word among us.  Barren lives your presence fill.
Swell our hearts with songs of gladness, terrors calm forebodings still.
Let your promised realm of justice blossom now throughout the earth;
your dominion bring now near us; we await the saving birth.

[1] It only became a Feast Day in 1925 when Pope Pius XI issued an encyclical titled Quas Primas in response to growing nationalism and secularism.  See article in Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feast_of_Christ_the_King.


Last Published: January 19, 2013 2:16 PM