This sermon was delivered by the Rev. Kyle Seibert at Our Savior Lutheran Church & Campus Ministry on Sunday, May 6, the Sixth Sunday of Easter. The readings and Psalm were Acts 10:44-48, Psalm 98, 1 John 5:1-6, John 15:9-17
Grace and peace to you from the Triune God.
Finally! I’m not sure about you all, but in some ways, it feels as if this call process has been in progress for a very long time. For you all, it has been about 26 months since you first learned that you would need to call a new pastor. About 10 months after that, you welcomed Nancy Vogele among you to lead during your time of transition and then bid her goodbye before calling Bob Wohlfort from among you to step into pastoral leadership. These 26 months were filled with countless consultations, decisions, forms, paperwork, conversations, and I hope, most of all, prayer. You see, the call committee assembled to work on behalf on the congregation was not merely a head-hunter team. Instead, at each and every step of the way, this congregation was asked to invite the Holy Spirit into the process (as if she needed an invitation), and then to listen. To listen to the leading of the Spirit and to respond as a community as you sought your next pastor. And then, we gathered on a Saturday afternoon- March 10- for what I lovingly refer to as “the inquisition.” We gathered in Cana Hall to ask questions together, to discern where the Spirit might be leading this community, to voice some of our anxieties and fears, but also to voice some of our hopes for tomorrow. Just a few hours later, we gathered on Sunday, March 11, to gather around Word and Sacrament to be nourished by God, before you all voted to extend a call to me as your next pastor.
That Sunday, March 11, marked the end of a formal process for me that I began in May of 2014 with the New England Synod of the ELCA. These past 4 years for me have been marked with degrees, and papers, and interviews, and essays, and votes, and formation, and spiritual direction, and a formal process of approval to stand before you on March 11 for that call vote. And while that process is long and complicated and formal, that process too invites the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide and challenge and affirm. It wasn’t just a 4-year long process of vetting and a master’s degree. Instead, it was a process by which, we claim, the church listens to the leading of God to provide pastors for God’s people.
Of course, much has happened since March 11 as well. I got ordained and celebrated the sacrament on my last Sunday with God’s people in Iowa. I moved across the country from Iowa to New Hampshire, found a place to live and moved in, shared some time with family, arrived here at Our Savior Lutheran Church and Campus Ministry, celebrated my installation, and now, finally, am here to preach and teach and administer the sacraments and all of the other “pastor-ey” things that are expected of me.
Now, all of those “pastor-ey” things are critically important- don’t get me wrong. And all of those processes and forms and paperwork and meetings and conversations that brought us to this point, together, are important. They are how the church works and functions- for better or for worse! But at this point in our time together, I think it is wise to all just take a deep breath together. We made it. We have run the marathon and finished the race. Take a moment to celebrate! Breathe.
“But Pastor, we called you to DO all these things! We want tons of young families! You are young, certainly the church will be full of 20-somthings, right? And get the youth program started up again. And organize our community to work for justice! And make sure you tend to all of the sick and dear elderly members. And you have your MBA- that means you can find us piles of money, right?! And… And.. And…” And yes, I’m right there with you. This community did call me to labor alongside of you as we, together, do the work of the church. Perhaps this moment in this congregation’s story is exciting and teeming with possibilities and at the same time scary and full of unknowns. I hear you. I’m with you in that.
And so is Jesus. In our gospel text today, we see Jesus speaking to his disciples on the very night that he will be betrayed and arrested. His arrest, trial, beating, and crucifixion is right around the corner. And in John’s gospel, Jesus knows it. This is a time in Jesus’ story that is exciting and teeming with possibilities and at the same time scary and full of unknowns. But of all the possibilities that Jesus has in this moment, he chooses to speak about love. In moments as “full” as this moment must have been for Jesus, we often jump to trying to “think” our way through it. We want to talk strategy. We want to launch capital campaigns and strategic plans and comprehensive plans. Surely Jesus could have raised enough money or support to get him out of this situation. When we find ourselves in moments that are “full,” we can surely think our way out of them, right?
And yet, instead of any of this, Jesus tells his friends: “abide in my love.” How simple, yet how profound. “Abide in my love,” Jesus tells us. Dwell in my love. Rest in my love. Marinate in my love, as it is all around you. Allow my love to surround you, and hold fast to it. And, Jesus also then says: “love one another as I have loved you.” But this is not some sort of frilly, surface-level love. This is deep, abiding love. The kind of love that draws us together, and sustains us. The kind of love shared around the deathbed of a dying loved one or friend. The kind of loves that carries people, and communities, and congregations through transition and moments full of possibility and anxiety. This love that we are to share with one another goes beyond our colloquial notions of friendship, and begins to point to the source of all love- to God. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” You see, the love that Jesus shares with us doesn’t lead us to simple conversations over coffee with new friends or romantic candlelight dinners. Instead, it leads to the cross. It leads to Jesus laying down his life for his friends- for you. This love is deep and points to God.
And this seems nonsensical. On the night in which Jesus was to be betrayed, Jesus doesn’t scheme with his friends to find a way out. Instead, Jesus tells them to abide. In moments fraught with fear, Jesus’ word to us is the same: abide in my love. In moments of celebration, abide in my love. In moments of transition, abide in my love. In new beginnings, abide in my love. So, perhaps this is also Jesus’ word to us now as we begin our ministry together: “Abide in my love.” I’m sure we will accomplish many things together, iron out many wrinkles, fail in some holy experiments, share many sacred moments, and fumble as we learn more about each other. But God’s love for us remains the same, and the invitation remains always present: “Abide in love.” Amen.