Parting Words

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[This post is a transcript of my final sermon at Aldersgate UMC, delivered June 4/5, 2016.]

Philippians 2:5-8 (New International Version)
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!

Over the past month, Chuck and I have been going through our “DC bucket list.” Things we’ve meant to do, but had put off, thinking we’d be here longer than three years. And a lot of things that we’ve done before, but loved so much we wanted to do it one last time.

This past Friday night, we made reservations at one of our favorite DC restaurants. Chuck would take the Metro Red Line from Union Station, I’d take the Yellow up from King Street, and we would meet at the restaurant.

I had just gotten off at Gallery Place, and it had started raining. I crossed 7th, and was waiting for the crosswalk to change for F Street. The little red hand changed over to the white walk sign, and the 61 second countdown began. But, before stepping off the curb, I looked both ways — just like my Mama taught me.

I halfway across the first lane, and was thinking about the sushi Chuck and I were about to enjoy, when I heard someone scream behind me. I lifted my umbrella and turned to the left, where I saw, just inches away from my left shoulder, the large, metallic grill of a hotel shuttle bus. I looked up, through the windshield, and saw the driver, ashy pale and, frankly, looking even more terrified than I was.

As I lay in bed Friday night, I thought back about what had happened with amazingly vivid detail. The rain dripping off of my tilted umbrella. The short, spiky hair of the bus driver. The cluster of tourists on the sidewalk ahead with their mouths hanging open. Six more inches and that bus would have hit me. Twelve more and I would have been thrown. Eighteen and I might not be here.

I kept thinking, “What a stupid way to end my time in Alexandria!” Because I would forever be known as the pastor who was hit by a bus before she could give her final sermon.

D’oh. Not the legacy I wanted to leave.

But it was a great reminder to me of how fragile this life is. From one moment to the next, things can change. Sometimes drastically. By freak accident, by illness, by changes in our lives that take us from one place to another.

Truth is, we don’t really know what tomorrow holds for us. That’s why what we do and say every single day is so important. That’s why we desperately want our words and actions to make a difference.

Especially when we know that it could be our last words to people we love.

Our scripture for today comes from a letter that the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Philippi in Greece. Throughout the letter he encourages them and sends his love. And he also tries to impart a condensed form of his accumulated wisdom.

Because he is not sure if this will be his last chance to do so. Paul is writing this letter from the confines of a prison, not the most comfortable to be. And he doesn’t know for certain what the outcome will be for him. In the first part of the letter, he tells the church that whether he lives or dies, he is content in Christ.

This beautiful letter is full of what Paul knows could be his last words to these people he loves. He starts out with this greeting:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

Unlike many of Paul’s letters, he is not writing to correct any particular misbehavior or dangerous theology. He’s writing because… catch this!… he’s proud of them.

I think, in many ways, Paul feels about the people of Philippi the same way I feel about you here at Aldersgate. It has been a joy and an honor to be one of your pastors. I love the heart that you have for people in need in our community and world. I love the care you give to each other, and to complete strangers. I love your thirst and hunger for God, and your desire to learn more. In short, I love you.

And this, today, is my last chance to pass on to you something I think is important. Not because I was almost hit by the proverbial bus on Friday, but because today is my last day as a pastor of this wonderful community.

So I’d like to take a moment to look at Paul’s words in Philippians, chapter 2, verse 5. The New International Version reads, “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” The New Revised Standard Version renders that verse like this: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

“Mind.” You knew I couldn’t leave here without teaching you one more Greek word, right? That word we translate as “mind” is phroneó. And it means much more than just intellect, just thinking.

Paul is not telling the people of Philippi that they all need to think exactly the same, that they can never have differing opinions or ideas. That’s not what phroneó means.

Phroneó comes from the noun phrén, meaning the mid-section of the body. Phroneó means to take what we know to be true — deep in our gut — and to put it into action. It means to take our most deeply held perspective and demonstrate it through our outward behavior. Phroneó is belief fleshing itself out in deeds.

That’s why phroneó is so hard to translate into English. We just don’t have a word that is both visceral and cognitive. So translators have to make a choice, and most have chosen “mind.”

But what Paul is telling the people is this: “Those beliefs and actions and attitudes you saw embodied in Jesus Christ? Let that be who you are, too.”

What you believe at your core,
let that be reflected in your acts in the world.

If you’ve been around when I’ve led worship, that may sound slightly familiar to you. Because just about every service I end with these words:

Now, what we’ve said with our lips,
let us believe in our hearts.
And what we believe in our hearts,
let us practice in our lives.

I love those words because they are a wonderful summary of what the life of faith is supposed to look like.

Not just an intellectual faith, one whose words we can say, whose language we understand.

Not just a faith of feeling, one that makes us feel good and comforted and challenged … personally.

It is both of those, but it is also — very much! —  a faith of action. Taking what we understand, what we believe and feel, and walking it out into the world. Every day. Everywhere we go. With everyone we meet.

Because that is exactly what Jesus did.

“Those beliefs and actions and attitudes you saw embodied in Jesus Christ? Let that be who you are, too.”

And what beliefs and actions and attitudes did we see embodied in Jesus? The next verses flesh that out. (Pun fully intended!) Starting with verse 6:

Jesus, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!

“Jesus, being in very nature God…”

Jesus did not stop being the “very nature of God”
when he left behind the glory of heaven to come to earth.

Jesus did not stop being the “very nature of God”
when he reached out in love to the hurting and despised and lost.

Jesus did not stop being the “very nature of God”
when he washed the feet of his own disciples.

Jesus did not stop being the “very nature of God”
when he went without a fight to the cross.

In Jesus’ self-emptying love,
self-giving love,
we have seen the very nature of God.

In Jesus’ life, actions, words, we see the nature of the God who loves us.

That, I pray, is something that you will know in the core of who you are. And I pray that what you know in your core will be seen in your life. Every day. Everywhere you go. With everyone you meet.

Because I have absolutely no doubt that God has amazing things in store for you.

And, I can say along with Paul: “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”

Questions:
In your words and actions today, how can you demonstrate God’s love? Thinking back over your actions and words this week, what would an observer assume to be your most deeply held beliefs?

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7 Responses to Parting Words

  1. BRENT JETT says:

    Dear Pastor Hedy,   You always  leave the mark and feeling of God’s word ,   Please continue sharing your sermons with all of us.  May you and Chuck feel God’s blessings as you go.   Get ready for the hurricane season. Ha Ha.  With prayerful gratitude,   Joan V Jett

  2. Charlotte says:

    Beautiful message! Thank you. Love, payers and blessings go with you.

  3. Margaret says:

    Fantastic message – best wishes at your new church!

  4. Gail Richmond says:

    Love to read your future sermons:-) Thanks for being such a godsend to Aldeersgate UMC!!

  5. Dick and JoAnn Builta says:

    Dick and JoAnn Builta say “God bless you, Hedy. We learned so much from you, and we love you.
    We wish you much happiness and success in your new church. We’ll miss you.”

  6. Gigi Berbrich says:

    You brought a special beacon of light to Aldersgate! We will all be eternally grateful for that and for God working through you to teach us much, including the real meaning of love.

  7. Mary Ann says:

    I have saved this to re-read, and also have sent to several friends. Until today, I think I have been pretending in my own mind that you are just away for a while. But after Prayer Ann and I went to Riverbend Bistro, and during the course of lunch we chatted with our server Chellie (sp?). She asked where we lived, if we were friends ‘catching up’, etc., so I told her that we see each other frequently but never ‘catch up’, and that we had come from Aldersgate. Well….she took off,….brought up your name and said such good and true things about you. And then I think, as we agreed about you, it hit me that you really are gone. Boo Hoo all over again. We miss and love you every day; keep you in my prayers for every good blessing as you go on to lift up another congregation with your wonderful spirit and love. Mary Ann

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