In Gratitude to God
When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” — Luke 19:5
Already we’ve come to it: the “So long and God bless” moment in our brief time together. There are many times in our lives, and all of them matter. And out of all those times in our lives, some especially stand out. I had occasion to remember such a time last week, as my family and I celebrated my daughter’s birthday. Thirty years ago (!) I was already almost two weeks late in moving from Spencer down to Pittsburg, where I would be attending seminary and Julie would soon begin work on her Master’s degree at Pitt. There was no avoiding this tardiness: our second child (or was it the child’s mother?) was taking her time about entering the world. We were not running on Seminary Calendar time; we were running on Baby (or maybeWomb) time.
So Alyson’s birth marked the beginning of a new chapter in our lives in more ways than one: My wife Julie and I welcomed a new soul into our lives and our hearts as, at the same time, we moved to another city and embarked upon a new life. It was a wonderful time.
One of the things I love most about being a human being is that, of all the wonderful creatures on our fair planet, we are the ones with the most complicated and interesting relationships with each another. There are many times in our lives; the most interesting and compelling thing about those times is generally the people we share them times with. Think of the stories about Jesus in the gospels: the incarnation meant that God was able to relate to people in a human way. The gospels are full of people (like Zacchaeus, Bartimaeus, Mary and Martha, Mary of Magdala or any of the disciples) that Jesus bumped into along the way—people whose lives would be forever changed by the encounter, however long or brief.
My few weeks’ time serving this church has been significant to me and I think was just what I needed at this time in my life. I’ve always felt called to small solo-pastor churches, never to a bit larger congregation like First Presbyterian. That hasn’t changed: I still do not feel called to serve an Ithaca-sized church. But after my experience here I could easily wish that I were.
I have found it a privilege to serve God here and I’ve had a ball preaching here getting to know many of you. This congregation is blessed with a fine staff that has been a pleasure to work with: men and women of faith who are competent at what they do and who have a good chemistry together. You are blessed with good music; with intelligent, engaged, faith-filled lay leadership and members; and with wise and helpful retired pastors as parish associates. I’ve enjoyed your worship, your Adult Ed classes and your church picnics. Because of the people involved, and in spite of the fact that I’m not at all a “meeting person,” I’ve even enjoyed committee meetings!
Furthermore, by the time you read these words, I expect you will be blessed with a gifted, grace-filled and energetic new pastor. Rev. Riehl has already made a strong positive impression on me as she has on the Pulpit Nominating Committee; I expect that she will have similarly impressed the rest of the congregation on Saturday and Sunday and that, in the coming years, God will bless this congregation and Kirianne herself by the relationship between pastor and congregation. I do know that I have been blessed in this short time.
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. Numbers 6:22–26
In gratitude to God,