"The Next Chapter: It's All About Love"
John 13:31-35; Acts 11:1-18
I love to read and write, so it makes sense to me to think of life as being divided into chapters.
In some of the earlier chapters of my life, I grew up, went to college, left the church, taught school, raised a son. Along the way I came back to church, and sensed Christ’s call to “follow him,” which led me to Princeton Seminary, and then to the first church I served, in western Pennsylvania.
In earlier chapters of Littlefield’s story, the congregation was planted and had a vital mission. When there were changes in society and the neighborhood, the church did a mission study that helped the congregation to identify new directions for mission, which was the beginning of an intentional ministry of reconciliation and an emphasis on hospitality and interfaith work.
Back in 1996, the Pastor Nominating Committee of Littlefield contacted me, and we began a discernment process that led to my moving here 22 years ago to be your pastor.
We’ve been through a lot together over the last 22 years. When I first got here, this was a bigger congregation than it is now. Yet, there were concerns about whether the congregation had the resources to survive. I hadn’t been here very long before somebody said to me, “Well, the church only has a couple of years before we run out of money.” That was the first I heard about that. It was explained that several of the church’s leaders with business background had analyzed the congregation’s finances maybe two years before and had predicted that—if nothing changed—the church would be closed in around 5 years. That obviously didn’t happen.
Over the years we’ve served Christ together, there have been changes in society… in the community… and in the church. When I first arrived here, society was struggling with LGBTQ issues, and the Presbyterian Church, along with all the mainline denominations, had been studying and praying and debating about homosexuality since the 1970’s.
When the church has struggled with difficult and divisive issues over the centuries, it can lead to greater clarity about Christ’s message and what it means to follow him. In today’s lesson from the book of Acts, we heard how the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem criticized Peter because he had been eating with uncircumcised people. Peter told them about the vision he had and how he heard a voice saying, “Don’t call impure anything that God has made clean.”
It’s happened that way over the centuries when the church has struggled with slavery, with divorce, ordaining women and later LGBTQ persons. In recent years, we’re being challenged to discern how our faith challenges us to act in the face of systemic poverty, racism, environmental degradation, and other injustice.
Over the years, I’ve became convinced that our Christian faith is all about love.
The gospel message in the New Testament proclaims in various ways how Jesus came to live among us, full of grace and truth, to embody God’s love for us and to show us how to live in the way of love.
When people asked Jesus what the most important commandment is, he said what’s most important is two-fold: Love God. Love your neighbor. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus made it clear that your neighbor is anybody we encounter—even people who are different… even people we might even see as enemies.
In his last talk with his disciples, Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. People will know you are my followers by the way you love one another.”
In the gospel lesson we heard today, Jesus tells his followers, “If you keep my commandments—the commandments to love God and love the neighbor—we will abide in his love. He tells his disciples that he has said these things so that we may have his joy, and that our joy may be complete.”
It’s all about love.
Over the years, we’ve grown together in the way of love. Littlefield is a place where people are nurtured and challenged to grow in their faith. We have shared God’s love and promoted interfaith understanding in a variety of ways, including through the annual interfaith prayer service and Peace Camp. We have touched people’s lives through our Taize service and the Engage Book group. We’ve glorified God through our worship and work, and we’ve made lots of beautiful music together. I believe we have grown in our understanding of what it means to be disciples of Jesus Christ and part of the Beloved Community.
Twenty-two years is a long time. I give thanks to God for the joy and privilege of being your pastor and leader, for the relationships we have formed, for the learning and laughter and tears we’ve shared together…for the baptisms and weddings and funerals and potlucks and picnics and so much more.
But now it’s time for a new chapter: for Littlefield and for me. In my next chapter, I hope to serve God in some new ways. I’ve taken the training to be a Transitional Minister, which I could do part-time or short-term in congregations that are in transition. And I hope to move to be close to my son’s family and have more time to spend with them—especially Gracie Jane!
It’s time for a new chapter for Littlefield too. The Session is working on finding a Transitional Minister or Interim to be your next pastor, and to help you discern a faithful future for Littlefield’s next chapter.
Our pastoral relationship will end on May 31st. After that time, I will not be available to provide pastoral services at Littlefield. Specifically, I will not be available to perform baptisms, weddings, funerals, or provide pastoral care for the members of Littlefield.
It’s the policy of our presbytery that a former pastor will speak and act in ways that support the ministry of your new pastoral leader, and will not meddle or comment on actions of the session or the congregation.
The reason for these boundaries is so the congregation can move on into your next chapter. Because I love you all, because I care about the health of the congregation, I need to not function as your pastoral leader-- so that your new pastor becomes your pastoral leader as he or she performs pastoral duties like funerals and weddings.
So, today, we give thanks for what we have learned together, what we have accomplished together, all the ways we have glorified God through our worship and work, all the ways we have people have known we are Christians by our love. Today, at the end of this chapter of ministry together, we release one another to move into Littlefield’s next chapter and my next chapter.
What comes next? Your mission statement makes it clear that Littlefield’s purpose is “to love God, one another, and all people, and to show God’s love in your work for peace and justice.”
In our broken world, in this Easter season, when old divisions and ancient evils and persistent suffering fill our news feeds and touch our daily lives, those of us who follow the Risen Christ are called to live in his light, to be salt and light and carry on his ministry of reconciliation.
As we turn the pages on our next chapters, let us pray…and listen for the Spirit…embody God’s love…and show God’s love in our work for peace and justice.
Let us trust in God’s promises, confident that nothing will hinder God making all things new.
Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
May 19, 2019