First, a confession:
I began writing this two months ago for a couple of different reasons.
First, we all know that the past few months have been abnormal, and I thought
what better time to start something new... like planning ahead.
Second, I knew that writing this final sermon would be difficult,
and it would only become more difficult as this day approached.
So two months ago, I sat on a United flight home to celebrate my mother's birthday and began writing.
Disclaimer: Mom, please don't kill me.
I went home to celebrate my mom's 50th birthday.
There seems to be this dichotomy when it comes to birthdays,
that when your birthday is approaching, there's dread in being another year older.
Yet, after you reach that age, it doesn't seem like such a big deal,
or it's seen as an accomplishment.
I've never heard a 65 year old say,
"I can't believe I ever turned 50!"
Because I believe that time is a gift best appreciated retrospectively.
That is to say, we feel the best about time when it's in the rearview mirror.
Yet it seems as each new year approaches,
we have a bout of amnesia when it comes to remembering that birthdays aren't a curse.
Birthdays aren't something to dread.
Birthdays aren't the annual snowbird, reminding us that we're all mortal.
Because we're reminded of that ever time we turn on the news and hear about someone who died far too young.
An opportunity to surround yourself with people who love you
and a chance to love them back.
An annual proof of purchase that you're ALIVE.
Birthdays are a marker of time passed and memories made.
Like a finished roll of film,
birthdays are a marker that something great happened,
and it's a chance to replace the roll and let something else great happen.
Today marks the one year that I've served this community.
Holy Spirit-inspired people.
Like a birthday,
this is an opportunity to review the camera roll,
to appreciate the memories it contains,
and to be thankful and grateful for the chance to make them.
When I was in undergrad,
I had a professor who loved to ask the question, "So what?"
It was a literature class, so it was usually in response to reading a book.
We would finish a book by Steinbeck or Walker,
and she would ask the class,
Why even read this book?
She wanted each book we read to be an experience we got something from.
So for each book we had to list:
5 things we learned,
4 questions we had,
3 ways reading the book had changed us,
2 hopes we had for the futures of the characters,
and 1 piece of wisdom to the author or a character in the book.
Well, just like reading a strong piece of literature is an experience,
so has this internship been.
So I figured what better way to sum up my experience and reflect on my year,
than to figure out the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.
Five things I learned from my year at Elim.
1. That heritage is important to you all.
Not only to you all as a church, but as the Fargo/Moorhead community.
I knew I was in trouble when I was first driving into Moorhead, and I saw a
sign for the exit that said Hjemkomst Center.
I've studied English, Spanish, Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, but the word
looked completely foreign to me.
I thought to myself, "Is that Swedish or Norwegian?"
"Am I going to be able to read anything here?"
Heritage is important to you all because knowing where you come from is important.
And because heritage is all about stories.
Which leads me to number two.
2. The power of stories.
In seminary we all take a class called Reading the Audience.
In this class we learn how to figure out what makes a church.
We learn how to find demographic information about the church and the community.
We learn how to read finance reports so we can tell what a church's priorities are.
We even learn the importance of census date, when it comes to figuring
out the neighborhood that surrounds the church,
determining things like the average make-up of a household,
top employers in the area,
and even average age for the area.
I found all of this information to be extremely important!
Until I got here...
Here I learned that reading demographic information about
Fargo/Moorhead doesn't tell me where you all come from.
It doesn't tell me how much you love your families.
Looking at giving records doesn't tell me what your favorite hymns are and why.
And there isn't a single Census that will tell me how this community helped you through tough times.
your stories do all of these things.
And I've loved hearing them.
And I have felt extremely honored that you have let me into your lives.
3. You are all so passionate.
While I've been putting together your anniversary book
you have all had stories to tell me about groups you belong to,
programs you volunteer for,
and ministries you believe in.
Your passion for these things, and this service,
is evidence by the palpable energy you have,
which is to say that the air around you changes when you talk about these things.
And not only that, your energy is contagious!
Being here only a year,
I've tried as many of these things as I could,
but if I had tried them all,
with the same depth and energy you have for them,
I would need 100 internships!
4. I have a voice, and it's like no one else's.
Before I came on internship,
one of the professors at Luther said that
Internship is a safe space to make mistakes,
meaning that you all understand that I'm still learning,
so if there's ever a place to "try something out,"
it's on internship.
Contrary to popular belief,
on the seminary campus,
there is no laboratory with church lab mice
to try your sermons out on.
I figured the "mistakes" I would constantly make
would be in my sermons.
That they wouldn't be very good,
but you all would be forgiving until I figured it out.
And honestly, at the beginning, they weren't awesome.
But guess what?
I got feedback!
And I used this feedback to keep working
until I finally found my voice in preaching.
I could play back recordings of my sermons and think,
"Yeah, that sounds like me. I would say those things."
I used to think that if my sermon didn't sound like other pastors' sermons,
then I was doing it wrong.
Some church somewhere is going to call me to be their pastor in about a year,
They're going to call me,
and expect me to preach like me,
in my voice.
And it's a good feeling to know that I've found it
because I don't think I'm called to be a duplicate of another pastor.
5. This isn't a word we throw around a lot here,
but this is a courageous community.
You're not afraid to think what you think,
be who you are,
and do what you do.
It's why you're still here nearing 125 years.
Because you're strong,
and you're smart,
and you care about more than yourselves.
This is what will keep you going for another 125 years!
Four questions I have after a year at Elim
1. Will every year of ministry go by as quickly as this one?
I remember sitting at my desk the week before Christmas and thinking,
How is it already Christmas?
How have I already been here 6 months?
The next think I know, I have four months left,
then it all just snowballs.
I can't help but wonder,
Will every fall kick-off e immediately followed by Christmas?
2 How do I tell a community of people,
whom I've only known for a year,
how much of a difference they made,
and how much I appreciate them?
Is it through a sermon?
Is it in a newsletter article?
Is it through tons and tons of handwritten thank you cards?
Maybe I should have sent out a survey,
but I didn't.
So here's what I will do:
I will say "Thank you," as much as possible.
I will take the lessons I've learned here,
and apply them, and keep them moving forward.
I will keep you all updated as I go back to school,
and move forward into graduation and ordination.
I will keep you a part of my life,
and I will keep you in my prayers.
3. What's next for Elim?
It seems that so much right now is looking towards two main events;
The 125th Anniversary Celebration,
and the calling of a new pastor.
But what happens after that?
I know you're all probably thinking,
"One thing at a time,"
but I'm excited for the next 125 years!
What will this Oasis look like in 5 years, 10 years, 50 years?
What will God be up to in this place?
In all of you?
4. How will Elim continue to grow, and change, in the future?
The word is changing,
always has been,
always will be.
How does Elim keep up?
How does the Lutheran Church keep up?
I don't know if you all realize this,
but you're already doing something a bit radical.
There are not very many congregations across the country that share a building
with other congregations.
And it's proof that, not only are you all adaptable and hospitable,
but you're welcoming to your neighbors,
which is exactly what we're called to do.
How will you all continue to be Jesus?
Three ways my year at Elim has changed me.
1. I walked in and out of this building 5-7 times a week for the past year.
And the reality is, after I leave today,
I may never walk into this building again.
I hope this isn't the case,
but I can't deny that it's a possibility.
I've been changed in the way that I've learned how to say hello to an entire
population of strangers,
and a year later,
I'm learning how to say goodbye to an entire population of friends and family.
Tomorrow morning I will not drive between orange cones and barricades,
eventually turning into the parking lot,
and walking into the building juggling a coffee, while trying to unlock the door.
I knew going into this that it would end.
I knew going into this that just as I would say, "Hello,"
I would also have to say, "Goodbye."
What gives me comfort?
Knowing that just as God goes with me as I leave,
I know God remains in this place,
with you all,
filling you with the Spirit,
to be the church you're called to be.
2. I will continue to see poverty.
WHile those experiencing poverty and homelessness are everywhere,
Elim's ministry forces you to see them.
There are many places across the country where you can choose whether
you want to see and acknowledge the poor and the homeless.
You can go your entire day without thinking about them.
And I think that before came here, I was never one of those people.
I chose to interview with Pr. Sue and wanted to come to Elim because of
the ministries you have to serve these brothers and sisters in Christ,
but through my time here,
I've met these people,
I've heard their stories,
I've learned their names.
You cannot not see them after that.
When I get back to the cities,
I will find a church that does this kind of a work,
because it is now, even more than it was before,
a piece of who I am as a person,
and a piece of who I'm called to be as a Christian, and a pastor.
3. Whenever I hear "Fargo," I will no longr immediately think of the Coen Brother's Film from 1996
(Which, yes, I know was actually shot in Brainerd, MN).
I won't think of a frozen tundra,
or just a southern version of Canada.
-For the record, those would have been my answers before coming here last year-
I won't think of any of that, because I have something much better.
I'll think of a city with a really cool downtown where I can walk to get lunch
somewhere different every day.
I'll think of street fests, live music, locally brewed beers...
I'll think of the Hjemkomst Center,
and the amazing work done here for new Americans.
I'll think of this place.
I'll remember the choir sitting up here nearly every Sunday.
I'll remember the way the entire congregation sings hymns with so much praise and thanksgiving to God.
I'll remember teaching the first communion kids how to make bread,
the time I spent with the Women's Circles,
the mid-week meals and services,
the Bible Studies,
You've all helped to redefine an entire region.
Two hopes I have after a year at Elim
1. As Christians, we're to be representations of Christ in the world.
To be present in the world in the way that Christ was.
My first hope is that we all continue to feel this calling.
Not only to feed the hungry and shelter the cold,
but to eat with the hungry, and get to know the cold.
You can't imaging the impact on someone you'd make,
by simply asking their name.
For some, this is the only thing they consistently own.
I hope this is a calling felt long after Sunday morning.
I hope it makes it past brunch,
and into your weekly activities.
I hope this calling is deep within you on Wednesday afternoon,
and Friday morning.
I hope that when you see the person with the cardboard sign on the side of the road,
that you remember that Jesus was homeless.
I hope you want the world to change, and for people to feel loved.
I hope you feel called to be Jesus this week.
2. I hope you bask in your brokenness.
Pr. Paula proclaimed last week that our brokenness is not the shameful thing
we often think it is.
We need not apologize for the cracks in our jars,
instead, we ought to look for the flowers that have grown because of them.
As a literary junkie,
I turn to the wise words written by people long before me.
Earnest Hemingway said,
"We are all a little broken.
That's how the light gets in."
Because if we understand Jesus to be the light and life for all people,
that it's no wonder our brokenness is necessary.
If we're not broken,
then where does the light come in?
Where does the cross come in?
And if thats not reason enough for you,
or if that reason is too existential for you,
too deep or heavy for you,
do it for your neighbor.
Speak about your brokenness- for your friend who needs to know that
it's ok to not always have it all together.
Author Bren'e Brown wrote a book called,
"I thought it was just me (but it isn't.)"
Speaking to this idea that because we don't want to talk about our brokenness,
we've created this fake reality of people who have it all together,
where we feel pressured then to have it all together,
or to at least fake it like we do.
We've turned ourselves into actors,
where we see each other's main performances,
but fear peaking behind the curtain,
because it's too messy,
When we bask in our brokenness,
we tear back the curtain and say,
"Look backstage, it's a mess!
What does yours look like?
Is it a mess too?
Let's talk about our messy backstages."
I bet -no, I hope- you find Jesus back there looking through your stuff.
And lastly, One piece of wisdom I have for you after one year at Elim.
Honestly, being one of the youngest people in the room right now,
it feels a little odd imparting wisdom upon you,
especially when we're taught that wisdom is something that's handed down,
but the truth is,
I have a bit of wisdom,
because in being your intern for a year,
I've seen some things you haven't.
I say this knowing that it will ring true for many of you,
whether you've come to terms with it yourselves, or not.
I've seen a lot of fear this year.
I've seen fear of changes,
I've seen fear of an unexpected future.
I've seen fear aligned with, "What happens next?"
I've seen the fear that goes with,
"What if I'm not around to see the 130th anniversary?"
"What will the new pastor be like?"
"Will we get another intern?"
And I've seen the fear that we've all experienced that comes from,
"Things are changing too quickly.
I don't have time to process all of this.
I don't have any control in this.
It's all slipping.
Where do I fit into all of these changes?
Do I fit into all of these changes?"
Whether you're aware of this general feeling around the congregation,
whether you identify with any of these pieces,
I want you to know that you're heard.
In fact, I've been doing what I can this year,
to preach some comfort and hope,
and even reassurance in the midst of all of this,
throughout the year.
But I'm leaving.
And, while of course Pr. Paula is here, and absolutely listening,
I want to leave you with a piece of wisdom that's also a bit of a challenge.
Whatever you do in this time of transition,
whatever you do at this time and in the future here,
whether you're praying,
or discerning the budget,
or calling a pastor...
Do these things from your hopes, not from your fears.
if it helps, list them.
List your hopes.
List your fears.
Working from your hopes is far more life-giving,
Consider what you want for this place,
consider what this place can be,
instead of fearing what it may or may not be.
I'll close with my hopes for Elim
I hope for honest and open dialogue.
I hope for peace between sisters and brothers in Christ.
I hope this is, and continues to be, a safe space.
I hope for a thriving youth program.
I hope for Sunday School Children. They are not the future of the church, they are the right now.
I hope I've made it this far without crying a whole lot.
I hope that you continue to inspire others around you with your willingness to always learn new things.
I hope you all keep an open mind, and open heart, and open eyes to what the Holy Spirit is going int his place, and to what this place is called to be.
I hope that you are forever known in this community as,
"The church that helps people."
I hope you know that I love you all.
And I hope, and pray, that you understand how much I mean it when I say,
that I will continue to thank God for each and every one of you here, every day.
That's what I hope.