It is such a strange thing ministers do – entering into people’s lives and then . . . moving on.
We all have people who come into our lives, and then leave, or else we are the ones who enter and then leave for one reason or another. Sometimes – if we’re honest about it – that is not so much a problem; sometimes, it is a relief.
But then, there are all the other times….
Like the people who we get to know and who become such a part of the life of the community – who then have to move away for a job, or who retire to Elsewhere. Or those who arrive in great excitement and then disappear without a word. We have had our share of those endings, too.
But the end of a ministry, I believe, has its unique qualities. Where else does a person share in the life and lives of a community, and then, when they move on or retire, have to cut all ties? It is difficult, and oftimes painful, but there is a good reason for it: it is part of our covenant with our UU colleagues as well as a part of all the transitional advice that is out there. It allows the incoming minister to do their work, and you to do yours: to create together the community that you will be moving forward. – To make an end is to make a beginning, wrote T.S. Eliot, and that is exactly what we enter into, you and Patricia and I, each in our own ways.
So as you make your new beginning, remember why you gather here – several, most, or every Sunday. Remember what we all so often forget: to be compassionate, to be forgiving, to walk the pathway of our lives in humility and gratefulness. We all forget, you and I; we all get distracted. We all get bumped around by stuff that bugs us or aggravates us or makes us so mad we just don’t know what to do. Life happens, and sometimes it so flusters us, that we forget – we forget the strength and the love that holds us – a strength and a love that are certainly no less important for not always being able to fix things the way we want them. That is not what this strength and love are about. What they are about is to remind us that whatever happens, they don’t go away. They hold us. Always. Remember that.
Remember also that even though it is of utmost importance for us to be the individuals we are called to be, to seek always and in all ways for the integrity that we are – remember that there will always be more to do, things we may “lack the art to decipher” at the moment, but which will unfold as we move along our pathway, not done with our changes.
Remember there is so much more than we will ever know, so much more than we know now, that you might just as well get to know what you can of it all – be open beyond your expectations, going wherever you need to go, and every stone along the way precious to you. It is a sad thing truly to miss a bit of wonder simply because it was not what we expected it to be, because it did not look like we expected it to look, and so we missed it completely.
Remember also that you do not have to make this up as you go along – this religion thing, this faith thing – that as you go along you are not alone. A great cloud of witnesses is there for you at every step along the way – those who have gone before, whose lives, like yours, felt anger and anguish, love and laughter, and so much else – pondering like you just what is it all about and how were they going to take their next step…. There is wisdom within your reach, especially when you feel you have completely run out of it. Some of it is quite ancient; some of it needs deciphering; some of it is quite contemporary; all of it came out of the experience of other human beings who also sought for meaning and purpose, who desired “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly” with and within the Great Mystery in which we live and move and have our being.
Remember always your ancestors – those who have gone before you, upon whose shoulders you stand here in this place, in this community. There is so much here that is a gift, like the rest of Life, a gift that you did not make and yet has been nourished and nurtured over the years so that it would be here when needed. Remember their work, that yours might also be so inspired.
Remember (as Joy Harjo wrote) that you are this universe and that this universe is you.
Remember that all is in motion, is growing, is you.
We never step into the same river twice, and all that….
But, you know, there are times when we just want to plop down and feel some sense of permanence. I know I do. But life keeps moving, and we are left, as Stanley Kunitz once wrote, reconciling the heart to its feast of losses.
I don’t know. I guess I don’t know how to reconcile some things except just to do them. And the time has come, and the way forward is to part ways.
And so it comes down to this:
Jesus once said that the kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say,’ Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
It comes down to this: This is the message I want to leave with you, and if it is true that every minister really only has one sermon in them that they preach over and over again, I would say that this is mine. Indeed, it has been a sermon many others have preached over and over again.
The Rev. William Ellery Channing said it this way: go forth from this house to worship God by reverencing the human soul as its chosen sanctuary. Revere it within yourselves, revere it in others, and labor to carry it forth in your everyday life. Worship within these walls the universal Presence, and go forth to breathe that same Spirit.
And Ysaye Barnwell says it this way: We are our grandmothers’ prayers and we are our grandfathers’ dreamings, we are the breath of our ancestors, we are the spirit of God.
So you gather – as so many also gather in their places on their days and in their ways – to remember that, however you may express it, whatever words call and recall it to your heart and soul.
Gather together to remember who you are, deeply in your souls; gather to discover who you aspire to be. Gather to remember what our communities and our world would be like if we remembered this more often. Gather then to go forth and breathe that very Spirit in all that you do.