I learned a lot in seminary. My mind and soul were stretched like never before. I learned big words like theopoesis and christotokos and parusia . . . none of which you can use in a sermon. I learned how beautiful salvation is. To save a soul is rewarding. To save a semester project just before your computer crashes also brings tears to the eyes. I learned that with every fourth Episcopalian there is a fifth. I learned a lot in seminary, but there are some things they don’t teach in seminary, for example—having your first-born child twelve days after you begin your first appointment is not necessarily the best course of action.
It was a stressful move six years ago. Christie was eight and a half months pregnant. We were moving to a new city in a new church with a new job in which we knew no one but the Irbys, but quickly we were surrounded with Broadmoor’s hospitality. On our first Sunday we received a pounding following the service. Not the kind of pounding you receive after an ill-advised Mother’s Day sermon, the kind of pounding in which you receive a “pound of this” and a “pound of that.” It took us about four years to get through the several five-pound bags of Splenda we received. We quickly realized that we were now a part of a very giving church. They did not teach me in seminary that you know you received a sweet appointment according to the amount of actual sugar you receive on your first Sunday.
They never taught me in seminary that if you pull enough consecutive all nighters with a crying baby, that your sermon on Sunday won’t even make sense to Jesus. In November of 2007 I offered a sermon titled, “Han Solo wouldn’t say I love you.” I remember that about halfway through the sermon, I had no idea what I was talking about. Some might say that this is par for the course, but I had never been in the midst of a sentence and couldn’t recall what the subject of the sentence was. “Keep awake,” Jesus said, “because you do not know the day nor the hour.” There were days when Isabelle was a baby that I was sure I would be the first to know.
They never taught me in seminary that some days you will abbreviate “associate” assoc. and other days . . . you don’t. One of the things for which I am most thankful is that you have offered me the space and the grace to fail and to learn, to grow and mature, like the time I was preaching on Monstor’s Inc and I said, “In this movie there are monsters in the closet—hairy, toothy, furry, horny monsters in the closet.” After the service a member said, “You know, I’ve always been concerned about the horny monsters in the closet.” Or the time when I finished the children’s message and a little girl looked up at me and said, “and . . .” What do you mean, “and?” That’s all I got, kid! There was also the time when Chancee came forward to be baptized and I had forgotten to put water in the font. So I asked Sharon Womack to bring me some water, and bless her heart, she brought me a tall glass of ice water. I looked Chancee right in the eye and said, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Or the time at Open Space when I forgot the communion elements and we shared the body and blood of Christ with cookies and milk. Some said communion never tasted better. Don’t tell the Bishop.
They never taught me in seminary that I would find a worshiping community so committed to excellence no matter how strange the sermon series was going to be. Over the last several years we’ve experienced Christ through Doctor Who, Dowton Abbey, Walt Disney, Superheroes, To Kill a Mockingbird, Tales from the Crypt, a living last supper, a U2charist, etc.
They never taught me in seminary that I could have so much fun in Bible study. Now, in seminary, I would not readily associate “fun” with “Intro to New Testament,” but here at Broadmoor, Disciple Bible Study has been amazing! I was kind of left scratching my head when I saw the sign up sheet for Romans and 32 people wanted to spend two hours each Tuesday night studying Romans, and I will never forget it.
They never taught me in seminary that the Transformation class would be the people I lead on Sunday mornings and leaned on Friday nights. They never taught me in seminary that emotions find you in the strangest of places, like when I came home after bowling with the youth group and all I could do is cry because I was going to miss them so much. They never taught me in seminary that I would be entertaining angels unaware. There are angels among us here this morning, who always knew by the power of the Holy Spirit, the precise time to send a card or a gift or to show up at the house with flowers. I feel that I am still preaching because of God’s grace and your hospitality. Now, they did teach me in seminary that Christ is the foundation of the church, but they failed to mention the kind of steadfast foundation your spouse would be. If you haven’t figured it out yet, Christie is an amazing person. I’ve never played the lottery. I don’t have to. I’ve already won it. And besides, playing the lottery is frowned upon in the Book of Discipline.
I’ve already thanked the church staff personally, but I wanted to say a special and public thank you to Kathy and Ken. Kathy, Kathy, Kathy. It is an extraordinary calling to be a pastor’s pastoral counselor. Our conversations have been holy moments for me. And Ken . . . you’ve been my colleague for six years, my pastor for twelve years, and my friend for longer than I can remember. I can never repay you for what you’ve given to me. You and your family—Kay, Seth, Nathan, and Caroline, I don’t know what else to say other than, “we love you.” I have a collection of Walt Disney World pins in my office. I pick one up each time I go. Each one holds a very specific meaning. I’ve never given any of them away, but I did last week. I gave Ken a pin that had Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse together over the word, “Partners.” It was too perfect to keep. What better symbol of our ministry together than an old man and a half-clothed rodent together holding hands.
They never taught me in seminary how to preach a last sermon. This is one of the few times in my life that I’m not quite sure what to say, which is why I chose some of the Apostle Paul’s words because kind of preaches for you, in a way. Someone asked me what I was going to say in my last sermon. I said, “Well, I hope it’s not my last sermon,” but if this is my last sermon I would say this:
Who will separate us from the love of Christ?
Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine
Or nakedness or peril or sword?
As it is written—For your sake we are being killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered
No, in all things we are more than conquerors
Through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,
Nor angels nor rulers,
Nor things present, nor things to come
Nor powers nor height nor depth,
[Nor moving to a new faith community]
nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.