Sunday, July 4, 2021 Sermon
1 John 4:7-9 “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.”
Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
The African fable: “The King and His Close Friend”
An African King once had a close friend with whom he grew up, and the close friend had a habit of looking at every situation that occurred in his life, positive or negative, as good. He would constantly remark, “This is good.”
Well, one day the king and his friend went on a hunting expedition, and it was the friend’s job to load the rifles. The friend had apparently loaded one of the guns incorrectly because when the king pulled the trigger, it backfired and blew off his thumb. The king screamed out in pain. After examining the king’s thumb-less hand, the best friend remarked as usual, “This is good,” to which the king replied, “Nope, this is not good. It can’t be good, you idiot. And it will never ever be good till my dying day!” In a fit of rage, the king commanded his guards, “Throw him into the darkest dungeon so he can think about what he’s been saying for the rest of his life!” So the king had his close friend thrown in jail.
About a year later, the king was out hunting in an area known to be inhabited by cannibals, and he ended up being captured and bound. And as the cannibals began preparing the king to eat, one of them noticed that he was missing his right thumb. Being superstitious, they never ate anyone who is less than whole, so they set him free. As he returned home, the king realized that his dear friend was right after all. Getting his thumb accidentally blown off was indeed a good thing. It saved his life.
The king immediately freed his old friend from prison, apologizing profusely and telling him all that happened with the cannibals. “I’m so sorry for sending you to jail for all this time,” he said remorsefully. “It wasn’t right for me to do that, and I hope that someday you can forgive me.” “No, no, no, no,” his friend interrupted. “This is very good.” The king snapped, “This is not good. You have to stop saying that. This is not good. How could sending my best friend to jail possibly be good?” The best friend said, “No, it is good, because if I hadn’t been in jail, I would have been in the cannibal village with you.”
Whenever there is a transition of a pastor in the church, there will be folks who will say, “This is bad” and those who will say, “This is good.”
I heard there are 2 kinds of people in this world…Those who bring joy WHERE ever they go, and those who bring joy WHEN ever they go.
I’m not at all implying there is a great rejoicing now that your former pastor is gone. Far from it. First of all, I recognize the loss and grief people are experiencing of saying goodbye to your beloved Pastor Robin after serving 22 years of ministry with you. On top of that, we have been going through once in a century universal pandemic. At times we felt like… “Will we ever see the day when this is finally over?” When we thought we could see the light at the end of the tunnel only to realize it’s a freight train coming our way.
Studies have shown that the word that best describe the experience of what most people are going through this pandemic is “languishing.” It is like a sailboat caught in a doldrum and just floating and sitting on the water listlessly with no movement. This has been hard for almost everyone, and some even became despondent. It felt like we’ve entered into a “Twilight Zone.” Without in-person meetings and gatherings, and everything done on zoom, the effect it had on me was ever widening bottom and ever expending belly. Consequently, none of my pants fit anymore.
I feel like I have parked in someone else’s meter. For 22 years you and Pastor Robin have built a substantive ministry both inside and outside of the church. I am inspired and humbled by what you have established here with her pastoral leadership. The loss and grief you are experiencing are real and cannot be underestimated. Everyone grieves differently with different timeline.
I just read the monthly church newsletter, Circuit Rider, in the section “10 Commandments for a Pastoral Change.” In my opinion, they got most of them right. But I thought the tone of “You shall not…” was a little harsh.
You shall not compare the new pastor and the former pastor, for they are two different people with their own unique gifts and style.
You shall not ever utter the seven last words of the church: “our last pastor did it this way,” or “we’ve never done it that way before.”
You shall not invite the former pastor back for pastoral functions: such occasions are opportunities to bond with your new pastor.
You shall not communicate with your former pastor and spouse about church problems or matters of gossip.
You shall not speak too frequently of the former pastor and the past, for God “makes all things new” in time.
You shall not withhold your great capacity of love from the new pastor and family; love them as you have loved the former pastor and family, and even more abundantly.
You shall not forget to pray for the new pastor and family daily; wear your name tags; welcome them warmly; be faithful in worship; follow their leadership with enthusiasm; forgive any mistakes; affirm their strengths and accept any weaknesses; love them with all your heart.
I think we can humanize this list a little. When you are grieving of course you need to talk about the person whom you are grieving about, a relationship of 22 years for Pet’s sake. Most marriage don’t even last that long. You can say to me and to each other, “I miss Pastor Robin. I developed a special bond with her over the years. I miss her dearly. I’m not ready to let her go yet but I’ll come around.” It is a natural human feeling to think that if I open up to a new person too soon, too readily, somehow, I’m not being faithful to my former partner. And I imagine gradually you’ll make your way of accepting me as your pastor with all my quirks, gifts and shortcomings, strengths and weaknesses.
I am grateful to have received this appointment from our Bishop to the Watsonville 1st UMC. I truly believe God’s hand was in this. So coming into this appointment, my motto is “Do no harm.” Translation: Don’t make a mess of it what people have work hard to build. It’s always easy to destroy in one day what took many years and hard work to build. This advice comes from John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Movement, who summarized God’s directives in “Three Rules: do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God.” My goal is to honor what you have built here by observing, listening, asking, and learning. And it’s my prayerful intention to do whatever I can with gifts God’s has endowed me to strengthen and expand what you got going here.
Fruitful work always require two things: grace and effort, God’s help and our effort. And our effort requires working in in collaboration with God’s grace.
Carol Gilligan, an American psychologist and a feminine activist said, “Democracy is like love. It only works when everyone has a voice.” Ain’t that the truth. Multiple heads always better than one, I say.
I want to get to know you. It’s a vulnerable time for a pastor transitioning into an unfamiliar territory. I was able to make a soft landing because of your former Pastor Robin who was super welcoming and helpful and our office staff, Erika and Hilda, who welcomed me with open arms and gave me a complete tour of the facility and helped me get with the program here.
I also need to acknowledge AR Pointer who was my go between myself and the realtor who was handling the rental. On the first day I moved in on July 1st, after a six-hour drive with the mover, AR made an intentional effort for me to feel welcomed into my new home. When I arrived dead tired and exhausted I was greeted by all kinds of housewarming goodies. I was so touched it warmed my heart. With grateful heart, I want to say, “Thank you so much.” It made me feel less alone and vulnerable.
I invite you to make an appointment to have a visit with me either at my office or at your home. Meanwhile, please wear your name tags for a while so I could learn your names. If you have a personal name tag that you made or acquired, I invite you to wear it. Following the service when you greet me in the line or in social hour, tell me your name, how long you have been in the church. If you have a specific position or role in the church, share that too. And tell me a little bit about your family (spouse or partner and children) without going into too much details. That will come later when we have a visit together.
That reminds me of the early 60s TV detective series, Dragnet, when a lead LA detective, Joe Friday, will say to every person interviewing, “Just the fact, mam. Just the fact.” I don’t recall Joe Friday ever saying to a man, “Just the fact, mister. Just the fact.” If he didn’t then he was either a man of his time or little sexist.
Whenever I receive a new appointment my mindset is…Go to the people. Love the people. Tell them about the transforming love of God.
I believe God has put us on this earth to teach us how to love. The 19th century English poet, William Blake, wrote, “We are put on earth a little space. That we may learn to bear the beams of love.”
The African fable “The King and His Close Friend” is about teaching a lesson on don’t be too quick to judge what happens to you or to others as good or bad yet. We don’t know and we cannot know the full consequences of the outcome until the unfolding of the mysteries of life reveals itself in God’s time.
The bible says we have a benevolent God who fully revealed himself to us in Christ. “God so love the world…” As Christians, Jesus Christ is the human face of God who turns toward us with compassion and truth. Therefore, we know that we are living in the Benevolent Universe. As St. Paul declared in Romans 8:28,
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
– Pastor John Juno Song