Friday, February 16, 2018
First Week of Lent
On Ash Wednesday, we began the spiritual journey that leads us to a deeper place within our own self-understanding, and hopefully, to a closer place in our walk with God. The journey will go through the wilderness, as it did for Jesus after his Baptism, to places of new closeness with God. (To be sure, we have only to look to the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School this week to know that the wilderness is not far from us – Lord, have mercy!) For Jesus, the journey finally comes to Jerusalem, where he is hailed as King on Palm Sunday, and then crucified later that week, after sharing a last meal with his close friends. But we know the story doesn’t end there. And this year – on April 1 – April Fool’s Day – the joke is on Death, which is finally defeated.
My own journey is now gearing up into high gear. This Sunday, February 18 – is the last Sunday that I will serve as your Pastor. It is a moment that comes with many mixed emotions. That my parents aren’t in the best of health is a down side – but that my life was at a point that I could respond and say “Yes, Lord, I will go” was a plus. There is a sense of expectation and anticipation about what the future will hold for me. Everything hasn’t always gone smoothly, but when does life allow that anyway? I am moving without a new call or job, our house here isn’t sold (yet…) – and all that produces anxiety – but I go trusting that God will take care of me. And my parents.
And my congregation! Yes – God will take care of Living Faith. As I look over the four years that I have served here, I find that I can look at God and say: Together, we’ve done the best we could do. As we reviewed the Church Vitality Survey with Pr. Mocko last week, and saw that perhaps we have more assets (and I don’t here mean financial assets, but we have those, too!) in our midst than we have sometimes given ourselves credit for. Giftedness. Blessings. Opportunities to bless and be blessed. I know now that I can leave with a sense of satisfaction about where our journey together has led us. And what it has prepared us for: I believe that Living Faith is more aware and more prepared to live out its mission of bringing joy into the Southwest Broward community than it was when I came. Keep this at the forefront as you begin the search for a new pastor: there are more strengths within this congregation, within YOU – its members and visitors – than we sometimes know. Acknowledge that! Live it! Pray it!
I stand amazed at how God brings things together. Back in November, I attended the Consecration of Deacon Aura Suarez at St. Stephens Church in Pompano. Deacon Suarez is the wife of our newly installed Bishop, Pedro Suarez. There – I met a pastor who stood out, not only because I didn’t know him, but because he was wearing the same stole that I was wearing that night – the one with the faces of “all the children of the world” on it. We greeted each other afterwards, and I met his wife as well. We spoke, and before long, we stood in a corner and prayed together. It turns out that he and his wife had just recently moved from California to Florida, to help provide care and support for his mother-in-law. By the next time I saw him, my life had turned upside down, and I was scheduling my move to San Diego, for the same reason. As the Synod responded to the need for an interim pastor, Pastor Reginald Hansome was proposed – and he responded – and this past week, the Council of Living Faith, in their first official act as a newly constituted Council, approved his appointment by the Bishop to serve this congregation. I can’t help but believe that God has some good plans in store, and that Pastor Hansome will be, even as an Interim Pastor, able to lead the congregation to places that I maybe never would have been able to do. It has become for me, yet another confirmation that these plans have been blessed by God. I know I leave you in good hands – those of Jesus, our Good Shepherd, and those of Pastor Hansome, one of God’s Good Under-Shepherds, who will now lead and accompany you in this part of the journey.
I share these things so that you will know that the anxieties (Jesus calls them “fears” – and then says: “Do not be afraid!”) that come with change will not overwhelm us. I have anxieties about the many changes that are coming in my life. I am sure that many of you may have anxieties about “now what will happen to our church?” Stay the course. Walk closely with God. God walks with us. We remember that every time we hear that our sins are forgiven, and we are fed by God’s presence, even in the midst of the weekly feast of bread and wine!
Many people don’t like to say “good-bye.” I have been focusing on saying “good byes.” I learned recently that “good-bye” is actually a contraction for the phrase: “God be with you!” Never knew that! I will grieve the many losses of friendship that saying good bye bring. Our choir rehearsals and Bible Study meetings. Our music selection team meetings. Our times of serving together at A Place in Time or the Trinity Food Pantry. Visiting in your homes for Baptism class, or any other reason for a home visit. Meetings in one of my offices (Corner Bakery or Roasting Buddies). Our meals together. And even though some of you talked about your “sentence” in a way that suggested “penance for something done wrong” – even our Council meetings (well, OK, not all of them!) My colleagues, whether they be Lutheran, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or other. But somehow, knowing that good bye really means “God be with you!” – it becomes a blessing of great magnitude. So we’ll shed some tears on Sunday and in the days to come – but then, let’s together be about the mission that God gives all of us, in whatever part of the vineyard we find ourselves in!
God be with you!
Rev. Andreas M. Thode, Pastor
Living Faith Lutheran Church