“The Best is Yet to Come!”
Pt. 5 of the series: “What’s a Pastor to Say to His Congregation?”
June 9, 2019
I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.
So, we are coming to an end of sorts. This will be my last sermon as full time pastor of Risen Christ. I will be back in the fall so it is not the end end, but I will be gone for a while and this is the conclusion of this sermon series I wanted to preach, “What is a Pastor to Say to His Congregation.” Now, we could get all nostalgic and all and look back over all of the good times. Actually, we already did some of that at my retirement dinner. That was such a nice evening. Thank you so much for that evening. I look at that evening as a community celebration, a celebration of the entire ministry of this church over these last 24 years. I hope we all recognize that we are all in this together. As pastor, I could do very little if anything, without the amazing staff, council and all of the good people of Risen Christ working together. It truly was a community deal. That retirement party was a great evening and I enjoyed my presents and if you want to do it again in 2 weeks, I’m game.
So, with my final sermon for a while, we could get all nostalgic and all but, as I said, we had some time for that already. No, I would rather leave you with a different message. The message I want to leave you with is more like the sentiments of the video you just saw. Or, the sentiments I would like to leave you with are more in line with what Martin Luther said when he was contemplating another end, the end of the world. This is what Luther said. He said, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” The sentiments I would like to leave you with over the summer are forward looking. They are hopeful, expectant, exciting, joy-filled. That’s what I am feeling on this last day for me for a while. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to the summer off. Whoo hoo! But, beyond that, when I think of what God has in store for the future of Risen Christ I have that sense of excitement and joy. This is what I think about our future and this is what I want to leave you with; “The Best is Yet to Come.”
The passage that I have chosen as our Scripture for today is one I turn to when I think about staff, when I have a closing devotion with our preschool teachers. Paul is writing. He is writing from prison. He is writing to a church that he loves. He is writing to a group of brothers and sisters who have supported him in prayer, in ministry and through a special financial collection supporting his ministry. Listen to the love Paul has for these people, and, as I borrow Paul’s words, the love I have for you.
“I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:3-6
Now, there are three things I take from this passage that I want to share with you, my Risen Christ family. The first is this
- God is Smack Dab in the Middle of Mission and Ministry
- For the Philippian church
That’s what Paul was saying to the Philippians. God is smack dab in the middle of their mission and ministry. Paul speaks of God beginning a good work and carrying it all to completion. He began the good work of creating faith in the people. He began the good work of establishing that church. He began the good work of giving them a mission and a ministry to perform. God began that work and He sustained that work for the church at Philippi. He was smack dab in the middle of it all, although I don’t ever recall seeing the words, “smack dab” in the Bible. Here’s another way of saying it; It is all about Jesus.
- God has been smack dab in the middle of our work at Risen Christ
God set this church here in Fairport back in the 1970’s. Frank Grant shared a crazy thing at our Men’s Group on Thursday. He told us that the very first service of Risen Christ was 45 years ago on June 9th. The first service and my final sermon as full time pastor here is June 9th! I see that as a God thing. God got this church started. He guided the work of this church as it got established and grew. He sustained this church as the first pastor left and the second pastor came on board. He kept this church moving forward even when the second pastor resigned and Risen Christ went through a vacancy. Then, 24 years ago, when this congregation had dwindled to about 30 people, God was not about to let this congregation die. His Spirit indwellt this place. He guided us to understand the mission of the church which is—to make disciples. He led us to a dynamic vision of marriage and family ministry as a vehicle to make disciples. He provided the excitement and enthusiasm and money to build this amazing building we are in, the people doing a huge chunk of the work themselves and then to design Grace Land which has become our children’s ministry area and the home for our amazing Preschool. Jesus has been smack dab in the middle of our family ministry and our VBS and summer camps—talk about some crazy stuff. You should have seen the lobby and Fellowship Hall this week. There were Legos everywhere. It was glorious. And Vacation Bible School is a trip. When you hear 150 kids, teen helpers and staff sing, “You made me, You saved me, Lord. You called me, and gave me Jesus” that is amazing! It is amazing! God is smack dab in the middle of our worship ministry, the amazing talent of Oliver and the rest of the singers and instrumentalists and let’s not forget the techies. Where would we be without the techies? You see, if you think the sermon is too long, blame the sound engineer, Jim or Dan or Ashley or Yves because with the push of only one button, they can cut my sound off. They can just mute me. So, if you think I am droning on, it is their fault. Something tells me that if you slipped them 5 bucks, they might indeed turn off my sound on me. God has raised up council members and leaders of various ministries. He has raised up Michelle DeRue as the right person to be president at this time in Risen Christ’s history. He has raised up Linda Brombacher who has been a faithful secretary—she likes to say, boss, that she is the bosss—for these 24 years. God has raised up Al Boezi to care for you in my absence. God has touched the hearts of you people gathered here to do wonderful things for Him. Listen, the incredible work that we have been doing all of these years is because God has been smack dab in the middle of it all. All glory should be given to Him. It is all about Jesus.
It was Sara Reczek, our previous Family Life Minister, who came up with the phrase we have used as the slogan of our congregation. We’ve placed it on the wall in the lobby. We are, “Seeing marriages and families thrive with Jesus in the center.” We want to grow great marriages and families, but we can’t do it without Jesus in the center. There are good materials from the social sciences about marriages and families but what we have discovered is that unless Jesus is in the center, that marriage, that family cannot be great. It can’t. God’s love must be the centerpiece. God must be smack dab in the center.
As Jesus taught, a church can build on sand, but unless it builds on the solid rock of Jesus, it will crumble. We have chosen to build our mission and ministry, everything we do at Risen Christ, on the solid rock of Jesus Christ. We’ve chosen to build our marriage and family ministry on the solid rock of Jesus Christ. Jesus is in the middle of every ministry. If He isn’t, we don’t do it. It goes back to the Great Commission. The mission of the church is to make disciples. God must be smack dab in the middle of it all and He has been here at Risen Christ and Paul thanks God that that was the case for the Philippian Church and I thank God that God has been smack dab in the middle of all that we do. As we look toward the future, that is a hopeful thing. That is an encouraging and joyful thing because we know we are serving a wonderful Lord and as we serve Him, He will bless us. He has blessed this congregation and He will bless it in the future. So, first, God is smack dab in the middle of the mission and ministry of Risen Christ. Second
- God has an End Game in Mind
- The end game is God’s promise, His hope
God doesn’t get things started and then walk away. He doesn’t get the top spinning and then leave. Our God is an ever-present God. He has an amazing future in store for those who love Him. That is the way it was for the people of Israel in the Old Testament. As that congregation of a couple of million headed out of Egypt, God held before them the vision of the Promised Land. He had an end game in store for them. God had an end game for the church at Philippi. Here’s what Paul said;
“…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6
God didn’t just start the church at Philippi and then head for the hills. He was there for that church. He had an end game for that church.
God has an end game in store for each of us. That end game is called heaven. It is given to all who have faith in Jesus. It is a wonderful place, no more pain, no more suffering, a house with many rooms, a place for us and the best news of all, we will be there with Jesus for forever. Oh, God has an amazing end game for each of us. And,
- God has an end game for Risen Christ
We can’t see it now, but it is there. Just as the people of Israel only got a tiny glimpse of the Promised Land, most of them relying only on the eye witness of 12 spies who went to spy out the land, and just as we have only what the Bible says about what heaven is like, so also, as a congregation, we cannot see what God’s end game will look like for our congregation. We don’t have a crystal ball in which we can see what Risen Christ will be like 20 or 30 years down the road. What we have as a congregation—what the people of Israel had, what the people of Philippi had, what we have as we contemplate heaven—what we have as Risen Christ Lutheran Church is just the promise of God, the promise of God which says to our congregation, “…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Take that promise in for our congregation will you. This promise is not just that Risen Christ will survive over the years. This is not just that Risen Christ will be able to keep the doors open. Take this in dear Risen Christ family, God’s got a plan for this congregation to prosper. God’s promise to Israel was not some Podunk, backwater land that they could pitch a tent in. No, this was a land flowing with milk and honey—whatever does it mean that a land is flowing with milk and honey, sounds pretty sticky to me. God’s promise was of a land where the grapes were huge, where there would be good crops and fertile pastures, where the people of Israel would call home. That vision sustained the people of Israel as they marched through the desert for 40 years!
And, God’s promise of heaven is not that you will have a little shack to live in, maybe with running water. No, heaven will be an amazing place. The Bible speaks of heaven as being a place where no eye has seen, no ear has heard what God has in store. Heaven will be one big Wow! Imagine walking into heaven for the very first time. Wow! Just wow, God.
And, for Risen Christ, God has an amazing future. The best is yet to come! God has already picked out the next pastor of Risen Christ. He already knows what form the mission and ministry of this place will take. He already knows how this congregation can build on the solid foundations of what we have been doing to make even greater inroads into helping marriages and families and children’s ministry be great. God already knows how the next pastor will work with the leaders and staff of Risen Christ to make all of this happen through the power of the Holy Spirit. Martin Luther said, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” That is hope. That is joy. God’s promise for Risen Christ is that He has an end game all laid out. The excitement then is getting to walk along that path eager to see what God has in store. We need to keep planting apple trees. The last thing in this series that I want to say to you, my congregation, is
- Change Happens
- The Bible is all about change
What is repentance but change? You are living your life in one direction, the direction of sin, and you do a 180 degree turn. Talk about change. What about grace? Grace is a change to a totally different spiritual life view. The entire rest of the world, every other religion of the world is all about works righteousness. You get that religion’s concept of heaven by doing good works. You get what you paid for. If you were a good girl or boy, you get heaven as your reward. Grace is the exact opposite. You don’t get what you deserve because what you deserve is eternal death. You get heaven not on the basis of your good works but because of God’s amazing love. Once you understand grace, it is a total change in your life. Talk about change! And, how about the biggest change of all, death, where we change from this life to the next, from a body in a grave to an immortal and incorruptible soul, later to be reunited with a perfect body. The Bible is all about change.
- Risen Christ is undergoing change
There is the change from me to whomever God has already picked out. There is the change from my way of doing things, the way I lead, my sermon style, the way I supervise staff, the way I do pastoral care, to the next pastor’s leading, sermons, management and pastoral care. There will be change. There is change. And, this I know
- Change can be tough
The changes I see in my body—I used to have massive tree-trunk thighs and bulging biceps (oh, alright, the thighs weren’t THAT big and the biceps weren’t that bulging)-- but when I compare the way I remember my body to be what it is like now, that can be a tough day in front of the mirror. Really, I’m not that vain but I see the differences and they don’t make me feel good. Change can be tough in individuals and in organizations and in churches and many times we resist it. We resist change. One of my favorite jokes that I’ve told a million times is, how many Lutheran pastors does it take to change a light bulb? The answer: CHANGE??? One other thing that you are probably hoping will change with the next pastor is some better jokes. Or, at least new ones. Change! Change can be tough. It can be anxiety producing. But, it doesn’t have to be.
- Change can be seen as opportunity
Change can be seen as an opportunity for a new day, for an exciting new adventure, for the chance to build on what went before and to make even greater strides in the future. Change can be seen as an opportunity for great joy and that is what I hope this change will be for Risen Christ. But, in order for it to be that way, we need to do three things;
- Expect it
Expect change. As I said, change happens. There is no avoiding it. There will be changes here at Risen Christ. The next pastor will be different. He will do some things better than me—as I said, surely better jokes--and he will do some things worse than me. However, in most things, he will just be different from me and that is to be expected. Expect change.
- Embrace it
See it as good. Different is good. As they say, there is more than one way to skin a cat, and I would assert, as long as that cat gets skinned. There is more than one way to do ministry as long as ministry gets done. The next pastor will bring fresh insights, new ideas. He will have spiritual gifts that will most likely be different from mine. He will have talents that I don’t have. See that as a good thing. Now, there will be some who will say of the new guy, “Oh, he doesn’t do X, Y, or Z like Pastor D.” Do you see what I did then? I did a little rhyme. “Oh, he doesn’t do X, Y, or Z like Pastor D” and if I was in the pew hearing that, I would say, good! Risen Christ doesn’t need a clone of me. It needs a leader who has his own gifts and can lead the mission and ministry of this church in ways I could not. And, please understand that for me to say that is not a threat to me. Change is going to happen. Embrace it. Finally, regarding change
- Enjoy it
One of the things I hope for with our staff is that they have joy in their ministry. I want them to feel loved and appreciated and valued and trusted and making a contribution to a bigger goal. I want them to feel joy in their ministry because joy goes beyond a salary. Joy is what makes this all worthwhile, that you are serving a wonderful God and a wonderful church with wonderful people and that makes it all worthwhile. I want them to feel loved and trusted and cared for. I want them to have joy.
You have shown me that love and that trust and that care for 24 years. I am truly a blessed man. I am a blessed man in my personal life, I have the best wife and son and daughter-in-law and grandchildren a man could ever have. God has been so good to me. And, I am a blessed man in my professional life. Twenty-four years ago, God led a guy with some pretty quirky gifts and talents to this congregation of loving and caring people and through you God has given me great joy.
Now, listen to me, if I was going to write a prescription for the next pastor coming in, if I was going to write a prescription for the relationship that next pastor will have with his congregation, I would want all of the love and trust and care you have shown me to be transferred right over to him. I know trust is developed and developed over time. But, do what you did for me. In your relationship with him, start with a soft and open heart. Invite him and his family into your heart. Love him. Care for him. Build trust in him. Seek to have his ministry be one of extreme joy.
So, expect the change and embrace it and enjoy it. Expect a different man than Deknatel, embrace him as you have embraced me. Enjoy him. I know you can and I know you will. See this change as an opportunity. Know that God is smack dab in the middle of the mission and ministry of Risen Christ. Know that God has an end game for Risen Christ, a wonderful end game. And, know that change happens. And, this congregation will continue to be the healthy, God-honoring, mission driven loving and caring congregation it is, making a difference for the Kingdom of God.
So, I want to conclude this series and my last sermon as full time pastor of Risen Christ by paraphrasing Paul’s words to the Philippians. I want to paraphrase his words and personalize them and apply them to you. I want Paul’s feelings for the Philippian church to be a summary of my feelings for you, my dear friends.
I, Arnold Deknatel, thank my God every time I remember you, my dear congregation. 4 In all my prayers—and they are many and they are continuous—in all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy—yes, with extreme joy-- 5 because of your partnership—oh, your partnership, your working with me and beside me, all in this together—because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day—24 years ago-- until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus—that He who got this thing called Risen Christ going back in the 1970s, that he who got this relationship going 24 years ago, that the good work of this congregation will be carried on to completion. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart—and you, Risen Christ, will always be in my heart-- and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.
Thank you, my dear congregation. Thank you so much for allowing me to be your pastor. I love you.
In Jesus’ name,