What Is to Prevent Me?

What Is to Prevent Me?

Lent 4, c, March 31, 2019

Acts 8:26-31

If you have been reading along in our book From Members to Disciples: Leadership Lessons from the Book of Acts, or if you have just been reading along with the designated chapters in The Book of Acts you will have been getting the central message: when followers of Jesus Christ get bold, and when followers of Jesus Christ trust God implicitly… Powerful things begin to happen. Signs and wonders! People with spiritual needs and social needs and physical needs get blessed!  And it doesn’t matter how much book learning the Christian has. It doesn’t matter how precise and accurate one’s theology is. What matters is one’s readiness to act in faith.

“What is to prevent me from being baptized?” The Ethiopian eunuch asks Philip.  Philip might well have answered….

>Oh, I am not an ordained minister.  I couldn’t possibly baptize you.

>Oh, this water is not sacred, it is just a ditch.

> Oh, we’d need to go back to Jerusalem to baptize you in a proper service, in a proper place, in a proper style.

>Oh, you have to go through membership classes and learn a whole lot more about Jesus Christ before you will be ready to be baptized.

We in the church have a multitude of ways to inadvertently quash the enthusiasm and the spontaneity that is a hallmark of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

“What is to prevent me from being baptized?” the Ethiopian asks Philip.

Philip does not even answer the eunuch, but just gets down off the chariot and gets down into the ditch and baptizes this man.  What a powerful event in this man’s life!  And since he has such high stature in the government back in Ethiopia, what a profound opportunity for the Christian faith to attain a foothold in far off Ethiopia.  The whole book of the Acts of the Apostles is about the Holy Spirit empowering the spread the Good News of the message of Jesus and the story of Jesus as the Messiah, and here it all is in a nutshell in this brief but powerful story.

And the result is that Spirit takes Philip off to some distant place and the Ethiopian continues on his way rejoicing in his new life.

It causes me to reflect on just where we are as a congregation striving to be faithful to that same movement of the Holy Spirit in our midst, as we act in faith.

For example, there are a lot of reasons that I think our new proposed bylaws and church organization are good ideas. Chief among them is encouraging those willing to take leadership in our congregation

>to choose a place where they want to serve,

>to make plans and carry out ministry with other people who share their excitement and their passion,

>to boldly go wherever the Holy Spirit is leading them, and

>to feel the blessing, feel the freedom the children of the living God are meant to feel.

And in making the transition from our current organization to this newly minted organization, UCC 2.0, rooted in this book and in this book, there will need to be some education. There will need to be significant Leader Training opportunities and some training exercises that will call forth skills and experience from UCC’s staff to provide that training.  There will need to be staff leadership in managing UCC’s organizational transition, along with the terrific lay leadership with which we have been blessed and which we have come to rely upon.

This morning it is my difficult responsibility to announce to you that I will not be a part of what we expect to be an empowering transition to a new and better way of being church together.  You see, later this week I will submit my resignation letter as your Senior Minister and announce my retirement to take effect on July 1st.

This has not been long in planning, but only in the last couple of months have we as an extended family- including thoughts about what is best for our daughter, son-in-law and our grandsons here- and in view of the key leadership needs of UCC for this majorly important transition,  we have discerned that this year and this schedule is a propitious time for me to retire from full-time Christian ministry.

 

This is not an easy step.  I hope you know I do love you so!  You are a wonderful church family, a loving, caring, serving congregation that any pastor would be fortunate to serve. I am highly privileged to be here and I know it.  Over the years, the challenges and the blessings we have shared have developed a love that is deep and a community that is rich.  Let us take heart in the Apostle Paul’s affirmation in 1 Cor. 13 “Love never ends.”

So, I call upon you members and friends of UCC, in view of these upcoming changes, to stand stalwartly with your church leaders to take these changes and embrace them as opportunities for the New Thing God is doing here.  Embrace these changes as opportunities to share your prodigious gifts with a faith family that can surely use them.  Embrace these changes and help secure the next phase of UCC’s ministries of nurture and of outreach to the community and the world!

When I contacted them a few weeks back, I asked Cathie Parsley, our current Board President, and Kim Kofron, our incoming Board President, to keep the news of my decision private until we could share the news with you here today. They have wisely taken the opportunity to begin conversations with our Regional Interim Connection Minister, Rev. Christal Fisher, who has met with Cathie and Kim and begun to discuss the next steps in calling an Interim Senior Minister, who hopefully will be able to start immediately after I vacate the office.

Cathie and Kim have agreed to stay here in the sanctuary after our worship today and talk with any of you who would like to understand more about the next steps in calling an Interim Minister and then your new settled Senior Minister.  Very frankly, I think these new leaders coming here will be such a help in this moving UCC forward.

As 4 of us are rushing out immediately after worship for the Mexican Border trip, I am sorry that I cannot stay to talk with you further today, but I will plan on making myself available to you a week from today after worship.

There are certain proprieties that both you and I will need to honor when then time comes for me to step away.  We will go over those in due time.  Our ministerial ethics dictate that we departing do all we possibly can to make our successor’s ministry successful by ourselves not providing any further ministerial functions here after we leave… an especially important commitment because the Kutz-Marks’ are going to live here in Austin and we don’t want to create any problems here.

One does not retire from being a Christian and I do not intend to step back from commitments that seem important to witness at this time. In fact, I expect to find greater freedom in participating in social justice issues and engaging in a much more intense personal spiritual development that as been calling to me now for a number of months.

Monday I went to the Capitol to meet up with other clergy for a prayer vigil to let our representatives there know that Senate Bill 17 that was receiving a public hearing that day…. and that it was the first of over a dozen other bills that undermine LGBTQ Texans that are coming before the legislature this session.  These bills fly in the face of our Christian faith which does not discriminate against people of any sexual orientation or gender identity.  We welcome everyone and believe everyone worthy of simple respect.

This afternoon UCC and Congregational Church of Austin members are heading to the border to witness and to observe.  We will be sharing with you what we witness and what calls for a response.  Both of these actions, and similar actions are ones that I can soon take on a much more frequent basis because I will be freed up from important responsibilities requiring my attention here.  You will call someone well suited to this important ministry here.  And I will be doing other important ministry elsewhere.

The other thing I need to say today is that there is this important inward turning taking place in my spiritual development these recent months.  This is the third time in my life I’ve known this, coming roughly in 20-year increments.   I’ve been becoming more and more aware of some important growing I need to do…. That is going to take time away…travel to desert places and slow, mindful, presence.  That is hard to do, hard to find, and still be responsible for so much in our church community life here.  Perhaps, I’ll be able to share some it in writings, maybe a blog, but in whatever form, this really needs to happen.  The calling is crystal clear.

So, the future for me is bright, and the future for you is brighter still.  And we’ve a lot we need to do together in the next 3 months, and I expect we’ll both treasure the time even more than normal.  God is good.  And God blesses us so richly.

May 2019 and then 2020 bring a wonderful new chapters for this wonderful community.

“What is to prevent me?” was the Ethiopians question.  Sensing the open possibility of a whole new and rich life stretching out before him!

“What is to prevent us?” we might ask.

“What is to prevent us from excelling at yet a higher level of faithfulness with its higher level of joy?”

Why, absolutely nothing.

God love you!

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