“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. What came into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, full of grace and truth. From God’s fullness have we all received, and grace upon grace.”
I believe that these words from John’s gospel are the poetry of creation. Jesus was there from the beginning of the beginning as the Word, before anything was made that was made. The Word is the co-creating author of life, which was the light that has not, is not, and will not be overcome.
And then the Word became flesh. In the person of Jesus, God had a body. God became like us, in order to be with us. God came to dwell with us, in order that we might know God. In the person of Jesus, God shared the truth of love. In the person of Jesus, God gave us grace upon grace.
How have you seen the truth of love? Where have you encountered grace upon grace?
I found it right here, six years ago, when I became your new rector. On the day we moved in, Carolyn Eby stocked our refrigerator with cheese and fruit, Christine Sammel and Bill Braun dropped by with gluten-free lemon bars, and Martha Jacobson took us out to dinner.
In the days and weeks that followed, when I asked you to meet for coffee or lunch, you said yes. So I found grace over coffee, or sometimes French fries (okay, more than sometimes), or on a walk. We shared something of ourselves over those meals and conversations. We began to weave ourselves together.
When we found ourselves in a season of loss, burying ten of our beloved members in less than six short months, the truth of love was made manifest in the willingness you had to grieve together as a community. We talked about hard and frightening things, like illness and death and what we hold dear. We prayed, offering ourselves, our souls and bodies, to the God who has known us since we were knit together in our mothers’ wombs.
When people have been sick or in need, I have watched you surround and enfold them with grace. You have mowed lawns. You have delivered groceries. You have done laundry. You have held babies. When my brother-in-law died, I will never forget standing in Puhlman Hall as Margaret Duval said, in your gracious and matter-of-fact way, “Okay, so I’ll bring you dinner when you get back from the funeral in Oregon. Would that be better on Sunday night or Monday night?” And when I, who know how to give but am less practiced at knowing how to receive, tried to politely decline, Margaret -- you said again: “Okay, so I’ll bring you dinner when you get back from Oregon. Would that be better on Sunday night or Monday night?” Grace upon grace upon grace.
The truth of love in this parish has meant that everybody, everybody, everybody has the chance to take part. The question of what that meant for children to participate as full members in worship – that question was a real and important one. And now we have more and more children who know this church to be their home. They pray the Lord’s Prayer by heart. They know the best places for hide and seek (I am confident of this, because they made me a map, and I’m taking it with me). They have friends here, and a circle of trustworthy adults who cherish them.
We have found grace in service, and in telling the story of our faith as we share the gifts God has given us. Last summer I walked over to church on a Sunday afternoon, and heard a little girl calling to me as she rode her bicycle on the street. “Excuse me! Excuse me!” she called. “Do you work at that church?” I said that I did. “I used to live at Family Promise,” she said. “That window was where my room was, where our family lived, and I was a cat for Halloween.” She and her family have their own place to live in Evanston now, thanks, in part, to you. I invited her to come back to St. A’s and go trick-or-treating for Halloween this year.
We have talked about the things we needed to talk about, over these past six years, even when those discussions have been difficult. There is love in truth, and grace amidst the vulnerability of offering yourself with curiosity and trust. We have found our way through such occasions together, toward a greater wholeness. We have ventured into conversations about racism. We have talked about gun violence and how to best prepare for the emergencies we pray will never happen, but could. We have sought to put our faith into action in the world. We’ve asked questions about who has not been included here, and why, and what we can do to remedy that. We have tried to listen, and tried again. We have learned and grown.
And we have found the grace to let ministries end, when the time has come, or helped them to change, or begun something new. Grace upon grace upon grace.
So now it is time for us to step into different spaces in the poetry of creation, as our paths diverge. Jesus is still in our midst, still the co-creator, without whom there will not be anything made that is made. While this transition is new and maybe unsettling and strange for both of us, I pray that we all will trust in the provision of God’s fullness.
As I have said before: you have everything you need. You know how to pray, and to welcome people, and give thanks. You know how to ask good questions and how to listen, and you have the courage to offer honest answers. You know the value of relationships. You know how to lead, and to serve. You have tremendous capacity for change – I know that, because I tested it, and you responded with the willingness to try…and with occasional honest feedback. You know how to take care of each other. And you know the importance of good food shared, and a healthy sense of humor.
You are the Church which is the Body of Christ which is the Word made flesh. And I love you, and have given this ministry all I know how to give. Where I have served well, I give thanks to you and to God. Where I have fallen short, I ask God’s forgiveness, and yours.
Your next leaders will be necessarily different than I am…because of course they will. But also, because the needs of this church have changed over the past six years. We are not who we were, and there’s grace in that. So I bid you to trust this process of discernment that lies ahead of you. Do all those things that you know how to do as the church that you are: pray and sing and give thanks and live generously and welcome people and take care of each other and lead and follow and be curious and tell the truth and give yourselves the chance to laugh. Hold each other dear, because you are. And give your interim minister and then your next rector the grace to find their way with you, just as you did with me.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, full of grace and truth. Beloved of God, you are the Church, which is the Body of Christ, which is the Word made flesh. So be who you are, in this poetry of new creation, full of grace; full of truth.
Because from God’s fullness have we all received. And grace upon grace.