Glory to God Alone! Final Sermon as Pastor of Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church, Saginaw, MI

   “GLORY TO GOD ALONE!”

MY LAST SUNDAY AS PASTOR OF THE

WARREN AVENUE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

November 24 2013

©Thomas B. Cundiff

 

Psalm 139: 1-6  and  23, 24

1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
   you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down,
   and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
   O Lord, you know it completely.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
   and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
   it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
   test me and know my thoughts.
24 See if there is any wicked* way in me,
   and lead me in the way everlasting.*

 

I Thessalonians 5: 11 (NRSV)

“Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.”

 Matthew 22:  36-40  (NRSV)

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it:  ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

 

I.  Parting Thoughts

 

A Few Memories:

 I will never forget when I first heard, back in 1984, that the Warren   Avenue Presbyterian Church was looking for a pastor.  I was on a tour bus in Israel sitting next to a man named James Stewart, an Assistant Pastor in this church back in the 60’s.    

When I returned from Israel, I ran into a colleague, Rev. Dick Dempsey.  He was serving as the Interim pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Saginaw.  He also told me of the opening at Warren  Avenue. He knew of my interest in urban ministry and thought this church might be a good fit. 

I submitted my paperwork.  After several interviews and prayer and discernment, I was “Called”  by God through the voice of this congregation to become your pastor.  Nancy and Emily and I made the move from Evanston to Saginaw.  I had never before imagined living in Michigan

Now some 340 months later and over 1300 worship services later J , I have given this pulpit a workout!  We’ve all had some time to get to know each other.

Words cannot describe my feelings right now in knowing this is my last Sunday worship service with you as your pastor.           

From the Book of Order, “Centered in Jesus Christ, informed by God’s inspired Word and guided by the confessions of the church” (W-4.4003d), I have been truly blessed to be your pastor.  I have always tried to be faithful to my call to be your pastor.  I have been honored to humbly “serve you with energy, intelligence, imagination and love”. 

Some of my fondest memories come from the years working with a wonderful staff…Doug and Melissa and Charles.  I really like these people.  Take care of them and they will take care of you. 

A highlight in my career was being nominatred and then elected to serve at one of the highest levels of the church , the General Assembly Council and the national Committee on the Office of General Assembly.   Through the years I have also been honored to serve at the Synod level as chair of the Budget Committee for more years than I wish to remember.  I have served on a dozen or more Presbytery committees, the Permanent Judicial Commission for six long years, several community organizations and boards—a host of experiences that have allowed me to “stretch and grow” as your pastor.

Throughout my life I have tried to remain grounded in the 139th Psalm and this prayer of discernment:     

“God?  Search me.  Know me. Discern my thoughts.  Give me tools and resources and strength to do your will and to be your servant.   Help me to know what you, God, would have me preach and teach and do in ministry in the name of your Son.  I pray that I have been faithful to this call.

God has never let me down.  You have never let me down.  I have always tried to stand with you in times of need as you have always stood with me and my family.   God has always been with us!  I wonder how many times I have said this over the years!    

God is with us!

God is with us!

God is with us!

 

II.  The Love of God

I made the decision to preach this final Sunday with you on the subject of LOVE. 

This great commandment recorded in the gospel of Matthew:

 ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind….And your neighbor as yourself’.

 Next to this commandment from I John 4: 7-8:

 ‘Beloved, let us love one another.  For love is God, and everyone who loves is born of God and loves God.  Those who do not love do not know God, for God is love.  Let us love one another.’

 

This is our highest calling—to love God and one another—for God is and always will be what we believe to be – love!

Early in my ministry with you I shared this definition of love.  I have been putting this definition to the test for my entire ministry.  I cannot find any flaws in it!

                                  “Love is that which binds us together and builds us up!”

 It is God “binds us together and builds us up” in all that we are, with everything we do, in sharing with others from all that God—a benevolent and generous God—has given us…..God’s created children / humanity.      

 A demonstration that supports this definition:

Imagine (if only we had more time):  my asking you to encircle this entire sanctuary.  Nobody would be excluded from this circle.  Each and every one of you included in this circle. 

Imagine:  God at the center of this circle. Love is at the center of this circle.  In fact, think of all the times I have shared with you from this pulpit…..God is in and between us……

Now this question:  What does God look like?  Created in the image of God we see God and experience God’s love in the faces of those all around us.  Literally, there is a bond between us that God has created.  This bond that binds us together and builds us up—the love that binds us together and builds us up! 

I really can’t find any holes in this logic – UNLESS –   

I were to ask all of you in this imaginary circle to turn and face the walls—to turn and face away from each other.  You wouldn’t be able to see those around you.  You wouldn’t be able to see the face of God.  Facing outward would likely feel awkward.  It would be hard to know God at the center of everything we are about as a church.  We might know that God is the center of the circle of life, but that wouldn’t be our experience because we in our lives do sometimes turn from God.  I suppose this is what we in religious terms call SIN! 

And REPENTENCE is turning back to face God accepting God and God’s love as the center of life — .   We may turn from God but God never turns from us!

 

God is our center—always ready to bind us together and build us up in helping us face – honestly and sincerely – all the obstacles, all the challenges; all the issues that come with being God’s created children. 

 

III.    Encouragement

How does God’s love build us up?   Let me suggest one way.  One specific example that has meant a lot to me over the years comes from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians:     

 

“Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.”

 

I would much rather experience God’s love than just learn about love in a cognitive or intellectual way.  We can’t just talk about love.  We need to experience God’s love.  And the only way I know to truly experience God’s love is experientially–and relationally.    

Imagine:  living your life with nothing but frowns and clinched fists.  You’ve heard me say this before.   We can’t offer much encouragement to others with frowns and angry fists. We can’t build on self-esteem without smiles and open hands and gestures of God’s love. 

 

IV.

It is God’s love that binds us together and builds us up as we move forward in living our lives as disciples of Jesus our Lord—because it is Jesus who teaches us about love, living with open hands, peace and justice in our hearts!

 

Our journey together through the years has been exciting—a few bumps in the road – but not too many.  God has always been with us!  

I will always remember the love that has emerged from your sharing God’s love with each other and with others – filled with peace and justice – extended beyond the walls of this church to others through numerous collaborative relationships and hand’s on ministry.  

V.

 As my ministry with you comes to an end may you know that there will always be a place in my heart (and in Nancy’s heart) – an emergence of God’s spirit from all the Saints whose labors created sustained this church for over 146 years…. “saints by faith before the world confessed the name of Jesus, whose name be forever blest.” 

I have known this would be a difficult day in leaving you as pastor.  I have also known this will be JOY-FILLED day to give glory to God, Soli Deo Gloria, basking in the shadow of saints who from their labors rest, knowing that God never rests.  God’s love has and always will forever bind us together and build us up….as the hymn proclaims, until “thy glory shine, three in one, alleluia, alleluia.”  

Amen.                                                                                                                1817

                                                                                                                                                 

 Cundiff Blessing

Based on 2 Corinthians 13: 11-13

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, our savior and friend;

May the love of God, binding us together and building us up;

May the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, knitting us together as a church family;

Be with us until we meet again.  Amen.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s