SERMON: RALPH AND I MEET AGAIN

“Ralph and I Meet Again!”

September 15, 2013

{The day I announce my departure as church pastor of the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church, Saginaw, MichiganImage}

                                     

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.*

 

Romans 12: 3-5

3For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.

 

Ephesians 4: 1-7

1I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.   7But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

 

  1.  

 

Ralph!  Who is Ralph?  I don’t recall any church members named Ralph.   There are no “Ralph’s” mentioned in the Bible.   I don’t think I know too many people named “Ralph”.  SO WHY WOULD WE MEET AGAIN?     

 

Simply, “Ralph” is not a person.  Ralph, for me, is a name given to a small trinket—a small piece of jewelry I have been holding onto for 40 years.  I don’t know what else to call this.  Along with some of my college friends, this was given to me over forty years ago.  We named this small item “Ralph”.  I just had a chance to meet “Ralph” again a couple of months ago.    

 

Honestly, though I have kept this small piece of jewelry for all these years, I had forgotten about Ralph.  While I may have forgotten the name, I have never forgotten what this small symbolic piece of jewelry has meant to me through the years.  On the front of this jewelry a small dove ascending into what looks like flames symbolizing the Holy Spirit.  For me this is a symbol, not unlike the Phoenix, of God leading me through the flames of trying times.  

 

For some more explanation:  I was a student at HastingsCollege in Hastings, Nebraska in the early 70’s.  As a pre-theology student I was active in chapel programming.  I belonged to a small worship group we called the “Road Crew”.  This is the name we were given because we would go off campus to lead worship services, along with our chaplain Chuck Messinger, in different churches more or less promoting the college with local congregations.  While I don’t remember much about the tours, “Social Media” has recently reunited four[1] of my “Road Crew” friends through Facebook…..three of us are now Presbyterian Pastors.  It is through Facebook and in renewing these friendships that we were re-introduced  to “Ralph”.    I’m not sure, but several of us still have this small piece of jewelry symbolic of that time we spent together.

 

The year was around 1972.  I don’t have a lot of memory about what took place on this particular retreat except that we shared in what was called an AGAPE MEAL — the breaking of bread simulating communion around a large table – much like Jesus did with his disciples.   

 

I recall we were near a small lake.  I remember this because we had a “Trust Walk” after dinner – blindfolded – led to the shore of this small lake and into a boat.  This is quite an experience being blindfolded while led by someone else you trust.  I recall walking on a sandy beach approaching the shore of the lake and then, to my surprise, being led onto a small board – all while blindfolded.   These were called “Trust Walks” because you really had to TRUST those who were leading —symbolic of Jesus leading us in living our lives – our walking into the future without a lot of knowledge or information about where God is leading!  For it often seems, through much in life, we are blindfolded not knowing where God is leading. 

 

So with news that I will be leaving as pastor of this church, this is somewhat like the trust I have had to place in God about going into a phase of life I had never thought would come…..the same trust you will need to place in each other and God as you identify new leadership and as you determine your path into the future.  The caution I have personally received from the Committee on Ministry and the Presbytery – step back—to let you, the church do it’s work trusting in God.  Trust in God to lead you as you envision and plan for the future.

 

 

Back to “Ralph” – this small red triangle with an ascending dove on the front.  On the back are the words that have had an impact on me my entire ministry.  These words—hard to read:

                                    “Come Holy Spirit, Enlighten Me!

 

Working from memory, I believe we were told on this retreat some 40 years ago that this glossy red stone with the ascending Spirit was to remind us of something known as Gestalt Psychology—the kind of psychology that maintains the principle that the “human eye sees objects in their entirety before perceiving their individual parts, suggesting the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  Again to repeat this:  The human eye sees objects in their entirety before perceiving their individual parts, suggesting the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  

 

It is like my looking at the church.  We see the church building.  There are lots of working parts…..people and programs.  We are a worshipping community. 

 

I think back to the wonderful time we had last Sunday – almost fifty people in attendance in worship and the luncheon—almost completely filling the Geneva room.  In reflecting on last Sunday I am now seeing the whole experience – more than all the individual parts that came together to make for a successful day.  This is seeing the WHOLE before perceiving all the individual parts—the personalities and YOUR hopes and ambitions and dreams for this church that make up the whole.  THIS CHURCH IS MORE THAN A BUILDING FILLED WITH PEOPLE!  THIS CHURCH IS MORE THAN SUCCESSFUL PROGRAMS.  WE ARE IN FACT THE LIVING BODY OF CHRIST—THE WHOLE THAT IS GREATER THAN THE SUM OF ALL IT’S PARTS.  WE ARE CHRIST’S CHURCH!

 

More than a group of congregants – we are unique and special and gifted children of God with interests and talents and longings and needs.  The sum of all of who we are is so much greater than the TOTALITYH OF ALL OUR PARTS.  We may be 40-50 active members worshipping together today—but who we are and what we are doing is so much greater than the sum of all we do….all we have done in the past and all we will do in the future.   For together we become and we are the living, vibrant Body of Christ – THE CHURCH! 

 

There is so much more to this church than what meets the eye!   We are more than any one individual or leader or pastor.  The Gestalt in our experience as a church:  “The human eye sees the church in its entirety before perceiving or understanding the intricate working of all the individual parts that make us who we are – a church that is truly greater than the sum of all our parts.” 

 

To put this personally:  my leaving should be for this church but a bump in the road when it comes to all that God has planned for this church as a whole….the mission of this church isn’t dependent on any one individual or leader or pastor….but rather, God working with that which is greater than all the little things we do.    

 

III.  One more thing in reflecting on “Ralph”.

 

One more thing I would like to share this morning.  The decision to leave this pastorate has not been easy.  For months and even years I have thought I could go on forever.  My prayers these past weeks and months has been: 

 

Come Holy Spirit, Enlighten me.

Reflecting the Psalm 139:  Search me.  Know me.  Help me with this decision.  Enlighten me. 

Come Holy Spirit, guide me and show me Your path.

 

 

I would like for this to be your prayer.

 

 

 

Come Holy Spirit, Enlighten us.

Guide us and show us your path.

Reflecting the Psalm 139:  Search us.  Know us.  Help us with the important decisions that will need to be made….we all have known we would eventually reach this point in needing to ask important questions about the future.  The time has come—God’s time has come!

Come Holy Spirit, Enlighten Us!

 

[1]   Doug Waldbaum, Rev. Kitch (Brock) Shatzer, Rev. Bill Nottage-Tacy and myself..

 

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