Sunday, June 17, 2018

"Thank You, Main Street!" (Sermon for June 17--My last at Main Street UMC)

Psalm 100

Today is my last Sunday to preach at Main Street. Next Sunday is Annual Conference Sunday, and Bob Langlais, a member of Main Street and a Certified Lay Speaker, will be your preacher. Then we’ll have two transition Sundays to put some space between the two Senior Pastors. And then, on July 15, your new Senior Pastor, Mike Gehring, will preach his first sermon at Main Street United Methodist Church. And I hope you will come out in droves to show Mike your love and support—just like you did for me four years ago!
Now, my sermon today is called, “Thank You, Main Street!” My Scripture is Psalm 100, the Psalm of Thanksgiving. The Psalms are meant to be read out loud. So, please stand with me, and let’s read this Psalm responsively:
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.   
     It is he who made us, and we are his;
   We are his people,
     the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving   
     and his courts with praise;   
give thanks to him
     and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;   
     his faithfulness continues through all generations.
                        --Psalm 100, NIV

LET’S PRAY: Lord, there’s so much sorrow and sadness in this world. And even in this room there are people going through hardships and difficulties that seem unbearable at times. But at least for the next few moments, make us grateful. Help us to focus on the good things you have done. Fill our hearts with a spirit of thanksgiving and joy.  In Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

Main Street United Methodist Church: You are a great church.
God has used you to change the world. God has used you to change me. And today I just want to say, “Thank you.”

            For being positive!
The Apostle Paul says, Do everything without complaining and arguing…” (Philippians 2:14). Thank you, Main Street that I’ve not heard a lot of complaining and arguing around here. You’re just positive people! You treat each other with courtesy and respect. You don’t allow setbacks to destroy your spirit. When problems arise, you face them with optimism and hope. You’re willing to try new things. You’re willing to listen to new ideas. And you’re just fun to be around!
So, thank you for being positive.  And—

            For being supportive!
1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, encourage each other and build each other up…” And that’s exactly what you’ve done for me over the past four years!
3 years ago, my first grandchild was born –
-       And you all celebrated with me
-       And you asked me about him
-       And you looked at all my pictures!
2 years ago, my father was in hospice care –
-       As it turned out, he got better
-       But through all of that, you were supportive and caring and encouraging.
1 year ago, I decided to ride my bike across the state
-       And instead of saying, “Why are you doing something like that?” you all were cheering me on, you were asking me about it, you were encouraging me, and when I got done, you congratulated me.
And then two-and-a-half months ago, I announced that I was stepping down from pastoral ministry for a year to do some mission work and to study and to spend time with family. And again, I’ve experienced nothing but support and encouragement from the people of Main Street. The comment I’ve heard over and over again is, “Sad for us, but happy for you.”
So, thank you for being supportive.

            For being a “Both-And” church!
Jesus said, “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Notice that it’s not either Jerusalem or the ends of the earth. It’s not either Judea or Samaria.
It’s not either/or—it’s Both/And.
And that’s how it is at Main Street:
-       Both traditional AND contemporary
-       Both care for each other AND reach out to the world
-       Both local outreach AND global missions
-       Both personal faith AND social action
-       Both care for the people we have AND reach out to people who are new
-       Both adults and seniors AND children and youth.
Thank you, Main Street, for not drawing battle lines between the different groups in the church.
Thank you for not embracing a scarcity mentality that says, “If we care for the others we won’t have enough for ourselves.”
Thank you for being a Both/And church. And—

            For living the Jesus Creed!
Let’s say it together:
“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.”
The second is this, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
There is no other commandment greater than these.
                                                                                    --Mark 12:30-31
The Jesus Creed is very simple: Love God, Love Others.
I have seen you Love God:
-       By attending worship
-       By studying the Bible
-       By honoring the sacraments of Holy Communion and Baptism.
I have seen you Love Others:
-       By rallying around church members who are hurting
-       By bringing food when there’s a funeral
-       By knitting prayer shawls
-       By welcoming new people
-       By giving generously to the Helping Hands fund, every time we have communion.
And that leads me to my next thing…

            For making a difference in the world!
I think Jesus might say to you:
“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
--Matthew 25:35-36

Last fall you packed almost 400 cleaning buckets to be sent to the flood zones. And on top of that you gave something like $20,000 for flood relief.
You support missionaries around the world, and I love the fact that their names are mentioned in worship every Sunday.
You feed people through Bethany Café and the Community Picnic.
You tutor children through Kids First.
You’re involved at
-       New Story Church
-       Bethesda Center
-       Shepherd’s Center
-       Crisis Control
-       Next Step Ministries
-       Open Arms Community
-       Kairos Prison Ministry.
One of the happiest days of my life was the weekend of Martin Luther King Day, when we got together in the fellowship hall and packed 32,000 meals for the hungry through “Stop Hunger Now.”
But it wasn’t just the meals: It was the fact that we did this project with several other churches across denominational and racial lines. There we were—black, white, Asian, Hispanic—Baptist, Methodist, Roman Catholic—standing shoulder-to-shoulder wearing those goofy hairnets, feeding the hungry and getting to know each other.
And then after the service project we came into the sanctuary and had a service of worship. At a time of huge division in our society, we came together in a show of Christian Unity. It was a great day. Thank you for making that day happen.
Thank you for making a difference in the world!

The theme today has been Giving Thanks. And the Greek word for Giving Thanks is “Eucharist” –which is another name for Holy Communion.
That’s why I wanted us to celebrate communion on my last Sunday—because communion is a time of Giving Thanks to God for all God has done.
And today, Main Street, I give thanks, to God, for you!

Monday, June 11, 2018

"How to Welcome a New Pastor" (Sermon for June 10)

This is my next-to-last sermon at Main Street United Methodist Church. It's an important message, and I hope you'll take time to read it, ponder it, and carry it out.

Romans 12:3-8

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
                        --Romans 12:3-8, New International Version

LET’S PRAY: God, thank you that we, who are many, are one body in Christ—and that you have gifted each of us to carry out a special role in the body of Christ. Speak to us now through this Scripture, and open our hearts to what you are doing in our midst. We pray this in Jesus’ name, and let all who agree say, “Amen.”

Well, I’m sad to say that my time at Main Street is coming to an end. Next Sunday will be my last Sunday to preach, and then your new Senior Pastor will start in July.

And so my sermon today is called, “How to Welcome a New Pastor.” And let me hasten to say—I am not preaching this sermon because you guys don’t know how to do this! In fact, when I came here 4 years ago, I was amazed at the extravagant welcome that Lorie and I received.

There are 3 reasons I wanted to do this sermon today:

1-    Some of you are new to all this, and I thought you would appreciate an explanation.

2-    Some of you have done this many times, but I thought you might appreciate a reminder.

3-    Four years ago, my predecessor in this position did a wonderful job of paving the way for me to come in—so I just want to continue that tradition.

Your new pastor beginning in July is the Rev. Dr. Mike Gehring. He comes to us from Broad Street United Methodist Church in Statesville. His wife’s name is Rhonda. They have three children: Laura, John, and Emily.

Now, I have tell you, I really like this guy: He’s warm, he’s friendly; he’s enthusiastic; extremely intelligent, but he’s also very down-to-earth, and humble.

Mike has a big heart for missions and evangelism--in fact, he wrote a book on evangelism! His wife Rhonda is a school nurse and she was named “Nurse of the Year” for the Iredell County school system.

Lorie and I spent an afternoon with them, getting to know them, and I believe you are going to love them.

But some of you might still be wondering, “Why are we getting a new pastor, and who picked him out?”

Well, first of all, I felt led to step down from pastoral ministry to do some mission work. Nobody asked me to leave. This is my own prayerful discernment of God’s will.

And after I made that decision, our Bishop, Bishop Paul Leeland, appointed Mike Gehring to Main Street. You see, in the United Methodist Church, pastors are not hired by the local church. In our denomination, pastors are appointed by the Bishop.

And this leads to all kinds of misconceptions, such as:

-          “Oh, Methodists—y’all are the ones who move your pastors around all the time;” Or, "Methodists--you're the ones who get stuck with whoever the Bishop sends!"
Well, let me clear some of this up. 

First of all, the average tenure of pastors across all denominations is 3.6 years—so we United Methodists really don’t change pastors any more than other denominations. Yes, there are plenty of exceptions to that statistic, and most independent churches keep their pastors for a long time—but on the whole, in the major denominations, pastoral tenures are no longer than they are for United Methodists.

Second, contrary to popular belief, it is not an automatic rotation—the Bishop doesn’t say, “OK, you’ve been there four years, now you have to move.” The truth is, we’re appointed for one year at a time, and every year the church and the pastor get the chance to evaluate the appointment and say, “We want to keep our pastor,” or, “We think it’s time for a change.”

And third, every church and every pastor gets to submit a profile that describes who we are, our strengths and weaknesses, what the church needs in a pastor, what the pastor would be looking for in a church. We submit one of those every year so that it’s on file and up-to-date.

And then, if there is going to be a move, a committee from the church gets to meet, in person, with the District Superintendent—these are the “middle managers” who report to the Bishop. A committee from the church gets to meet with the District Superintendent to discuss the needs of the church and the kind of pastor they’re looking for.

So, we don’t move our pastors around willy-nilly, and you’re not getting stuck with some random pastor that the Bishop sent for no reason.

AND—there’s a reason we do it this way. 

Some people think it’s because we don’t want our churches to become pastor-centered, to build themselves around the pastor. And that’s true, but that’s not the reason.

Some people think it’s so that the church can benefit from different pastors who are good at different things. So maybe one pastor comes in and he’s good at organizing, and he gets things running like clockwork. And then another pastor comes in and she’s excited about missions, and she gets all kinds of outreach ministries going. And then the next pastor comes in, and he or she is good at something else.

That’s a benefit of our system, but that’s not the reason.

Here’s why United Methodist pastors are SENT by the Bishop: It goes back to the early, early days of the Methodist movement, when John Wesley would send his preachers out into the world—
o   To the fields
o   To the markets
o   To the street corners
o   To the mouths of coal mines

The early Methodist preachers went from place-to-place preaching the gospel. They were SENT in mission to the world.

Now, it’s not quite like that today. I haven’t preached in front of any coal mines lately. Today we have churches instead of preaching points. But we still maintain the idea of a SENT ministry—the idea that we United Methodists are in mission to the world together, and we send our pastors from place-to-place to do what needs to be done in that place at that time.

Not only is that part of our history, but we believe it’s biblical. Think of Jesus sending out the Apostles--and the early church sending Paul and Silas—and Paul sending Timothy and Titus.

And here’s the beautiful thing about our system: There is no pastor without a church, and there’s no church without a pastor. You see, if we were a different kind of church, I would announce that I’m leaving, and then y’all would be on your own. You’d have to find your own pastor. In some churches that can be a process that takes years.

But what happens here is I will leave next Sunday, and then a few weeks later, you’ll have a new Senior Pastor.

But here’s the thing:

How well the new pastor does will depend, in part, on how well you receive him.

So let’s talk about HOW TO WELCOME A NEW PASTOR.  I going to suggest four things  you can do:

#1 – PRAY

I’ll never forget my first Sunday at one of my churches. Everybody was greeting me, shaking my hand—and then this one gentleman said, “Claude, you’re covered in prayer.” He said, “A group of us have been getting together and praying for you ever since your name was announced.”

And I felt so empowered by that!

So please, my brothers and sisters, PRAY:
-          Pray for your new pastor and his family
-          Pray for a smooth transition
-          Pray for God to give Mike a vision and a passion for Main Street
-          Ask God to give Mike the message that God wants you to hear. 

Like the Apostle Paul said,
Pray that I will be given the message to speak and that I may fearlessly explain the mystery about the good news.
                           --Ephesians 6:19, Contemporary English Version


--which is basically the idea behind The Golden Rule:
"Do for others what you want them to do for you…”
--Matthew 7:12, Good News Translation

Try to imagine how you would feel if you’re walking into a brand new church in a brand new town with a brand new group of people whose names you don’t know. What would you want people to do for you?

-          One thing is, you’d probably want people to wear their name tags.

-          And you’d probably love it if people gave you gift cards to their favorite local places, because that would help you get to know the community.

-          You’d probably love having some food dropped off--maybe some of the women’s casseroles--or some of the men’s chicken pies.

-          You’d probably appreciate being invited—but not pressured—to attend some social events, or go out to lunch.

And here’s something else:

-          You’d probably be really grateful if people would wear their name tags—and keep doing that—every Sunday—for the rest of your life—until Jesus comes back—forever and ever, Amen.

*Put yourself in his shoes, and think about the practical things that you would want people to do for you.

And here’s one more example: Wear your name tags (did I mention that)? And if you need a new one, all you have to do is contact Charity in the church office and she’ll take care of it.


And that brings me to the Scripture I read earlier. In Romans 12, Paul mentions seven Spiritual Gifts:
·         Prophecy
·         Serving
·         Teaching
·         Encouraging
·         Giving
·         Leadership
·         Mercy

And if you read the other letters of Paul, you will see many other Spiritual Gifts mentioned. There are as many as 28 different Spiritual Gifts. These are special abilities, given by the Holy Spirit, to accomplish the mission of the church. Every Christian has at least one of these. But nobody has all of them.

Let me say that again:
No one person has all the gifts!

God made us incomplete on purpose so that we would need each other.

But some misguided people expect pastors to have all the gifts. They feel like every pastor should be …
o   An inspiring preacher
o   An insightful teacher
o   A visionary leader
o   An organized administrator
o   A compassionate caregiver
o   A wise counselor
o   An evangelist who’s always out in the community
o   And a chaplain who’s always in the homes of church members.

I’m going to tell you what some of my colleagues are afraid to admit: There’s not a single one of us who does all those things well.As Paul says in today’s Scripture:

         We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us (Romans 12:6).

Main Street, I am so grateful to you for letting me use my Spiritual Gifts. You allowed me to focus on preaching and teaching, and you allowed me to delegate to others the areas that are not my strong suit. And I believe you are a stronger church because you allow your leaders to play to their strengths. According to the New Testament, that is God’s way to run the church!

So please, keep doing that.


God can do amazing things with people who are open to what God wants to do.

If you head towards our main office, and you look at the wall on your left, you’ll see the names of all the Senior Pastors Main Street has had since 1837. And you’ll photographs going way back to the early part of the last century.

I believe that God did something through every one of those pastors. Even the ones who maybe didn’t do the best job.  Even the ones you personally didn’t like. God still did something through every single one of those pastors to accomplish his purposes.

So decide today that you’re going to be open to what God wants to do through your new Senior Pastor.

God can do amazing things with people who are open to what God wants to do.


-          And right now, in silence, I invite you to go ahead and do one of the things I asked you to do, and that’s to pray for your new Senior Pastor, Mike Gehring.