Albert Gore, a friend and former parishioner at First Church Austin, died a few years ago here in Austin. A month or so later a gift from Al arrived in my mailbox. It seems that when his family went through his personal effects, they came across a folder of clippings, articles and lesson ideas he had saved. And there among the words of Reinhold Niebuhr and Fred Buechner was a sermon I had preached at First Church Austin in 1989.
Wow! I was moved to tears. I’d long felt blessed to have known him; but, for me, this was a message from the other side. To have made even a small contribution and somehow help even one person along their life journey—what a blessing. What a gift.
I’ve pondered hard what I might say to you in my concluding days here at Faith UMC. I’m reminded of a story.
Years ago, in my former life, I managed a radio station. The King Ranch, owners of the station, hired a consultant, a 60’s A.M. radio legend, to come in and help us boost our ratings. One Monday morning our consultant arrived and called a meeting of the entire staff. They all came loaded for bear.
Seems that everyone had something to say about what wasn’t working and what was wrong with the other people that worked there. The fact that we were already number one in our market and business was good didn’t seem to matter.
After listening patiently for over an hour, he stood up and said, “Follow me.” He led us all out the back door of the radio station and into the parking lot, gathering us around his car. Opening the door he sat down, turned on the power, and tuned his radio to our station. “Can everybody hear that?” he asked. He turned it up louder. Then over the top of it he shouted, “Folks, this is what we’re about here. The people in this community who want and need what we have to offer don’t know anything about what goes on behind the scenes here and probably wouldn’t care if they did. Now, I care about your problems and will work with you to resolve them. But let’s don’t forget what we’re about and why we’re here.” It was an important lesson for me.
Faith UMC, like every church, faces challenges. Changes in staff are a challenge and will be again forever (Jesus himself lost one of the twelve). And of course the world around us has felt nothing like the Garden of Eden for quite awhile.
As I move (again!) and start over myself, I want to leave you with the words of Jesus, a few key lines in his Sermon on the Mount:
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” –Matthew 6.31-33
I don’t think Jesus is saying we should not strive. He’s saying keep focused on what we’re really about and what people really need: the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness. He’s also saying don’t be anxious. Trust God. It’ll be okay.
I want to thank you all for being such gracious hosts to me and for the honor of serving in this ministry at your side. And, as I felt such joy in receiving Al Gore’s gift that day, if even one thing I have done here has helped one person come closer to the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, then I will feel fulfilled in having served here.
All good things to you in Christ,
P.S. Be not anxious. All will be well. All will be well.