Is there anyone here who knows where they were and what they were doing on this day 10 years ago? Does anyone know what I was doing 10 years ago? So…this is the 10th anniversary of the first time I stood before you here, as your pastoral minister. I thought it might be interesting to revisit the message I gave on March 14, 2004, when I was fresh from the experience of moving everything and everybody in my family 750 miles…We left our home in Ohio on March 5 and took the better part of three days to travel, stopping in Mansfield, Ohio the first night; we visited Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania the next day to see the site of Groundhog day celebrations before overnighting somewhere between Scranton, PA and Binghamton, NY. The next day we rolled into South Glens Falls, NY just within a couple of hours of when your good bye potluck for Elise Knowles concluded.
That first Sunday worship, I said things like I didn’t realize we had as much stuff as we did to move. And, that we were beginning to settle in and accomplish some of the more important matters—like finding out where Walmart was, and getting our cable TV installed. My first pastoral visit was to meet Mig Pronto out on Redmond Rd. The first month included calls to Cynthia Clemons, Betty Edmonds, and Phyllis Byrne, dinner at Diana’s, and a history lesson from Marilyn Van Dyke. I commented that first Sunday that Andy was getting ready to start school and Dennis was beginning a search for employment. Andy was 11 and starting out at Harrison Elementary…the way I figure, that means Lauren Pronto was 12, and Megan was about 13. Charlie McClure wasn’t even born yet—not until 2 weeks later. There are a number of you here now that weren’t here then…There are a number who were here then that aren’t here now.
My message in 2004 continued in a more spiritual vein… “You know, it’s pretty easy to get philosophical about life when you’re following a big yellow truck as it hurls up I-87 filled with all your earthly possessions as well as those who are near and dear to your heart. I have had some time this week to get really good at agonizing over the really tough questions; What am I doing? Is it the right thing? Will we go broke before we sell our house? What if something goes wrong? God wouldn’t let that happen, would God? What can I do to make sure that everything will be OK?
Coincidentally, the scripture reading for today opens as a group of people question Jesus about things that sound like my questions…As they bring up a situation where folks suffered for no apparent reason, the gist of their questioning is “Why do bad things happen; especially if the people themselves weren’t at fault? Where is God in those circumstances?” They like me; like all of us, were trying to figure out how we can control or eliminate misfortune, or pain, or danger, or death in our lives. The popular, prevalent view at this time was that those who suffered were guilty of some sin—of doing something wrong—that led to their misfortune. I’ve been tempted to believe that myself, more than once. And wouldn’t that be so easy; to know exactly what we could do to prevent bad stuff in our lives?
Jesus’ answer to these people reminds me how radical the Good News—the gospel—is. Jesus implies by his response to the questions before him that these inquiries are NOT the real focus of his concern. “WAKE UP” he says, “you know by your experiences that God does not punish you by causing suffering. You know, because you have lived through tough, painful, even devastating times that it is GOD that accompanies you through them.” “Wake up”, says Jesus, “and REPENT!”
In my humble estimation, repentance has gotten a bad rap. Now when someone uses the word repent they are usually referring to the process of seeking forgiveness. It’s also often used to describe the first step of conversion—to realize how far away from God a person has strayed. In the original Greek, “metanoia” or “repent” means to turn around, to change direction. Metanoia is the root from which we get our word “metamorphosis”, which means to change from. When Jesus uses repent, he is encouraging his listeners to turn away from their current thoughts that seem to pre-occupy their minds with questions that cannot or will not be answered. Turning in this context also implies an ongoing process—not just a onetime turn. We humans, we believers are to continually redirect ourselves away from reliance on our own efforts to control our situations.
And so, as I reflect upon those early words from this place that has been my home for 10 years, they help me recall10 years of events, activities, and lessons learned; mistakes and triumphs. We have really pushed against those statements that I made somewhat glibly then—that our troubles, pain, and loss are not the result of something we did or did not do; that God is not punishing us, but rather walking with us. We have surely tested those boundaries, friends. We continue to wrestle with the reality of the divine present in our suffering and struggles. My truth is that most days I can see the Light of God among the dark times we’ve experienced, but I still wonder “what if” or “shoulda, woulda, coulda.” And I think that’s OK, because if there’s one thing that I have experienced here, it’s that God loves us and is patient with us—steadfast in God’s enduring, eternal grace and mercy.
As I turn back and reminisce, there are so many memories…important, fun, proud, happy, sad, poignant, frustrating…I wouldn’t trade ANY of them. And, I do repent—and ask for forgiveness– to you and to God, for those times when my arrogance, anger, neglect, impatience interfered with or over ruled the love or care or mercy.
Because that’s what it’s all about in the end. I remind and encourage all of us, here and now, to continue to be aware of and open to the ever-flowing and yet always available stream of God’s love and presence. ALWAYS AND ONLY GOD’S LOVE in and through everything and everybody.
And that seems to be where my message of 10 years ago headed; as we revisit again the words I preached then:
“We are to repent—to turn…to turn to what?! Jesus’ response to that is found in the parable he tells about the apple tree. Here we discover, or re-discover that it is God’s grace that surrounds us, nourishing us, enabling us to produce fruit in our own time; the fruits of love, relationship, peace. As we turn TOWARDS God, we open ourselves to the care and nourishment that God wants to provide. It is that action that leads us to experience the joy and bounty that God wants to share. It is this gift that can give life meaning and abundance…God’s word for me as I sped down the highway towards the glorious Adirondack mountains on the horizon, following the Penske truck that contained my life, was that it’s going to be OK. That my opening or turning was leading me into the grace and mercy of God; that although difficult or painful or tragic sometimes the abundance of this life would be more than I could ever imagine; that God was digging in and SURROUNDING me with love.
God’s words for US in this faith community as we begin a new relationship are along the same lines. Although there is hard work to do, challenges to face, joys and trials; laughter and tears the certainties we can count on are Love, Grace, Mercy, Peace. You too have already turned. We together have stepped out in faith and God is digging in.
And so friends, we continue this journey into the next 10 years. I am clear that our certainties are the same; Love, Grace, Mercy, Peace; they appeared over and over again in the last 10 years, and I am sure, they will continue to emerge from the relationships we continue to have with God and each other, as we seek and share the Good News!
Finally THANK YOU—for everything; and THANK GOD for the last decade, this place, all those who have come through our doors, and our journey together as God’s people. Let us DIG IN again—and continually— to bask together in the joy of God’s abundant presence here at Adirondack Friends Meeting. AMEN.