In the sermon for Ascension Day I noted that our parish community is getting younger. We suddenly have an influx of new babies. It’s a beautiful sight. I always marvel at the joy and mystery of new birth and signs of new life. For me, it is a sign of God’s handiwork. We rejoice with these new parents and families and pray for them in their times of change and transition.
Other changes are afoot as well that are not welcomed with such delight. Some of our beloved friends in Christ have died. Others are moving from Seattle. There are more “Farewell and Godspeed” blessings scheduled than I care to think about. These changes cause us to grieve.
On top of that, some staff members are moving on from their positions to new vocational adventures. After serving for several years as Children and Family Minister, Nancy Monelli will be taking courses to become a Spiritual Director and devote more time to writing. After 32 years at Phinney, Valerie Shields is retiring from her position as Organist and Minister of Music. We also bid farewell to Diane Figaro, who has led our Youth and Gospel choirs over the last year. Changes and transitions provoke joy and sorrow and are met with all kinds of feelings. With no small amount of fear and trepidation, we worry about the future while simultaneously embracing hope for new futures. The process of saying good-bye is a process filled with the complexity of grief. Our feelings intensify when many changes are all happening at the same time.
And God is with us through it all. Maybe even more importantly, God speaks in time of change. Some of scriptures most cherished stories tell of the relationship between God and God’s people in times of change and transition. The Bible presents them as journey stories.
Abraham and Sarah leave their home to journey toward a new promised land. The Israelites take forty years to journey from slavery to God’s promised land. Once they enter into the promised land, a settled life doesn’t last too long. There’s a time of exile and return. Jesus spends forty days in the wilderness, calls disciples to follow him, and finally turns his face toward Jerusalem and the cross. Even after the Resurrection, Jesus returns to the places he lived before the Ascension. Finally, Pentecost launches a new movement of the Spirit that extends beyond Jerusalem and into the world. The church has been on a journey ever since.
In these journeys, God never abandoned God’s people and, in fact, wrestled with them and loved them through it all. God spoke to them, blessed them, delivered them and saved them. Most of all, God loved them and spoke to them, not as individuals, but as a people.
I think that’s the best news of all – we are not alone. We journey together.
A few years ago, my wife Britt walked the El Camino de Santiago in Spain. It was quite a journey, almost 500 miles over the span of some thirty days. Along the way there were sorrow and joys, changes and chances, and more than a few surprises, but never a sense of isolation.
Those who have walked the Camino like to say, “The way is made by walking it.” Maybe that’s a good motto for the church, especially in times of change and transition. God’s voice isn’t as clear when things are settled. The church is always on a journey together and the Spirit surges along the way.