Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Necessary Beginnings

Deuteronomy 31:7-8   (NRSV)
Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel: “Be strong and bold, for you are the one who will go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their ancestors to give them; and you will put them in possession of it. It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”

Unfortunately for many of us, today is the enemy of our tomorrow.

What we want for the future often cannot come into reality if we fail to let go of what we are doing right now.

I have seen it over and over again.

Someone refuses to let go of the past --- or sometime even the present and it keeps them from accomplishing all that they --- an often God --- wants.

So before we can have a beginning --- we must have an ending

For me, I began to realize that I needed an ending about two years ago

I was in denial, but I was slowly beginning to see that my role as the lead pastor at Ridge United Methodist Church was coming to an end.

And to be honest --- I fought it
          I fought it hard

But, by December 2014 I was confronted with a decision.
          And I had to make a choice

I have been around the block in the United Methodist Church long enough to know how things work.
Every fall pastors and SPRC are given a form to fill out independently about their intentions for the coming year.
There are basically three choices
          Leave me alone
          I might consider a move
          Get me outta here
I KNOW that if you want to stay there is only one choice --- LEAVE ME ALONE

But that fall I selected "I might consider a move"

I knew that by selecting that choice my time at Ridge UMC was coming to an end.

For probably the prior 10 years, I had said that Ridge would be my last church --- at the time, I could not even imagine serving another church.

Munster was our home
The girls all grew up there
Munster Schools were the only schools that Haley our youngest went too.

I was ridiculously connected in the community
Chair of the Board of the Munster Chamber of Commerce
Past President of Rotary
On the Hospice Board
On one of the Community Hospital Boards
Police Chaplain

You name it, I was involved

Munster was our home

And while I KNEW that my ministry at Ridge UMC was coming to an end --- I wasn't ready to leave the community --- plus, there was that thing about being my last church . . .

I was well respected in the community, and I used that to help me find a job ---
A job in which I made more money than I ever made in the church

At first, I loved being "retired"

I relished not having to prepare a sermon week in and week out

BUT --- we quickly found out that the quality of most worship services that we visited were ---- shall we say ---- less than stellar

It was about a year ago right now when I got a phone call inviting me to go and preach at First United Methodist Church in Glenview Illinois.

This was the church that I had been recommended for ministry out of.

If I had to pick a place that I call where I grew up --- it would be Glenview.

But in the 35 years since I was recommended for ministry --- I had never been invired to preach there.

And to be honest --- I dreaded the invitation


But, there was something inside me that would not let me turn it down.

I had turned down numerous other invitations to preach --- but this one was different.

And to be honest --- it was an amazing experience

Between 20 and 30 youth from my old youth group showed up that morning (I graduated from High School 38 years ago!!)

I was completely humbled
          And it was probably one of the most terrifying experiences in my life

And that day, God whispered in my ear

I loved my year away from the church. 
Working with persons with disabilities was amazing
          The people blessed my life in ways I can't even explain

BUT, God kept whispering in my ear

My calling was to be a parish pastor

And as the holidays drew near --- Thanksgiving into Advent --- I knew where I needed to be.

Last year Christmas Eve was horrible for me.
          Actually the worship service we attended at a Presbyterian Church was wonderful
          The music was beautiful and the sermon was challenging

BUT, I realized I was looking at the wrong side of people's heads

Ralph Abernathy has said: Christians should be ready for a change because Jesus was the greatest changer in history.

If you don't have an ending before a new beginning, you are destined to make the same mistakes over again.

I am so thankful that I had the opportunity this past year to have an ending, so that I could have a new beginning with you

This past week I had the opportunity to meet with Dennis Bland from the Center for Leadership Development here in Indy.
Do any of you know Dennis or the work that the Center for Leadership Development does?

One of the things I have been trying to do since I arrived is meet each week with at least one community leader here in Indianapolis.

Every leader that I have met are doing amazing work

But the two hours I spent with Dennis, as he showed me what they do at the Center for Leadership Development was some of the best time I have invested.

The mission of the Center for Leadership Development is to foster the advancement of minority youth in Central Indiana as future professional, business and community leaders by providing experiences that encourage personal development and educational attainment.

Written at the top of the entry rotunda are these words from Maya Angelou’s poem: Still I Rise
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise. 

They currently work with approximately 4,000 students and they would like to double that in the next few years.

And as he shared their story, I realized what he was trying to do.

He was trying to help the students have a necessary ending of the way that things had been for them, and let them see that they can have a new beginning.

And as he shared, I realized how easy my ending was --- and my beginning.

For most of the students who participate in CLD, letting go is HARD, because they cannot see a future.  All they see are the road blocks and the walls that keep them from overcoming the situations that they find themselves in.

He illustrated it this way (and I know I won't do it justice) --- using the example of a football field

He said for most of the students who come to CLD, they have spent their whole lives with the ball stuck way down toward their own goal.  They almost NEVER are able to get past the 50 yard line and when they do, they sometimes think that is success. 

For most of us, and our children, while many black children start on the 5 yard line, we start on the offensive side of the 50.  We don't have to go nearly as far for success. 

And we get disillusioned if we slide to the wrong side of the 50

When I ended at Ridge, I was way on the good side of the 50, and my ability to find employment outside of the church was moving the ball forward.

That's not how it happens for many people

They are stuck --- afraid to end the dysfunction of the past because they cannot see the future.

Even as the people wandered for 40 years in the wilderness --- Moses told Joshua not to worry.  They could end the wandering and have a great new beginning in the Promised Land.

What do you need to end?
What changes do you need to make in your life so that you can have the new beginning that God desires for you?

As we come to the Table this morning, I pray that you will hear Jesus whispering to you --- that you will hear what you need to set aside, so that you can have the new beginning God wants for you.

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