Time Passages – December 29, 2019
December 29, 2019
Central Church, Topeka
35 years ago, I was about to begin a new chapter in my life. I was about to move to a new state, a new city, a new time zone! The plan was to spend 5-8 years in a different part of the country. It turned into what would be the longest tenure of my ministry.
I was new to a lot of things in those days. I had been an Assistant Pastor, charged with part of the ministry of a church with a staff of three pastors. (I was low man on the totem pole!) Now, I would be it.
I was talking to a colleague of mine the other day, reminiscing about Seminary days, and I was saying something we both believed to be true. Seminary does not train you to be a minister. Seminary trains you to be a Seminary student! Yes, it gives you great skills to be used in the ministry. And I am very grateful for that! But much of the training in ministry is on-the-job training! I was saying that day that I was very blessed to have been on a staff, where I could get that on-the-job training. I couldn’t imagine what it was like for the many people who come out of seminary, and went right into solo pastorates! That’s mind boggling!
Well, you were my first solo. And I was thinking the other day that it was a lot like taking my first solo in an airplane! First of all, I wondered if I was really ready for it! And I wondered if I could do everything right, live through the day, and not break a lot of stuff!
I’ll never forget my instructor getting out of the plane and sending me up, with the words, “Go do it like you just did it!” And I’ll really never forget lifting off of the ground, looking to my right and seeing that empty seat! I remember thinking how cavernous that empty cockpit was – without the assurance of having that instructor next to me! It was just me! There was nobody else but a couple of other pilots in the area on the radio, because that particular airport didn’t have a control tower.
So, here I was on my own in 1985. And I’m grateful that there were a lot of good people here, people who treated me kindly, and got me through it! And I’m so grateful for the good people of Neshaminy Church who helped bring me along. They helped me not to take myself too seriously, to realize I had a lot more questions than answers, and like formal schooling, to learn how to learn.
I recently went to a reunion there, and I got reminded about some of the things I did in those early days! I can only imagine what it might have been like if I had gone right into a solo pastorate!
Well, having said all that, it’s hard to imagine that so much time has gone by. Here we are at the end of a year. We’re at the end of what I’ve been calling the “twenty-teens.” And I was thinking the other day about the Y2K Bug. Do you remember that? People worried that all the computer code was written to recognize years in only two digits. “85,” “91,” “98.” But when 2000 came, they worried that the computers would think it was 1900, and that airplanes would fall out of the sky, bank accounts would revert to zero, and debts would all be lost. (I was secretly hoping for that one!)
Well, that was 20 years ago! I can’t believe it’s been that long. Those numbers still boggle my mind! It can’t be that long! I don’t feel any different than I did when I showed up here in “85!” Except, I was saying to Patty the other day, “Do you remember what it was like standing up from a chair without groaning?”
Do you remember the song “Time Passages?” I borrowed the title of that song for my sermon title today. And it’s been running through my head all week! It was a song by (who knows?) Al Stewart. Do you remember that? I know there are a lot of country music fans out here, so I’m taking a chance with that one. But it was Al Stewart. Who thinks they know the year? It was September 1978. It turns out that was the very month I began Seminary!
Well I’m not the kind to live in the past
The years run too short and the days too fast
The things you lean on are the things that don’t last
Well it’s just now and then my line gets cast
Into these Time passages…
Those words have been running through my mind this week. “The years run too short and the days too fast.” I’ve been thinking about a couple of other things, too. I’ve been thinking about a song that came out a year before that one, when in 1977 the Steve Miller band sang, “Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping, into the future.” And then, going back a little farther than that, say around 3,000 years, give or take, I’ve been thinking about the words the psalmist wrote:
The years of our life are threescore and ten,
or, if even by reason of strength, fourscore.
Yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
So, teach us to number our days, O Lord,
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
That “heart of wisdom” was understanding the passage of time. It is knowing that life is all too brief, and very precious! And it is resting in the fact that all of our lives are in God’s hands.
People in our world don’t want to face that. They want to live only for the day. But a day is only 24 hours. Eternity is a lot longer than that! This life is far too brief. Generations do rise and pass away. And like people, Churches flourish and are renewed, and they wither. And it’s sad and bittersweet. I’ve had a sad spot in my heart ever since Earl told me the days were numbered here at Central.
I remember the Y2K days. I was here! And there were many discussions around the country about what the Christian church was going to look like in the 21st century. And the challenges looked daunting, and the prognosis looked gloomy. In those days, there were many churches that had once been large, that had once had hallways and classrooms packed with kids, that had been on the decline since the ‘70’s. Sound familiar?
A couple of you have used the word “Bittersweet,” in describing this time. And I get the “bitter” part of that. But I hope there’s a big “sweet” part! You have a lot to celebrate here. And I hope at some point you’ll have some kind of celebration. A big banquet, a time to laugh, and cry, and tell stories. There’s a lot to celebrate! There’s a lot to remember! There are a lot of people to remember! And we humans are “wired” to remember!
Too often when things end, we see only the ending, and it seems only like a loss, like a failure. And I remember a seminar I went to years ago where the leader said to us that churches don’t know how to end things very well. They only see the end, they only see the sadness. “We need to figure out how to do that better,” he said. “It’s like the death of a loved one. At first, it’s tough. It’s raw. But after a while, after the “time passages,” you don’t remember how they died. You remember how they lived!”
So… my hope for you all is, to remember. Tell stories. Laugh. Cry. Honor well the years this church has served the Lord. Be grateful you’ve had this time together. Remember those who have traveled that long road with you, that great “cloud of witnesses that surround you.” Time is fleeting. “The years run too short, and the days too fast.” But as Paul said, “the things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Eternal God, we are grateful that you are with us in all times of our lives. Help us to feel your presence, and your hand upon us, as we move into a new year, and a new decade. Accept our thanks for all that you have done for us throughout our lives. Help us to know we are part of your kingdom every day. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.