2 Corinthians 13:11-13 (NRSV)
Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
This has happened to me before. About the time I think the occasion is special, and that I’ll probably have to deviate from the standard lectionary texts for the week, one of the prescribed readings provides us with exactly what we need.
On my last Sunday in the pulpit at Cassidy UMC, the lectionary practically begs me to use Paul’s benediction in his second recorded letter to the church at Corinth. I’m no Paul, but I’m certainly comfortable using the same words to say goodbye to the people of Cassidy that Paul used to close his letter.
Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell.
This actually is the most difficult part to translate. A lot of other translations say “rejoice” rather than “farewell.” I’ll just go ahead and conflate the two possibilities today, even if it’s not good use of the Greek. This is farewell, but we also should rejoice.
Yes, we’re experiencing changes, but we are a people who can go through such transitions without fear. We gather in worship and in service because we know God is with us in all we do. His Holy Spirit is upon us, and that constant knowledge gives us constant joy, even when a less familiar future stands before us.
The Holy Spirit is in the people of Luminary UMC and in me and my family, so I know I can rejoice in where I am going. God’s work will be done. The Holy Spirit is in you and is in Pastor Tom Hancock and his family, and I know God’s work will continue to be done here.
Put things in order.
You have put things in order, and will continue to do so, I am sure. Despite the struggles we’ve had in recent years, struggles tied to personal losses and a decline in giving, we have managed the situation well. The debt is gone. Church revenue and spending are about equal, leaving our reserve intact. You are well-positioned to make sound ministry choices in coming years.
Listen to my appeal.
How do I boil down three years of appeals from the pulpit to a sentence or two? How about this:
Stop inviting people to church. Never do that again; I should have said it this directly earlier. Instead, start inviting people to a relationship with Jesus Christ.
“Church” is perceived by the lost as a place, a building on a piece of ground. The lost also might at first glance judge the people inside the building to be too old or out of touch. But Jesus Christ, known through his radical teachings and his sacrifice, is attractive to all when properly understood.
Every other appeal I might make would be rooted in this change in attitude. Understand the difference in these two invitations, and you’ll understand the need to go off site to reach people. Your soul will work like a lost person detector, and with time and prayer the Holy Spirit will guide you to reach the lost with your actions and words.
Invite people to know Jesus Christ, and the part about people coming to church will take care of itself. Some of your new friends in Christ will naturally want to be with you on Sunday.
Agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
I don’t know if I have much to add to Paul’s words here. It is the ideal state for any church. It is my prayer you exist always in such a state. Last week, we talked about the power of the Holy Spirit falling on the church at Pentecost. Deep prayer and the study of Scripture tune us into God’s will, and a willingness to obey what we hear brings peace.
As for the holy kiss part—well, that’s an act from a different time and culture. Instead, do those things we do now to show we’re in communion with each other. Look your brothers and sisters in Christ in the eyes, touch hands, touch shoulders, and say, “I love you.” Offer forgiveness when mistakes are made and personal hurts occur. Lord knows, the world needs such love.
All the saints greet you.
Remember, we are one church, regardless of what buildings we may enter on Sunday. We are one in Christ for all eternity. This includes the saints who have passed into the full presence of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you at Cassidy, now and forever. Amen.