Farewell Sermon

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August 30, 2015

Proper 17(B)
Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-9

“Every exit is an entrance somewhere else.” In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

One of my hobbies was acting in community theatre plays. I learned there are 2 important things for an actor to know – when it is time to go on stage, and when it is time to get off stage. What I discovered is that often what is happening off-stage behind the scenes is more fascinating than what is happening on stage.

Tom Stoppard wrote a play about this. It is entitled Rosencranz and Guilderstern Are Dead. It is the story of two supporting characters in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In Stoppard’s play, Rosencranz and Guilderstern encounter a theatrical troupe. Rosencranz asks, ‘What exactly do you do?’

And the Leading Player answers, ‘We keep to our usual stuff, more or less, only inside out. We do on stage the things that are supposed to happen off.

Which is a kind of integrity, if you look on every exit being an entrance somewhere else.’[i] Conversely, we can say that every entrance is an exit somewhere else.

Today is marked by exits and entrances. At the 9:00 service, we will celebrate the entrance of an adult and a child into the land of light and rebirth through baptism. We also mark the entrance of children, parents, and teachers into the land of learning through our Early Childhood Education Program. And you are sending Ruthie and me off for our entrance into the land of blues, barbeque, and Elvis.

Over these five years, we have gone through a lot together. We have grown together in the Spirit, and Ruthie and I are forever grateful for the many ways you have loved and embraced us. It is hard to say goodbye, but we genuinely sense the call of God to this next chapter of ministry in our lives.

While difficult, a key part of being a child of God is to be attune to the time to exit and the time to enter.

Our Old Testament lesson from Deuteronomy also marks exits and entrances. The children of Israel have exited slavery in Egypt,have spent forty years in the wilderness, and will at long last enter the land of milk and honey. But there is another exit and entrance that is occurring. Moses, who has shepherded them for many years, is now in his final days. He is about to exit this earthly life and enter the land of heavenly reward – sweet Beulah land. Moses is giving his farewell address. In it, he reminds the people of who they are. He tells them that they are the people of the book. They are to keep and observe the commandments. He reminds them, that in the midst of all their hardships, God has always remained near to them.

In the play, Rosencranz and Guilderstern do not become the passive audience to the theatrical troupe’s play. Instead, they enter into the play as characters themselves. They exit the notion that they are separate from the story. Likewise, we are invited to enter God’s story because God has first entered our story. We are now modern-day disciples, following God’s son Jesus to and from the cross. Our entry into this story is a triumphal one. It is not a triumph filled with riches or fame. Instead, it is a triumph of experiencing Christ’s humility and love. It is a triumph of experiencing his willingness to submit himself to betrayal, to torture, to a most excruciatingly painful death to give us life, to give us meaning, and to give us hope. The story itself exits from lines in a book to enter us – to enter our minds and hearts.

Ultimately, Jesus not only makes a triumphal entry into and a triumphal exit from death, he also makes a triumphal entry into us. He changes us into players in this ongoing story by giving us his mind and heart filled with humility, courage, service, passion, and love. As he enters us, he also exits us through the loving acts in which his love radiates out from us toward others.

When we exit one way of being and enter another one, we move into what is called a liminal, or ‘in-between’ state. Liminal comes from the Latin word ‘limina’ which means threshold. One writer says that it is when we are in these liminal states that our given expectations break down, giving room for newness to happen.[ii] This is such a liminal time for us. It is the threshold of a new school year, the threshold of new life through baptism, and the threshold of the coming of a new Dean for Trinity. We cross these thresholds with excitement, knowing that God is bringing us into the Promised Land.

But much more than that is happening. In the gospel of John, Jesus says ‘I am the door.’ Jesus is this very liminal state himself. He is the mystery of entrance and exit. Rather than being a hard-and-fast boundary of time and space, the entryway Jesus provides is a permeable, organic one.

It is a threshold in which he breathes life into us, shines light into us, and changes our very essence. He turns us into thresholds, making us doorways of offering his hospitality and his life-changing light to others. He turns us inside out, such that his inside is reflected on our outside which then changes the inside of us and others.

Instead of being times of anxiety,transitions are times to watch and listen for the entrances and exits of Jesus. For his exit is an entrance somewhere else. Amen.

[i] Tom Stoppard, Rosencranz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

[ii] Rosemary Luling Haughton, Images for Change: The Transformation of Society (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1997), 104.