Summary: My farewell sermon at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, Audubon, Iowa preached 1/10/2010.
I’ve found that of all the sermons that I have prepared to be preached from this pulpit, this one that I have to preach today has perhaps been the most difficult to write. For starters, it’s an emotional one because this is the last time I will preach to you from this pulpit as your Pastor. If you ever hear me preach again, it will either be that you have invited me to come back as a guest speaker, or you’ll perhaps be visiting one of the congregations in the McConnellsburg Lutheran Parish, or another church where I’ll be preaching. Another factor that makes this a tough preaching assignment is the question of what do I talk about? How does a Pastor go about summarizing his thoughts as he leaves a congregation he has served, and people in it that he has come to know and dearly love, but also knowing that there may well be some in that same group who aren’t so sad to see him leave? It makes for a tough assignment. Especially when you want to make sure the sermon points people to Christ and His Word one last time before you leave.
Over the past couple of weeks, as I thought about this day, I came across the sermon text I chose for today from the book of Acts and it seemed to be a perfect fit for me. In it, the Apostle Paul is faced with a similar situation to what we have together this morning. Allow me to set the scene. Paul was of course one of the greatest missionaries that ever lived. At one point in his ministry, Paul had been in the city of Ephesus, preaching about Jesus Christ, and had planted a Christian congregation in that city. Paul had also spent some time away from his congregation at Ephesus. For a moment in his travels, he had the chance to return to Ephesus one last time to address the leaders of that church, and give them some encouragement as he would be leaving them. In a lot of ways, you could say this chapter is his “farewell sermon” to the leaders at Ephesus. There are some things in this last sermon that he wanted to make sure the Ephesians remembered after he left. Things I also want you, the people of God at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, to keep in mind as I leave you today.
The first thing I want to leave you with is this: Remember why God brought us together in this pastor-parishoner relationship. Paul says to the Ephesians “For you yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (v.18-21) Here, Paul tells the Ephesians the reason God brought them together, so that Paul would not cower in fear, but boldly declare to all in Ephesus the truth that we are sinful in thought, word, and deed, and faced the wrath of God, but that Jesus Christ had died for our sins, and risen again so that we would die to sin and rise to new life with Him.
For you, the people of God at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, I want you to take these words to heart and remember: that’s the reason God worked through the call process in the summer of 2007 to bring me into your lives. God called me here to proclaim to you two things every time I stepped into this pulpit, God’s Word of Law, and His Word of Gospel. He placed me here so that you would hear the Scriptural truth that you were “sinful from the moment of your birth, sinful from the time your mother conceived you” (Psalm 51:5), that you had sinned in thought, word, and deed, and that you faced God’s wrath and judgment in the end if you did not turn from your sinful ways to repentance and faith in Christ before the day of grace had ended. And then, it was my joy to proclaim to you the Gospel, the good news that Jesus Christ has lived the perfect, sinless life you and I were not able to live on the cross, and because of what Christ has done for you, you were forgiven of all of your sins. It doesn’t matter if you were Danish, or Swedish, or German, or Norwegian, or even Lutheran for that matter. That promise was for each and every one of you who believed in Jesus Christ, and turned to Him in repentance and faith. That was the reason God allowed our paths to cross these past couple of years, so that you would hear that message from the Word of God each week. So that you would be able to hear of God’s great love for you. I wasn’t the one giving the forgiveness, I was merely the chosen instrument God called to bring this about so that you would either 1) be brought to faith in Christ, or 2) be strengthened in your faith in Christ. And it has been a great joy to see many of you grow in your understanding and faith in that time. It has been a privilege to bring that comforting message of the Gospel to you in good times, and bad times. At the baptismal font, on a wedding day, or by the graveside of one you loved who had died in the faith. So that’s the first thing I want you to remember on this day of separation, remember why God brought us together in the first place.