Summary: A final sermon to a congregation at my retirement. This may help fellow-pastors who need to construct a last, parting message.
I have served as your 14th pastor, and I'm retiring again after 17 years here in Saugus. I'm retiring just as I did after 25 years as an Army Chaplain--with fond memories and no regrets. This is all to the glory of God. Our choir sang “To God be the Glory,” which was sung at my promotions and at my military retirement ceremony. It's all about Him. We live for God's glory. It's by God’s power that we accomplish anything. God may change His workers, but the work goes on. The kind words are appreciated, but all the praise is given to God, Who is our strength, our song, our salvation.
It has been a unique privilege to serve here. Prior to my coming--as an Army Brat and as a Chaplain--the longest I ever stayed anywhere was four years. Coming here was my 27th move. While the chaplaincy is a unique, important ministry, chaplains don't have the advantage of long-term impact. Everyone moves, frequently. I could go back to any of the Army chapels I served and no one would be there who I knew. Here at Cliftondale I have had ample time to teach, preach, confirm, counsel and administer the church ordinances.
As an Army Chaplain and as your Pastor, I've been guided by what I call my “ministry verse” that sums up my mission--Colossians 1:28, “We proclaim Christ, counseling and instructing everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone complete in Him.” My goal has been to build people up in God's word, to help grow their faith, and to encourage commitment to Christ and His Kingdom.
I have tried to also help people see that we're not alone in proclaiming God's word here in Saugus. We've hosted many ecumenical services here. My personal respect of others is seen in bringing two very good friends to participate in this service: Fr Dan McCoy, formerly of Blessed Sacrament, my kayak buddy; and Attorney Bill Appel, President of Congregation Ahavas Sholom, my fellow-guitar picker. Their friendship has helped me immeasurably over my years here in Saugus. Every pastor needs a pastor. I am also delighted that people from our community are gathered with our church family today.
I hope to continue to serve God by ministering to veterans as a volunteer chaplain, possibly with the VA or Soldiers Home. This depends on whether we move or not. We are planning a trip to Delaware, closer to relatives in NJ and near Dover Air Force Base. Perhaps the Post Chaplain will have use for me; and Laura will continue her important ministry of teaching ESL/English as a Second Language. We're not certain how things will go, but our eyes are on God.
With my retirement, what you have now--beside denominational support--is a church family, a connection the secular world can never provide. My departure doesn’t change that. It’s not about me. It never was. Leaders come and go. What remains is the church. Keep your eyes on God. He will lead you.
Here's my challenge to you: I heard of a CCCC church in the north shore that increased attendance during an interim period, which means this--Don't wait for the next Pastor. Start now encouraging people to be part of our church family, and reach out to inactive people. Grow the church. We have a mission to be light to our community; a place of hope and healing.
So why are we here in the first place? Why worship? Very simple: God deserves it, Scripture commands it, and we need it! We need all that the church provides. To grow spiritually requires others. Spiritual growth requires 2 essentials--encouragement and accountability. We get both when we're together. We need one another, and we need to sit under the instruction of God's word. Church is important; it is the only human institution that will continue into eternity. It is an assembly of believers gathered for worship, instruction, fellowship, service, and outreach. The church is devoted to fervent prayer and holy living in a broken world. And we will continue to be connected, wherever we may go, because the church is a body of believers that transcends geographical boundaries.
God has a purpose for the local church. The church functions as a lighthouse to our community. It’s a place where hopeless people can find hope, anxious people can find comfort, searching people can find answers, and where sinners can find pardon. We are a place where Jesus is Lord and people are loved. We're not a perfect place; this isn't Heaven, just an imperfect outpost. Yet here we offer what our fallen world cannot: a definitive word from Above. We can open the Scriptures and confidently declare: “Thus saith the Lord…” We are here to share the Light of God’s word that has transformed our souls and guided our steps.