Delivered All Saints Sunday, November 5, 2017, by the Rev. Tom Crittenden, rector of Grace Episcopal Church. At the end, the sermon and Tom were given a prolonged, emotional standing ovation.
Farewell sermons are hard, even in the best of circumstances. Much has been accomplished over my ten years at Grace Episcopal Church… and much still needs to be done.
At the heart of what needs to be done is healing and reconciliation, a healing and reconciliation that will truly transform this parish, bringing it together for God’s mission going forward. I pray that you will continue to implement the Discovery and Discernment Committee’s recommendations, all of them. Last April, the Vestry “tabled” some of the recommendations. People of God, we don’t, we can’t table the work of the Holy Spirit!
My experience here motivated me to strengthen myself in areas I thought I was adequate. This has been and will continue to be a good thing for my ministry. I pray you will so utilize and benefit from your experience here in this family of saints the last few years, especially as embodied by the Discovery and Discernment Committee’s recommendations, ever growing in the wisdom of and strength from the Holy Spirit.
Since announcing my resignation, I’ve received comments, calls, notes, emails, even visits from fellow pastors and people of other churches in town praising our church and me for our participation and leadership in this community. Ecumenical services, gatherings, and programs have increased and flourished over my ten years here, and this congregation has been at the heart of this abundant ecumenism, this Spirit-filled collaboration of the saints in Lexington. We like to call Sharon Massie, your Program Director, Lexington’s Ecumenical Officer! I pray that this will continue.
A significant impact of this church on this community is our historic facilities. The beauty of our church and grounds – renovated, restored, and greatly enhance during my rectorship – inspires and ministers to not only us church members but countless students and other citizens and their families, community organizations, and a constant flow of tourists (who will no longer be poking their heads into the church office to ask where Lee is buried.)
I pray that you will continue your faithful stewardship of this place and, in particular, carry out the renovation of the undercroft for the enhancement of our music program and the provision of dedicated space for our substantial ministry of hospitality to community organizations and ministries.
When I arrived ten years ago, I was impressed by the compassion shown to fellow parishioners, a compassion tapped into and expanded through our ACTS pastoral care teams – kudos again to your Program Director. But I have also experienced an alarming degree of partisanship around issues faced by this congregation, partisanship that in too many of the saints became deeply divisive and destructive to our unity and ministry in Christ.
Jesus is absolutely clear in John chapters 13 and 15 – we are to love one another. This does not mean that we have to always agree with one another but it does mean that we always seek and serve Christ in the other; that we always respect the made-in-God’s-image dignity of the other; that we prayerfully listen to one another and, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, discern God’s will, God’s plan, God’s purpose in whatever issues we face.
God has called each of us into this fellowship of believers, this specific communion of saints. You are called to be here. The friend next to you in the pew with whom you agree is called to be here. The parishioner kneeling with you at the altar with whom you disagree is called to be here. Jesus’ commandment that we love one another is not selective, much less optional. Faith, hope and love abide. But the greatest of these is love. I pray that you aspire ever to obey Jesus’ commandment and out-do one another in your love for one another.
I’ve been referring to you as saints because that is what you are, saints of God. The New Testament calls all believers saints. The Greek word we translate saint is hagios, which literally means “set apart.” For what, or I should say, for whom are we set apart? For God and for God’s kingdom work. How are we set apart? – by baptism through faith in Jesus Christ.
We are made saints at our baptism, set apart for God, becoming members of this glorious communion of saints that we celebrate today – the company of baptized encompassing us gathered here, fellow Christians throughout Lexington, Virginia, the Nation, throughout the world and a glorious communion encompassing all the baptized who have come before, who now worship before the very throne of God in Heaven.
This morning at 8:00 we added two saints to this glorious communion, Colin and Jasper Murphy. We set them apart for God. And great was the celebration in Heaven when they were baptized!
What is this kingdom work for which we are set apart? Jesus commissions us to go make disciples, loving God and neighbor, and evidencing to the world that we are set apart. How do we evidence that we are set apart for God? By our love for one another. This loving one another is what Grace Episcopal Church needs now to focus upon, allowing the Holy Spirit to heal, restore and guide you in the kingdom work God sets before you.
I close with two verses from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi: Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about* these things. 9Keep on doing [these things as] you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
And I leave you with this charge, also from Paul: Walk in love as Christ has loved us, a fragrant offering and a sacrifice to God.