This sermon was delivered at Christ United Methodist Church on Sunday, June 24, 2012.
18 Jesus came near and spoke to them, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”
Matthew 28:18-20, Common English Bible
As I prepared for today’s message, I was drawn back to that very first sermon. It was exactly 3 years, 7 months, 10 days ago that I delivered my first sermon at Christ United Methodist Church. Some of you may have been here on that 14th day of December 2008. The Scripture lesson for that day was Isaiah 12:2-6.
Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the Lord God is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say on that day:
Give thanks to the Lord,
call on his name;
make known his deeds among the nations;
proclaim that his name is exalted.
This is, in part, what was said and seen that day:
“Change is so pervasive in our lives that it almost defeats description and analysis.” Nevertheless we experience it. We document it. And we try to predict it. It is a common part of our lives both individually and corporately. Consider some of the changes, and the things that sparked them, in the 20th century: “The first transatlantic flight. Women’s suffrage. The New Deal. The Cuban Missile Crisis. The civil rights march on Washington, D.C. Watergate. AIDS. During the twentieth century, Americans…experienced more distinct change per decade than perhaps any other nation [in any other time].” And here, [nearly a decade into] the 21st century we are, yet again, hearing a lot about change.
We lobby for change. We root for change. Nevertheless, we’re scared of change…
As I reflect on my journey with God that has led me here, I find that it is full of changes. Changes I would have never expected. Changes I probably never would have made on my own; changes that have challenged me; changes that I did not like; changes I was not prepared for. Yet, in the midst of all the change God was there: helping me along the journey. And, like the prophet Isaiah, I can proclaim that in the midst of uncertain change that “God is [surely] my salvation; I [must] trust and…not be afraid, for [I have learned that] -the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation” (Isaiah 12:2).
If there is one thing I’ve learned in the 3 years, 7 months, and 10 days since I delivered that first sermon to you, it is this: some things will, can, and/or should change, but our mission as Christ followers must never waiver. We can move doors, expand our hospitality and coffee areas. We can repurpose offices, change staff and programming. We can (plan to) build a building. We can even have a change in pastoral leadership. But, our calling to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that [Christ has] commanded [us]:” this Great Commission, the mission of Christ to his disciples never changes, no matter how different our surroundings and situations might be.
Based upon the Great Commission, we, as United Methodists, have stated our purpose:
The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world by proclaiming the good news of God’s grace and by exemplifying God’s command to love God and neighbor, thus seeking the fulfillment of God’s reign and realm in the world. The fulfillment of God’s reign and realm in the world is the vision Scripture holds before us. The United Methodist Church affirms that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and Lord of all. As we make disciples, we respect persons of all religious faiths and we defend religious freedom for all persons. Jesus’ words in Matthew provide the Church with our mission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (28:19-20), and “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… And you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (22:37, 39).
…Whenever United Methodism has had a clear sense of mission, God has used our Church to save persons, heal relationships, transform social structures, and spread scriptural holiness, thereby changing the world. In order to be truly alive, we embrace Jesus’ mandate to love God and to love our neighbor and to make disciples of all people.
The itinerant system of The United Methodist Church—the process through which clergy are appointed to specific congregations—is designed to mobilize the church to fulfill its mission. My current appointment to Christ United Methodist Church and my new appointment to Wesley United Methodist Church (Culver, IN) were and are meant to mobilize the church to make more disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. It has been a great honor to serve as one of your pastors. And, I pray, that in my time here, I was—or rather, we were faithful to God’s mission here.
As I go, I pray that you will continue to remain faithful. Continue to change things up so that the Good News of Jesus Christ can be heard by new people across the street and around the world. Don’t be afraid to dream big dreams, move doors, envision new ministries and programs. Don’t be afraid to step out in faith to do what God has called us together to do: to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
My friends, many things in life change…including pastoral leadership…but the mission of Christ never changes. As we prepare to part, may we all have the strength, the courage, the endurance, and the grace to live that mission out, regardless of the changes that come our way. Amen.
 As I prayed and prepared for this message I came to realize that there are many similarities between how we say goodbye and how we say hello. Take, for instance the waving of your hand. It could signify a hello OR a goodbye. The Jewish word: shalom. The French word: salut. The Italian word: ciao. Could all mean hello OR goodbye. The meaning of these words and actions change depending on the situation and context. Even the Beatles wrote a song describing this phenomenon: Hello, Goodbye (1967). As I considered this idea in my preparations, I thought it important to consider what was said on that first Sunday and how it might apply (or not) to my last Sunday as one of the pastors at Christ United Methodist Church.