January 17, 2016 — Rev. Jan Hryniewicz
Text: Psalm 23 & Romans 12: 1 – 21
On a New Member Sunday , August 26th , 2007, I shared sermon message called “The Church as a Nesting Place”. Here’s an excerpt:
As I was walking in the woods, I came upon a perfectly formed little bird’s nest right in the middle of the trail. I picked it up gently and wondered what kind of bird had used it….and how many eggs had hatched from its soft, warm center. It had obviously fallen from a tree….discarded… no longer needed as the young family had taken flight. I carried the nest home…..and placed it on my windowsill, already cluttered with pine cones, shells, rocks, plants and other gifts from nature…..and as I did so, I looked out and saw our neighbor’s children building a rather ungainly looking tree house in one of the huge pine trees that tower between our two houses. I watched them with great amusement, sensing their delight at creating their own special nest in which to hang out….listening to their excited chatter as they designed it and lugged things up the tree.
It became increasingly clear to me….that this was the analogy I was searching for to describe the church…… our church…..and its function in our lives… to our new members.
When I came to Union Church, almost 16 years ago, ….there was just a tiny number of faithful, hopeful souls…longing to rebuild a faith community in this beautiful, historic place which had for so many years ministered to the Biddeford Pool community. I had come to Maine, longing to pastor a church without a senior minister looking over my shoulder!! We met, the church and I, fell in love…..and have been about the joyful business of building a glorious nest here ever since….with the nurturing presence of the Holy Spirit! We have gathered symbols around us…..a cross, baptismal font, peace pole, garden, banners, musical instruments, pictures and wonderful memories…..creating a place of beauty and peace and attracting a delightful, diverse community of spiritual seekers. We have filled this nest with vibrant music and infectious laughter. Thankfully, our spiritual nest has an open heart, open mind and open door policy….welcoming all in the spirit of Jesus Christ…..who commands us to love one another. …even lawyers, dentists, real estate brokers, retired pastors, golfers, dogs, people from Kansas…. and those who would really rather be in Florida!!
Emily Dickinson wrote: If I can stop one Heart from breaking I shall not have lived in vain. If I can ease one life the Aching, Or cool one Pain , Or help one fainting Robin Unto its Nest again, I shall not have lived in Vain” . I know we would all agree that this is the kind of loving caring nest Union Church has become, thanks to the efforts of us all and the guiding energy of the Spirit. We are a nurturing place where nest-less people have found a warm, loving place where they can grow their wings.
No nesting analogy would be complete mentioning the importance of knowing when it’s time to try out our wings….to leave the warmth of the nest … to explore and gather…to serve and study and return with new insights to feather the nest! ( Now I am not suggesting that you all need to leave this cozy nest!!….at least not physically! ) However, you can’t get too cozy and forget that there are lots of lost birds out there in need of a spiritual nest …. and when we are reluctant to leave the comfortable routine and safety of the nest, we have to be given a loving nudge. It’s time…. take flight….tend the flock, soar to new heights! And so, my dear friends, I have come to that time, with a gentle nudge from the Spirit. It’s time; all is well here in this gentle nest I have come to love with a deep and abiding love. It’s heart-wrenching to fly away, however Ed is standing at the base of the tree tempting me with promises of travel to exotic places and endless relaxing moments by a crackling fire and time to create children’s curriculum that makes sense… and write fun children’s books like Pout Pout fish to lighten our hearts!
I could go on endlessly about how much this church….this ministry…. each and all of you mean to me. I could spend an inordinate amount of time reminiscing about my youth ministry days with many of you here today…youth groups, youth leader core, Christian Youth Conference……. mission trips …. crazy sleepovers, Lenten breakfasts, wilderness days on the Allagash and nights by the campfire at Oceanwood. How I treasure all those memories…..well, most of them! Dead seagulls hanging outside my door, and firecrackers going off under my cabin might be best forgotten!
I could spend the rest of the allotted time today going off about the music that has inspired me through the years, and especially at this church. There are no words to adequately express how blessed I have been by the amazing and beautiful talent of each of these musicians here today. I could not have led worship without you all. Never!
I have created a brief last will and testament… listing those things that I will take with me as I leave the nest, and those things I will leave behind to nourish the new pastor bird who has come to roost for a spell. I gratefully leave behind some of the necessary but tedious discussion about coffee/fellowship times ( who’s bringing the coffee and goodies and who’s got the best team!)…. about the location and construction and use of the repository and memorial garden site, about who’s messing up the storage room and who’s going to clean it, and who is going to step up and chair all the boards and committees! I relinquish the decisions about who really needs help when the phone rings for emergency assistance, and who is conning us! I give up having to make the final decision about when to and when not to cancel church or special events because of bad weather! I relinquish trying to find a parking space at the Mill Office!
I take with me….with great joy and enormous gratitude…. the memories of all of our marvelous times of worship, study and fellowship. I treasure all I have learned from my time as pastor here, all of you who I love dearly and who will always have a nesting place in my heart. I take with me all the moments that have inspired laughter and tears, all the times of intimate sharing and refreshing fellowship. I take the happy memories making meatloaf together for 13 years, filling Christmas bags, sharing Seder meals and celebrating Cinco di Mayo and Mardi Gras. I will carry in my soul the beauty and inspiration of Easter sunrises, candlelight Christmas eve services and peaceful Vesper experiences. I will hold in a special place in my heart, the times of deep sorrow we have shared, vigils with the sick, loss of dearly beloved ones and memorial services you have entrusted to my care. I will cherish the warm memories of baptisms and weddings and thoughtful one on one conversations. Thank you for sharing your hopes and dreams, joys and sorrows…. your spiritual journeys with me. I will cherish the memories forever.
Charlie Brown is depicted on a sweet Peanuts card :
“ Saying Good-bye makes my throat hurt!” Mine hurts a whole lot right now!
Today is not a day for profound theological discussions, as much as I love that! However it is important for me to implant in your mind and memory two of my very favorite scripture passages….. the beautiful, lyrical, very familiar 23rd Psalm which best describes my image of the Divine Presence in my life. God as a shepherding presence….leading me gently to still water and green pastures, restoring my soul whenever it needs to be refreshed and healed, anointing me whenever I have forgotten how special and loved I am, as one of the beloved flock of the Creator, feeling God’s presence beside me, guiding me through dark valleys and challenging pathways….and setting a table of grace and love before me, whenever the enemies of my spirit have assaulted and wounded me. God….as a nurturing, sustaining presence forever and ever. I bequeath these divine images to you, even as I carry them with me.
And, then a passage from one of the Apostle Paul’s letters….a passage I have used countless times when mentoring teenagers and teaching spiritual ethics and re-energizing my own flagging spirit for the work we are called to do as God’s partners and co-creators in the universe. This passage really says it all. It has been and will continue to be, for me, an all inclusive guide for behavior that reveals the love and teachings of Jesus Christ.
This wonderful passage instructs us not to be conformed to the standards of the world….the status quo….but to be continually renewing our minds and being available to the Divine Spirit of God to discern what is right and kind and helpful. It confirms the fact that, though we are different …thankfully… with many varied gifts and attributes…..that we are all one body in Christ. Paul reminds the early Christians that they are part of the body of Christ….which is a body that loves, that abhors evil, that rejoices in hope, is patient in tribulation…that repays no one evil for evil, but gives nourishment to even its enemies! Jesus has invited us to be part of this body ….. to recognize that we are all God’s family…. that all life in the universe is connected within the divine energy of the Creator. Then my favorite, most succinct mandate: “Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit…..serve the Lord!” Especially with teens, you have to bottom line it! I hope that mandate lingers in your mind as you remember this day, my farewell message to you. Please say it with me: “Never flag in zeal….be aglow with the Spirit….serve the Lord!!”
I would be remiss if I forgot to mention the zeal and glowing spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr whose life we remember and honor this weekend…. whose courage and spirit filled words continue to inspire new generations of activists who seek peace and justice for all people.
Our very own hymn writer, Mary Elizabeth Nordstrom has written a beautiful hymn called Walking with the Wind. I want to share the last verse with you to honor the memory and teaching of Dr. King:
When we all respect each other and all shall dare,
To be kind to those who differ and show goodness with a flair
In the melting pot of people from the daily grind,
When color makes no difference, then you will find
We’ll be walking with the wind that is the breath of God,
You can’t see It either, but you know It’s there.
Thank you, Mary Elizabeth!
In closing, I want to share a lovely little poem that was sent to me by Joanne and Chris Lang, folks who live in Toronto and spend a few weeks here every summer. One of the highlights of their time in Maine, is worshipping here at Union Church. They have felt the nourishing warmth of our nest and fly back every summer for more! Joanne Lang wrote these words to me and I will carry them with me, and leave them with you as a daily reminder of the love and guiding presence of God:
Softly a voice speaks:
Praise the Light that burns brightly within,
And know that you are a blessing.
Drink from the golden chalice
And allow the sweet nectar of Divine Love
to fill you.
This golden liquid is ensconced with Light.
Give way to a flood of feeling
That bubbles up from the inside.
Follow it to its source….
The path lies before you.
Energy, Light, Love, Joy
Expressing, seeking giving….
Now it is…time to feel
The unique expression that you are.
Journey each day into this special place
Of calmness and knowing.
Feel the magnitude of the great love
Of your indwelling spirit.
Experience the peace of your being.
Go beyond thoughts,
Allow feelings to dissolve.
And rest before the altar of your heart.
Blessings and thanksgiving to you dear Jan
as you embark on a well deserved retirement.
We will miss you next summer and we will always
Hold you close to our hearts!
…..Joanne & Chris Lang (from Toronto)
Poem by Joanne