My Grandmamum, Mother Pat Hames, gave her final sermon before retirement at St. Mark’s New Britain this last Sunday. I tried recounting all of the memories I have in that church, and in the beautiful home St. Mark’s provided my grandparents during her time as their rector, and there are enough for a full memoir.
My childhood was deeply impacted by my time in New Britain, Connecticut. As my mom put it, the time my grandparents gave me make up so much of who I am. I followed Grandmamum around the church offices during school vacations, and asked my first questions about Jesus. I heard her mention “calling” from the pulpit, and felt God’s whisper in my heart for the first time. You were made for something like this…
She baptized my sister & me. She welcomed us into the Body of Christ. She placed the communion wafer into my cupped hands countless times. She was the first person to feed me with the Spirit. Grandad was the first to feed me spicy Bisquick sausage balls, and boy-I-tell-you-what… nobody makes ’em like that man.
I’m forever grateful for what Grandmamum & Grandad gave me.
One of the main gifts I received through Grandmamum was her writing. Below is her final sermon to St. Mark’s New Britain, ending with the words she gave me on a German metal cross that hung in each of her and Grandad’s homes: “Ich bin alle Tage bei euch.”
“I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20, NIV).
Final Sermon at St. Mark’s
Reverend Patricia M. Hames
So I wonder – standing in this pulpit that has absorbed thousands of my words over the last twenty years, should the final sermon be extra long because there is much that I want to say or very short because that would be popular and there is good food waiting to be served?
Now trust me I had actually written that before I read the newspaper article that said I usually preach for about an hour. The question put to me was how long does your service last?? So I’m sure we scared a lot of people from coming today. But here goes with my sermon and who knows how long it will last.
And then for goodness sake – on this day – what can I possibly say?
Of course it’s a no brainer really – hear the gospel – share its story. It’s what I have always attempted to be about.
And today’s story is both familiar and ever new with its anticipation and interruptions and distressing news and joyful ending – a plethora of feelings – what more could I want?
It begins with a distraught father seeking healing for his daughter from Jesus. And Jesus responds – he begins the journey with Jairus towards the beloved daughter who is dying. But then comes the interruption from the woman who also puts her hopes in Jesus healing powers. And once Jesus discovers who she is, she is no longer identified by her disease, but she becomes the other ‘daughter’ whose faith has made her well. But even as Jesus is in mid sentence with his blessing upon her, folks from Jairus’ house come with the terrible news that his daughter is dead. Too late – they say – no need to bother Jesus any longer. But Jesus responds. Do not fear, only believe. And some are invited to continue to go with Jesus anyway in anticipation of new life. Surely this story captures many of the feelings we might be sharing today.
So let’s start at the beginning. For today I think I’m not the only one sharing the anxious feelings of Jairus as he approaches Jesus. We too are anxious and afraid that something we love is dying. And to a certain extent it is true. And as we join with Jairus journeying to Jesus let us acknowledging our fears and concerns.
With my leaving something is coming to an end. And we wonder – What will happen to this parish in these times that are changing so rapidly both within these walls and in the church and in the world beyond them? What will happen if we need a priest – will someone come?
What will happen about the baptism that I’m planning for All Saints Day? What will happen when I need a priest to talk to, when I’m in the hospital and so on?
Be assured that you will continue to be cared for pastorally and spiritually. For the summer months my good friend and yours– The Reverend Hope Eakins will be here.
And your vestry has met with the Canon for Transition and is already making plans for the future. This is not your old process of a long interim time followed by a call to a rector. No in this process the search is already in progress to find a Priest in Charge for this parish. It may take a little time, but your lay leaders will continue to work with our diocese to ensure that
St. Mark’s will have new clergy leadership as soon as possible.
And certainly I bring my own fears before Jesus this day. I don’t know what the future holds. Yes this is my final Sunday standing here in this pulpit and at this altar. Where will I next stand at God’s altar and have the unique privilege of offering God’s gifts to God’s people? Where will I proclaim the gospel from another Pulpit? I really don’t have answers yet. But I trust that God is far from finished with me yet, just as God is far from done with you and this parish of Saint Mark’s.
So in spite of our anxieties and fears, we are to go on walking with Jesus, with great hope and expectation of newness of life.
But wait – sometimes the path gets busy and things don’t happen quite like we expect. For in Luke’s gospel story this morning there was a major interruption – a delay that appeared to stop Jesus getting to Jairus’ daughter on time. This must have been a moment of great frustration, disappointment and anger.
There may be some frustrations in the days ahead. Do not let your worries or emotions make you impatient – but remember who is walking with you.
My interruption, the delay before my move and new journey takes root will be the next few months spent in the rectory organizing and consolidating a very large household to fit into a tiny cottage in Niantic. I am sure that even with my daughter and sister’s help I shall experience a great deal of frustration and angst.
Jesus knew that God’s time isn’t always our time. And in this story another daughter needed to be acknowledged and heard and healed. And in the moment of renewed fear Jesus said “Stop being afraid. Go on living with faith.” These are good words for us all to live by.
For while we don’t always get to see instant results in our time line, we can trust that Jesus is always about restoring us to God and to each other, and to the world around us and God is always about bringing new life.
We have walked together deepening our faith in our spiritual journeys. I have learned much from you. Words are inadequate to express the thanksgiving I feel and offer to each of you for your love and faithfulness to Jesus, to this parish, to each other and to me. You have blessed me richly – I thank you.
You have been those who have accompanied me, surrounded me with your care and love especially in the times of my sorrow and grief. Yes you have cried with me as I with you, but you have also laughed and rejoiced at the new life that has come in so many ways.
So where are we today? We can acknowledge our fears and tears and share our accomplishments and our joys. We can offer great thanksgiving to the God who has given us life and to Jesus who gives us new life each and every day and to the Spirit who awakens that awareness in us. We can rejoice in where we have been together and now share in hope for the rest of the journey.
For not all of the crowd went with Jesus for the rest of the way. And today is when you and I part company. We are saying farewell to a special ministry that together – by the grace of God – we have created.
Your journey will continue and I pray that you will grow in love, knowledge and wisdom so that your lives will be transformed more and more into God’s vision for them, and so that you will be the people who transform your corner of the world into the place God means it to be. And I pray that you would help the young and the newcomer know the joys and values of your fellowship in this life in Christ.
This is a hard parting of the way for me because my love for you has grown stronger over every passing year. I will miss you dearly. We have shared so much, our joys, our tears, our praises and our prayers. Nothing could be more precious than that God has called me to serve you and that you have trusted me with your heartaches, your wounds, your love and your victories. I pray that I have honoured that trust.
God continues to promise abundant life to us. That life often comes in surprising and creative ways. And we all need to have our hearts and minds open to the possibilities that are sometimes present and sometimes just around the corner or over the horizon.
As I say goodbye I am saying it with its original meaning “God be with ye”—God be with you. I believe that God will truly be alive here among you. And when you say goodbye to me, you can truly trust that God’s spirit accompanies me.
Goodbye – ‘God be with you’ is a word of hope and blessing, a prayer for those we love. We will end this service with a Litany of Farewell – another ending word that also encompasses what I pray for you. Fare thee well an ancient wish of well being when parting. God be with you and Fare thee well are the two prayers that I leave you with.
And Jesus has the final words to us all “Stop being afraid. Go on living with faith.” “I am with you always – to the end of the age.”
Amen and amen.