1 John 3:1-7
1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. 4 Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.
I have to admit that in light of this being my last Sunday and my last sermon with all of you, I started to panic a bit as I read through today’s Scripture texts trying to figure out what I was going to preach on.
Today’s Gospel from Luke is basically the exact same text we had last week, only this time, Jesus gets a piece of broiled fish to eat. And I hate eating fish, so that was out.
In the Acts reading, Peter is basically just yelling at a group of Israelites, blaming them for killing Jesus. He calls them ignorant and tells them to repent so that God might wipe out their sins. And you know, I haven’t exactly been a hellfire and brimstone preacher the past four years, so why start now?
And to be honest, I couldn’t even tell you what the psalm is about after reading it five times. So needless to say, I was pretty freaked out about how this was all going to come together….until I read the second lesson from 1 John.
Listen. See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God. And I breathed a sigh of relief. What more could I want to leave you with than that word from God? Friends, look at the love that God has given to us – that we are called children of God.
And the first thing that I picked up on when I read that was that those words are plural. Look at what God has given us. Not what God has given you. Not what God has given me. But what God has given us. We together are the children of God. The letter of 1 John is not about personal faith. It’s not about you and God. It’s about a community and the experience of Jesus embodied within that community. We are children of God. And if we are God’s children, then all of us are siblings. We are family. The whole Christian view of the world is that of one big family.
You know, when I first interviewed here, that’s how you described yourselves – as one big family. And that’s what made me want to come here. I’d never experienced a church that was just like a big family. And early on, I learned that it is true. You are a big family. Now, that doesn’t mean that it’s always sunshine and roses among the family, because families can be really messy. But it does mean that there are deep roots and loyalty and commitment to one another here.
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. And it’s what we are. Not what we were. Not what we will be. It is what we are now.
And it means that this church, Aurora and Trinity, have an incredible opportunity to be a picture of how God wants the whole world to be. Like a family. So, look around. And meet your family. And know that you are called to go and live like a family as a witness to the world of what God desires. Because think of how different our world would be if we viewed everyone as our brothers and sisters. There would be no homeless and no one living in hunger, and no war…because we would never let that happen to family.
So, that’s the good news today. We are children of God. Which means God’s love for us is free and unconditional and it is forever. And it is for all people. And that love then makes us family. The whole world is our relatives. And 1 John says that in community, when we are together, that is when we will see Jesus in the flesh and blood. Here in this life that we share together.
And let me say, I have experienced that first hand. I have experienced Jesus in the flesh and blood through all of you. And I have experienced it in many ways – through the joy of participating together in different ministries and activities and Bible studies. Through coming up with a joint mission statement together and wrestling with what it means and looks like to live that out in this place. Through walking together through 16 funerals and 24 baptisms. Through making Aebleskivers elbow to elbow with each other until they came out our ears. Through living through the beautiful chaos and insanity that is the Aurora Diner. I have experience Jesus in the flesh and blood as we offered to each other mutual grace and forgiveness after doing and saying things that we regretted. I have experienced Jesus in the flesh and blood through you walking beside Lauren and I as we figured out what it meant to be parents for the first time.
But if I had to pick one time when I experienced Jesus in the flesh and blood through you, it was when my dad went through his medical emergency. And I had never been through that before. And you held us in prayer. And you told us over and over again that you were praying for us and for my dad. And you continued to ask how he was doing, even a year after the incident. And that changed me. I had never experienced the power of prayer like that before. I’ve said this before but prayer has never been my greatest skill as a pastor. In fact, it’s probably been the place of one of my greatest doubts and insecurities. But you taught me the power of prayer and you taught me how to pray. So you have converted me into a praying pastor. And so know that every time I pray with someone, know that your ministry to me reaches out to be ministry for others.
So, you’ve changed me as a pastor. For the better. If you have changed one thing about me personally, you’ve opened the eyes of this city boy to the sacredness of rural life. There are a lot of things I never knew before coming here. I never knew what it meant when a sow farrowed. I never knew that tiling in a field was different than tiling in your bathroom. I’d never ridden on a combine before. I’d never talked with anyone about castrating piglets. I never knew rural life. But now I know. And what a beautiful world I never knew until being here with you.
I may be leaving here a better pastor because of you, but I am also leaving here a better person because of all of you. So thank you for those life-long gifts that you have given to me.
There are 4 things that I want to say to you, and that’s the first one – thank you. Thank you for these past 4 years. Thank you for taking a chance on me. Know that I carry you with me, wherever I go.
The second thing I want to say: forgive me. Really. One of the first things a professor said in seminary was, “As a pastor, you will hurt people. So be ready for it.” And it’s true. I know that I have done and said things that have hurt and disappointed some of you over the years. And I imagine that there are some things out there that I don’t know about but that are still alive in you. And so I ask for your forgiveness. Know that my intentions have never been to do anything that would hurt any of you. And I want you to know that if you carry any guilt or regret from our interactions, know that all is forgiven on my end. And I hold nothing but love and gratitude for you.
The third thing: I love you. I do. I love you like family. Because we are family. And as God has said, nothing can change that.
Finally, the last thing I want to say is goodbye. But not in the “I’ll-never-see-you-again-best-of-luck” sort of way. But in the original meaning of the word goodbye. The original meaning of goodbye is “God be with ye.” God be with you. When we say goodbye we take “strength in remembering that the One who (gives) and (cherishes) life (will) be there to protect and console. Goodbye (is) a blessing of love proclaiming the belief that if God (goes) with you, you (will) never be alone,…comfort, strength and all the other blessings of (God’s) loving presence (will) accompany you.” God will lead you, God will be with you, God will not fail you or desert you. Have no fear. (Deut. 31:8) 
They say that the family that prays together stays together, right? I pray that you will keep praying together. That you will keep focusing on your prayer life throughout this year. And they say that the family that eats together stays together. So I pray that you will keep eating together both around the communion table but also at potlucks. That you will continue to feed each other in body, mind, and spirit with the love of Jesus.
And now, as we all turn to face a new future, may we take comfort in a couple more words from the first letter of John – Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. Which means God is not finished with any of us just yet. So if there has been anything of God in these words spoken and in the past four years together (and there has!), may it settle and take root in our life. Amen.
 Praying Our Goodbyes, pg. 1-2.