JOSHUA 24:1-7, 13-15
It was a pivotal time. Far-reaching choices had to be made. They had lost their leader. Moses had died. The people were unsure, nervous, worried about the future. So, Joshua gathered the 12 tribes together at Shechem where he challenged them to get their priorities straight. Joshua challenged them to renew their covenant with God.
It is also a pivotal time for Wesley Church. You have lost your leader. After 11 years as your beloved pastor, Mariellen is now a District Superintendent. Perhaps you also are unsure, nervous, worried about the future, wondering what an interim pastor is and what he does. This morning, let’s look at Joshua and his challenge.
Joshua began by reminding them where they had come from. They had escaped from slavery in Egypt, and for forty years roamed the Sinai wilderness under the leadership of Moses, who organized them, developed their rules and structure, and prepared them for entrance into the Promised Land.
In dramatic fashion, Joshua reminded them who they were and whose they were. “Thus says the Lord: I took your father Abraham from beyond the Euphrates River, the land that is now called Iraq. I led him through the land of Canaan. I gave you Isaac, Jacob and Esau. Then I sent Moses and Aaron to lead you out of Egypt. When you came to the sea with Egyptian chariots and horsemen at your heels, I parted the sea and led you to safety. I led you through 40 years of wilderness, and I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and towns that you had not built. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive yards that you did not plant.”
Wesley Church, thus says the Lord: I led your ancestors out of Japan. I brought them to the fertile Santa Clara Valley. I gave you a dynamic, loving Methodist Church. I was with you through four terrible years of war. I wept with you in the humiliating camps. After the war, I led you back to San Jose. I helped you start over. I helped you rebuild your lives. And, I blessed your church. I gave you committed laypersons to lead. I sent you dedicated, beloved pastors.
Thus says the Lord: For the past 11 years, I gave you Mariellen. She preached, taught, visited. She counseled, prayed with you in the hospital, walked with you when a loved one died, baptized your children and grandchildren, served you Holy Communion. She conducted weddings and funerals. She led worship with her warm, bubbly, enthusiastic, irrepressible charm. She loved you.
Wesley Church, you have been blessed. Egypt is in the past. You have come through the wilderness. Now you are in the Promised Land. You have been blessed bountifully with loving families, beautiful homes, a country of opportunity, productive Silicon Valley. You have been blessed with a respected, active, dynamic church; a church with a mission, a church who loves God and loves neighbor, a church whose young adults sacrificially leave their homes and go to Louisiana to help hurricane victims rebuild their lives. What a church! Now, you have come to a crossroad, a pivotal time in your history.
Joshua reminded his people how they had been blessed. He reminded them of where they had come from, who they were, and whose they were. Then, Joshua called them to renew the covenant Moses had made with God in the Sinai wilderness. They had now settled in the land of Canaan. They were living in the midst of other religions, other cultures, and they had a choice to make. Joshua cried, “Choose this day whom you will serve! Will you choose the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living, or will you choose the Lord who led you and brought you to this place? To whom will you be loyal?” Joshua then affirmed, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Wesley Church, you have a choice. Choose this day whom you will serve. You can choose to serve the gods of our culture---the god of money, the god of greed and power. Or, you can choose to look backward to Egypt. Are your loyalties to the past? Is your loyalty with Mariellen or some other former pastor?
Some churches have difficulty dealing with a pastor’s leaving. I recall a woman in one of my churches telling me I wasn’t her pastor. So and So was still her pastor, and he had been gone over 20 years! She couldn’t let go. When a congregation doesn’t let go, the church becomes mired in the past, and is unable to move forward.
As Interim Pastor, one of my goals is to help you deal with the transition. This is my third interim appointment since I retired. The other two were eight-month appointments in Arizona. In Methodism, when a beloved pastor leaves, one week later the replacement appears. Often the new pastor has a very difficult time. The congregation is hostile, upset, critical and resistant to change. They are grieving and there is no time to work through the grief. It is like a widower who remarries too soon. I’ve seen that happen with disastrous results. The ancient tradition is that when a spouse dies, the survivor should wait a year before changing houses, and wait a year before dating and remarrying. There is wisdom in that tradition.
To expect a congregation to welcome a new pastor with open arms, ready and willing to change, is unrealistic. The fallacy of the Methodist appointment policy is the ignoring of the need for transition. In the old days, a Methodist pastor usually was moved after two years. Perhaps one of the reasons was that they didn’t want the pastor and the congregation to become too attached to one another. Now, with longer pastorates, attachment does occur, and to ignore it is disastrous. I know churches that have never recovered from a long, beloved pastorate.
So, here we are. I’m here. I’m not trying to take Mariellen’s place, but I’m making my own place. Fortunately, your other pastors—equally loved—are still here. Pastor Motoe and Pastor Michi are here, and how blessed we are to have them. I’m already impressed with their dedication, competence, enthusiasm, and spirituality. I’m also very impressed with the lay leaders and members I have met. We as a church are blessed.
This is a pivotal time. The choice is yours. Choose this day whom you will serve. As individuals, whom will you serve? As a congregation, whom will you serve? “As for me and my household,” said Joshua, “we will serve the Lord.” Will you choose to serve the Lord and follow Jesus through the transition, into the future?
I believe the best days of Wesley Church are in the future, yet to come. I believe the best days of your life are in the future, yet to come, in this life and the next. Sisters and brothers, will you follow Jesus?
© 2007 Douglas I. Norris