Call on Jesus - Farewell Sermon by Rev. Andrew Charnstrom

Posted by Andy Charnstrom on

Greetings, friends! Though our outdoor worship was canceled due to rain, we're fortunate that worship can still be experienced through electronic means. So, join us by first clicking to the morning's prelude music:    I Am   Call on Jesus   

And now to the text of the message...

Good morning and welcome to Union Chapel.  Welcome to a time of worship.  My name is Andy Charnstrom and I am Senior Pastor here at Union Chapel, and I am being indulged a bit today.  I have a fondness for music videos—that is, videos created for worship—and today, we are making substantial use of them.  We’ve heard Nichole Nordemann sing “I Am,” and Nicole C. Mullen sing, “Call on Jesus.”  Won’t you watch and listen as she also sings, “My Redeemer Lives,” and then we’ll join together in a call to worship:  My Redeemer Lives

Our Call to Worship today is from Psalm 148; we will share it in the form of call and response.  I will read from the text and when I say, “Praise the Lord,” I ask that you answer, “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.”  Okay?  Let’s try it:

Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!

Praise the Lord 
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow
Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!

Praise the Lord
Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created.
He established them for ever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

Praise the Lord
Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!

Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!

Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike, old and young together!

Praise the Lord
Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted;
his glory is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful,
for the people of Israel who are close to him.
Praise the Lord!

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.

Scripture: Luke 15:11-32

Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ” So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.

‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” ’

Musical interlude:  Be Still

Pastoral Prayer:
Be still, and know that I am God.  Oh, these are the words we long to hear, Our Precious Loving Parent, King and Queen of life, Mother and Father to us all.  Let us find stillness; let us find silence and, in the silence, hear only Your voice as You whisper to our hearts.

Your call is constant, Oh Lord.  Your message is unchanging.  Your command repeats itself—Love.  Love for You; love for our neighbor; love, even, for the one who will always choose hatred over love.  Strengthen us, we pray; make us to be resolute in love, choosing, always love over hatred, kindness over vengeance, gratitude over greed, hospitality over rejection, extravagance, always, in our generosity.

Your voice whispers to us, in words too soft for the ear to hear yet too thunderous for the heart to ignore, that we are to follow Jesus.  Follow Him not in mere belief, nor in the repetition of His words, nor simply in being kind, but in mission.  Follow His footsteps; remember His mission statement:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

Oh, God, let us do it, at last.  Let us proclaim the year of Your favor, cry out that greed is dead at last, that the oppressed are made free, that those who are blind to both the beauty and the bleakness of this world are made to see, and that we are to forgive all that we have clung to as reasons to hold ourselves apart from our brothers and our sisters.  Use us, we pray, to change the world.

And Your voice reminds us that the church is ongoing, eternal, and most of all Yours.  So, God, we thank You for Union Chapel, for entrusting its stewardship to us, for its heritage and for its future.  As we build, and as we grow and as we change—and as we look forward to the arrival of a new pastor—we pray that we shall always seek only Your will, always remain in love with You and always, always, always serve our neighborhood first, our community first, the world around us—first.  Let us be the church of Your dreams, and not our own.  We pray in Jesus’ name, and offer up the prayer that He taught us to pray together:  Our Father….

Musical interlude:
I Find Your Love Beth Nielsen Chapman

The Prodigal Son: The Walk of Life

Where do you find God’s love?  That’s what I want to talk with you about this day: where do you find God’s love?  Can you find it in the ordinary things, the everyday, the common?

It was forty-five years ago today that Donna and I were married and started the journey that has led us here, and that will lead us to places unknown tomorrow and the next and I pray for many days ahead.  We shared poetry and our own written vows at our wedding, and one poem was from Elizabeth Barrett Browning and spoke of “Home talk, and blessing, and the common kiss that comes to each in turn….

The father looked out; he was keeping watch for the son who was lost to him.  It was not a loss that he had accepted; he had not simply moved on, but life on the farm had continued.  He and his older son had managed, had supervised the servants and had carried on the work of the farm, but in his heart there was a vacancy, an unfilled space, a hole that burned with the worry about what had befallen his younger son.  So, he kept watch.  And this is where I have always kept my emphasis on the story of the father—that he watched and waited and did not give up on his son and that he saw his son when he was still far away and that he ran—he ran—to greet his son.  Men in those days did not run.  Greater men waited for lesser men to approach them, and not the other way around.  Fathers did not dote on their children and, especially, did not race to greet a child who had shown disrespect by demanding his inheritance even before the father had died.  But the father lifted up the hem of his robe and he ran to greet the son he feared had been lost forever.

One of my favorite songs is titled, “The Walk of Life,” by a now-defunct band called Dire Straits.  The song is about a singer working in the subway—singing, performing, trying to get noticed, to make it, to become famous—to bring light into the darkness of the “tunnel,” as they call it.  But at the end of the day—after all of his hard work and difficult encounters with others—comes this part:

And after all the violence and double talk
There's just a song in all the trouble and the strife
You do the walk, you do the walk of life
Hm, you do the walk of life.

I like that expression, a lot--that term, “the walk of life.”

When I lived at home—that is, in the home of my parents and sisters and brothers—there was conversation around the dinner table.  It wasn’t always pretty and it wasn’t always pleasant, but most of it was; for a kid—for the youngest kid—it was mostly boring.  So-and-so did this or said that.  Bill Kissling drove his dad’s car to… some place I didn’t know.  This guy at the post office told me a story about... blah, blah, blah.  Helen Gebhart came into the beauty shop today and said her husband had gone to the doctor and they found... yadda, yadda, yadda. You won’t believe what Cathy Clendennen did, right in front of her mom…. Everybody telling about their day, what was coming up tomorrow, when the next important thing was going to happen.  For me, it was the audible equivalent to watching paint dry.  Until—until it wasn’t.  I remember the first time Donna was there and she was surprised that my family actually talked at dinner, even sitting around with the dishes still on the table, talking and sharing and laughing.  I began to understand the importance of the everyday and, even, to appreciate it so much that I asked my bride to assure me that we, too, would not miss “home talk, and blessing, and the common kiss that comes to each, in turn….”

The son had gone away; he’d left home and, with it, all those ordinary things and ways he couldn’t stand, the talk and traditions that had bored him, that seemed a waste of time, that he didn’t understand.  Maybe those things were important to his mother and father and, maybe, even to his older brother, who was a lot more of a homebody, anyway.  But, in his eyes, it was just part of what was killing him, crushing his soul, cramping his style, and so he had taken his inheritance and he had gotten out as fast and as far as his feet would carry him. 

His father kept watch.  My family would have said that he “kept an eye out.”

And here’s where our focus has always been when we’ve heard or told or tried to explain this story.  This story that Jesus made up, that He imagined, that He shared in the moment when He wanted His followers and the Pharisees who had come to challenge Him—when He wanted them to understand a little bit about God’s love.  The father saw the son in the distance; Luke says that the young man was still far off.  The father saw his son and ran to him.  The father ran; I imagine the father in a robe, seeing his son and starting to run, then stopping, bending down and grabbing the hem of the robe and starting to run again, this time faster, high-stepping, probably for the first time since he, himself, had been a boy.  Running because he was filled with joy; running because he could not wait to touch the one he thought had been lost forever, the one he had worried about and wept for, the one he loved with that mysterious love of fatherhood.  He ran because he wanted to embrace the one whose face had lifted him as he had first bent down to pick up his child.  He held his son; he called for a robe and a ring, and for the fatted calf to be prepared, for his child was home and the world was, once again, made right.

This is the story that pours into my heart with joy and hope and love.

We often find ourselves drawn to the Bible stories of the highest highs and lowest lows.  Mountaintop experiences with Moses, or with Jesus and Peter, or the great miracles—a sea parted, water turned to wine, the dead come back to life again.  The valley of the shadow of death.  Adam and Eve evicted from the garden, Abel dead on the ground, Moses looking out upon a land he will never reach and Jesus—Jesus lying dead in a tomb.  We find ourselves there most often because we experience God—we reach out—in our own highest highs and our lowest of lows.

But, today, my focus is on what happens next for the prodigal son and his prodigal father.  Jesus doesn’t say it, but it lingers there, between the lines, waiting for us to consider it, and it’s where I invite you to go with me today.  What happens next?

We were married at age twenty, Donna and I.  We couldn’t believe we had waited so long, had let so much time pass.  We got married, went on our honeymoon, came home and worked and went back to school and planned our life, and moved to Bloomington for law school for me and, when that was over, believed we were ready to launch the excitement—especially the highs—of what we thought of as “real life.”  But we also came home fairly regularly--home to my parents and to Donna’s mom--and we caught up.  Always catching up—home talk, and blessing, and the common kiss.  What’s growing in the garden this year; what’s the latest thing that Hazel or Carl say, or Norma or Elnora; the new aches and pains and who is getting married, or divorced, or having a baby, or surgery or good luck.

The walk of life.

After the servant had brought the robe, and after a ring was placed on the young son’s finger, after the verdict had been pronounced on the life of the fatted calf and the stirred-up dust in the air that marked the father’s path to his son had settled back to the ground—after all that we have read about—they were there, the father and his son.  Still far off.  The father had run to his son and that’s where they were, at the place the father had run to, far off from the house—to embrace and rejoice and weep with unspeakable joy.  They found themselves there as the excitement of the moment began to wane.  The servants left them, heading back to kill the calf and to make ready for the celebration. And then the son and his father began to walk home.  I want to be there today, with them in that moment.  I want us to be there.  I imagine it like this, as they walked:  I’m so glad you’re home, Son.  Look over there—five newly-born sheep since you were here; all but one of the ewes had babies.  And the field, next to the house; your brother suggested we plant barley, instead of rye.  Look how green that field stands.  Shem--down the road—you remember Shem.  Well, his daughter is betrothed to Ezekiel, the shepherd; it’s quite a surprise and quite a scandal.  And I have heard that the rabbi is thinking of retiring soon.  Look over there, at your brother’s children; I can’t believe how fast they’ve grown.  Oh, you may not have heard—I’m sorry to tell you this, my son—but your aunt Martha died shortly after you left.  It happened suddenly.  She just died; the good part was that your cousins, Abraham and Elizabeth were back for a visit.  They hadn’t been back for five years.

It goes on and on as they walk home, and neither of them—father or son—seems to mind.

The walk of life.

To be your pastor means to love you.  To be your pastor means to know you.  To be your pastor means to share in your lives.  This is what I will always remember: I will remember the jokes you have told me.  I will remember the time on the van on the way to North Dakota, and back.  I will remember the moments before you went into surgery, or when we shared in prayer in the hospital room.  I will remember marrying you, or your children, and the excitement I felt each and every time, hearing your vows and feeling promises coming true within my arms’ reach.  I will remember baptizing children and babies and parents.  I will never, ever forget the children.  And I will remember time spent together in grief and mourning, preparing for the funeral of your mother, or your father, of your brother or your sister, your wife or your husband or—or your child.  The very first week—do you remember—the first Sunday, after worship, I went over to the hospital to visit with a delightful, wonderful woman—one of the leaders of this congregation, Doris Richards—and she apologized from her hospital bed for not making a pie for me, yet, and promised as soon as she got home.  A week later, standing in the pulpit, behind her coffin and then traveling to Corydon for burial, a shock, a blur, a loss for all of you, and for me.  I will never forget how you honored me by making that funeral so easy, so special—filled, you may recall, with hats and with music.  I have shared in your losses; I have been blessed in your blessings.  You have trusted me with your fears, with your anger at your husband or your wife or the hurt caused by a wayward—prodigal—child.  You have asked me questions—many of which I have been wildly unqualified to answer and, yet, together and with God’s grace we have found a path.  You have shared plans and dreams and disappointments and, still, I have been blessed to stand nearby as you have adapted and grown and let the light of God’s face shine on you and give you a fresh start.  And, in all of it, the stories.  I have heard so many stories, and they are in my heart.  Your stories.  Home talk, and blessing.  And the common kiss. The father kissed his son as soon as he reached him, and we share that common kiss—the kiss of Christ--even today, whether it be by handshakes or hugs or bumping elbows or even by air-fives from a safe social distance.  To be your pastor means to walk beside you in the highs and the lows, but also in the ordinary.

We are ready for this new chapter, Donna and I.  Prepared.  Mostly because Donna has gotten us ready while I have procrastinated, drug my feet, dug in my heels, refused to act my age or just claimed that I was too busy.  Medicare and more Medicare and pension and IRA and things to do so we don’t get bored and the house and the yard and the garden and the kids—our three amazing kids and the loves of their lives and our five spectacular grandsons.  My brother and my sister and my sister and my brother.  And I will never forget how you have helped me through the losses of my sister, Carol and my beloved brother, Bart.  For you have loved me-loved us—in return.  Life will go on for us and we look forward to sharing—home talk, and all the rest.

You, also, are ready for a new chapter.  Your life goes on, as well.  I ask a few things of you in the days to come.  Look—really look, hard—to find God in the ordinary, the very day, the common, and love God there.  Let every quiet moment be a mind-to-heart conversation with the God who loves you.  Seek and serve and walk together—and find God’s unending love--as a beloved congregation, always, always, always following in the footsteps of Jesus.  Support Union Chapel with all that you have—including that new building, which is going to be a life-changing tool-- and, most of all, love one another.  Rejoice, together, as you build and grow.  Receive Elizabeth Gilbert, your new pastor, and her husband, Mike, as you have received us.  Love them, and expect to be blessed, for you shall surely be.

You have invited me in, and I have loved it—every moment.  The richest part of life—the best and the worst, the deepest and the brightest moments are often disguised to us as they occur, but then, before you realize it, those moments begin to shine in the ordinary and, as Carly Simon once sang, we find that, “These are the good old days.”

Well, we thank you.  I thank you, on my behalf, and Donna’s, for the good old days we have shared together.  Most of all, though, I thank you for sharing with us the walk of life.

As we pass from this place, I want to remind you to come next Sunday, between 11:00 and 12:00, for a drive-thru "meet and greet" with new pastor Elizabeth and her husband, Mike Gilbert.  More importantly, I remind you to pray and pray for them as they come to meet and love and minister to this community.

And now, hear these words one more time:

You are a child of God, deserving of love and respect, and God will use you to change the world.

And, so, the Peace of Christ be with you all.  Amen.