Our scripture readings this morning do not come from today's lectionary. These readings were specially chosen for today's service because they speak to change, and to calling.
So the first scripture reading that Mike read for us is that famous Bible passage from Ecclesiastes, which says that there is a season for everything, and that there is an appointed time for every purpose under heaven. There's a time to dance. And there's also a time to weep. There's a time to laugh. And there is a time to mourn. And there's a time to hold on. But there's also a time to let go.
As we heard in our Words of Integration and Guidance this morning, most of us don't like change, and are resistant to it. Change is the only constant, but boy, is it scary! I think that's why when you read the Bible, if you notice, almost every time God calls somebody to do something new, an angel of God appears, or the voice of God is heard, saying, “Do not be afraid.”
So in the scripture reading that I read for us, God calls Jeremiah to do something new. And Jeremiah says, “Me, you're talking to me? Really, God?”
He's in disbelief. And when Mary, Jesus's mother, was called an angel appeared to her and said, “I'm doing something new. You're going to give birth to the light of the world.” And she's in shock and disbelief. She says, “How can this be?”
Whenever God calls us to something new, there's always disbelief. There's always fear and trepidation.
I felt that 10 years ago, when I was called here to this church. And I know that I'm feeling those things right now, with this new call in Connecticut.
Now, I want to be clear, when I'm talking about “my call,” it does not mean that the sky opened up, and there was a booming voice I heard that said, “My beloved Son, Salvatore. I am calling you to Connecticut.”
I have always been wary in the past when people tell me that God told them to do something. In fact, I saw on the news a few years ago, a politician who said that God told him to run for office, and it made my skin crawl.
What do we mean then, when we talk about a calling? Well, you know, in the United Church of Christ, we have a tagline that says “God is still speaking.” That's what our church is about. And what does that mean?
Well, it means that the Creator is still creating, in us and through us. Change is a constant, the universe is in motion. Our job in the spiritual life is to pay attention to the winds of the spirit, to align ourselves with the flow of the universe, and to surrender to where we are being led.
Over the years, I have put my trust in that flow. And it has always led to the highest and best good, not just for me, but for everyone. A member of our congregation sent me an email since my announcement, and she wrote “I know that God doesn't just have something great in store for you, but has something crappy in store for us.” And that's the truth. God is all good. God's plans are plans of fullness for everyone.
That's what God later says to Jeremiah. If you kept reading that chapter, God says “I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a hope and a future.”
That's the truth. Now I am so very proud that in this church's 141 year history, I am the third longest serving pastor. There have been 36 pastors before me in this church's history, and there will be many after. But the church remains.
And change is good for the life of a church. It is. This is how there is new growth and new life, We see that, of course, in the change of the seasons right now. If you get our church's newsletter I shared this week a quote that said, “With every falling leaf, there is pain. But there's also beauty, for this is the way that new leaves grow.”
So this call, this move for me to Connecticut, is because God has new leaves for me to grow. And it will also allow my husband, Gregg to grow new leaves. Many of you know that he has started a new job as a flight attendant, based out of JFK. So he will be closer.
And it also allows us, of course, to be closer to our family in New York. And I know that many of you in your lifetime, you've changed jobs, you move to places because of your spouse's career, you understand. But you know, a pastoral call is different from a job. And I don't mean that it's more special or more important, it's just different.
So for example, you may have changed your job, because you were dissatisfied with your current job. Or you may have changed jobs because you were able to advance your career, to have a bigger platform, to earn more money. None of that is true with the pastoral call, none of it. I am not leaving, because I'm dissatisfied here. This is the happiest and most fulfilled I have ever been in my life. This church is a dream. this community is a paradise. And I'm not leaving because the church I'm going to is bigger, is going to give me a bigger platform or put more money in my pocket. Because it isn't.
A pastoral call is different from a worldly job. And it often doesn't appear to make sense. Why would I leave something so wonderful, a place where everyone loves me, a community where everyone knows my name, to go to a place where no one knows who I am?
It doesn't make sense, but I'm saying yes to it. And I'm saying yes to it because I trust in that flow in the universe. I trust in the movement of the Holy Spirit, which is always moving us forward.
And I trust in God's providence. Many of you know that one of my spiritual mentors was Father Mychal Judge, the Saint of 911. And I've told you before, he shared with me a prayer, and it's a prayer. That's been my mantra for decades. And it goes, “Lord, take me where you want me to go. And let me meet who you want me to meet. Tell me what you want me to say. And keep me out of your way.”
This prayer is about saying, “Yes, take me where you want me to go.” I'm so grateful that that prayer 10 years ago led me here to this church, and I got to meet who God wanted me to meet all of you amazing people.
And I'm so thankful that I get to continue to be your pastor until the end of the year. And during that time, the United Church of Christ is going to send their leaders here to help us to prepare for the next pastor that God has in store for this church. And I have no doubts that this church is going to attract the highest and best candidates for this position. Because this church is such a desirable place to be in this community, is such a wonderful place to live in.
But really the most attractive thing about this church is all of you.
You're the church, not me. I mean, think about it. When you needed a ride to your doctor's appointments, I didn't drive you. When you came home from the hospital, and you needed a home-cooked meal, I didn't cook a meal for you. When you needed your driveway shoveled, I didn't shovel it. During the pandemic, during lockdown, when you needed your spirits lifted, I didn't come to your house dressed as a rainbow unicorn.
I didn't do those things. You did. You're the church. And I did not, over the years, organize the women's marches, the Black Lives Matter March, the March for Our Lives, the Community Pride events, the beach cleanups.
I didn't do any of those things – you did. You are a member of this church, I believe, because you believe in this church's mission and vision. I didn't come up with the church's mission and vision. It was created decades before I was the pastor here. It's not my vision.
And I believe that you became a member of this church, because you have felt God's inclusive love here. You became a member of this church, because you made a commitment to this congregation, not to me.
If the only reason you're part of this church, is because you enjoy a 15 minute talk once a week, then you're not a member of this congregation. You're a member of the Sal Sapienza fan club. And if that is the case, then I have failed you as a pastor.
Now, next Sunday is our stewardship Sunday. And in preparation, we have heard the past several weeks from different members of our congregation who have come up here to tell us why this church is important to them. And as I listened to those talks, it made me so happy that not one of them mentioned my name, not one. And I'm so grateful for the divine timing of this calling, that it fell before you bring in your pledge card next week, that you have this information that I'm leaving before you bring in your pledge to support the church, not after.
Now, some of you may say, “Well, I'm not going to give to the pledge drive, or I'm going to give less than I intended if Sal's leaving.” That's certainly your prerogative.
But I hope that this week, you will remain prayerful about it, about why you come here and why you support this church. You know, I've shared with you these past couple of years how very concerned I am about the rich evangelical influence that is happening here in our area, how they are buying up properties and establishing churches here. Many of you know they spent over a million dollars to put a church here, one that has all the bells and whistles, the screens, the rock band, the children's program.
If you believe that there needs to be in this community, a progressive, inclusive, open and affirming church, then I hope that you will continue to support this church's mission and vision. And what a wonderful thing to be able to show the candidates for your next pastor, for them to see that even after I announced that I was leaving, this church still pledged with such great abundance, and dedication and commitment.
Look, the bottom line is this. I know this church is going to continue to grow and to thrive. And the reason that I know that for sure, is because I know you. For the past 10 years, I have gotten to witness firsthand your dedication, your commitment, your selfless service, not to me, but to one another, and to the community. I know without a shadow of a doubt, that's going to continue.
So, yes, there is sadness, and that's okay. And we'll process it together. But thanks to you, this church is in very good hands. And more importantly, this church is in God's hands. I'm so grateful for the outpouring of love. The outpouring of support and understanding that I have received this week. And I discovered on Facebook this morning, the United Church of Christ posted that today is Pastor Appreciation Day. I have always felt appreciated by you. And I'm so thankful that I get to continue to be your pastor for the rest of the year. I want to conclude with a quote from Dag Hammarskjold who was the former Secretary General of the United Nations. It's one of my favorite prayers. He said “To everything that has been, thank you. And to everything that will be, yes.”
Words of Integration and Guidance
by Marney White, PhD
Change is all around us. Some change is fixed, like the shift of one season to another, while other change is evolutionary and progressive, tossing new circumstances our way as time goes on. It’s natural to dislike change. It often requires us to come out from a zone of comfort and security. Ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, observed that the natural world is in a constant state of movement. People age, change professions, and move environments. You can’t step into the same river twice — even rocks are subject to changes by the elements over time. The only thing that will never change is the presence of change itself. While it may not be comfortable to shift out of the known and into the unknown, change isn’t going away just because you’re resistant to it. As Heraclitus once said, “The only constant in life is change.” That said, you’re a human being, not a light switch. You likely can’t go from one mode to the other in an instant — and that’s okay. When change comes, try to take a moment to process it and give yourself a little time to grieve. It’s important to accept our unpleasant feelings and make room for them. Remember that changes are a normal part of life. Practice living life with an attitude of gratitude and embrace change as an opportunity for continuous renewal and growth.
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