Farewell Sermon For Trinity

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father, and our Lord and savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

I must say, I could not have been given a better text to preach my last sermon on for this congregation here in Robesonia. This is a text where everyone gets food! Not only that but there’s plenty of leftovers to take home. If there is one thing I have learned about Berk’s County, it is how important food is to all of you. But sharing food with the multitudes is not just important here at Trinity, it is a story central to sharing the Gospel itself. The feeding of the multitudes we hear today from John is such a central story in the New Testament that it is included six times in the four Gospels. For those of you counting, that means two of our Gospels tell the story twice! Therefore there must be some reason it is an important story for us to hear.

Now, I struggled for a long time with how to say thanks for all your support and goodbye in this sermon, without taking undue focus away from this important story of the loaves and fishes. However, (with some help from a friend) it was that very struggle that made a light go on in my head. My saying “goodbye” is actually a good lens to enter into the meaning of this story. Every time we say goodbye, we meet the very same contrast as Jesus and his disciples do with the feeding of the five thousand.

Let me explain: In the last couple of weeks many of you have come up to me and said things like “time is growing short Vicar!” or “you won’t be with us much longer!” or, “It’s almost over, are you counting the minutes?” And inevitably I replied: “I know, I can’t believe it’s almost over. Feels like I started just yesterday. And I will miss you all when I’m gone.” These things are all true.

But they also show us a deeper truth: when we say goodbye, we often focus on the “bye” part, on the scarcity of the time left.

We find ourselves standing up with Philip saying “Lord, six months wages couldn’t buy enough bread for each of the people here to get even a little food.” Or with Andrew: “There is a boy here who has a meager five loaves and two fish, but that isn’t nearly enough! What are five loaves and two fish amidst so many people?”

Do you see the parallel? We use our reason to look at how little we have, and that is what we dwell on. We say, Look how quickly my internship is ending! Look how little we have and how many people there are to feed! Look how few people are sitting in our pews! Look how quickly people desert us and go do something else with their time, like sports or sleeping! Time and again, our focus is on the scarcities in the world. We focus on what is lacking, little, and dwindling. And we have good reason to. All the stories we tell ourselves are about this same fear: we do not have enough.

But this is the world according to our reason. Listen to what happens to our world of scarcity and fear as soon as faith gets a hold of it. Faith takes the same despised loaves and fishes, the same short amount of time that reason despairs of, and sees instead a world of plenty! I believe it is only with the eyes of faith that we can see that “goodbye” has the word good in it. GOODbye. How quickly do we skip over the idea that “farewell” implies a wish that things will and should fare well? What a great gift from God! The very words we say when we are focused in on how little we have, point instead to an abundance.

But just as I needed my friend to learn about GOODbyes, we need Christ’s help to get to the feast. We need faith to see the good. We need faith to break open our reason so we can taste this abundance. And that’s the rub: We need faith! Without it we have nothing but five loaves and two fish. What am I going to do with only two fish Lord? And, as I learned with you while reading Luther’s Small Catechism this year: faith is that one thing we cannot provide.

Faith is not something we can do. We clamor for it, we cry out, we scrounge around but time and again, we come up to that moment when we have to say goodbye, or when the hoards of people are hungry, and we fold. We look down and in on ourselves, and we don’t have it. We fail at faith. The disciples fail at faith, just after they see this great abundance- just after Christ makes a little bit of food into a feast with leftovers to spare- the disciples climb into a boat, and a storm rages. They fail at faith. They become afraid and think only of the scarcity of their lives left in front of them. And so Christ comes to them again, walking on the water, and says “It is I; do not be afraid.” And even then they wanted to take him into the boat! Come out of the stormy sea Christ, it isn’t safe! and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.”

We all fail at faith in the same way. We continue to be frightened disciples calling to Christ over the choppy waves. We saw the miracle, but we cannot believe it. That’s the real reason we have to hear the story of the loaves and fishes six times in four Gospels.

Because God knows it needs to be repeated: abundance, faith, the things we cannot get for ourselves they are here-in this very place- given to us freely and abundantly in Christ.

Christ takes our five loaves and two fishes, defies our reason, and turns them all into a feast that feeds a multitude. Christ takes our sin which limits us, and gives us instead forgiveness, and ever gushing life with no bounds. Where we fail at faith, God takes over. Where we cannot see the good in goodbye, God sees all things God creates and calls them Good. Where we cannot believe, the holy spirit calls, gathers, and enlightens us.

I’ll say it again: we can’t believe it. But the good news is, we don’t have to believe it. God is faithful. God does faith for you! God will repeat it six times and a million times. In fact, for the next five weeks our Gospel text will repeat again and again Chapter 6 of John. Because we need to hear about the bread of life at least that many times! And that is why we are here. To hear again of God’s mighty acts. To be reminded of the abundant feast that Christ made out of scarcity.

And then, before our reason can catch up with us, in this very place, it happens to us all. God creates faith in us. Just as when Jesus comes walking on the water, and the disciple’s boat immediately reaches the land toward which they were going. God comes and meets us here, and immediately we end up where we were going: in a world of faith! And God does it every time we hear and, by God’s grace, trust these words: With Joy, I proclaim to you that almighty God, rich in mercy, abundant in love, forgives you all of your sin, and grants you newness of life in Jesus Christ. Amen.”1

  1. Absolution from Now The Feast and Celebration by Marty Haugen

1 Comment

  1. Janet M.Miller
    Sep 13, 2015

    Hello (Not sure what your title is,now) :0)

    I continue to remember this sermon-and smile- every time I say, “Good-Bye” Also, I recall
    (quite often) Your definition of “Holy Ground’ and it has been a tremendous help to me!
    Interestingly , Vicar Bonnie used the term, removing her shoes when she delivered her first sermon.–Instantly, I wondered if you had the same professor somewhere along the way..? In any case, It’s wonderful when a member can recall a sermon–Keep it up, Tommy-I expect to recall many more sermons.. ! God’s Best to you and Ann and congratulations on your new position.