We have come to the place where I bid farewell to you after eleven years of ministry in your midst. This article is my 129th and last one (we went three months a couple years ago without a Carillon edition so we are short of the 132 possible articles). I have tried to take the Carillon responsibility as seriously and joyfully as I have taken all my responsibilities in the congregation over these years. I tried to think of the Carillon as an important part of my teaching responsibilities and my efforts to describe what I believe faithfulness requires from us today in the task of Christian formation and discipleship. I thought of myself as a kind of editorialist, trying to shed light on the complexities of our common vocation as disciples of Jesus Christ. I ordered my reflections according to the church calendar, focusing attention on (1) the meaning of the season, (2) the biblical and theological insights related to the season, (3) the needs and calling of the congregation in light of those themes, and (4) our 21st century context.
Two concerns have shaped these articles and informed my ministry at FPCE. First, I always wanted to illuminate aspects of the Presbyterian motto, “the church reformed and always being reformed” (ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda). The means of Christian formation and discipleship in this key are neither “lifting ourselves by our own bootstraps” (the strenuous effort approach) nor “going with the flow” (assuming what we want is what God wants) but learning to respond in the whole of life to the Word and Spirit of God (discipleship means “lifelong responsiveness”). The “grammar” of this continual responsiveness is (1) affirmation (God loving us while we were and are yet sinners), crucifixion (God’s love purifying all that is not holy in us), and transformation (living lifestyles that participate in the Spirit of God). I have always assumed that the goal of our life together in faith is not happiness but holiness.
Second, holiness is worked out in a communal setting. Christian formation and discipleship is always concerned with the forming and reforming and transforming of the complex relationships that constitute congregational life and, beyond congregations, that witness to Christ in the larger world. The call of holiness involves not merely the benefits of being part of a community but the mutual concerns of responsibility and accountability to one another. All of the actions we take as a congregation should reflect this concern for communal responsibility and accountability. Presbyterians call this communal interdependence “covenant.” Covenant relations cannot be coerced. But neither do they just flow by some magic of osmosis. As Paul noted: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil. 2:12b–13).
I never saw myself in this position as an administrator of programs or as an organizer of activities. While I did administer many programs and organize thousands of learning events, my efforts were always oriented towards engaging the congregation, in multiple settings, in an extended conversation that really matters about what it means to be a community of faith in the 21st century. Reformed and always being reformed—by the Word and Spirit of God. Such discipleship is “an impossible possibility” (what Karl Barth said about preaching!). Nonetheless, the life to which we are called every day, in season and out of season, is covenantal discipleship. In a world more and more torn apart by rampant individualism, tribalism, caustic belittlement of others, multiple abuses, racial hate, dehumanization of women, the weak, and the poor, indifference, escapism, intolerance, “me-first-ism,” obliteration of truth, ad nauseam, what the world desperately needs are embodiments of a different way of being human—very much like the covenantal way of being human called for by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I thank you all for the past eleven years that have enriched our lives. Judy and I commend you all to the grace, mercy, and accountability of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.