Pine Grove United Methodist Church
Pastor: Reverend Stephen Martin, D.Min.
The Churches In My Heart
June 30, 2013 Philippians 1:1-11
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
A pastor had just been sent by the Bishop to a new pastorate. As he set up his office he came upon a letter in the top drawer of the desk. Stapled to the letter were three sealed envelopes numbered one, two, and three. The letter was from the previous pastor. It said, “Welcome to First church. When things get bad open envelope number one. When things get really bad open envelope number two. When things get unbearably bad open envelope number three.” The new pastor thought, “Gee, what a negative guy.” He promptly pushed the letter and envelopes to the back of the drawer.
Well, things went fine until about a year later when things got bad. The pastor remembered the letter and envelopes and opened up number one. It said, “Blame the previous pastor.” On Sunday morning the pastor said, “I know we’ve been having some problems around here, but you know, it’s all the previous pastor’s fault. He messed this church up something awful.” The people all said, “Amen, that’s right” and everything smoothed over.
Things went along pretty well for a while but about a year later things got really bad. The pastor went to his drawer, got out envelope number two and it said, “Blame the denomination.” On Sunday morning the pastor stood up and said, “I know we’re having problems here, but it’s all the denomination’s fault. Our bishop and district superintendents are out of touch with the churches, and the bureaucracy of the Methodist church is awful.” “Amen” said the people, it’s all the denomination’s fault.” That settled everything down and things went along well for another year.
But then, after three years, things were unbearably bad. The pastor hated to use the last envelope, but he had no choice. He went to his desk and opened envelope number three. It said, “Prepare three envelopes.”
What do you say on your last Sunday after a four-year pastorate or forty years in ministry? The temptation is to do what parents often do right before their kids go off to college. They give their child a long speech telling them to study hard, and hang out with nice people, and eat healthy, and get enough sleep, and don’t go to wild parties and drink … But nobody is listening! If our kids didn’t get that stuff in 18 years, they are not going to get it in a final speech before going off to college. So I’ll refrain from rehashing all the lessons I’ve tried to teach over the past forty years. I hope some of what I’ve shared sticks. But if you haven’t gotten it yet it’s too late now.
However, I will give you the speech that I gave to my son when he left home to move to Greensboro to look after his grandmother. It was very short. I said, “Just be who you are—and you will do great.” I feel the same way about this church and every church I have served. Just be who you are—and your future will be very good indeed.
In the time I have left, I want to share a simple devotional from Philippians 1. You probably know that the church at Philippi was Paul’s favorite church. In his letter to them he said, “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart… I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” (v. 7-8)
When I read these words a few weeks ago, tears came to my eyes and I knew this was the text I would use for my last sermon at Pine Grove. Just as the church at Philippi was Paul’s favorite church and in Paul’s heart, there have been many churches that have been my favorite churches and are in my heart. Very quickly, I want to look at today’s text and note several ramifications of having these churches, in the words of Paul, “in my heart.”
First, since these churches are in my heart, I am grateful for you. “I thank my God every time I remember you.” (v. 3) Like Paul, every time I think of these churches, my heart wells up with thanksgiving. My experience in each place, at the time, has been, without question, the best pastoral experience of my life, and I am full of gratitude to God and to you for the privilege of serving in all those places. God brought us together in His time… when we needed each other. And he blessed our time together.
Second, as these churches are in my heart, I will pray for you. “In all my prayers for all of you …” (v. 4) For the rest of my life I will remember these churches in my prayers. I will especially pray for you, in this church, over the next few months during this time of transition. I know you… and I know that you will open your hearts and minds to accept Robin as your new pastor.
Thirdly, since these churches are in my heart, I have confidence in you. “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” (v. 6) As I left each church I was not worried about you… as I leave Pine Grove, I am not worried about you either. This is a strong church with a strong faith and a strong congregation and strong ministries. You will do well in the future as you continue to remain faithful to your calling… and open to God’s future leading.
Finally, since these churches are in my heart, I continue to have dreams for you. “That your love may abound more and more … that you may be pure and blameless … and filled with the fruit of righteousness.” (v. 9-11) We’ve seen some wonderful things happen in these churches over the past forty years. But there is still plenty to do in each place, so I still have big hopes and dreams for the future of these congregations, and look forward to following your story in the years to come.
Several years ago I told some of you about one of my favorite authors, a woman named Ann Lamont. In one of her books she said, in the end, there are only two prayers. The first is “Help me, help me, help me.” and the second is “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” I think she’s just about right. As I prepare to leave this place and go into retirement— my prayer most certainly is “Help me, help me, help me.” And you know that is Shirley’s prayer. But as I think back on my forty years of ministry in twelve appointments in the United Methodist Church, my prayer to God, and to you, is and will always be, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” Each and every church, with its own personality has touched me in a very special way… to each of you… I do thank you for allowing us to become part of your family, your lives, your heart, your spirit.
Grace and Peace