Preacher: Emily Linderman
Scripture: John 16:16–33
Good morning. I’m giving myself a minute to take in all your beautiful faces because I’m saying goodbye today.
For those of you who don’t know my face, but maybe do know my name, I’m Emily Linderman and I’ve been a member of Epiphany’s staff for five years. I’m graduating from Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry next month and I’m saying goodbye to my role as a staff member here.
I’m letting my relationship to Epiphany change.
It’s a relationship I’ve been privileged and providenced to have and although I feel confidently called beyond my staff roles here, it was a hard decision to come to because I love this place. And I’m proud of how Doyt, Kate, the staff including our newest member, Todd, and I have walked through this transition together. It’s been a long, open goodbye and the staff team has does some of our best work together these last 10 weeks.
I found Epiphany though my other church home, my sponsoring for ordination congregation, Liberation United Church of Christ. I started attending Liberation in the September 2009 back when Liberation was worshipping here at 1:30 in the afternoon. Many of you liked to stop in the narthex before the wall at the back of the nave was up and listen to our choir warm up on your way out after coffee hour. A year after I started attending Liberation I left my 18 year career in architecture (be careful with charismatic worship) to follow my longing to go into ministry and my pastor, Darrell Goodwin-Moultry told me that Doyt was looking for a new administrative assistant for Epiphany. I applied and got the job and started working here in May 2011, three months before I started seminary.
I thought I would be here for two years and then look for a part-time job when my first of two required internships started. But thankfully it seems that God, and Doyt, had other things in mind—might have had something to do with this little project called The Next 100 Years renovation and my experience as an architect and project manager, but who’s to say?
For the past two years, I have been Doyt’s behind the scenes Associate working with him and the staff and the building team and the ministry leaders and you all on behalf of the well-being of this outpost of the Kin-dom of God and the world. Relationships are indeed primary and my relationships here with Doyt, the staff, and all of you have made me more of the person and minister I want to be.
And so Epiphany, you are hard to leave.
Turns out, I’m not going very far. I am called and am finally ready to put my spiritual direction training into practice and I’m excited to be doing so out of an office on the upper floor of the Parish Hall starting this fall after a little time off.
So while my role on staff is ending, my relationship with Epiphany is not, it’s simply changing.
And the spiritual practice for me, and the people I love here who love me, is to let that relationship change.
This is the work of a lifetime and the daily work of our lives. To let life and our relationships with the people we love, and the people we don’t always know how to love, grow and change.
It took me five months, from last August to Christmas Eve, to accept what the Holy Spirit was telling me about my staff role here ending when I graduated. Maybe you don’t like change either. Maybe you resist it like me.
I’m not the only one here today getting ready to say goodbye to something or someone in a significant way. I know many of you are letting things change so that you can welcome what will be. The trick is how to do this—how to let our relationships change, but stay in relationship at the same time. I didn’t care for that nudge.
I think there’s something amazing hidden in plain sight in the Christian tradition, or at least it’s been somewhat hidden to me:
God made present to us in Jesus, made present to us in the Holy Spirit, is a master of staying in relationship while the relationship is changing.
God stays in relationship with us while God’s very expression of God’s self is changing while we are changing!
The resurrected Jesus present to the disciples and the Cosmic Christ present to us today through the Holy Spirit is God staying in relationship with us no matter what. I think this is very Good News.
And Jesus shows us how to stay in relationship through these and all of our changes.
The Gospel reading we hear today is a continuation from the passage Kate preached on last week from John 13–17 referred to as Jesus’ Farewell Discourse. In these chapters he’s saying a profound and deeply moving goodbye for now and letting himself and his relationships change. And he does so by:
- Telling the truth as he knows it—and he knows a lot—calmly, clearly, kindly.
- He shares with the disciples what he prayerfully experiences inside of himself through his connection with his father, his God and our God.
- He sits with and expresses his full range of human emotions.
- He empathizes with and acknowledges the feelings of others
- And then he lets things change. He lets himself and his relationships change. And he let’s life transform him to whoever God – his father and our father, who loves him and as he reminds us today, loves us—is calling him to be.
Although this is a dramatic goodbye on the eve of a life altering resurrected return—so massive it includes all of us—we shouldn’t use Jesus being Jesus as an excuse to downplay what his words and actions have to say to us about our own lives.
From the moment we are born until the moment we die to this experience of our life with God and continue on to the next—growth and change, celebrations and goodbyes abound with:
addictions and other illnesses,
recovery and resistance to recovery,
the deaths of beloved pets, children, parents, spouses,
various coming outs,
loss of jobs,
jobs we love,
jobs we can hardly stand,
And the church helps us mark some of these rites of passages sacramentally and liturgically all along the way and our church communities come round us in spacious, practical, and prayerful ways at those times. And dare I say that Epiphany excels at this. It is a God given and human fulfilled charism of this community for which I am often in awe and give thanks.
But how do we carry the gospel lesson of a good goodbye and resurrection in our bones when we’re not at church or the church isn’t gathered round and it’s just us and our spouse or our child or our boss or our neighbor?
Or we find ourselves alone in some new place and we’re afraid?
Or we find ourselves alone in the same old place feeling left behind?
We remember Jesus and we call on the Holy Spirit. I invite you to do so with me right now. If you’re comfortable, close your eyes. Settle in and see if you can sense the God that is everywhere at all times with you right here in this time and this place.
Imagine yourself telling the truth as you know it—calmly, clearly, kindly
Make friends with all of your feelings trusting Jesus when he says, “you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy… and no one will take your joy from you.”
Imagine yourself acknowledging the feelings of others with no need to fix them, it’s powerful enough just to listen.
Remind yourself that even as life is changing and at times you find you are by yourself, you are never alone for the God who loves Jesus loves you and is with you always.
You can let life be life, you can let it change and let it refine you, soften you instead of harden you, there’s no need to cling, no need to flee, there’s no need to punish yourself or others.
Just open your hands prayerfully so you can let go.
You can do so right now, just open your hands so you can let go and embrace the promise transformation, the promise of your sorrow turning into joy, the promise of your resurrection.
Open your eyes and see the resurrection. Open your eyes and see the powerful and joyful resurrection reunion between Mary Magdalene and Jesus in the garden, Jesus keeps teaching us how to stay in relationship, but let the relationship change. Jesus shows us how to come back, how to return changed, refined, but still connected to those we love. As he says to Mary, “do not cling to me, I have yet to ascend to the Father.” I can hear him saying “Do not hold on to me, I am not yet done with my changes.”
Is this something you need to say to someone?
Is this something you need to acknowledge that someone is saying to you?
Epiphany, you have loved me well.
And you are letting me go well.
And I thank you because I am not done with my changes.
And you, all of you are not done with your changes.
And Epiphany, she is not done with her changes.
I hope and I pray that we are never are.
But I do hope we remember that like Jesus, we came from God and we are constantly with God, somehow returning to God, whose relationship with us changed with the incarnation, and again with Jesus ministry, and again with his death, and again with the resurrection, and again with the ascension, and again with Pentecost… and again, and again, and again until even today and I trust tomorrow. Our relationship with God is always changing, we are always changing, the people we love and the people we don’t always know how to love are changing, but God in Jesus made present in the Holy Spirit is always in relationship with us even as we change, even as Christ changed, even as the Holy Spirit will not and cannot be tied down, thank God. No matter the change, the relationship itself and a powerful love remains.