God is the Creative Principal and Agent behind the created Universe. Scientifically, we now can pretty much determine that that took place billions years ago. But the moment of creation is not far removed from us in a dark and distant past. Today, in this present moment, creation continues as it did on that first day.
This moment, then, is also a beginning, and we are in the process of becoming. Rather than being trapped in time, this becoming—when it follows the trajectory of love—and even as it remains in time—delivers us to eternity.
Today I would like to speak about time. I do this because, at least from any initial outward appearance, today would seem simply like an end—the running down, the diminishment, the ending of something that was. But the Biblical understanding of time exposes the truth that the whole of reality did not appear all at once. This deeper awareness indicates that there is a progressive and incessant creation of reality that takes place moment by moment and that reality is continually being engendered.
Western philosophical tradition, though, generally regards time as having no other directional flow other than the winding down and diminishment of things and forces. This interpretation has crept into our modern worldview and expresses itself in the sense that being is given once and for all. The tediousness that this gives rise to can be expressed in the familiar quip, “been there, done that.” Time in this understanding becomes the great spoiler, with there being nowhere to go but down—down toward diminishment and death. (This must be why we can look at the global degradation and the environmental calamity before us and assume that it is simply business as usual.)
The Hebrew understanding that undergirds the Biblical worldview is altogether different. Creation here is an ongoing process with the divine and human in dynamic partnership. Life is far from being static, and being itself is an operative and inventive act, endlessly innovating. On the foundation of this Biblical understanding of time, then, let me speak about our time together.
And I’ll start by being perfectly honest with you. While it is true that I came to Trinity at a point in time when this community was broken and the parish perilously close to closing, it is also true that I myself was broken and trying to recover from a threatening breach of self-confidence and a spiritual dark-night that had blocked my way.
And, truly, it wasn’t as if I was looking for this position. At the time, as a matter of fact, I thought that I had successively dodged parish ministry and that it would never grab me! But whenever I was here at Trinity and performing supply services, I experienced an uninvited and unwanted niggling that would not let me be. As hard as I tried to push it down, it kept creeping back up. Because it occasioned in me such overwhelming fear, I simply could not afford to pay attention to it.
The fear was a fear of failure, a fear of being found wanting and exposed. What I saw was a wounded congregation; but because I myself could only see through the eyes of my own woundedness, I thought that you surely deserved better. This main averseness was bolstered with a myriad of reasons that I recited to myself that tried to convince me that this would never work. Could anything positive come out of such a pathetic addition of one wounded entity to another?
While most all of the different parts in me agreed that this would never work and that it should not be further entertained, there was another Voice in this conversation twenty years ago. Yes, of course, it was God’s Voice, but it was not a literal voice or some sort of dramatic divine intervention. It was only the mysterious deep wondering about the joining of a potential risk and a possible chance; and it was expressed in God’s gift of time. Yes, you and I were given the exquisite gift of time to see what we could do about healing our woundness. And with that time came opportunity and possibility.
So rather than time being the measure of dissolution—that is, the duration that I would be here before I would leave and others would die or move on—time for us became the trajectory on which might be measured the growth of love and healing. Rather than fall prey to fear of failure or the tedium of business as usual, we dared to imagine that we could do something here that was both ancient and at the same time shockingly new. And it was as simple as it was difficult—we committed ourselves to growing more deeply into Kingdom reality. And we willingly, and often in the smallest of steps, committed ourselves to following Jesus’ path of self-giving love.
We did not listen to the naysayers who, from the outside, judged this parish to be a sure and certain failure. Did you know that some called this parish a “priest killer?” (Wow, what an indictment that was!) Instead of heeding those dire judgments, we simply we put one foot in front of the other, and over time we learned to inspire each other in giving and growing. And we worked to open ourselves to each other as we opened our hearts to God. And the result? Well, love has been the result. This twenty-year period can just as easily, then, be marked by the growth in love as it can by the duration of years.
On the outside, to be sure, the milestones can be reflected in dollar figures, renovation projects, the growing number of children and teachers in our Children Worship Program, and in our attendance figures. From these milestones we have risen from being on the precipice of closing to being the second largest parish in the diocese. Our average Sunday attendance is now approaching 190!
All those measurements, of course, are all very good and very impressive; but they do not tell the deeper story. For the complete accounting must include what has happened for us on the inside of ourselves. For ultimately this is what our Christian faith is for—not for holding churches together, but for the purpose of transformation from the inside out. And I do believe that that’s precisely what has happened. I can see this in you as you have reported it to me and as I see it reflected in things that you say and do. And I can feel it in myself as well.
This community has come to mean everything to me. Once I got over that dark fear of failure and inadequacy at the very beginning, all I have ever wanted to do was to throw my lot in with this community and be one of you. While I have never wanted to abdicate my leadership role in this spiritual community, I have always refused to be separated by the division that usually comes with the distinction between clergyperson and laypeople. And while I have always been willing to fulfill the requirements of my role as rector, I have always seen my relationship with you to be deeper than that.
Having said all that, then, the question becomes how I could possibly leave the depth of the nurturing context we have developed together? And how could I leave my position as rector right now—right on the crest of this amazingly productive wave?
My answer to this question has to do with what my friend Helen Daly saw in me and chose to invest in me, and it has to do with the kind of work to which I now in my life feel called. But most of all it has to do with taking what we have developed here at Trinity and seeing if I can help other parishes do something similar. It’s as if, on one side, the seeds of love that have been sown in this place have grown up to bloom into a rich harvest that has become manifest in the growth of this parish. But, on the other, I also detect a surplus yield that is spilling over that begs be spread to other places and other parishes. And that is the work that is calling me.
But the other answer to why I am now making this transition has to do with the very nature of love. Over the course of my twenty years with you many of us have experienced deep and difficult loss. I myself have lost my father, my sister, and a number of precious friends. In addition we have all lost many, many loved ones from this community. But while we have lost much over this period of time, we have also learned something about the immutability and permanence of love even in the face of death. Even as we lose a loved one on one level, we have found other new manifestations of this love on other levels. This is part of what Kingdom life is all about.
So I can leave my role as rector knowing that deep in my heart the love that has been engendered between us can live on. You will continue to be in me and for me, and I hope you know that I will always be in and for you as well. That is the way love works; that is what Kingdom life is.
So then time is not a winding down—leading only to a diminishment and an ending. Time is the onward path of love, growing and deepening. And when life follows that trajectory of love through time and transition, it leads us to eternity. And—despite whatever ache might be there is our hearts—eternity is where we find ourselves right now.