September 20, 2009

David Brubacher

Jeremiah 52:31-34

Luke 5:1-11

Recently I was reading a classic piece of literature that highlights the significance of taking another look. I quote, “I would not like them here or there. I would not like them anywhere. I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-am.” After much coaxing, the Cat-in-the Hat finally says to Sam-I-am, “Sam! If you will let me be, I will try them. You will see. …. Say! I like green eggs and ham! I do! I like them, Sam-I-am! … And I will eat them here and there. Say! I will eat them ANYWHERE! I do so like green eggs and ham! Thank you! Thank you, Sam-I-am! The classic of course is Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham.

As I recalled reading this story to our three year-old granddaughter I wondered what the Cat-in-the-Hat might have missed if he had not given green eggs and ham another look. Stated in hockey terminology, Wayne Gretzky says we miss one hundred percent of shoots never taken.

In the past week I had two opportunities to take a second look at the 22 months that I have served as your interim pastor. The first came during an interview with Walter Friesen and Doreen Martens, recorded for historical purposes. The second was an exit interview on Thursday evening, the evening of my final day in the office. In my taking a another look at the work we have done together, I found myself articulating TUMC’s time of transition in yet another way. This time of transition has several layers. It is not only a time of pastoral transition. TUMC is also transitioning into its next major block of history.

A year ago we celebrated TUMC’s 60th anniversary. Sixty years ago, during the first decade after World War II, the Mennonite Church in North America experienced a major shift and period of expansion. As the young people returned back to the farms from their alternate service assignments they brought a broader world view, ready to embrace the world in new ways. Another major wave of movement from the farm to city began. Many young people moved into the helping professions. More young people entered post-secondary education. In Ontario our two Mennonite high schools were started in that time. In Winnipeg both the Canadian Mennonite Bible College and the Mennonite Brethren Bible College were started. Many of the Mennonite mission and service agencies were shaped the way we knew them up until the last decade. It was a dynamic time of reshaping and building institutions. TUMC had its beginning in that dynamic time.

Service and institution building has shaped the ethos of TUMC for most of its history. It is no surprise that TUMC has been involved in establishing SCOC, The Harbourfront Sale, Lazarus Rising. Many members of TUMC have been innovators in their professional fields. We embraced these challenges and opportunities with what we remembered from the farm. A farmer, it used to be said, can fix anything with a piece of bailer twine and a nail. We pitched into these projects with a hands-on mentality and skills.

Sixty years later things have changed. The farm is a distant memory. Today we are an urban generation; if not born in the urban context, at least raised with an urban worldview. We are busy and stretched to the limit. Still we desire to be actively engaged in God’s mission in the world. We wonder where the energy will come from for what we are already doing let alone new opportunities. We don’t have the same hands-on skills of earlier generations. In the exit interview it was suggested that TUMC is entering a period of “the unknown,” and that maybe this needs to be a “fallow time.”  We named that as being okay, even good, using this time to listen to God and catch a fresh moving of God’s spirit for the next period in TUMC’s history.

The scripture texts read this morning provide a spring board for some considerations and encouragement in taking another look at TUMC’s future. Like green eggs and ham, taking another look may result in new opportunities.

Admittedly, I would not have chosen Jeremiah 52 as a text for my final sermon at TUMC. The portion read is a bright light in an otherwise dark and sad text. However, as a preaching team, we decided to use the same story the children will be considering later and I am committed to staying with that.

Jeremiah 52 recalls the happenings of the entire book. The intention is to show how the warnings given by the prophet Jeremiah came to be true. Repeatedly Jeremiah warned the people of Israel in their wandering after other gods and failing in being faithful to the LORD their God. Eventually it happened that the armies of Babylon attacked the city of Jerusalem, totally destroying the city and taking most of the people as captives to the city of Babylon.

That is a sad and dark story and I am in no way suggesting that it relates to TUMC’s time of transition, except for one thing, sadness! I am sure the people of Israel were more than sad when their city was destroyed. For some it is also sad to think that the future of TUMC might not be exactly like the past. For myself, I am feeling sad that is my last Sunday with you. After today I will no longer be your pastor and will not worship with you for at least six months. Perhaps we will stop by for a visit some Sunday in spring or early summer. In the short time I have been with you I have come to appreciate relationships that have been established. You warmly welcomed me into your midst and embraced me as your pastor. For me, that embrace has felt like a holy and mutual blessing.

But every sad story also has a glimmer of hope. In Jeremiah 52, King Jehoiachin is released from prison after thirty seven years. A new king in Babylon allowed Jehoiachin to eat with him and gave him an allowance to cover his living expenses. Things were improving for the captive people of Israel. Approximately thirty years later they were allowed to go back home to Jerusalem.

While the people were captive in Babylon they had to take another look at what it meant to be God’s people. They discovered opportunities they had missed and decided to make some changes. In their “time of unknown” they recognized God was still very much with them and they began to explore new ways of worshipping and serving God.

But sometimes we say, “I don’t want to take another look. I like things just the way they are.” We say that sometimes even when things are no longer working as they once did. Maybe that is what Jesus’ disciples were feeling when Jesus asked them to go back out on the lake after they had been fishing all night without success.

In Luke 5 people are streaming from all over the place to hear Jesus’ teaching. He was becoming a very popular. The people crowed in so close that Jesus asked to be taken out in a boat so that he could speak to the crowd better. After Jesus finished teaching he asked that they take the boats out into the deep waters to catch some fish.

When Jesus had come to the shore the fishermen were cleaning their nets after an unsuccessful night of fishing. We might assume this was now the middle of the morning. It can already be quite hot by this time on the Sea of Galilee and the fish are escaping to deeper cooler water. The suggestion to go fishing at this time did not make sense. After all, they had fished all night, why should they expect to catch anything in the growing heat of the day. But knowing and trusting Jesus as they did, they decided to take another look and give it a try. To their surprise they loaded two boats with fish until they both began to sink. Taking another look paid off.

I am suggesting that another look at what TUMC
might be will also result in unexpected dividends. The future of TUMC will not, nor should it, look like a mirror image of the past. At the exit interview it was suggested that TUMC is ready embark upon a new trajectory for the future. This time of unknown was also described as a forest floor covered with hot smoldering coals ready to burst into flame as new winds begin to blow.

Walking with you as a congregation has been a rich experience for me. Yes, not everything is fully defined but I am delighted to see the smoldering coals that are ready to burst into flame. At the Board meeting on Tuesday evening we heard how the congregational life and education committees are already approaching their ministry opportunities in new ways with some exciting results. Some of these coals are already bursting into flame all because people have dared take another look at how we might do things.

In the last two weeks I have had two extended conversations with Marilyn Zehr. In reviewing the transitional administrative and pastoral care details with her as she prepares to be your pastor, I was excited to see how she is embracing this place where TUMC is at in its history. It was exciting to hear the ideas and insights she has already generated based on her background in spiritual formation.

So, taking another look at my time with you here at TUMC, I see that you are poised for another dynamic period of being servants of God’s kingdom here in the city of Toronto. It has been both a privilege and an honour for me to walk with you to this day. As I conclude my time as your pastor our relationship need not end, but it must change. After today any contact we will have will be on the basis of friendship. As I will express a little later in a termination covenant, I will commit myself to not engage in any pastoral contact or conversation unless at the invitation of Marilyn Zehr.

At this time a part of me is tempted to continue with words to delay the inevitable saying of good-bye. But as Edith Kool told me recently when I expressed my not knowing what to say that had not already been said, she said, “God does not need many words.” With that I am confident that many words are not needed as we acknowledge what at least for me, has felt like mutual blessing these 22 months. So I simply say, “Shalom my friends! Travel with God’s speed.” Amen.