Sermon by The Rev. Brett P. Backus
Sunday, August 26, 2018
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The Gospel: John 6:56-69
Jesus said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
The Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Final Ascension Sermon
So I really wasn’t too sure how to go about doing this. This final Sunday thing. I mean is this a typical sermon? Do I try to preach the Gospel? Or is this just simply a farewell speech? I’m actually still not totally sure. I mean how do you say goodbye for now to an entire community, to so many who you love and care for? How do you end relationships with an entire community even when you’re just going down the road? So I guess I don’t really know what this is going to be, but I do know that there are a few things I really want to say to you all this morning. There are some things that I’d really like you all to remember.
You know a close friend and mentor of mine told me once that every priest should fall in love with their first parish. I realize that there’s probably quite a few of you who don’t know this, but it’s fairly odd for an associate rector, especially one who came straight out of seminary, to be formed as a priest and then stay in one church for more than just a couple years…………….or ten! I think that the fact that my family and I have been here at Ascension for ten years, that we’ve worshipped together and walked alongside one another on the way, for this long, certainly suggests that this is true in our case. We have loved you, so much, and we have felt loved and supported by you, by this community, for all these years, and we want to thank you all for that, from the bottom of our hearts. As I said in the letter that went out a few weeks ago, my home church, where I grew up, The Church of the Good Samaritan, taught and formed and made me a Christian. You all, Church of the Ascension, taught and formed and made me a Priest, and I will be eternally grateful to you all for that. I really want you all to hear this, don’t stop forming priests. I know, I know it’s hard to take someone in, to care for them, to teach them, to love them, and then to let them go, but this is what the greater Church needs, so badly. It is what this community does, and not all churches are good at it or can afford to do it. So don’t let that ever stop being a part of who you are here at Ascension.
In regards to my formation though, I truly want to thank you. Thank you for your patience, for your kindness, for your gentle encouragement and your courageous and generous support. Thanks for sitting through the sermons, the good and the bad, for letting me work out my own faith struggles along with you. Thanks for letting me walk on the journey with you. Thanks for allowing me to feel free enough, to feel comfortable enough to sometimes admit, to oftentimes admit, that I don’t know, I don’t have the answers.
Thanks for listening to me talk incessantly about Bolivia, and for always stepping up to pitch in and make so many great things happen. Thanks for putting up with my random song lyrics in sermons, odd movie references, hippy music and incense billowing from my office during sermon prep and my nervously pacing the sanctuary barefoot, for the occasional skateboard ride in the parking lot, and for putting up with my not so hidden proclivity for the paranormal, conspiracy theory, and cryptozoology. Thank you for letting me walk with you in the most beautiful and hard and intimate moments of your life, for the births, the baptisms, the confirmations, the marriages, and the burials. I was honored to be a part of every single one. Thank you for your love and acceptance. You know that same friend and mentor shared with me that when he had to leave a church that he loved, he felt as though he was mourning the death of an entire community. I don’t look forward to that, and I hope that somehow we will figure out a way to still be in each other’s lives, maybe as friends and family, not priest and parishioners.
You know it might sound like a strange thing to say, but I feel good about leaving, even though it’s hard. I feel good about leaving because one, I know you all are in good hands and in good care. Pat, Christopher, all your clergy and staff are excellent, trust them and support them. I am so excited for the next person to come and experience you and this place, and for you all to learn and grow more from them. More importantly though, I feel good about leaving Ascension now, because I see God in it.
In my own spiritual life, God has always called or led or pushed me into things that I initially very strongly resisted or hesitated to embrace. The priesthood itself, Ascension, and St. Elizabeth’s, among other calls, they have all felt that way. They were calls that I resisted, then begrudgingly accepted, only to later be pleasantly surprised by the very clear presence of God in it all. This current call feels the same. While I didn’t total my car by running it into the back of their church van like I did with Ascension’s when I was 17, I have always felt some sort of connection to and interest in St. E’s, and that brings me comfort.
So, we shall see. We shall see what God does in this beautiful place as you all move forward. We shall see what God does in our new journey with St. E’s. We shall see what God does, how God moves in our own lives and on our own paths. That brings me to the final thing I want to say, the other main thing I want you all to remember. You know most homiletics professors say that each preacher really only has one or two sermons. Well, I think that’s pretty accurate in my case.
So over the past ten years, I really feel that in a way, I have been saying a variation of the same core message to you all over and over again. It is truly the message that God has placed on my heart and what I feel (I know that sounds arrogant, but it is what I feel) is absolutely the most important message, the true good news or Gospel, the one and only message that God has been trying to teach humanity from the beginning, throughout all Scripture, Time, and across, all peoples, cultures, languages, and religions. From the Hebrew people, to the Incarnation, to our own Gospel command today to eat the flesh. I want you to really hear it today, and I hope you can carry it with you throughout your life. It is surprisingly simple and yet, if you really hear it, if you really get it, if we really were to spread it to others, it has the potential, the ability, to be absolutely earth shattering, and to completely change the world and life itself.
Words of course don’t even begin to do it justice, but here it is: God. Loves. You. God loves you. God Lives Right Here. God Loves You, and there is nothing, nothing that you can ever do to change it or to take that away, no matter how you try. You, whose story I know. You who is broken, or has fallen. You who has sinned or slipped. You who has secrets, you who is lost, you who is strong, you who is weak, you who feels incomplete, who who thinks they have or knows everything in the world. You who has or feels like nothing, like no one. You who has lost love. You who gives much. You who is laid low. You whose cup is more than overflowing. You who is empty. You, you who is beautiful forever, in the eyes of God. You. God Loves You. So, now, You, take that Love, from which you came, of which you are, take that Love, so says the Spirit, take that Love out into that world, and re-create it, in God’s image, in your image, in Love.
My friends, God Loves You, and I love you too, very much. Thank you for your Love.