Since my ministry began in 1983, I have been keeping a manila folder, and I have been placing items in that folder ever since. I have placed in that folder thank you notes, and birthday and anniversary greetings from church members and family members, church pictures, and pictures of my family; all kinds of things. I recall telling a children’s story one day, and using that folder as an illustration of gratitude, and it almost fell apart because it was so full.
I was interested to read that a colleague has a folder like this, but he is far cleverer than I, and he calls his folder a “gravy” folder, the idea being that gravy at a meal is not the main thing. Gravy is that little extra special tasty stuff that makes the meal taste wonderful. Now, having written that, it is time for a true confession; I don’t even use gravy on my food, but humor me; go with the metaphor, because the events of the last few weeks have been gravy for Terri and me.
Indeed, our gravy boat runs over as we think not only about God’s blessings to us over so many years of ministry, but also as we think about how deeply touched we have been by all of your expressions of love and care as retirement looms. The beautiful reception that you provided for us was so meaningful, fun, and delicious! It must have involved dozens of people; it was clearly a labor of love and we thank you all from the bottom of our hearts. My friend, Lynn Bergfalk, mentioned that as he walked into the room that day, he felt like he walked into a “sea of love” and that expressed best how we felt that day.
The worship service on the 22nd touched our hearts as well. We appreciated the beautiful words of Bernard Warren, Dawn Molloy, Bob Hall, and Ericc Powell’s words and heartfelt prayer, and all of the hugs and expressions of love. And we were so very humbled by your generous gift. Indeed, we have been overwhelmed by all of your gifts, cards, letters and notes. You are all family to us, and we will forever be grateful for the sacred time we have spent here.
When family members move away, the love does not cease to exist. I pray it’s true, that old adage that distance makes the heart grow fonder. In the words of my favorite singer, “Friends we will remember you, think of you, pray for you, and when another day is through, we’ll still be friends with you.”
I entrust you now into the capable hands of Rev. Doris Barron-Shell as your Interim Pastor. Doris is an outstanding person, preacher, and pastor. I know you will love her as you have loved us, and that love will be a transforming power in her life as it has been in ours. And I entrust you to our God, who has been with us from the beginning and will be with you as you move into that strange land that is your future.
We will pray for you and for the Search Team in their work, even as we covet your prayers for the big changes that are in store for us. As I said in my initial retirement letter to you: “For the rest of my days, I will say with pride that I had the privilege of serving as Pastor of the Montgomery Hills Baptist Church.” It has all been gravy! We love you. God bless you all. We thank God for every remembrance of you.
In Christ, Pastor Joel
Christmas is upon us, our last Christmas together as pastor and people. I cannot begin to find the words to ex-press my gratitude to you, and my love for you. I believe this will be a very special time in the life of our church as we celebrate Advent and Christmas for the 29th time together. We will wait with hopeful expectation for Jesus to be born among us once more.
I have often quoted Helmut Thielicke’s sermon entitled, “The Message of Redeeming Light,” in which he wrote that “If we take light seriously, we also have to reckon with the fact that there is a night in which it shines….It, (light) is a miracle only if the night is taken seriously.” The context for these words was World War II Nazi Germany. It was night all around our world.
A hymn we often sing proclaims that “morning has broken.” For some this is true. Praise God. But others continue to be victims of violence, abuse, or war. For still others, Christmas is not a time of happiness and good cheer. There are financial worries, family challenges, and health concerns. Some have lost loved ones and that makes this season particularly difficult; signs of our world’s night to be sure.
Just as the first Christmas was enveloped in the darkness of sin and sadness, so too is our Christmas celebration. Thank God for the miracle of light, and for the star that leads to a humble manger and to a child destined to be the light of the world; the child who would suffer and die to redeem the world’s sin and sorrow and death. Thank God for this one who lights our way to God.
Leslie Weatherhead once spoke of Christianity as the “religion of the dawn…we do not pretend that there is no night but we live in faith that however long the night, in world affairs or our own hearts, the night will pass, and the dawn will come.”
I marvel each year at the tenacity the Christmas story has on my mind and heart. But I also wonder about those who have never heard the story or truly experienced Christmas. Jesus once told us that “we are the light of the world.” We are to throw off a radiance that touches the hearts and minds of others. Like our candles on Christmas Eve, every single light can make a difference. Thank you Church, for all the ways you light up our community and world. I challenge you to continue to be intentional in finding new and creative ways to share the light and love of Christ with all.
Longfellow heard the bells on Christmas day and said, “There is no peace on earth, for hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.” I prefer the words of Horatio Bonar: “I heard the voice of Jesus say: ”I am this dark world’s light, look unto me, thy morn shall rise, and all the day be bright. And in that light of life I’ll walk, till traveling days are done.” God bless you all! Merry Christmas!
In Christ’s love, Pastor Joel
Rev. Dr. Doris Barron-Shell