Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

THE LAST SERMON [10-18-16]

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter

I have preached my last sermon.

There are certain unnamed people who will laugh when they read this. They have heard it before, and it wasn’t quite true. That was because it was I who had decided that I would preach no more forever. This time, it is the world that has decided I shall preach no more. That’s different.

Preaching has been a major part of my identity since I was nineteen. It felt right, because I was pretty good at it. It made me use all my abilities, to interpret the Gospel in a way that people could not only understand but feel, in a way that opened the door for folks to come into the presence of God and to live in the way of Christ. That was satisfying.

Of course, being retired, I haven’t preached on an every-Sunday basis for a long time. I have done interims, from a month to a year, but most of my preaching was a Sunday here or there, when the real preacher needed a break.

One of those occasionals was not a Sunday morning, but a Thursday night. A couple of weeks ago, Joan Tuttle Smoke, the first of my “children in the ministry,” was installed as the new priest at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Bedford, IN. She’s officially retired, but serves part-time so that the small but active St. John’s congregation can have a pastor in residence. It was a great honor to preach at her installation.

It also is a nice closing of the circle of my preaching, from when I graduated seminary and became the campus minister at Indiana State University, where Joan was a student, to now.

It feels strange to think that I am no longer a preacher, but the world does not clamber for old preachers. Nor should it. There are plenty of young preachers who speak the language of this generation in a way that old preachers cannot. It’s okay for old preachers to sit down and listen for a change. Besides, Helen sat by herself in church for fifty years. She deserves to have someone to help her hold the hymnal.  

As I think about giving up preaching, though, I realize this giving-up has been the story of my life. I have given up many things that were important to my identity but had lived out their proper time. Degrees, for instance. I have ten years of higher education. I loved taking classes and working on degrees. Yes, I have done lots of “continuing education,” but all the schools in the world got together and said I could have no more degrees. Sports. I loved being an athlete, but I had to give up basketball and golf and long distance running and softball and pickle ball. I loved them all, but each in turn became impossible. Music. I have always thought of myself as a musician, but I have not picked up an instrument for many years.  

I suspect your life story is the same, with different particulars. It’s the way of life, and each time we have to give up some activity from which we get our identity, it reminds us that the one true lasting identity is simply that of human being, God’s child. Eventually, all doing comes to an end, but being remains. That’s good news.

I’ll see you in the pew. I’ll be holding a hymnal with a good-looking woman.


I tweet as yooper1721.

My youthful ambition was to be a journalist, and write a column for a newspaper. So I think of this blog as an online column. I started it several years ago, when we followed the grandchildren to the “place of winter,” Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP]. I put that in the sub-title, ”Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!” [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.] We no longer live in “the place of winter.” The grandchildren grew up, so in May, 2015 we moved “home,” to Bloomington, IN, where we met and married. It’s not a “place of winter,” but we are still in winter years of the life cycle, so I continue to work at understanding what it means to be a follower of Christ in winter…

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