First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine
Rev. Kent Allen
Service of Farewell
April 28, 2019
Scripture: John 21:1-14; Ephesians 3:14-21
I remember pretty clearly my first worship service here as one of your pastors. Although the sermon was long ago erased from the computer, I remember the theme. The thread that ran through it was “showing up”. I remember introducing my father to you, even though at that point, he had been gone several years. My dad grew up poor- to the day my grandmother died, she had no indoor plumbing. Although she struggled for years, as she aged, her mental illness only got worse. Her life had been complicated by the fact that my grandfather had committed suicide inside their barn, when my dad was a teenager. I was petrified of her. And even though I was only 9 when she died, I was aware that she treated my dad poorly, even as he worked hard at being a good son. My dad worked in a factory until he was 76. A normal work week was 6 days-54 hours. He did so because his main objective was providing for his family and making sure that we would have access to the world. We had few deep conversations about life – he was a man of few words. Rather than speaking, he communicated always with his presence- and it turned out for me that he taught me all about uncommon conversation.
He showed up, again and again. And when he did, he was totally present. He listened, he encouraged, he seldom judged, he had compassion and he loved life. He would show up when he was sick, and when he was tired. He’d show up just happy to be invited to the party. He lived on the same street for most of his years, taking time away only to serve in the Air Force and to build our family home there. The only organization he ever belonged to was the church with the exception of a par 3 golf course. To my knowledge he never had a leadership position and never served on a Committee, but he did love to sing in the church choir. And even with such a simple life, he taught me, more than any other person, what it meant to be a person of faith. He knew hardship and disappointment- but he never turned bitter, he rarely complained, and he was really good at making us feel loved. He died mowing his lawn, in his front yard. There couldn’t have been a better ending. At his calling hours, the wait for people to greet us was over an hour long. I knew weeks ago that this morning that I would need to say thanks to him one more time. I have been able to do this work all these years mostly because of what I learned from him and my other grandmother. And then of course there is Suz. Three people who have shown me the art of (un)common conversation. Three people who have demonstrated what it means to show up.
On that first Sunday in May of 2007, I made a promise that I would show up. I’d show up when it was easy and when it was hard. I’d show up when there was controversy and celebration. I promised that I would try my best to be present. Now, I have to admit those first few months were rough. I had a hard time settling in, having been in Newburyport for 19 years. And there were things here that were
challenging. Suz and I both wondered if we had made the right choice. But one of the saving graces of that period, was that the Search Committee kept meeting, and allowed us to have real conversation, sometimes hard conversation- un-common conversation.
As a going away present, Newburyport had given us a
weekend away in Nantucket, and in the Fall of that first year, we cashed in on the gift. But what we chose was a weekend when a Nor’easter struck. And it was the same weekend when I was to be installed as your minister. We wondered if God was telling us something!! The morning boats were cancelled, but we were able
to get here just in time that Sunday afternoon. The Installation occurred. I promised that I would show up and you promised the same. And after that, there was still some rough spots, but for me it just got better and better.
The gospel of John begins with this phrase, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” John was speaking about Jesus. He was setting the stage to remind us that we are to be people of the Word. Words matter. They are of the utmost importance. And Jesus modelled that for us. He was the master of the (un)Common conversation.
Kate was the one who first shared the (un)common conversation phrase. The notion of daring to go deeper, of daring to tell one’s story, daring to believe that there can be acceptance even of all our human frailty. Daring to show up and be present. For me, this has been the greatest gift this church has given. Time and again you have welcomed the opportunity to go deeper-in public Peace candles and in private reflections, in honesty around controversial issues, in being willing to talk about what needs to be saved and what needs to be left behind, in having high expectations, but also by demonstrating enormous amounts of grace. I thank you for showing up. I seek forgiveness for those times I might not have been completely present. This has been a tremendous job. Even with all the activity and change and challenge of these years, where there have been way too many meetings and where we have lost too many beloved members and friends, it has been wonderful. But it seemed much more than just a job. At times it really has felt to me like a holy
Time and again this community has made room for the thin place. An Easter place. A holy place. I hope you have felt that also. You and I are all in the midst of a transition. We do not have a crystal ball that will tell us exactly what the next chapter will be. It’s a little scary. But First Parish has Kate and an unbelievably strong core, a wonderful community. And I have Suz, the best partner there could be and our amazing family and friends. So perhaps we don’t need to fret. Maybe right now it’s enough to be thankful. And yet it is in our nature to worry about those things for which we have little control.
On this Sunday after Easter we have the story of Jesus appearing to the disciples on the beach. They didn’t recognize him at first. They had done what countless people have done after a hard day’s night. They went back to the familiar. Went back to their fishing. I’m certain that they wondered how they could continue now that Jesus was gone. When they recognized him, there must have been amazing joy, and not surprisingly they shared a meal with him.
I love it when people are paying attention. Peter texted me, as he was preparing the scripture and asked if I wanted him to read what follows these verses. I assured him that no that isn’t part of the lectionary. But then I realized that for today it was important to do so. The disciples must have wondered what to do next since they knew that Jesus would not be staying. Was there work to be done?
Would Jesus’ teachings disappear? Where was the manual they could refer back to? Jesus offered some words to Peter. If Peter (and by implication if the rest of us) loved him then we were to continue what he started. “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these? Yes, Lord you know I love you. Jesus said, feed my lambs. A second time he said to him, Simon, son of John, do you love me? He said
to him, yes Lord, you know that I love you. Jesus said to him, tend my sheep and a third time he asked the question and then responded, Feed my sheep. What Jesus basically said was keep doing what we have been doing. The gospel lesson for us instructs us, you and me, to go back to what we have been doing.
Dare to love. Risk having (un)Common conversations. Reach out to those who are lost. Forgive often. Share a meal together. Invite your hearts to experience the thin places. Build community. Be curious rather than judgmental. Know that you are beloved among other beloved children of God. Don’t forget to laugh. And trust that the spirit of Christ will be with you, even to the close of the age. Oh, and
don’t forget to show up. Amen and amen. Thanks be to God.