Last sermon at Eastside

As I thought about this sermon, my last one here at Eastside, I was drawn to Paul’s letters, written at a time when he was absent from the churches that he established in various parts of Asia Minor and Macedonia but wrote to encourage them to keep on keeping on.

I want to refer to 2 passages written to the church at Thessalonica.  One in his first letter and another in his second letter.

2 Thessalonians 3:1 Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us, so that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified everywhere, just as it is among you, 2 and that we may be rescued from wicked and evil people; for not all have faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one. 4 And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will go on doing the things that we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

1 Thessalonians 4:1 Finally, brothers and sisters, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus that, as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God (as, in fact, you are doing), you should do so more and more.

The first passage struck a chord with me, because in the first part he asks that they continue to pray for him, even though he was absent from their midst, and the second part of that passage mirrors the other letter about encouraging them to continue on the path set.

I too would love that you continue to pray for Karlene and I as we go north to Thames to continue the work done here.

But the bit I want to focus on is the latter part of the verse, and the verse from the earlier letter.

3 But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one. 4 And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will go on doing the things that we command.

as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God (as, in fact, you are doing), you should do so more and more.

For 16 years I have been your shepherd here; for 16 years I have seen children grow to be adults, sometimes marry and sometimes not and to have children themselves; I have seen people come to faith and grow in their faith; I have seen people graduate to heaven; I have seen people take the ethos of Eastside to other places around NZ, and unfortunately I have seen people leave the church because their ideas were different from those of this church.

I have seen the mission of this church impact the community of Invercargill, particularly of Glengarry and of South City. I have seen the genuineness of this church in the love for people break down barriers between the so-called professional carer organisations and the church, where now, instead of distrust, this church is called upon by those professional agencies to help and where our voice is listened to.

I have seen us being a part of the solution to the problems of this world through our community ministries and our relationship with Corrections, Oranga Tamariki, Idea Services and SIT and others

We have been a part of the formation of the learning of many Social Services students and Mental Health Support worker trainees through their placement with us.

We have helped people achieve their God purposes – like the internships of Neil Logan, Moeroa and Wendy – and have nurtured Jordy in the planting of the Intercultural Church. We have grown people through the various courses we have run and the encouragement and love we have shown each other.

All of that is not my doing, but our doing – all of us.  Karlene and I have been blessed with awesome leadership teams over those 16 years, but most of the initiatives for mission and ministry have come from you guys.

Eastside has a reputation within the Baptist Union and within the churches of Invercargill and the Southern region of being on the cutting edge of what a 24/7 community church looks like.

When people ask me about the success of Eastside, I don’t quote stats – although I could because we are doing ok – but prefer to tell stories – stories of healings, transformations and aha God moments. Stories about your lives. Because your lives and not stats are what matter.

The belonging before believing ethos of this church has attracted so many people to God.

In many ways, I am sad to be leaving you. You are my family and I have wept with you, laughed with you, prayed with you, walked with you through the ups and downs, so it is sad to leave you.

But we know that God very definitely called us to go to Thames, and we cannot disobey God who is my boss.  We go with our hearts filled with the Eastside stories and the Eastside aroha and ethos.

Let me return to the Thessalonian passages and pick out some elements from the letters to the Thessalonian church as I see they relate to you:

First:  My prayer is that God will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one. (v3)

Nature abhors a vacuum. Something or someone always wants to fill it.

The Leadership Team has taken on the extra responsibility of making sure that there will be no vacuum in leadership and direction from next week when the pastor’s chair is empty.

Wendy has taken on the mantle of being the contact person during the week, to support Rebecca in the café to provide a weekday face for the church. Both have the support of the Leadership team.

The enemy Satan will find this time as an opportunity to stir up those who are disenchanted with the way things have gone in the past and they will try and seize the reins. They will try to impose their will on the church in an attempt to take it in a different direction.

Murray Robertson, wise retired pastor of Spreydon Baptist Church for a quarter century said when the eyes of the pastor are diverted the people behind his back will try to go back to the default setting.  I think the thing to watch out for here is the default setting of the ineffective Christian focused in house “bless me” church that many other churches have fallen into.

Stay on the edge, stay on the fringe of society, because that is where God operates. Read the Gospels and see who Jesus hung out with, and who he had the scathing comments for. Determine where you would rather be.

Satan knows that when the shepherd is absent he can scatter the sheep, and that is his intention.  The enemy will find this time to be an opportunity to draw people away.

One of the roles of a shepherd is to gather those who seem to be wandering away and return them to the flock.  The danger of this time without a shepherd is that the enemy will entice the sheep away to danger, away from the flock.  I pray that will not happen in this flock.

This is a time for everyone to realise that we all here are a priesthood of all believers; that all of you have a role to play in this church; that without you, there will be a gap, because that gap is shaped like you.

Second:  I have confidence that you will go on doing the things we have been doing

4 And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will go on doing the things that we command.

I may no longer be here, but the structures, the ministry leaders, the Leadership Team and the way church is done will remain.

I know that some here and outside the church have said “how will Eastside survive without you?” But I am only one part of this wonderful body and the rest of the body is still functioning and doing all that it always has done. This is God’s church here at Eastside. It is not Chris’ church.  You are the church.

I recall Keith Harrington, the pastor before me here, saying that he thought Eastside would die after he left. It didn’t, and it has thrived. And you will thrive after me too.

I echo Paul’s words: I have confidence that you will keep on doing the things we together have done.

My personal belief is that if God is calling Karlene and I away, he has someone already prepared to come and take this church to the next level.

Churches sometimes need a change of personnel in order to kick on to the next level. I believe this is an opportunity for Eastside to kick on to greater things.

 

 

Third: keep on living and pleasing God as you have been doing.

as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God (as, in fact, you are doing), you should do so more and more.

Matthew Henry wrote: The design of the gospel is to teach people not only what they should believe, but also how they ought to live; not so much to fill their minds with notions as to regulate their temper and behaviour. The apostle taught them how to walk, not how to talk. To talk well without living well will never bring us to heaven: for the character of those who are in Christ Jesus is this: They walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.[1]

To abide in the faith of the gospel is not enough, we must abound in the work of faith. (Matthew Henry)

That is what you have been doing – putting hands and feet on your faith.  Faith without actions is dead.

Do not lose the focus that you all are a church who loves God.  That you are all a church that helps people move toward God from whatever distance they start from.

If any of you should consider that you are better than others, then hold up a mirror and ask just how holy am I? how perfect am I? Because the mirror of Christ will say you still have a way to go yourself.

Remember it is about the way you are facing; not how close you are to the centre.

Sea captains and aircraft captains set the course of their vessels and they know that the trajectory that they have set, the course they have set will continue until a change of direction is needed.

That is what this verse talks of. The trajectory of this church has been set, keep on that trajectory until the new pastor or team look at adjustments.

Paul’s words in these scriptures are an encouragement to keep on keeping on, and I want to affirm those words to you too.

Let me personalise them for you, as my words to you:

I have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will go on doing the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. I ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus that, as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God (as, in fact, you are doing), you should do so more and more.

 



[1] https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/1-thessalonians/4.html