Acts 20: 17-38
Wesley, Doncaster East
December 26, 2004
The Uniting Church Basis of Union describes us as “a pilgrim people, always on the way towards a promised goal.”
Life can be likened to a journey with stage-posts along the way which all must pass. The passages are not easy. Some are disturbingly traumatic.
“How goes the journey of your soul?” was the well-meant question, by which the Rev. John Billington reduced an elderly catholic sister to tears.
There are introductions; there are farewells: some for which we are prepared; some which come without warning.
Farewells are never easy – particularly if friendship is long and deep.
Throughout the Bible there are “last wills and testaments.” These farewell statements give insight into the character and life-significance of those who make them. In John’s gospel, there are Jesus’ “farewell discourses,” definitive statements of Jesus’ own purpose and the character of the journey on which he was sending his followers. If you want to know where you’re going and how you’re meant to travel, read those discourses over and over again. Seemingly the disciples didn’t understand: there were no tears.
When Paul farewelled the Ephesians elders, there were:
But when we landed at Miletus, [Paul] sent a message to the elders of the church at Ephesus, asking them to come down to meet him.
When they arrived he declared, “You know that from the day I set foot in the province of Asia until now I’ve done the Lord’s work humbly – yes, and with tears. I’ve endured the trials that came to me from the plots of the Jews. Yet I never shrank from telling you the truth, either publicly or in your homes. I’ve had one message for Jews and Gentiles alike – the necessity of turning from sin and turning to God, and of faith in our Lord Jesus.
“Now I’m going to Jerusalem, drawn there irresistibly by the Holy Spirit, not knowing what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit has told me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. But my life is worth nothing unless I use it for doing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus – the work of telling others the Good News about God’s wonderful kindness and love.
“I know that none of you to whom I’ve preached the Kingdom will ever see me again. Let me say plainly that I have been faithful. No one’s damnation can be blamed on me; for I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants for you.
“Now, beware! Be sure you feed and shepherd God’s flock – his church, purchased with his blood – over whom the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders. I know full well that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. Some of you will distort the truth in order to draw a following. Watch out! Remember the three years I was with you – my constant watch and care over you night and day, and my many tears for you.
“Now I entrust you to God and the word of his grace – his message that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance with all those he has set apart for himself.
“I’ve never coveted anyone’s money or fine clothing. You know that these hands of mine have worked to pay my own way, and I’ve even supplied the needs of those who were with me. And I’ve been a constant example of how you can help the poor by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It’s more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”
When he had finished speaking, he knelt and prayed with them. They wept aloud as they embraced him in farewell, sad most of all because he’d said they’d never see him again.
Dare I imagine that some things in those words resonate with you?
Together we have journeyed. Together we’ve listened for the voice of Immanuel, God with us, on our journey. Together we’ve learned more about how God is faithful and loves us. Together we’ve tried to learn what it means to be faithful and to love God. Together we’ve tried to discern what being faithful to God and his love to us means in our lives in the world: integrity, honesty, justice, compassion, and love for all. Together we’ve tried to discern how God has been calling us to new things. Together we reached the painful conclusion that God has called us into a transformed life as a congregation – and after the decision was made, together we’ve rejoiced in a new understanding of the Holy Spirit’s leading. The yoke has proven to be easy.
We’ve arrived at one of those life-journey stages through which all must pass. The time is rapidly coming when the Connans will no longer be part of your ongoing journey: Ann accompanies me into retirement in Frankston when the removalists arrive in four weeks time; Andy and Rowena are already looking for a home on the Mornington Peninsula. But our thoughts, interest and prayers will continue with you.
Let me share with you a story from my interest in Islamics.
When Muhammad died, there was grief and bewilderment among his followers. He’d been Islam for them. They’d followed him into battle. They’d die for him. And he had transformed their lives. They were no longer desert nobodies. The Muslim empire was dawning. Muhammad had accomplished it all. The question in their minds: “What now?”
Abu Bakr, one of his successors, stood among them and said: “If Muhammad is God, then God is dead: if Allah is God, then God is not dead.”
We come and we go, but God and God’s work continue. The question is whether we have enough good sense to see what God is doing and do our best to catch up and stay with him. Look for signs of where God is at work.
- In acts of love done selflessly, sacrificially – and quietly!
- In the courageous and determined struggle for peace, justice and the integrity of creation – particularly alongside the disadvantaged and the disengaged!
- In the response to God’s call to share the Gospel – especially by those who know that, if it’s not good news, it’s not the Gospel!
- In people who yearn for the church to grow – and give themselves tirelessly to building up the lives of others not so much for the sake of the church, but for the sake of the world!
Look for such signs – and join with God in his continuing mission to his world. Then, and only then, will you prove – and be proof – that God is not dead.
Finally let me join with Paul: “I entrust you to God and the word of his grace – his message that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance with all those he has set apart for himself.” Amen.
 Basis of Union, Para. 3.
Holy Bible : New Living Translation. 1997, c1996 (electronic ed.) (Ac 20:17-38). Wheaton: Tyndale House.