As I prepare to say goodbye to Auburn, I’ve been reflecting back on the past seven years. One of the great joys of being a pastor is spending time each week with God in Scripture, on walks and in nature, in prayer and study, in conversations with people both hurting and rejoicing. Though my sermons rarely live up to the vision in my head (or better yet, my heart), I am thankful to have had the opportunity to share glimpses of the thoughts and feelings that drive me in my ministry and continually make me fall in love with God. In parting, I share a few of those glimpses here. Whatever wisdom they possess is not my own. Whatever fault, I ask your forgiveness.
1. I know why the caged God sings. The caged God sings of freedom.
With homage to Maya Angelou, I wonder if we’ve trapped God in our own small ideas about who God is and is not. Open the cage. Witness the mystery. Stand in awe. Listen. Be open to the ongoing revelation.
2. God is not a puppet-master. God is a parent.
Why do bad things happen? Job’s friends were wrong: it’s not punishment, it’s not a divine plan. It’s that God has created the world with a freedom that allows for the most beautiful things and the most terrible. This is what it means to be a parent—to love something so hard that you give yourself entirely to it and then let it be free, even if it breaks your heart. What God does promise is that God will be there, when the bad things happen, to pick us up.
3. It’s not Jesus if he doesn’t have scars.
I have always been struck by the fact that the resurrected Jesus still bears the scars where they hurt him. Our wounds are not things to cover up. They are a part of us. They are a well from which we draw compassion and insight. What the world needs is disciples like Thomas who are willing to run their fingers along the edges of wounds and embrace vulnerability.
4. This is what makes church special: not that we’re perfect, but that we don’t have to be.
We—messy and holy—are the church. We may frustrate or disappoint each other, but we stand together, knowing that we will be transformed into something holy, not when we hide the mess, but when we show it.
5. We are given a weekly bus pass back to Eden. And we call that bus pass Sabbath.
God has given us a way to experience life as it was intended: unhurried, shared, joyful, and relished in every detail. Sabbath is anything that brings you closer to God, to community, to self, and to the earth.
6. Want joy? Help somebody!
Instinct tells us that when we’re struggling, that’s the time to hunker down and focus on ourselves. But the opposite is true. That’s the time to reach out. Do something that takes you out of yourself and reorients you to something bigger.
7. People who know each other will care about each other, and people who care about each other will stand up for each other.
When we take the time to really listen and see each other, when we witness each other’s humanity—our dreams, our heartbreaks—we begin to create change.
8. Humility is the greatest answer we have to overcoming our racism and any other privilege or prejudice.
When our biases are revealed to us, we can either indulge our pride and say, “Not me! Never!”, or we can follow Jesus and reconcile the truth of ourselves to the hope of ourselves. We can non-defensively listen, repent, grow, and act. We can answer the call for love and healing, not as a threat, but as an invitation from a sibling in God.
9. It’s not about who you love. It’s about how you love.
Gay or straight or queer, what matters in Scripture is that we love in such a way that honors the image of God in the other: with respect, kindness, mutual consent, patience, forgiveness, generosity, and commitment.
10. Always say “goodbye” as if you were saying “hello.”
In every goodbye, there is a promise: “I will see you again.” But for now, you need this space for what will emerge in the absence. In everything that ends there is an opening for God to meet you and create something new.
Rev. Patrick David Heery is the pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church and the former editor of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s denominational magazine Presbyterians Today. A graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, Patrick lives in Auburn with his wife Jenna, their children Emerson and Josephine, and their dog, spending much of their free time hiking the countryside.