Have you ever been a part of a church when one of the pastors leaves? No matter if it is due to retirement, another calling, or because they were fired, there is always difficulty in the wake.
I had the opportunity to preach a sermon on the last Sunday at one church. It was emotional and exciting at the same time. It was an amazing opportunity to share a message of hope with the congregation.
To give a little background, I had served at this church for over a year. It was a small, struggling church in a little town. But there was life at the heart of it. There was a core group who enjoyed reaching out into the community and engaging the culture around them. It was a work-in-progress.
About eight months into my work there, I noticed that many of the initiatives and ideas I presented to the leaders were getting bypassed. Not because there was a better plan, but because there was no motivation to implement them. This certainly speaks to my leadership abilities at the time. (Confession time for me: not all pastors are great leaders).
Had I realized this sooner, I would have addressed the problem of my poor leadership tactics. Since I didn't, there were several people on leadership who did not think I was capable of fulfilling my role as pastor. Though the transition period/learning curve was obvious to many of the volunteers and other church members, the leaders agreed that I should look for a different ministry. So, after a year and a half, I was asked to resign.
I mentioned that I had the opportunity to preach on the last Sunday I was at this church. I found it to be an amazing opportunity, because of the circumstances that led to me leaving. The title of my sermon was, “What do we hope for?”
I will not share the entire sermon here, but I will share some of it. I started the message by looking at things that tend to come to our mind when we think about that for which we hope (i.e., a better job, a pay raise, a nice house, a new car, presents, etc.). Then I went to 1 Corinthians 15:9. It says, “If our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.”
You see, the hope that Christ offers in not limited to earthly blessings. Our reward from God is not in this life alone. With Palm Sunday approaching, I think about the people waving Palm branches and shouting as Jesus entered Jerusalem, “Hosanna! Hosanna!”
Do you know what Hosanna means? It means “save.” They were shouting “Save! Save! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” They knew that Jesus was the Messiah, and they knew that Jesus was there to save them. However, their perception of what it meant to be saved was a little off. They thought that Jesus was going to overthrow the Romans, set up a physical kingdom, restore the throne of David, and save them from religious oppression. The hope they had in Christ was “in this life.” So as Jesus looked over the city that day, he wept. He pitied the Jewish people of Jerusalem. He even predicted right then that Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed.
How does that story offer any hope? Romans chapter 5 talks about our hope of salvation. In verse 5, it says, “That hope will not disappoint.” The hope of Salvation offers us so much. If we are looking forward to an everlasting place, which Jesus promised to prepare for us, then anything this life has to offer should not distract us from that hope.
2 Peter 1:4 says, “Because of God’s glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.” This hope tells us that this life is temporary. The reward Jesus offers is eternal.
So, to give hope to a congregation on my last Sunday, I offered this message. Hope can come out of bad situations. Just because bad things happen in our lives, we do not have to lose hope. God will not leave us nor forsake us. Jesus promised to always be with us to the very end. Let’s not lose our hope in Christ. Philippians 1:6 says, “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”
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