Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19,25-30
Today we’re marking a transition even as we see another one just on the horizon. As you know, Mtr. Ezgi Saribay Perkins is here with us for the first time. As she makes her transition into St. Andrew’s, she will have a grand total of 10 days to work alongside Mtr. Anne before Mtr. Anne goes off for vacation and sabbatical, returning late in the fall. Mtr. Anne’s last Sunday with us before that journey will be next week, and she’ll be preaching that day. So this is my last homiletical shot for a while with Mtr. Ezgi and Mtr. Anne both in the room.
As you know, Mtr. Anne has focused on pastoral care in her 10 years among us. It’s one of her greatest passions in ministry, and she has blessed us with it richly. As she’s cared for so many of you over the past decade, she’s come to see a growing need in pastoral ministry, here and elsewhere – the need to help people manage the baffling maze of changes that come with major losses and life transitions. Mtr. Anne’s sabbatical project will be looking for ways churches can do a better job providing resources to help people understand and cope with what’s next when they find themselves faced with illness, job loss, addiction, or the death of someone they love.
When she returns late this fall, Mtr. Anne’s role will shift, as you’ve heard before. She’ll work about 15 hours a week, doing some one-on-one pastoral care but also working on projects here at St. Andrew’s related to her sabbatical study. So she will be back, but in a different role than what we’ve known.
And speaking of new roles … that’s what Mtr. Ezgi begins today. I need to be clear that she is not taking Mtr. Anne’s place, no matter how much the timing may look that way. What Mtr. Ezgi will be responsible for is ministry with younger adults, families, and the community. In fact, that’s her title: assistant rector for younger adults, families, and community. All of us probably should repeat that as a mantra for a while because that specific work is what we need Mtr. Ezgi to focus on. We’ll have to be intentional about avoiding “mission creep”: When someone has many talents, it’s easy to let those talents wander in a variety of directions; and we found ourselves plagued by that a bit during Fr. Marcus’ time with us. Mtr. Ezgi would be very good at overseeing liturgy, and being the clergy liaison with the Altar Guild, and taking the lead on pastoral care … many of the same tasks Mtr. Anne has overseen through the past few years. But that’s not why we called Mtr. Ezgi here.
In a nutshell, here is Mtr. Ezgi’s job description. Roughly half of her work will be building relationships among younger adults and families who are part of the parish now – those we see week in and week out, and those we don’t see very often at all. She’ll be their primary pastor, and lead opportunities for learning and service, and share in our ministries with children and youth. The other roughly half of her job will be to build similar kinds of relationships and offer a similar pastoral presence with younger adults and families who aren’t yet part of this parish family – engaging people in the community around us. As the new HJ’s begins to rise from the rubble of the old building across the street, it’s exciting to imagine new life there: speakers, service opportunities, discussion groups, art displays, community dinners, musical offerings, Scout meetings, and events for kids and parents – ministry rising from the hopes and dreams both of people here and of people not yet here. Not all of that will be specifically targeted to younger adults and families, but much of it will be.
So, with Mtr. Anne about to leave for four months and Mtr. Ezgi not taking Mtr. Anne’s specific role, you may be wondering how we’ll manage pastoral care. Well, Deacon Bruce will be coordinating it, with support from Mtr. Ezgi and me. We’ll be in the hospitals and nursing centers, and we’ll certainly have enough breakfasts, lunches, and coffees to keep us perpetually caffeinated. But there’s another important pastoral resource we’ll be building over the next few months – members of the first order of ministry, the baptized. That’s you, by the way. One of Deacon Bruce’s passions is broadening and deepening the ministry of pastoral care to take greater advantage of the gifts of people in this very room.
Honestly, even if Mtr. Anne were remaining in her full-time role when she returned from sabbatical, we’d still need to be doing this. For a long time, we’ve known that a few ordained people simply can’t attend to the needs of this congregation, especially as people age – which is why we have about 25 faithful souls now making pastoral visits or phone calls or writing notes to other members of this family. We want to build on that foundation and raise up more of you to live into that baptismal vow we make about continuing “in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and the prayers” by taking that promise on the road, so to speak – reaching out to people we often don’t see on Sunday morning.
If you feel like you’ve never been invited to do this work before, I’m sorry. Although we’ve tried to build up this ministry of pastoral calling and visiting several times over the past 12 years, you may not have heard us calling your name before. Well, I’m calling your name now. If you’ve ever felt a bit of a Holy Spirit nudge to find out more about caring for members of this parish family, consider this your Holy Spirit shove. We need you.
So there’s our moment of transition, in a nutshell. It’s an exciting time, especially for Mtr. Ezgi and for Mtr. Anne. But you know, transitions are also a little scary. As we watch the construction happen across the street, and welcome our new assistant rector, and bid adieu to Mtr. Anne for a few months, we don’t know exactly what the future will hold for us. It’s an occupational hazard when you’re a follower of Jesus Christ. Like the apostles of the early Church, we apostles are sent out by Jesus himself to live resurrected life and invite others into it. New life is our birthright as baptized people. When we enter that water of baptism, we die to the old life of sin and self-centeredness and stagnation; and we rise to a new life of love and liberation and leadership – bringing others to find the grace that we ourselves are finding. That’s how we change the world – which, by the way, is our call as followers of Jesus Christ. Changing the world is why the Church is here.
But the thing is, as we follow Jesus into love and as he sends us to love others, we don’t know exactly what it’s all going to look like. And transitions bring that uncertainty into bold relief. God longs for Mtr. Anne to go and rest, and re-create, and learn – and to come back here with new energy and insight to help us care for one another. And God longs for Mtr. Ezgi to come and learn about St. Andrew’s, and create relationships with people within the parish and beyond our boundaries, and build community that will change people’s lives. And God longs for you to step into a calling you might be hearing, maybe to love the people around you through cards or phone calls or visits. But you know, I can’t stand here, in this moment of transition, and tell you exactly what any of that will look like.
In a moment of holy uncertainty, it’s a good time to drink deeply from the well of wisdom, to return to our roots as God’s people and remind ourselves of some fundamentals. After all, Jesus didn’t spend much of his time debating theology with the “wise and intelligent” (Matthew 11:25), the scribes and Pharisees and other experts in the Law. When it came to knowing the mind of God, Jesus regarded human expertise with a healthy dose of skepticism. So today as well, Jesus isn’t calling us to be experts and get everything right; he’s calling us to be servants – which I can attest is the common wiring that runs through Mtr. Anne, and Mtr. Ezgi, and Deacon Bruce, and our staff, and the people of this good place who lead ministries, and stage events, and clean up, and sing, and serve the chalice, and greet people, and reach out to one another. We’re called to be a family of servants led by servants, all of us empowered by the Holy Spirit through our baptisms to change the world by inviting one person after another to experience the grace we’re coming to know ourselves.
As we follow that call, not knowing just how it will look, we may be tempted into fear and maybe even into paralysis, uncertain about stepping forward into a new life whose shape we can’t quite make out. But we need not fear. We need not fear because we can let Jesus take that burden of the outcome off our shoulders. Mtr. Anne, you don’t need to know yet exactly what you’ll bring back from your sabbatical. Mtr. Ezgi, you don’t need to know yet exactly what a stronger community of younger adults and families here will look like. Deacon Bruce, we don’t need to know yet exactly how we’ll deploy more people to call or write or visit or pray with each other. And those of you who might step up to serve, you don’t need to know yet exactly how to do it. We can give Jesus the burden of the outcome because – despite our folly and even our sin, as St. Paul says, the “law that when [we] want to do good, evil lies close at hand” (Romans 7:21) – despite all our failings and the roadblocks we’ll meet along the way, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well,” as Julian of Norwich heard Jesus whispering to her. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens,” Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)
It’s a good antidote to anxiety. Jesus doesn’t call us to success on the world’s terms; he calls us to faithfulness on the kingdom’s terms. And that involves taking our place right next to Jesus and shouldering his yoke alongside him, like workhorses pulling the load together. It’s the yoke of servant leadership, the yoke of inviting others into the joy of love freely given, the yoke of serving beyond our comfort zones and changing the world one small act at a time. It is Jesus’ way that we’re called to learn and his burden that we’re called joyfully to bear alongside him.You know, this life of letting the love of God take flesh and dwell in the world through us – it’s not always comfortable, and it’s certainly not predictable. But that yoke is easy and that burden is light because Jesus is shouldering the load with us, every step of the way.