Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | June 10, 2018

2018.06.10 “Praise, Praise for Everything! Thanks, Thanks for it All!” Farewell Sermon – Hebrews 12: 1 – 3

Central United Methodist Church
Praise, Praise for Everything!
Thanks, Thanks for it All!
Pastor David L. Haley
Farewell Sermon
Hebrews 12: 1 – 3
June 10th, 2018



“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” – Hebrews 12: 1 – 3, the New Revised Standard Version

The day that we have anticipated and dreaded for so long has come; my last service and sermon as Pastor of Central. Last Sunday I reflected on my years here at Central; today I want to reflect back upon my 45 plus years of ministry. As Woodrow McCall said to Augustus McCrae in Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize winning western, Lonesome Dove, “Aye God, Woodrow, it’s been quite a party, ain’t it?”

On that day 50 years ago, when our pastor, the Rev. Tommy Bullock, asked me, as we were in the church kitchen washing dishes: “Have you ever thought about entering the ministry?”, little did I imagine how life-changing his question and my eventual answer would be. When I preached at my home church on December 31st for their 50th anniversary, I got to reunite with Tommy Bullock, now in his eighties, and personally thank him for inviting me into the ministry.

Although my answer that day was no – because I thought a life in ministry would be boring – his question along with other factors became seeds that were planted, until I eventually acknowledged the call of God in my life and said, “Yes.” Even then, how little I imagined (to paraphrase Dr. Seuss), “the places I’d go, the people I’d meet, the things I’d do.”

From country churches in Kentucky and Tennessee, to Chicago Temple in Daley Plaza, to Trinity UMC in midtown Memphis, to Hermosa-Salem and Berry Memorial in Chicago, then to West Chicago, then here to Central.

And the people I would meet! To this day, they are with me: Tommy Bullock, Wayne Lamb, Ed Crump, Harrell Philips, Robert Bruce Pierce, Jimmy Holmes, George & Charlotte Comes, Dave & Nancy Hilliard, Earl & Mabel Major, the Amis Family, Victor Fujiu, Richard & Joyce Licko, Bill & Florence Heideman, Fred Littell, Dave & Lana Runyan, the Gsedl Family, and yes – you, the people of Central. To most of you, those names will mean nothing; to me, they are people who have blessed my life more than I could ever have imagined.

The things I’d do: baptize babies, and since I don’t have any more to baptize, I can say it: all without tears! Drive a youth group through the Smokies in a school bus. Instruct confirmands; stand before starry-eyed couples getting married; mediate the joys and struggles of relationships not only in the lives of others, but in my own life; visit the sick and shut ins and come to love them as family; observe bedside vigils at the bedside of beloved parishioners; officiate at the funerals of strangers and loved ones.

I know you won’t believe this, but over the course of a lifetime, pastors can grow old and cynical. I once heard a pastor say he’d rather do funerals than weddings, because they pay better and last longer. As a retiring minister confessed in his farewell remarks to Annual Conference, after 35 years of ministry: “The first person saved under my preaching has backslidden. The first persons married under my ministry have divorced. But the first person I buried, has stayed there.”

The list of things I never thought I’d do as a pastor goes on for awhile: take care not only of church people but church buildings, as well as build a one new one. JR Graves once wanted to know why I, a pastor, owned a pipe wrench; I told him if you’d lived in the houses I’ve lived in, JR, you’d know. But not just maintenance, organizing: advocate for agencies and institutions like Thresholds and Moms-In-School, work in homeless shelters, travel to refugee camps in Africa; serve as a chaplain in hospitals and homes and streets and in police and fire stations, even become a firefighter/paramedic myself, picking up a secondary thread in my life, which began when I worked my way through college in an emergency room. I could tell a million stories, but I’ll never forget, for example, early on a Sunday morning when I told Michele – who was in the shower – “I don’t think you’ll have to play today; the church you’re supposed to play at – St. Andrew Lutheran – is on fire,” and then run out the door to fight it. And to think I thought life as a pastor might be boring!

Now that my appointed ministry is ending, I acknowledge there is much I’m going to miss about the ministry, and the wonderful life I’ve been privileged to live because of it. But before I tell you what I’m going to miss, may I tell you what I’m not going to miss?

I won’t miss the weekly worship and sermon cycle, with its deadlines and resulting anxiety. To live the preaching life is to live the ancient Greek Myth of Sisyphus, who rolled the stone up a hill each week, only to see it roll back down again. I’ve lived this life for 45 years; I’m not sure what I’ll do when I have anxiety-free Saturdays. Robert Bruce Pierce, the late pastor of Chicago Temple, used to say when he woke up on a Monday morning without a deadline, he’d know he was in heaven. He is; and I will be too, though not that heaven just yet, at least I hope not.

I won’t miss forms and bureaucracy. As the denomination of the middle class, Methodist middle managers brought home what they learned at the office, and thus structured the United Methodist Church. Personally, I look forward to never attending another Charge Conference or ever filing a form in triplicate again. On the other hand, maybe it was good training for Social Security and Medicare and Medicare Supplemental.

Likewise, I won’t miss the 24/7 responsibility that goes with ministry. It was Richard Bolles, the author of What Color is your Parachute, who once said ministry requires a variety of skills like no other profession: building manager and public speaker, counselor and fund raiser, CEO and janitor, umpire and activist; So that there’s always something that needs to be done. When I was out, I felt guilty I wasn’t home, working on a sermon; when I was home working on a sermon, I felt guilty that I wasn’t out, visiting someone. I look forward to getting out from under that. I’ve told Michele she for sure needs to keep working, because I look forward to leisurely roaming the aisles of Home Depot looking for things to buy.

But here’s what I will miss:

I never thought I’d say this, but I will miss the weekly discipline of preaching, engaging in a sacred dialogue with the Word and the world. Throughout my ministry I have tried to embody what the most famous theologian of the 20th century, Karl Barth, once said, that a preacher should preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Sometimes, even when I had my finger on the text, people heard that as preaching politics, a charge leveled not only at the prophets of ancient Israel, but which got Jesus crucified as a rebel against Rome. However, not to fulfill this prophetic responsibility, and to remain silent, or preach about trivial topics – as some preachers choose to do, is not only to acquiesce to the evils of church or society, but ultimately to become an accomplice.

What I will really miss is being engaged with people, at the most important and difficult moments of their lives, a privileged access that clergy are granted. The memory of a lifetime of names and faces at such times of life, makes me at the same time want to sing the doxology but also to lament. As I have been going through files in preparation for moving, it has been like my life passing before my eyes: names and faces of children, youth, young adults, singles, couples, veterans, seniors, and even the blessed dead, who I remember being with, at some of the most joyous and sometimes saddest moments of their lives.

I will miss the engagement and involvement that goes with being a pastor; the responsibility to serve not just a congregation, a precedent set by the founder of Methodism, John Wesley when he said, “The world is my parish.” As one of my mentors, Martin Marty once said: “The best clergy are those engaged beyond their congregation, who do something outside of their church, whether it is serving on a board or commission or doing community organizing or serving – as I did – as a chaplain beyond the church setting. In my ministry I have embodied this, though the forms have changed from church to church. For me, the turn it took was to serve as a hospital and then a fire and police chaplain, with the added privilege of getting to serve as a firefighter/paramedic alongside them.

Here in Skokie, one of my great joys and privileges was to serve for the last several years as President of the Niles Township Clergy. Just as it has been a joy to serve the diverse congregation of Central, so it has been a joy to work with other Protestant pastors, Catholic priests, Jewish rabbis and Muslim imams. Last Wednesday, for example, at my last meeting with them, Beth Lindley, Skokie’s Director of Human Services; Richard Kong, Director of the Library; and Dr. Catherine Counard, Director of the Skokie Health Department, met with clergy in the Log Cabin, to share some good things that are happening in the Village in regard to such issues as anti-racism. When they threw me a farewell party and read a letter of thanks, I told them, it has been one of the joys of my life to go from where I grew up, very white, Protestant, mostly Scots-Irish, to work with people and religious leaders who are different, and yet have so much in common, both in faith and in our desire to serve not only our congregations but our communities.

As a result of this lifetime of ministry, like a good traveler, when I look at a map I don’t see places or buildings, I remember people and faces. Such that today as I retire, I do so with my own personal balcony of saints.

Our “balcony” is an image I first heard from Rev. John Buchanan, former pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. On All Saints Sunday, when John would talk about that great “cloud of witnesses who surround us” – he compared them to our “balcony.”

As you remember, in the past, many gymnasiums, theaters, and churches had balconies. Such that, whenever as children or youth we would do something, such as play basketball or act in the high school play or read Scripture in church, our parents might sit in the balcony, to cheer us on. Now, says Buchanan, in life, our balcony consists of the people who influenced and on inspired us and even now – from heaven – cheer us on. So that not only on All Saints Sunday, but days on days such as this, it is appropriate to look up, acknowledge, and give thanks to our balcony, our saints.

As I retire, I am so thankful for my balcony, the relationships that a lifetime of ministry has given me: the people I have been privileged to get to know and work with, many of whom have passed on, though not all, some are sitting here today. In addition to my parents and my wife Michele and my family, I would never have made it through forty-four plus years of ministry in five congregations, without these people, many of whom I cannot think of today, without getting teary-eyed. Without them – without you – ministry would have been a chore; with them and with you – it was an honor and a privilege, a wonderful way to spend a lifetime, for which I am grateful.

The late Huston Smith, the scholar of world religion and a resident of my personal balcony (even though I never met him) ended his autobiography, Tales of Wonder: Adventures Chasing the Divine, with a quotation from the martyr Saint John of Chrysostom, who while being drawn and quartered was said to have exclaimed: “Praise, praise for everything. Thanks, thanks for it all.”

Today, at the end of my appointed ministry I can’t think of a better ending than this: “Thank you, Trinity, Memphis! Thank you, Hermosa-Salem! Thank you, Berry Memorial! Thank you, West Chicago! Thank you, people of Central! Thank you, God: Father, Son, and Spirit: “Praise, praise for everything! Thanks, thanks for it all!” Amen.


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