Goodbye As an Act of Grace
The Apostle Paul knew the people Ephesus as well as he knew any of the people in the towns and cities of Greece and Asia Minor where he had been used by God to plant and nurture churches. For over two years in the early 50’s A.D. he had lived and ministered to and with the Ephesians. Towards the end of the decade Paul passed close by Ephesus as he sailed towards Jerusalem on his last great missionary journey. Having stopped at the port of Miletus, he sent for the elders of the Ephesian church that he might talk with them one last time. Luke tells the story Acts 20. It ends this way: When (Paul had finished speaking), he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.
The scene with its weeping, embracing and kissing is sweet and tender. The love and regard the apostle has for the elders and the elders have for the apostle is obvious. Love always makes itself known. But notice that the first thing the elders do after Paul finishes speaking is to pray. Luke doesn’t share the content of their prayers, but it’s not hard to imagine the words; a mixture of thanksgiving for all that God had done through and among them over the years, of sorrow at departure – especially since they had been told they would probably not see him again, of intercession for the future and perhaps the sense of foreboding they heard in Paul’s voice. Each elder must have thought of times when Paul had made a difference in his life through something he had said or done.
Of all gatherings of people, none can match the Church, the Body of Christ, for the depth of joy and sorrow, love and hope, we experience within its bounds. Goodbyes, rightly said, are a means of grace.
On Sunday, our part of the Body of Christ will say goodbye to Ruth Workman who has worked among and with us for twenty years. Some of us have not known Ruth long or very well. Others have known her as a peaceful presence and guiding counsel through some of the hardest turns and harrowing passages of life’s journey; a good companion in times of happiness and exhilaration.
In a way, the Fellowship Hall will serve as our dock in Miletus as we say goodbye to Ruth on Sunday afternoon. Tears, embraces and kisses are all but guaranteed. There will be prayers – prayers of thanksgiving, sorrow and intercession. And many memories.
Many of you have had an opportunity to share a private word, a personal note, a particular moment with Ruth during the past several weeks. But please, join us Sunday afternoon, as well, that we might together exercise the grace of good goodbye.
I have had only a year to get to know Ruth, but in that year I have come to see how and why Ruth has become so important in the life of our congregation. Gentle, funny, caring, wise, calm are all words that come to my mind as I think of what I have observed in these few months together. Especially calm. Ruth brings calm into anxious places and tense times. Calm to crisis and confusion. Calm to discouragement and despair. Calmness is a good gift.
So we give thanks, even in the midst of sorrow, and offer prayers of intercession for a future that seems full of the possibility of bright joy and much happiness.
When the Ephesians bid Paul farewell, they knew they’d never see him again. It’s not quite that way for LPC folks saying goodbye to Ruth. There will be serendipitous encounters around town, presbytery events and, yes, the most unexpected places that we’ll run into Ruth and Ron.
But there’s also a code of ethics for pastoral staff that calls for minimal contact and no pastoral care to a congregation once served. The rule seems harsh and there have been a few times in the past year when I have been made sad by following it carefully in my relationship with my former congregation in Beaver. But it’s a good rule and, in its own way, a way to bring grace to the Body. Please understand that it will not be for lack of caring that Ruth will not be much around or available after Sunday. She’ll be doing the right thing and allowing grace to work among us.
I’ll be at the Men’s Retreat this weekend, but I’ll see you at the dock in Miletus on Sunday afternoon.