Eternal Life

A Sermon By: The Rev. Elsa A. Peters

John 6:35, 41-51

Six years ago, almost to the day, I stood in your Chapel for the first time and read these words from the Gospel of John to the search committee that would later call me to be your Associate Pastor and Teacher. Today, I read those same words for the very last time as your Associate Pastor and Teacher. Those beautiful words where Jesus interrupts the assumptions of a crowd to say: I am the bread of life. These are not words of comfort that we hear. They are not told and shared within a community that has loved each other for six years. Jesus tells them to those that aren’t sure what to do with him. To those doubters, Jesus declares: I am the bread of life. He is direct and declarative. And, you know, I really like that about him. I love how he pushes those doubters to claim their own faith.

I have heard many of you call this particular degree of interrogation: Elsa Questions. It’s the certain way that I ask questions in any small group I’m leading whether it’s one in Davidson Lounge, the Community Room or Scott Berry’s patio. Those of you who have participated in those groups have become more and more frustrated with me in my staunch refusal to tell you what I think. Instead, I attempted to create a space where you could imagine what you thought about God.

This is what I will cherish about you most. When I accepted this call to be your Associate Pastor and Teacher, your search committee talked up and down about change. They wanted someone that would shake things up, but that wasn’t exactly what I discovered in my first few weeks of ministry here. You were not a community eager for change, even if you knew change would come. But, I wasn’t going to force you. As someone told me this week, I wanted you to believe it was all your idea.

So, instead, I started an afternoon Bible Study. Leisurely Lectionary began with two people. Betty Deschenes and Charlott Porter sat with me every Wednesday afternoon as I asked them again and again what they thought about these sacred words. I cannot tell you how precious this time was. Though it was exciting when it grew into a larger group, size never mattered. In fact, I preferred a smaller group. I liked having these two wonderful, wise women all to myself. It was their love and attention that gave me the courage to bring that same experience into worship.

And we have had some great worship over the years, haven’t we? The second church I served in seminary will remember me for hiring a donkey to parade into their New York City sanctuary but I imagine that you will remember when John and I stripped off our robes into jeans and cleaned up after Jesus and his band of misfits. I think we all were rather shocked at how comfortable John was in leading that moment of worship, but I freely admit to you that it wasn’t my favorite.

I loved watching John Shoos catch a snow ball I threw him as we remembered our baptisms almost as much as I loved that Epiphany snow storm where the kids sat at tables making aluminum foil stars while Barrett Hess revised my sermon as I preached with his knowledge about stars. Those that are brave enough to wake up before 8:30 for chapel know how excited I am when anyone claims their faith — and there are some conversations in that chapel that will forever change my reading of our sacred stories. And thank God for that! That’s what worship should do!

Of course, this is a church that has repeated again and again to me that you don’t want to gaze at your navels. You want to take this knowledge of Jesus and do something about it. You want to put your faith into action. I will admit that I have struggled with this about you because I believe you can do more. I saw hints of that possibility just recently at the potluck and letter writing party hosted by the Mission & Outreach Team, and I hope you do. I hope you do more, but what I will always remember about you is how you talked about marriage equality together. You may remember that in March of 2009, John and I stood in this pulpit to witness to our certain faith that we personally can’t sign marriage licenses anymore. We each had different reasons and different theological rationales — but you had even more to say about that. It was my first (and I think only) intentionally stirred up controversy in this church so I had no idea what would happen when we invited you into Davidson Lounge after worship. I’ll admit it. I was terrified. But, I have never, ever, ever been so certain that God was in this place as I was that day when I heard the loving things that you said to each other as you affirmed radically different understandings on marriage and homosexuality. That day you illustrated for me what Christian community could be. And should be. But, you did more than that. You nudged me to imagine how our entire national dialogue could be. Because if it can happen here like this, what else could be in this world?

I won’t actually leave that question hanging. Or at least not entirely. There are lots of things that could be but I want to say this one thing with clear conviction. There are people in these pews (and those that really want to be welcomed into these pews) who really need that affirmation in November. So, please don’t just vote for marriage equality. Fight for it.

No matter what happens in November, I hope you believe that something has changed here on Meetinghouse Hill. Somehow in these past six years you have become a family. It’s not just a word as so many churches use. Here, it has become the way that you think about each other. You are a family. So, love each other like that. Get in each other’s business. Take care of each other because this church will only be as strong as how much you love each other. And, while I don’t think I need to say this, I’m going to say it anyway. No one needs another nagging mother or bossy uncle. Everyone needs someone who will love the parts that even their cousins don’t like. So, I hope you’ll continue to be that kind of family to each other — and anyone else that might come to call this church their home.

Six years ago, after I shared these words from the Gospel of John for the first time, one member of that search committee repeated over and over again there was some shining light about me. In that early morning light, the sun shined brightly through that beautiful stained glass window to illuminate my blonde hair in such a manner that felt divine. It’s when that particular search committee member knew that I was the one. And I’ve heard that repeated to me by others in this church family. This you are the one business. Bleh. I don’t believe that’s what ministry is about. It’s never about any one of us — but always, always about all of us together. So, don’t grumble among yourselves. Change is hard. Trust me, change is very hard. And yet, as some old Mainer would be quick to say: you can’t get there from here. This is a part of change. Celebrating what we’ve done and saying goodbye is part of welcoming the awesome possibility of eternal life. It’s what Jesus says will come to those that have listened and learned. Somehow that’s what believing is all about. And those who believe will have eternal life.

So, beloved in Christ, I ask you to believe that you have listened to each other and learned more about yourselves in these six years. I ask you to believe that you are ministers and that you will do amazing things for the love of God. Not because these are my parting words, but because this is what Jesus encourages us all to do. Jesus reminds us that this isn’t really about what has already happened, but about those things that are about to happen. And great things will happen here on Meetinghouse Hill. This is the promise of eternal life. It is the promise for those that listen and learn. It is the promise for those who believe — as I know you do.