Last Sunday in worship I shared within the context of my sermon how I will be retiring at the end of June. It’s been a hard decision. I haven’t been able to imagine not being the pastor here. My whole identity has been serving as the shepherd of this international body so unique across United Methodism.
Our District Superintendent asked me to pray about the decision throughout the month of December, to which I did day and night. And God reminded me that for almost 47 years of my professional life I have been working for system change, first in the juvenile courts and then in the church…always for the sake of Christ.
With that realization came the acceptance of how as the years have worn on so has the body begun to wear out. Then the smile. The time had come to hand the mantle to the next Joshua for God’s evangelistic mission to continue without abate.
I think God wanted to punctuate that acceptance at my Thursday morning chapel service with 22 of our preschoolers. Never had I seen then enter the sanctuary with more high fives, hugs, and expressions of love. They immediately unleashed all the moves necessary for the song, “I wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, and I praise the Lord…Alleluia!” We added, “I hop, hop, hop,” and “I stomp, stomp, stomp,” and “I clap, clap, clap”… “and I praise the Lord.”
Next came teaching them to sign the chorus, “Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.”
We continued by learning Philippians 4:4 and holding up cards that read “R E J O I C E ! in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice!”
After singing (to the tune of “Are You Sleeping”): “It’s a New Year. It’s a New Year. Let’s rejoice. Let’s rejoice. Smile and be happy. Smile and be happy. Every day. Every day,” I asked them to share something they do that makes someone else happy and puts a smile on their face. There were cute mentions of sharing toys, helping at home, and taking care of younger siblings.
Then little Ethan told me that he makes others happy by saying, “I love you.” And I shared on screen in worship how he did just that by leaving on my desk at Christmastime this card and a green tin of cookies.
After gathering my emotions, I ended by giving everyone musical instruments to make a joyful noise as we sang, “God Has Made Me Glad.”
We prayed, and as they left the sanctuary, I gave them each a hug and a kazoo to blow loudly, rejoicing in the Lord…always. I was in full Grandpa mode, with the teachers then having to calm the kids down before re-entering their classrooms.
And for me, I was again reminded that with praise life comes into perspective and all is well.