I first attempted to transcribe from my sermon notes into a large and bound volume. Sadly, that project proved too much for my stamina since handwriting requires a great deal more of a body than does the keyboard of my Packard Bell.
I will take up here where I left off in the aforementioned tome and, God willing, when I come to the end of my notes I shall endeavor to copy those sermons already handwritten. It will be entirely up to the dear Lord if I accomplish one or both tasks.
Perhaps transcribing to computer diskettes will enable my sermons to have some circulation for good among our dear friends and family. I begin this project of love early in September in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ, 1997.
My Farewell Sermon
Greensboro Presbyterian Church
Final Sunday of March, 1990
My dearest friends, that hour has come when I must say good-bye. It is not easy to say good-bye to preaching. It is painful to leave forever that holy work I have always loved. Yet leave I must, and in what I must now do the words of this hymn are very much with me this morning. Not only do they describe John Henry Newman's pilgrimage, they describe the pilgrimage of thousands since Newman -- they describe the course of your friend's journey to this, his final sad hour at the sacred desk, for at this most poignant moment I look back upon my forty-eight years of life. Though I've endeavored to love God, that love was very often woefully half-hearted and of it all I publicly say to Him in Newman's blessed words:
Thirty three years ago I preached my first official sermon. I tremble now to think of it and of the fifteen year old boy who preached it. Honestly, I thought I knew God's will perfectly and I was determined to set any congregation who would hear me straight in that respect. Thirty three years ago I assumed I knew so much. Oh, how much can happen in thirty three years!
Thirty three years once changed all of history for they were the full extent of our Savior's earthly pilgrimage. Thirty three years and then came the cross. Of all men who ever lived, He alone knew perfectly God's will. To His beloved Mother He could well say at the tender age of twelve, "did you not know that I MUST be about My Father's business?" for there was the divine MUST in all He ever did. You see, He not only knew God's will, He was and forever shall be God's will! And so for thirty three years He MUST. This or that MUST be done to fulfill the prophecies about Me. The Son of Man MUST suffer many things at the hands of wicked men. I MUST go up to Jerusalem. I MUST be about My Father's business.
Because He was and is and ever shall be God's will for us all, He alone could say what He said. Who but Jesus could ever honestly face the world and ask it, "who among you can convict me of sin?" Only our Savior did God's will from the moment of His conception until His last gasp upon the cross, only He knew therefore why He was here and who He was. Ask Him, "Who are You Lord?" "I AM the Light of the World. I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I AM the Door to the sheepfold and I AM the Good Shepherd. I AM the Resurrection and the Life. I AM the Beginning and the Ending. Before Abraham was I AM!" Thus He lived His thirty three years in God's will and as God's will.
Oh, thank God, He did God's will for our sake, for my sake. Here are my thirty three years in the preaching ministry measured against His thirty three years of mortification. I boasted at the first of knowing His will but He alone did it -- I did not, I could not do His will. I could not be born sinless and of a virgin, I could not be other than I am (as we all are) a sinner in need of the Savior. I could not at the end die upon a cross to save the world, I could not even save myself except He have mercy upon me.
God's will! Even in the littlest things did we know it imperfectly? It will be for Heaven alone to judge us in such things though once upon a time the preacher kid I was felt sure that I had enough Biblical knowledge to judge my fellow-sinners rather harshly. Oh yes, I have changed and the man you know is, I trust, very unlike the boy you knew. Have I done good for the good congregations who've welcomed me into their pulpits or for the many, many high school students I have taught or for the dear ones I live with, my precious family? You say that I have, they say that I have and I am happy to take your word for it. But did I do His will? He knows. The most rudimentary parts of it are no real mystery. The Ten Commandments are His will, the Beatitudes are His will and you know the problem such very basic things can be for us mortals. Only the most self-deluded, self-righteous fool on earth would ever suggest that any except for Christ, can do that will as God desires it be done -- no, as God demands it be done and as God has done it in and through Jesus Christ.
Let us then be found wanting desperately to do His will, but far more, let us be found by His mercy!
Recall that God in His graciousness accepts pretty much what we are when He finds us. He is merciful for He knows what His Son has done FOR us and what His Son surely will do IN us. I may well approach His will but have I done it? No, and again I shall say it, No, I have not done His will!
I have too often been a coward, I have lacked an holy resolve, the courage, the guts to follow Him all the way --- and it is His will for us to follow Him with crosses. Do not be upset with me then when I speak so sternly concerning myself, your old friend. I cannot sort them out, these past thirty three years. I trust that much of it was God's will imperfectly followed, I know that much of it was more of my own willfulness than of His will. As with all of us in Christendom, I suspect it all to be for us a rather limp mixture of half-hearted resolves and unmet obligations unless we have truly suffered with Him. In some places people do suffer and die for Him. Ask them about His will. But as for me I say with Newman, "Pride ruled my will, remember not past years."
The hardest part is now. To leave the sheep of so many beloved churches when my heart is a shepherd's heart. His will? To feed the flocks, to preach the uncompromised Gospel of Grace wherever it will be heard? But I do know His mercy to me that I could do this for all of these marvelous years until the distress of these past few years, the distress over the growing apostasy in His worldwide house. But that you know so well, THAT you have suffered with me, for in you and in the other good congregations from my own Episcopal denomination to the Baptists and everyone in between I have found a real family, my fellow-sojourners to Paradise. And you hurt because I hurt you in saying that what I now do is not enough. Forgive me. My conscience will not be at ease while our Most Blessed Triune God is denied in so many once sacred places, while Christian doctrine and Christian morality is compromised and forsaken.
He has, of course, had mercy upon me. Mercy on the kid who thought he knew it all and mercy on this preacher who has stood before so many congregations over these past years, who gladly tells you the obvious -- only Christ knows it all!
And oh, He has been merciful and good to me for in learning His mercy I have gained. I have gained an honest love for the blessed, vital orthodoxy yet alive within Christianity and in these later years I have gained an overwhelming sorrow for those same years when I might have raised my voice far more boldly and sounded the alarm with old St. John of yore: beware of that spirit of antichrist which is already in the world.
But nevertheless I have gained a joy beyond description of preaching His very Good News and in this my final sermon I am challenged by Him to receive His grace that I might begin to live all that I ever preached or prayed. I have gained the love, the prayers of all the congregations I ever served in any way -- lay preachers are all the more blest because they are called to all sorts of pulpits in all manner and variety of denomination.
Of His mercy, two treasures that I never ever would have had unless I had taken this pathway while still a seminarian so long ago: my wife and our daughter. I have, of His mercy, gained a good education and of later years that love of truth instilled in me by your Presbyterian schools, by my ten years as a Methodist pastor, and as ever, by my own beloved Anglican heritage where I was permitted the freedom of preaching my own homilies.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, my precious friends from this town where I grew up and was loved, walk in the light He sheds upon your path. Because we truly love each other here, rejoice as well for this preacher though it will soon seem that the light has shone upon a different path for me. Mine seems the encircling gloom of a pilgrim who is yet looking homeward yet never quite arriving there. Now I must play the man and, as St. Paul has it, "put away [my] childish things." There must only be mercy, His mercy, before me -- behind me -- beneath me -- above me -- and, please God, within me! I am not home nor is any Christian until at last we see His glorious wounds at the right hand of the Father's glory and there adore our God for ever and ever. For now, "the night is dark, and I am far from home; Lead thou me on."
( 1997 Notation)
My beloved family and friends will recall the dark days of my preacher's life when I was so disheartened by the encroaching heresy within our Episcopal denomination. I had already preached my last sermon at the mission entrusted to my care, St. Elizabeth's at Bentleyville. I continued on with preaching wherever I was needed until my decision to go to Rome back in 1990. The sermon printed above was preached in my hometown at the Presbyterian Church there. I had supposed that I might lay my preaching vestments aside and find safe haven among the Catholics for the Episcopal Church had broken my heart, and though I preached in many Protestant churches I never felt that I was "home". I have lived to return to that Anglican fold but never to be physically able to preach again. I shall no doubt leave this world weeping for the loss of my ability to preach, and even more so for the loss of the reformed catholicism in much of my beloved denomination.
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