This is a message from pastor and teacher Bill Serjak.
A while ago, I remember seeing a cartoon that showed a minister in a church about to preach a sermon. You could see through the church’s window to what was obviously the manse next door. Next to the manse was a moving van, full and with its engine running. Next to the moving van was the minister’s car, also running. The minister began his sermon for that Sunday by saying, “This is a sermon I’ve wanted to preach for a long time!” As I begin to preach my last sermon at this church, I am amazed I don’t have any of those bad feelings. I do not have a list of things I wished I would have said or things I should have made you do. At the end of thirty-two years, I feel satisfied. I feel good about how much the Lord has done in our midst. I don’t want to take any vengeance on anyone. This is a time to rejoice at what God has done. It is a good time.
A couple of weeks ago, I went back to the farm on which I grew up. I have found that around here when people think of a farm, they think of what we used to call a gentleman’s farm, a few acres to play with. Our farm had two hundred-fifty acres and we leased another one hundred sixty acres. We had forty head of brood cows and fattened out their calves each year. We had over a hundred head of sheep and fattened out their lambs. We also had about twenty-five sows and fattened their piglets for market. We would put up between five and six thousand bales of hay each year.
My job each day after school was to feed all those animals. That took me two to three hours. I also did that on weekends. If we had one of those rare days when it snowed enough in Pennsylvania for school to be canceled, it would have snowed too much to drive from barn to barn to feed the livestock. That meant I had to walk from place to place to feed the animals which was about a five mile walk in deep snow. That took about six or seven hours. I think it was on one of those walks that I decided to go to college at the University of Miami.
On my previous trips back to our farm, I didn’t see how pretty it is. I saw where I did all that difficult work but little else. However, this last time I saw the beauty and goodness of the place. Perhaps I have lived long enough, or maybe because of my coming retirement, but I finally saw the beauty, even the joy of the farm. My friend and I walked back into my favorite woods and saw it to be a place of beauty and mystery.
A Slovenian national cultural group purchased the farm and built a large recreational area for Slovenians on part of it. You probably didn’t know anything like that existed. They built cabins and campsites on it. The central building is rented for wedding receptions. They have a bar and a place to eat that is open daily. That is naturally needed because eating and drinking are the favorite activities of Slovenians. The large building is where we once had a large hay field and pasture. I went into the bar in the building and had a Slovenian kielbasa and a Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer to celebrate my happy return to the farm. It was good this time not to see just the work, but to notice the beauty and even the presence of God, who I had never associated with that part of my life.
This morning as I prepared for my last sermon, I followed one of my old Sunday morning routines and walked through town, praying for the other churches as I walked past them. I wondered how Sylva would feel to me right now well before I have had time to distance myself from working here. It took a while with the farm before it felt really good. Would Sylva only remind me of a place where I in put a lot of work? I was surprised to find that Sylva is already like the farm was for me on the last trip. I already see the beauty, the joy and the presence of God. I have old-timers disease and I must admit I like Sylva more the way it was twenty-five years ago than the way it is today but that is just part of being sixty-six years old. I’m sure the way Sylva is right now will be good for the people who will live here for the next twenty-five years. I enjoyed seeing that the goodness is already present in my mind and heart.
One reason I feel so happy about the church is that I never felt that it was my job to make you do anything. My job was to tell you, as clearly as I possibly could, about Jesus Christ, about Joshua, about Moses, and about Paul. My job was not to make you give money or to make you attend church on a regular basis. My job was to tell you about the Lord and it is the job of the Holy Spirit to apply the Word of God to your life. Many people get in trouble when they try to do the job of the Holy Spirit. It is much too big of a job for any person. Some who try to do that fail and then try to take out vengeance on the people who did not respond in the way they thought they should. Vengeance is God’s business; it is not the business of the pastor to do it either subtly or directly. We are not called to make people behave in the way we think they should. Our behavior is the business of the Holy Spirit and comes from each person’s relationship to Christ. The job of a pastor/teacher is to tell people about Jesus Christ, help them come to know Him better, and watch in wonder at what God does. God is still alive and at work in His people. We can trust Him. We need to be willing to leave the things of God in His hands. We need to do faithfully the few things He has called us to do.
The last thing Paul says in this chapter is also appropriate for my last words from this pulpit. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” When I was in college, I studied engineering. In physics class, we studied light and darkness. One thing we learned is that light is real and can be measured. There is debate as to whether light is a stream of particles or a wave but it is real and measurable. However, darkness is merely the absence of light. It doesn’t have reality. We used to tell a typical engineering student’s lame joke by going into a dark room and not saying, “It is dark,” but saying, “There is a lot of light missing here.” That was a way of saying that darkness is not something real but is the absence of light.
The Bible regularly compares evil to darkness and the presence of God to light. Light is what is real and evil results from the absence of God. Lately, the church has spent too much time trying to fight evil instead of turning on God’s light. It is senseless to go into a dark room and order the darkness out of the room. We cannot drive out darkness; we can only turn on the light. The existence of good drives out evil. As I go from place to place, I see people who do not think about the Lord very much as they live out their lives. My feeling is not to try to stop them from following the ways of darkness, but to hope to find some way for them to see the light of God and begin to follow His ways. I wish more people would see the goodness of walking in God’s light. If others can see the joy of living in God’s light, I can hope they will want to walk in that same way. We will not get anywhere by trying to drive out the evil of the world. It is only by living in the presence of God that we will turn on the light and drive out evil. That is the only way to change the world. When we live in the light, the darkness will go away. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”