12th Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor Hendrickson’s farewell sermon
On April 22, 1857, Lars Hendrickson, and Serine Sarah, his bride of 3 years, together with their little boy, also named Lars, boarded the schooner Edwina in Stavanger harbor, and left behind the land of fjords for a 36 day voyage across the Atlantic, down the St. Lawrence River to Quebec. From there they traveled by train down into northern Illinois and settled along the Fox River.
That young son, Lars, would grow up on the farm in Illinois, marry Lena Christina Larsen in 1881, and travel, first up to Minnesota, and then down to the vast grasslands of central Iowa, to be among the first to break the sod of that excellent prairie. Their son, Silas, in the middle of 10 brothers and sisters, would buy a 260 acre farm nearby with the help of his father, and continue the family tradition on the land.
His son, Lars, would take over that farm from his father, and, at his death, his second son, my brother, would take over the farm after him. So many miles over so many years, so many hands in so many generations…but one single story on the land.
Ah…but where once there were Hendrickson farms up and down the dusty roads of that part of Iowa…now there is only 1 Hendrickson, my brother, and one Hendrickson farm. The rest… are gone…like the names that once plowed that rich prairie.
Yet the prairie remains…it lives and thrives and produces so much more than those immigrants ever saw. And the names that now plow those fertile acres on massive machines my ancestors could not even have imagined…the names have changed but the song of the prairie goes on in a new key.
Today comes very much in the way that many generations of farmers have known, when it’s time to lay down the hammer and the plow, and let new hands pick them up. The emotions are many, and they run the gamut. After all, being a pastor is a lot like being a farmer. While your own hands are on the plow, there is a lot of work and worry over what you are doing. And yet at the same time, you know that the biggest part of what you do remains entirely outside of your control!
But…that only means that the successes which your hands witness are all the sweeter…and the losses in which your hands have labored, they are all the more painful. Nevertheless, as a farmer called to the land can tell you, and a pastor will readily agree…for all the work and worry, for all the blood, sweat, and tears…he wouldn’t want to do anything else…until the day comes to hand it off to another.
Jesus once told a group of Greeks who wanted to meet Him, “Truly, truly, I say unto you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single seed; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
Death and resurrection. He was talking about Himself. Death and resurrection. It’s woven into the very fabric of farm life. It’s also one reason I’ve always preferred a rural congregation to an urban one. In the country you are surrounded by Biblical metaphors. A life on the land is thick with sin and grace, with death and resurrection. A farmer of fields and flocks and herds very quickly learns what it means to take up his cross. A farmer learns very clearly what it means to lose your life, only to find it again!
And a pastor in a congregation like St. Peter’s, which is still so very country even as the burbs spring up around us, is a pastor immersed in that sense of loss and gain. After all, in the big scheme of things, what is 23 years but a drop in a big, big bucket. Mine are not the first hands to shepherd this flock, nor will they be the last. The hands change…but the flock remains.
That doesn’t mean that St. Peter’s confined to the membership of 2014. There have been so many, many hands in our 107 years which have worked to create this moment…and many, many hands which will work to create greater moments yet to be. The faces and the hands do change…yet St. Peter’s lives on and on, through time into eternity. Death and resurrection accompany the cross in this place.
Our song is a very old one…buried with Christ and raised with Him in Holy Baptism. Cut down and lifted up again in repentance and forgiveness by the threshing Word of the Spirit. Bodied and blooded together with Christ by the harvest of Himself in the Holy Supper. That song goes on…and, as the saying goes, we contribute our verse. But it remains His song we sing, His land we plow, His life we live, His cross we bear—that is, His death and resurrection, His blood, His sweat, His tears, His joy, His life, His glory. Who would want any other calling?
But…while this song, this life, this Christ goes on and on, the day does come for a pastor to hang up his bibs and pass the work on to another, to let go and look back over all those plowed furrows. Some are straight as an arrow. Some wander a bit. But for me…for now…the work is done. I must decrease, and someone else will increase.
I cannot even begin to say enough. And how could I stop once I began. So I will simply say thank you. Thank you for this privilege of being your pastor. I leave the farm in good hands…your hands in His hands. And what I take with me…it is priceless. I am far, far richer now in departing than when I came!
But, enough. We do have a bit further to go together before this day is over. Ya…it’s kinda like dat time vhen Ole decided to fly back to Norvay. He vas so excited dat vhen he boarded da plane he yust sat down in da first seat he came to…in first class.
Vell…anodder passenger came up to him and said, “Uff da, dat’s my seat! I haf da ticket.”
“Yoo don’t understand,” Ole replied. “I’m going back to Norvay and I’m so excited. I need dis front seat.”
Vell…no amount of arguing could get Ole to move, so da passenger called da flight attendant who said, “Sir, dat seat belongs to dis yentleman. Yoo hafta move.”
“Yoo don’t understand,” Ole said again. “I’m going back to Norvay and I need dis seat so I can get off da plane qvickly to see my relatives.”
Da flight attendant tried and tried, but she yust couldn’t get Ole to budge. So she called da captain. As da captain stepped out of da cockpit he said, “Ya, I know how to speak Norvegian!” He valked up to Ole, leaned down, and vhispered someting in his ear. Ole yumped up and dashed back to his assigned seat in da rear of da plane.
“Yumpin Yimminy!” cried the flight attendant and passenger in astonishment. “Vhat did you tell him?”
“Oh,” replied the captain, “I yust told him dat dis part of da plane vasn’t going to Norvay.”
Ya…and on dat note…from this side of the pulpit…Farvell…Auf Wiedersehen…Good bye!