Luke 2: 29-32
Thank you, Rehoboth Church and anyone else who sticks around this morning, for allowing me to stand on your platform today. Char and I, accompanied by our cat, arrived in the USA not quite two weeks ago. This if the first of many times during the coming months that we’ll be visiting churches that have supported us as missionaries in Taiwan for most of the past 40 years. What you’ll hear this morning is the “first draft” of our goodbye speech. It’ll get better as we move towards the last of the 30 or so churches on our list. Thanks for being willing to hear it “rough”.
Newly arrived as we are here in Michigan, we are also newly departed from our home of so many years. With Simeon in the story that the girls just read for us, we find ourselves saying, “Lord, now according to your word, allow your servants to depart in peace.”
I: Simeon Could Depart in Peace
When we grow older, as Simeon did, letting go of things is more and more common. Dr. Ted Siverns, a Canadian who served as a visiting professor at the Taiwanese college where we lived, told of how, after raising four children, he had his wife, Betty, had house by house moved to smaller and smaller quarters until they retired to a 2-bedroom condominium near Vancouver. Though they reduced their possessions along the way, they confessed that their current place was still “too full.”
Simeon, no doubt, still retained several things, one of which was the Holy Spirit’s promise that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. The promise was enough. He had no details. He would know the Messiah when he saw him. He probably did not expect a baby.
But when he met Jesus on the day that Joseph and Mary came into the temple to present him to the Lord, Simeon knew that the promise had been fulfilled. He also knew that it was time to go, and he welcomed “going”in peace. We don’t know what he expected upon that departure, but having seen the sign of the promise, he willingly went to the God whom he trusted. And trusting in God who keeps promises, he needed nothing more.
Simeon’s words to God were not just about departing, like going home after a day of work at the temple. He was ready to depart the world. Char and I are not quite that far along, (and we hope that none of you are, either.)
II: We can Depart in Peace
Our own time to depart from Taiwan came on July 31st. (Char had been feted by faculty colleagues of Chang Jung Christian University not long before.) On the day of departure, we were seen off by faculty, staff and students of Tainan Theological College, where I had taught and where we resided on campus. When we got to the international airport, three hours away, our pastor and the elders of the local church we’d been part of since 2008 met us. (They had been near there for a different event, and delayed their own return home in order to see us off with prayers and best wishes. Then 3 staff members from the General Assembly of Taiwan’s Presbyterian Church joined us and remained at our side until we went through the security screening.
We have departed, not because we had seen the sign of God’s fulfilled promise, but because we knew that the time had come. Like Simeon who knew that HIS time had come, and didn’t know what lay beyond it, we have departed in peace, not entirely sure of what lays ahead, but trusting God who saw Simeon through and who carries us every step of the way.
Life can be filled with transitions.
Last spring Amy, a young woman who had been Char’s student for 2 years, sent her an email with ‘an important question’. She asked how to choose a church. She wanted to visit one but had never been before. She wondered if it was OK for a person who had never been to church to go directly? She said that she was interested in Christianity and in Jesus. She was majoring in translation, so considered finding worship or a Bible study in English. Char was both surprised and delighted to get this contact because most modern Taiwanese college students seem to have very little interest in matters of faith or God or religion. It’s certainly not the typical question she gets from her students. Her response was to set up an appointment to chat, which they did soon afterwards.
When they met, Amy reported that she was initially attracted to Christianity through the influence of a classmate when she was in middle school. Her mother had no problem with her checking out a church back then, but her father was against it so she dropped the idea. The family is not particularly religious but keeps some folk religion customs more out of habit than belief. But as an adult in college, Amy felt the freedom to make her own decision about religion. A good discussion followed. Char was pleased to show her all the information about the Chaplains’ Office on the school’s website. There are lots of things she can explore that would be conveniently on campus close to where she lives. There’s even one fellowship group plus an additional Bible study that are done in English and led by a Korean pastor, who was Amy’s teacher for a required class her freshman year. They discussed the problems of exploring faith only in English and not in her own language. There are some English or bi-lingual services available in Tainan that she can consider, but Char encouraged her to think of going to a Mandarin or Taiwanese one as well. Amy discerned the time, and she is following the path to something new.
Theological and Bible colleges in Taiwan have historically operated outside of the structures of the education department. That’s because in the old days there was a lot of political and military interference that the churches didn’t need to bother about. But as Taiwan has become free, the religious schools have begun to seek government licenses so that their graduates can compete with others in the modern economy on an equal basis. Tainan Theological college discerned that “the time had come” about 10 years ago, and last February was approved to accept students into programs that lead to approved Masters Degrees. But it has come at a cost. The entire “college division” disappeared, and with it the younger faces and voices on campus. Numbers have also dipped. Where there were once over 200 students, there are now fewer than 100. These are enough to fulfill the future needs for church leaders, but the place seems lonelier as it transitions to a new format. Students, focusing on academic success, are less involved in formation as ministers and becoming a blessed community.
As for us, well, our time has come. I’m 66 and Char is……(it’s not polite to reveal a young woman’s age in public). We’ve given as much as there is in us to give to Taiwan. We have seen many capable younger teachers, pastors and theological educators who can occupy the spots in the schools and churches that we’ve been serving, and we should not be keeping them back by occupying THEIR space. We have a privilege that Simeon didn’t have. We’ve come to Michigan (just a smidgen below heaven). The Reformed Church has provided us a furnished house in which to reside for the coming months while we visit churches and look for a house in which to retire. We’re here to: find new places to serve; make new friends; and learn new things.
III: Rehoboth Church is getting a new pastor
Simeon went into an unknown, We’ve come to a known place. Both are transitions. But these aren’t the only changes afoot.
As you at Rehoboth look forward to the beginning of September, the beginning of a new relationship with a new pastoral leader… like Simeon, you need to continue to look for the signs of God’s presence and revelation. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been part of this wonderful community of God’s people for generations, decades, years, months or weeks.
Look up and look outward. Listen for what God is saying: through the Holy Spirit (as to Simeon); through the fellowship of this community; through the scriptures that you’ll be studying in Sunday school and hearing preached from this platform each week; and in the exciting things that God is doing in this world around us. But don’t JUST listen. Having listened, follow up with action.
Do whatever God tells you to do. Even, and especially : if that means to welcome an out of town Harley Davidson Riders Club to a barbecue; if it means to accompany a young people’s group going to learn about urban poverty in Detroit; if it means to open your church basement to a homeless shelter or a refugee family or an Alcoholics Anonymous group; even if it means to support another missionary family overseas. DO IT!
As you cooperate, congregation, consistory and new pastor, in being God’s church in this place, doing the mission of God locally, regionally, and around the world… don’t forget Simeon. He kept his eyes open and found God’s sign in the LEAST likely place for a Messiah, in a baby brought by poor folks from a distant land.
He saw, he knew, and he obeyed, blessed by God in whom he had trusted.
May the same be true for Rehoboth Church and for all churches of Christ near and far.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN
Let us Pray: