In honor of my final day in Belfast, I will let you viewers at home read the "sermon" I gave on my final week at Fortwilliam and Macrory (further proof that the way I write and the way I speak is not actually too dissimilar):
A few weeks ago, Lesley asked me if I would be willing to give the message this morning. No pressure, I was free to speak for as much or little of the service as I'd like. Not one to back down from things that scare me, I agreed and began immediately... to procrastinate.
So this week began, and I still had no idea what I would say to you, the people who have become my family away from home for a year. Most of what I'd be inclined to say to you was already covered in my newsletter piece (I shouldn't have given it all up in one go!), so I was back at square one.
...So I did what I imagine most people do when they have to give the message on Sunday - I began with the lectionary. For those who aren't aware, there is a list of Bible passages each day - you can find the list anywhere online - that are used as a sort of guideline for churches around the world. So I settled in with my YAV worship CD in the background and began to read: first up, Psalms 103 and 150. As the "Morning Psalms", these are typically very praise-the-Lordy. So I made a mental note and moved on to the "First Reading" - 1 Samuel. Picking up just after David beat Goliath. I imagine that I could have made this into something interesting, but probably not appropriate for a fond farewell... on to "Second Reading" - Romans 10:4-17. Sent by the Lord to share his love with others. Check. As you can tell (since we just read this one), I liked this one best of my options thus far and set it aside for the service. Now to find a second reading. The Gospel reading was all about shaming those Pharisees, and the Evening Psalm was another praise-the-Lord standard. I thought that was it and got ready to scroll back up through the Psalms to pick my favorite. At that moment, two things happened that seemed like a pretty clear message - the song changed, and my finger slipped.
So what does this mean? Well, my finger slipped onto the down arrow - and I realized that there was one more option available to me in this long lectionary list... and the song changed to a worship hymn we sing often at YAV events. Both were Psalm 139.
Sometimes, things just fall into place. In those rare moments of perfect timing, I know that God's hand is at work. Moving to Louisville after college was just a little too easy. Choosing the YAV program was easy when everything fell into place. This Psalm, especially verses 7-10, have been particularly important to me this year. I'll read it for you in the version I've learned by heart:
Where can I go from your Spirit?I was first introduced to this passage at our placement event - the weekend that changed my life by confirming that I would be spending this year with you here in Belfast. The 3,746 miles between my house and Skegoneill Drive (as the crow flies) felt insurmountable. The "far side of the sea" in this case felt particularly far away. But the song served as a reminder that I wouldn't be alone. God's hand would guide me, even in Belfast.
Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
After some time here, I realized something about myself - as much as I hated to admit it, part of my decision to join this program was selfish - I had a lot of baggage that I thought I could leave behind in Louisville, and getting away for a year felt like a good way to forget some of that. Singing this song on a retreat with other YAVs reminded me that there is no where I could flee from God's presence.
Each time I come across this passage or this song, it holds a different meaning for me. Following the passage along farther, we praise God for making us just as we are: fearfully and wonderfully. We implore God to search us, to know us and learn our secrets. Dark is made light in his presence. We are reminded that there is no escape from God. We may try and run, or hide the bits we're ashamed of, but He is here. He loves us still, and encourages us to be better.
... So I heard this call and moved to Belfast. Does this mean that's the only way that you can fill God's call? Packing up your life and moving somewhere drastic? Of course not. Romans 10:8 reminds us that "the message is as near as your mouth or your heart." We carry God's love with us, and it is our charge to share that message with those who haven't heard it, or may have forgotten. You can show this love in simple ways - calling in to check on a friend who is having a hard time. Suspending judgement on someone before you get to know their lives and their circumstances. You don't have to travel half a world away to do it.
In fact, many of you have done this with me this year. I'm so grateful for those with whom I've had the opportunity to share a meal or conversation. I may be biased, but I feel that taking the time to get to know "the YAV" as a person rather than just a function makes the year that much richer for both parties!
You have so many exciting things coming up in this coming year - I've had the opportunity to spend time with Becki, and I'm insanely jealous that Sarah will get to spend more time with her. The outreach projects of this congregation are beginning to gather momentum, and you have the possibility to really impact people's lives. I'm so glad to have had the opportunity to walk along with you, if only for this short time. It is going to be really difficult to leave you all!
I close now with another YAV standard-issue prayer that has meant a lot throughout this year, and even more so as I leave this place with no idea of where my next steps will take me:
MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.