By my best count, this is the 80th time I have sat down to write one of these. I say “my best count” because time and a number of hard drive crashes and file transfers have left some notable holes in my archives. I know this because, as I was preparing to write this, my final Connections article, I found myself digging back through my files looking for the very first article I ever wrote. Transitions like the one that we are going through have a way of making us do these sorts of things. They have a way of making us nostalgic and want to look back. Sadly, that first article is one that has fallen victim to the electronic equivalent of “moth and rust” – at least on my system. I say “sadly,” but I wonder if this is really not a gift wrapped up in a surprising package. After all, if we can’t look back, then maybe what we need to do is look around and look ahead.
Looking around I see dozens of people who have tried their best to share faith and life together. Looking around I see people who have taken steps of faith, made sacrifices of time and talents and resources, stepped up to the challenges of leadership, and stepped into times of celebration and sorrow with a hug or a smile or a word of love and encouragement. Looking around I see you and am grateful for your love and encouragement as we have set off in this journey of faith through a strange country together. Have we done this perfectly or even just well every time? No. But fortunately, because of grace, this is not the standard we are to judge by. So to all who have been a part of this journey together, thank you.
Looking around also moves me to look ahead. There is much that lies ahead that is unknown to us all, something we are all tangibly reminded of by the fact that we don’t even know when the next time we will be able to meet again in person is never mind what the next six, twelve or twenty-four months hold. But this is nothing new, is it? We never know these things contrary to what we so often assume. Jesus, as he spoke to his disciples one last time before his ascension, recognized that he was sending them off into a future that they did not know either. The last words he spoke were not just a final reminder of what they were to do (to “Go and make disciples”), but the promise of who goes with them – that He will continue to be with them until the very end of all things. As I pack up my office into boxes, I am reminded vividly how this is not the promise I get to make to you. But looking ahead, I know that I can promise we will continue to walk in the same direction as we continue to walk with and towards Jesus. And instead of this promise, I can let my final words be the same words of promise and blessing that the apostles Peter, Paul, and John all leave as their final ones: May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all.