September 17, 2023 — The Rev. Hillary Kimsey

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Exodus and St. Luke’s: a Farewell Message

My dear friends, here we are! Today is my last day as your Assisting Priest after a truly wonderful eight months. An eight months I didn’t know I would get to have when I left last summer following my two years of curacy. Every moment has been a gift– you have been a gift! And the pages of this sermon for the next few minutes do not allow enough space and time for me to fully express what it has meant to me to be here with you, so lower your expectations.

I first felt the call to ministry as a little girl who loved church. At church, I felt loved and seen and accepted. I loved to learn, pray, sing, serve, and play. It wasn’t until I was nearing the end of my teenage years that I first felt that maybe church didn’t always love me back. In the eyes of so many I was the wrong gender to be ordained. So I spent much of my life believing in the deepest part of my heart that I must have misunderstood God because I would never be ordained and never called to lead a church.

Yet, God made a way when I thought there was none, and here I am, and here I go, preparing to leave here to lead another church.

And, yeah, it feels a little on the nose to be reading the Exodus story on the Sunday that I’m leaving on this new adventure, but all I can say is the lectionary readings sometimes have a way of being exactly what we need exactly when we need it.

Moses, like so many of the prophets, is a reluctant leader. Famously, when God tells Moses that he will be sent to Pharaoh to argue for the release of the Israelites from slavery, Moses says, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” Both Jewish and Christian scholars have debated about what he meant by that; many people concluded that Moses had a stammer.

God replies, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now, go. I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

But Moses says again, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”

And as someone who has, at times, begged God to send someone else, I can relate. After hearing this protest, God’s anger burned against Moses. God said, “What about your brother, Aaron? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to see you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. Now, take this staff in your hand so you can perform the signs with it.

I love this moment. Despite God’s anger at Moses’s initial resistance, God still gave Moses help and reassurance. God made a way for Moses when Moses himself could see no way forward.

And in the story we heard today, it happens again. First, a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night went ahead and led their way out of Egypt and protected them from the Egyptian soldiers from behind. Then, when they reached the Red Sea, Moses heard the voice of God, raised that same staff in his hand, and the sea parted, and the Israelites crossed the sea on dry land. Again, God made a way when there appeared to be no way.

I’m no Moses, but I have definitely felt inadequate in the face of my calling at times. I too have said to God, “Pardon me, Lord, but I am not (fill in the blank with whatever thing I’m feeling insecure about that day) and I’m afraid, so please, send someone else.” And instead of doing that, God sent me help. God gave reassurance. God made a way when I thought there was none.

Isn’t that the story of St. Luke’s in Ballard? Years ago, this church experienced a devastating split, mostly centered around the full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people in the church. Many parishioners who did not agree with the Episcopal church’s affirmative stance on marriage equality left this church, leaving a small number of dedicated members behind. The buildings were in disrepair, bills weren’t getting paid, but that small number of people who remained here continued to feed hungry people in Ballard.

Again, God made a way forward.

One day soon, my friends, St. Luke’s will face its own exodus from this building to a brief period of exile or wandering in the desert, whichever metaphor makes sense to you. One day soon, the time will come for this wonderful community to vacate this building so that it can be torn down and new housing, including affordable family housing, and a brand new church space can be built. And when that building is finished, I have to imagine that your homecoming might feel a little bit like reaching the promised land.

Over and over, God has made a way forward for this community, and I have faith that over and over, God will do it again.

I am so wildly proud of this community. You care so much about each other, about our Ballard neighborhood, and about the world. You are so committed to and curious about Jesus– you love learning more and more about him and his teachings. I’m humbled by your faith and commitment to prayer and service to others. When I picture what a church is meant to be and to do in a community, I picture all of you. You are St. Luke’s, not this building and not the new building. All of you.

Yesterday at Vocations Day, I had the joy of spending time with people interested in discerning their own calling, whether to the lay ministry or to an ordained ministry as a priest or deacon. We heard from a panel of ministers from each order– lay, deacon, priest, and bishop– talk about why they felt called to the ministry they were in.

I wasn’t on that panel, but listening to them made me ponder my own answer. Why, when I felt so sure for so long that I was called to hospital chaplaincy, which you can do as a lay person or a deacon, did I feel called to the priesthood years ago?

I could give you so many different answers, and they’d all be true, but ultimately, I’m a priest because I want to help create a community where more children, teens, and adults of all ages can love church because at church, they feel loved and seen and accepted. I want to help create a community where we can learn, and pray, sing and serve, and of course, play together. And you, all of you at St. Luke’s under the leadership of Canon Britt, with Ivar’s joyful music, the work of Edible Hope Kitchen, and every single person in this congregation, all of you have shown me how it can be done.

So, thank you.

I love you.

Keep going, St. Luke’s! Keep feeding people. Keep learning. Keep praying and singing and serving. Stay curious. Be brave. Try to be like Jesus. And don’t forget to play. Keep listening to the Holy Spirit–even when you are scared or the path forward seems blocked, remember: God will make a way.

May it be so! Amen.

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