Take Care of the Well
Sun, Jan 1, 2017


(IS 12: 1-6, ROM 12:9-21)


                In trying to figure out what words of wisdom to say today - my last sermon here at Plattsburg UCC, I started with the idea of saying something about the nature of goodbyes.  As a matter of fact, at one point the working title for this sermon was “Goodbyes Stink!“  But then, as I was finishing packing up my office and ran upon the bottle of River Jordan water I brought back with me from my trip to the Holy Land in 1998 to use for baptisms, I found myself thinking about the baptismal anthem the choir at the church I served in Clarion IA always sang when we had a baptism; we’ve sung it here a time or 2 as well.  I was particularly struck with the lyrics at the beginning of the second verse that the men sing:  “Come as a child, come sons and daughters, draw from the well life giving waters.  Drink of the river, the Lord, the life giver; feel how it pours out the life that is yours.”  And “Goodbyes Stink!” (and they do!) soon became “Take Care of the Well.”

                Historically, wells have been crucial to the well-being of both animals and human beings.  Oases in the desert were the difference between survival and death.  Without a predictable source of life-giving water, human communities cannot long endure.  Throughout the Scriptures we can find any number of examples of the life-giving, life-sustaining nature of wells - often times used as a symbol for God.

                Congregations of Christian people can be such life-giving water - for themselves, and for the communities in which they exist.  Congregations have the potential to be those places of sanctuary in which persons grow more fully into the Body of Christ ... expressions of Christ’s presence on earth.  From time to time we need nourishment and refreshment ... something as simple as a drink of cold, clear water to continue our faith pilgrimage.

                I would contend that the health and safety of such community wells are the rightful responsibility of the lay and clergy leadership of each congregation.  Such wells need to be protected - even cherished.  They are too important to too many people to not warrant such careful stewardship.  Leaders should be vigilant in keeping safe the source of life and sustenance which each of us needs.

                If we’re not careful, the water within a well can accumulate enough impurities so that the water is no longer safe or healthy to drink.  When this happens, the community suffers, for the trusted place of nourishment can become a place where sickness is allowed to dwell among us, and can be spread.

                In most instances, the contaminators of the community well are unaware of the danger of their actions or words.  Great harm was not intended, even if great harm was done.  “Don’t you think the sermons used to be better?”  ...  “I just don’t know if what the Trustees are doing with our money is always the best available option.”  ...  “I wish that family with the noisy kids would just stay home.”  ...  “Do you think we’re getting our money’s worth out of the church staff?”  ...  “I wish they wouldn’t play those hymns so loudly!”  ...  “George seems to think nothing can happen around here without his approval.”  ...  “As long as they insist on changing this church, I won’t be giving my money anymore, and don’t expect to see me or my family around here either.”  ..... 

                These are the comments of the parking lot, or the phone tree, or the grocery store checkout lane, or the morning or afternoon coffee klatch.  And even though they may not be intended to do any harm, the fact of the matter is that they can undermine the health of the church community, and when the sum of the remarks increases, they can poison the well from which others drink.  .....  I believe that most well contaminators are unaware of the serious consequences of their words and actions.  The critical remarks seem so innocent.  The small digs seem so casual.  But intended or not, the poison is set loose in the well the community relies on for health and safety.

                The tragedy is that sometimes the very community which speaks of the love for God, self, and neighbor does not practice that love with those in the church.  The very community which holds dear the Gospels in which Jesus tells us to forgive seventy times seven collects lists of errors, slights, and omissions on the parts of others.  .....  /  /

                Back in 1846, a handful of brave and hardy souls started this church ... dug this well, we might say - and for 170 years now, it’s been providing spiritual nourishment and refreshment in this community.  Have there been times when the waters have gotten a little muddied, maybe even to the point of being unhealthy?  Perhaps.  But it’s still here ... and the refreshing and nourishing waters of the living God can still be found in this place.  .....

                A little over 4 years ago, a then 57 year old minister came from the Central Coast of California, stood in this pulpit, on World Communion Sunday, preached his candidating sermon, and was called to be the Pastor of this church ... to help tend this well.  Over the last 4 years we’ve had our share of challenges and successes along the way, occasional failures, and differences of opinions - but overall I think we’ve done a pretty good and faithful job in caring for this portion of the Body of Christ known as the Plattsburg United Church of Christ.

                And now it appears, as we prepare to go our separate ways, that God is calling Linda and me to go and help tend another “well,” if you will, in another place – in Iowa, in our capacity as grandparents to our soon to be 3 grandchildren in Center Point and Iowa City.  And as we leave, I’ve heard some concerns expressed about what will happen here ... whom will God send to help you in taking care of this well in this place?  And my response is that I cannot believe that God would bless Linda and me with the opportunity to retire and go be full time grandparents without having something wonderful in mind for this church family.  We’ve had a good 4 years together, and we thank you for them from the bottom of our hearts.  And during this transition period, as you reflect upon where this church has been, where it is now, how it got here, where it wants to go, what sort of skills your next pastor will need to give you the best chance of getting there, and then ultimately searching for your new pastor - take care of each other, take care of this church ... take care of the well, and rest in the faith and knowledge that God will take care of the rest.

                .....  And let us pray  .....