Sunday, October 19, 2014

Transition



What follows is the text of a letter I read to the congregation of the First Baptist Church of Asheville at this morning’s worship service.  Please pray both for me and for that wonderful faith-community as we enter this season of transition.

Dear Friends,

Across this year, you have lovingly walked with me through my diagnosis with multiple myeloma, early rounds of chemotherapy, and the challenging experience of a stem-cell transplant. The very good news, as most of you know, is that the cancer is in remission. To lengthen that remission and keep the cancer in check, I have begun additional chemotherapy treatments. I am deeply thankful.

As I have dealt with this difficult diagnosis and with the effects of treatment, I have experienced, viscerally and powerfully, the truth of the promise that “nothing can separate us from the love of God” made known and real to us in Jesus. I have been to the edge and to the bottom, and God’s tender and tenacious love has met me in those hard places. 

For some time now—for longer than I have known that I have cancer—I have been pondering prayerfully Mary Oliver’s question, “Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Cancer has brought that question into even bolder relief. 

In the thirteen years I have served as your pastor, we have been and done church together in ways that were possible because of your commitment and openness. We have renovated and expanded our landmark building and opened both it and our hearts to welcome our community; started new ministries in our city and region, especially to the “least of these”; shifted our membership policies to include among us everyone God has included in the church universal; put in place a collaborative model of ministry; and, in many other ways, made progress toward our being, at the intersection of our culture and the Kingdom of God, a community of faith, centered on Jesus and committed to his purposes in the world. 

You have been amazingly supportive, encouraging, and affirming. You have been the church I needed during this season of my life.  You have helped me to grow as a person and as a minister. When I have made mistakes, you have worked with me to correct them. When I have been in the wrong, you have challenged me to reconsider what I said or did.  When I have needed grace and mercy, you have given them generously.  I love you and believe in you.   

It is time, though, for my response to God’s call to me as a human being, as a follower of Jesus, and as a minister of the gospel to shift in significant ways. There are dimensions of that call which I need to explore more directly than I can while also serving as your pastor. After much reflection and prayer, I submitted my resignation to our Deacons this past Thursday night (October 16, 2014). My last Sunday will be January 11, 2015. 

I believe that I have given you the best gifts I have had to give, and I also believe that the next season of the church’s life, a season which is very bright with possibility, invites the talents and vision of a new pastor. That new pastor will step into a healthy, creative, and vibrant community of faith. Our gifted and resourceful ministerial staff and a team of wise and committed lay-leaders will continue to guide and care for the church.

I do not know what I am going to do. For the first time in my life, I am resigning from a job without already having one lined-up. Even though I am uncertain about what my next work will be, I am certain that my time as your pastor is ending. So, like Abraham and Sarah, I am setting out in response to what I believe to be God’s call without knowing where I am going. I trust, as I have said to you across these years, that God will give me everything I need to live the life God is calling me to live.

Grace and peace,
Guy Sayles

On Wednesday night, October 22, at 6:00 PM, in the Chapel, we’ll have an opportunity for further conversation about my decision. I hope you will make plans to join me.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Infallible Sign of Joy


Joy can be a trembling wonder.

It’s like the trembling of a dog who wags his tail so hard that his whole body shakes when you come into the door at the end of a long day.

It’s like the little girl who quivers with excitement on Christmas Eve.  The days and weeks of waiting are almost over.  She can’t wait to fly into the living room, land under the tree, and dive into brightly wrapped gifts.  

It’s what a sixteen year-old feels when he finally gets the courage to call her on the phone. His hands get sweaty and his throat goes dry, but he somehow manages to ask her anyway if she’d like to go see a movie with him, and she says “yes!”  

It’s what a bride feels just as the words “I do” whisper from her lips, and what a groom hears feels when he hears her say them. 

It is, I think, what a woman feels when hard labor has ended, and she cradles her newborn to her breast.    

It’s what mom and dad feel just before the dean of students calls their child’s  name to walk across the stage and receive a college diploma. 

It’s what you feel on the first day of a new job or when the realtor hands you the keys to your first house.  It’s what you feel when your son, who has struggled to get his bat on the ball, finally gets his first hit in a little league game; or when your daughter, who hasn’t played much this year, gets in the match and scores the winning goal for her soccer team.

It’s what you experience when the doctor says, “you’re in remission.”

It’s the astonishing exhilaration the followers of Jesus felt on Easter, when they realized that he was alive after all.  Fear drained away. Joy radiated through their entire beings, and overflowed into the world. 

We tremble with joy when anticipation becoming delight, yearning becoming fulfillment, and the long search becoming sudden surprise.

“Joy is,” Teilhard de Chardin said, “the most infallible sign of the presence of God.”

Monday, September 29, 2014

Real Friends


Good friends give us the freedom to be who we are and to become our best selves. They help to disentangle us from ways of thinking and feeling which hinder us from reaching our full potential. They encourage us to break away from expectations and demands which chain us to an identity that isn’t ours. They believe, and help us to believe, that we can unlock the prison of self-defeating patterns which walls us off from happiness. Real friends never try to dampen-us down, throttle us back, or hem us in. 

Love longs for the liberation of the beloved; it desires freedom for a friend. Real friends want one another to experience lighthearted joy—the joy of hearts unshackled from doubt about their worth and unburdened by fear of engaging life. 

I hope you have experienced that kind of friendship.  It’s a rare and priceless gift.

And, it’s a gift Jesus offers us.  On the night before his death, Jesus gathered his followers around him and blessed them with these remarkable words: “You are my friends. . . I do not call you servants any longer. . .  I have called you friends.” 

The old gospel song got it right: “What a friend we have in Jesus.”  He dearly cherishes, deeply values, and wholeheartedly delights in us.  He has inexhaustible and unconditional love for us, and he wants us to receive, depend on, and rest in that love.  Amazing.