Thursday, October 30, 2014

To be Loved


In my dream, the old man was dressed in once-elegant but now slightly-shabby clothes.  He was in a wheelchair.  Only with great difficulty could he manage to hold his head up straight. His dark eyes took-in the handful of acquaintances gathered around a nearby table.  At the same time, his eyes had a faraway look to them, as if he were straining to see a place he had longed to call home but at which he had never arrived.  The other people in the room were mostly younger than he, people he had worked with or helped across the years.

A meeting of some kind was breaking up, one of thousands of meetings he had endured across the more-than-five decades of his working life. He had been in meetings when it would have been better from him to talk and laugh and cry with friends, or to walk, when he could still walk, hand-in-hand with his beloved beside a mountain stream, or to sit quietly by a roaring fire, listening to Miles Davis and letting his soul breathe-in the rhythms of grace. 

Nonetheless, he spent still another evening in yet another meeting.  Suddenly, or so it seemed to everyone in the room, even to him, hot tears began to stream down his cheeks.  Embarrassed, he tried wiping them away, but doing so only called attention to his distress.  “Are you alright?  In pain?  Do you need for us to call a doctor?”  He tried to answer, but, for a few awkward moments, no words would come, only soft but troubled moaning.  Finally, he managed to choke out the last words he would ever speak: “All I ever wanted was to be loved.”

In waking life, I knew that old man in my dream pretty well.  Only at the end was he able to say what had been true about him—what is true about all of us—from the beginning: “All I ever wanted was to be loved.”  

We want to feel cradled close to our mother’s breast, to feel the stubble of our father’s whiskers on our cheeks as he embraces us, to hear her sing us into peaceful sleep, and to listen to another of his stories.  We want friends who let us into their circle, join is in our dreams, stay by our sides when we fail, catch our tears, and share our laughter.  We want someone who will have us gladly and hold us tenderly, “for better, for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.”  We want a church where we don’t have to pretend to be perfect or wear masks to hide our fears or feel pressured to affirm more than we know.  

A young child reaching up to his grandfather; a teenage girl yearning for the boy in her fourth-period class to speak to her; a young adult desperate not to eat dinner alone; a middle-aged man, out on the road, struggling with his loneliness; and a grieving spouse, who buried her husband, returns night after night to house chilled by his absence all want what we all want: to be loved and to love.
 
“All I ever wanted was to be loved.”

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.”