Pastor Stew's Final Sermon
First Lesson: Isaiah 63: 7-9
Responsive Reading: Psalm 148
Second Lesson: Hebrews 2: 10-18
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 2: 13-23
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I grew up in Lindstrom, Minnesota. Since I was brought home from the hospital in Minneapolis, the most distinctive landmark in town has been the statue of Karl and Kristina Oskar. Karl and Kristina Oskar were characters in a series of novels called “The Emigrants.” “The Emigrants” were bestselling works describing the life of Swedish settlers from around the 1850s upon entering the New World of America.
The most noteworthy thing about Karl and Kristina Oskar's statue is their eyes. Karl’s eyes are looking forward to their new life in Minnesota, Kristina’s eyes are looking back over her shoulder to Sweden that she left behind.
The second generation of Swedish settlers in the New World included my Great-Great-Grandfather C.A. Victor. Daniel Lindstrom, over whom the town is named, is a distant relative. My family from the town’s founding in 1894 made Lindstrom their permanent home. There hasn’t been a decade since Lindstrom’s inception when a parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent hasn’t served on the city council or as Mayor. God seemingly had different plans for my life.
The year was 1998; I was about to begin my freshman year at Concordia College in Moorhead. Having known my Dad for forty years, I’ve haven’t seen him sheds tears like on that day. My Dad knew things would never be the same in the family again. My life was destined to look very different than my Dad’s, Grandpa Kermit’s, or Great-Grandpa Arvid’s. A minister is not meant to go back to his hometown. When Jesus went back to Nazareth in his ministry, they tried throwing him off a cliff.
I would enroll in Luther Seminary in 2003. I would meet a young woman; she was a free-spirit, outdoorsy type. She would talk about how her dream Pastoral call was upon Minnesota’s North Shore. Our lives would take us in different directions. I never forgot her words about the North Shore.
A few years later, I was serving Our Saviors Lutheran in Lamberton, Minnesota. I loved being in Lamberton; I formed lifelong friendships within that community. If I believed that I was being called to stay as their Pastor, I would have stayed for years and years.
Around the time, I was preparing to leave Lamberton. I received a phone call from Glenda Hedin to consider coming to Silver Bay to serve as Sychar’s pastor.
The Book of Galatians declares about the Birth of our Savior Jesus, which we celebrate on this day: “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law.”
Why does the Christmas story take place within world history when it does? Why was not Jesus born hundreds of years earlier when people were struggling with the realities of both sin and death? Why did the Israelites have to suffer through generations of Egyptian slavery? Why were they forced to leave their native land by the Babylonians? Why were they conquered by foreign rulers on numerous occasions while their savior failed to appear?
Christ was born in a unique time in human history having to do with the power of Rome. Rome controlled the world to such a degree militarily that the world shared a common language for trade purposes (Greek) and travel was relatively safe. Christ was born in a time of human history, where the spread of the Gospel to the very ends of the Earth could become a reality.
Many of us can probably point to times in our own lives, where we were convinced that God needed to do things a certain way, only to soon end up disappointed. Only years later, we saw that God’s timing and plans for us are better than what we could imagine.
Like the Birth of the Christ Child, which we celebrate on this day, we remember how powerful a force that God’s timing is over every one of our lives.
If I hadn’t started seminary when I did, I probably don’t end up living for eight years upon the North Shore. If Sychar had posted their call six months earlier or six months later, I don’t believe I end up as this congregation’s pastor.
As I preach my final sermon, I leave with the fondest of memories. My great hope is that the next eight years of my ministry are as positive as the last eight years. I believe these things took place because of God’s timing within all of our lives.
The one thing that I’ll forever remember about Silver Bay was the relationships that I had with the youth of the community. Last year, I might have been the only pastor in the whole state of Minnesota to be asked to address a public high school’s homecoming assembly.
My relationship with the youth of the community came down to timing. When I got to Sychar, we had a really good group of seventh graders in the congregation in Gunnar Frahm, Zach Lewis, and Sylvia Davey. Pastor Robin had previously extended Confirmation to 10th Grade and I had no plans to change that. So Gunnar, Zach, and Sylvia were going to be stuck with me for a long time. Pretty soon other kids started to join us, more thanks to the kids already going here than me, the more kids that we had at church, the more time that I would spend at the school building bridges with other Silver Bay Mariners.
Eventually, Sychar got a reputation at William Kelley as being a place where kids would have fun and learn about Jesus on Wednesday nights. So even after Gunnar, Zach, and Sylvia graduated high school, we still had kids coming. The majority of these kids were non- Sychar members. If my first Confirmation class were a different group of kids, then I believe I never form the relationships over at William Kelley that I do.
The second thing with the fullness of time has to do with my Grandma and the Silver Bay area’s seniors. My Grandma never had a healthy habit in her life. She lived to a few months past 95 years old. Grandma never slowed down; she remained as outspoken as ever until her last few months. She would soon become the star character in many of my sermons. Being around her for so long gave me sensitivity for other seniors and the challenges they were facing. I eventually became involved with North Shore Area Partners. One day, I was sitting in my office struggling to write something for the Sychar Scroll. So I decide to write something about Grandma and how I had read a book that said feisty seniors live longer.
A few months later, Lise Abazs at North Shore Area Partners asks that I help get the organization’s name out there. So a Chronicle column about Grandma, other seniors, and various other old souls was born. The main reason I started writing this column was that I knew Grandma would love to hear about her antics in print, even as she lived way longer than any reputable doctor would have predicted.
Timing is vital in our lives. So how does a Pastor know that God is calling their life in a new direction? Like leaving Lamberton, I would spend hours fighting with the notion of ever leaving Silver Bay. I read more books on public speaking than a person cares to admit. I had hours of good discussions with the Church Council about the long-range future of this congregation. Eventually, circumstances began to change in my own life.
I would grow more gray hair, experience disappointment in my personal life, and My Grandma would pass away. I would see some of my closest friends in the ministry have their tenures in churches end badly and even leave the ministry. So because of this, I’m firm that a pastor should leave a church too soon rather than too late.
I think back to when I came up here to interview to be the pastor in October 2011. I went out to eat with then Call Committee Chair Merle McDonald at the Lemon Wolf.
Merle asked me: “How long do you think a Pastor should stay at a church?” “I said somtime between five to seven years.” This answer had mainly to do with preaching the same scripture passages over and over. For I believe over time a preacher can lose his voice. A congregation can be blessed from a fresh perspective of leadership.
So later this week, I will begin a new chapter in my life and ministry on the other side of the Bong Bridge. I leave this place a better leader thanks to people like Dan and Judy Waxlax, Merle McDonald, Peggi Potter, and Connie Wanderi. I leave this place a better preacher and communicator because of people like Mary Bauman, Kathy Toland and Rey Groethe who always wanted to hear more stories. I leave this place a kinder person because of the example set by Ardelle Orvik whose 90th Birthday we celebrated Last Sunday.
Like Kristina Oskar, I anticipate the first few months in Hayward will be difficult as I will no longer have the people of Sychar in my life daily. Plenty of days will be spent struggling with the temptation to look back over my sholder towards my comfortable life in Silver Bay. Like Karl Oskar, I realize that sometimes the most difficult of decisions end up being the best decisions, even if they don’t bear fruit right away.
What do I wish for Sychar in my upcoming absence?
A few years back, I was complaining to my Dad about an organization that I was involved. I was citing examples of the problems, left and right. I went into this conversation, thinking that I was a lot smarter than I was. My Dad’s been on more boards (City Council, Church Council, hospital boards) than I ever have any interest in being on.”
As my Dad hears this complaining, he tells me: “Every group you’re ever involved in will have people and their problems that others can point out, you need to determine whether you’ll work to be part of the solution.”
Carey Nieuwhof is one of my favorite Christian leadership authors. Nieuwhof was struggling with how his congregation should move forward. So he sat his church’s leadership team to the whiteboard. Nieuwhof asked the leadership: Of all the people who attend our church, who best embodies what we’re about and WANT to be about in the future? “
Let me begin with the oldest person here in Esther Olson. Esther always lets me know how she keeps me in prayer every day. I have no doubts that she will do the same when I move down to Hayward. Esther keeps a list of people for whom she prays. Esther will keep praying for this congregation and its future in the months ahead.
I think of people like Vallie. When Vallie moved into Carefree Living, she didn’t see herself as losing a home, she saw herself as gaining a ministry opportunity with her fellow residents.
I think of Ruby and Bob Eckstrom, who around their 90th Birthday keep thinking young. Ruby came up to me last year. She asks about the Church Council. She then says to me: “I hope they do make changes. I want to see young people there.” Bob gets excited about inviting his friends and neighbors to church like few that I’ve ever met. Even if they don’t end up coming, I do not doubt that Bob is going to keep inviting people to Sychar when the opportunity presents itself.
I think of Dean and Denise Zeitz who are at the school, cheering on the Silver Bay Mariners every chance they get. I think of Deb Johnson and the joy she shows at these games whenever young kids are around. You better believe that kids and their parents notice these attitudes. Investment such as these in the next generation will define the future of all churches including Sychar.
These people constitute examples of prayer, compassion, vision, and a desire to build relationships with those who currently don’t call Sychar their church home. It is not the Pastor, who ultimately defines this congregation. It is instead the gifts of each and every one of God’s people who gathers.
To close this morning: “Let me read a passage from my first sermon given as the called Pastor of Sychar on January 15th, 2012:
“So that God willing-many years from now, when I preach my last sermon at Sychar. It will not be a dramatic, earth-shaking event in the life of the congregation. So that the next new Pastor at Sychar will be able to strengthen and enhance this congregation’s ministries, but will not be the sole factor in their success. “
Here’s what I hope happens here in the weeks to come. When you enter worship, you’re warmly greeted by the ushers of Chuck, Fred, and Bernie. Eugenie and the Sychar choirs bless us with their gifts of music. Someone else comes and reads then preaches the Gospel, even if they do differently than I do. Children bring joy to the service when they collect the Well offering. Krysty greets everyone with a smile outside the service or in the office. What I hope most of all is this, Every member of this congregation draws comfort from God’s timing in our lives being better than our own.
As I leave Sychar’s pastoral office, here is what I remain certain.
Sychar is ultimately looked over by someone with more grace and love than I’ll ever possess. The same God who led Mary and Joseph out of Israel away from Herod will guide this congregation into a New World of ministry. The New World will at first be scary and uncertain. The New World can seem to be fraught with death and destruction, just like on Good Friday. The New World though can eventually turn into an unbelievable blessing of grace for all God’s people. Skol Vikings! Now that I’ve got that out of my system. Amen.
 Mumford, Tracy. “Why a fictional character gets an annual festival in Lindstrom, Minn.” MPR News. 10.July.2015. Web. Dec.19.2019.
 Luke 4:14-30.
 Galatians 4:4.
 “What does it mean that God sent Jesus in the “fullness of time”?”. Got Questions Ministries. Web. Dec.19.2019.
 “What does it mean that God sent Jesus in the “fullness of time”?”. Got Questions Ministries.
 Nieuwhof, Carey. “A 5 Step Guide on How to Create An Amazing Church Culture.” Carey Nieuwhof. 21.Mar.2016. Web. Dec.19.2019.