I was invited to be the guest preacher at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, San Antonio, on the Sunday before The Rev. Beth Knowlton, rector of St. Mark’s, began her sabbatical.
I want to start by being very direct with a couple of things I have to say to you all and to you Beth.
- Beth, you cannot take them with you. You have to let them go.
- St. Mark’s, you cannot hang on to her. You have to let her go.
- You both have your own and unique sabbatical work to do.
I say those things because that’s what we hear Jesus saying in today’s gospel (John 13:31-35). “Where I am going, you cannot come”
He’s very direct in what he says to his disciples. And I imagine he might be talking to himself as much as he is to his disciples. I imagine he might be telling them and himself that he has his work to do and they have theirs to do. “Where I am going, you cannot come.”
They are the perfect words for today. Beth, I know you didn’t get to pick the readings for today but when I first read that line I wondered if you picked this day as your last Sunday just so you could have this reading. It’s exactly what needs to be said and, more importantly, what needs to be heard on this day.
You cannot go where Beth is going. And Beth, you cannot go where they are going.
It might sound like Jesus is saying no to his disciples. And maybe what I’ve just said to you all and to you Beth sounds like a no too. But it wasn’t a no then and it’s not today. It’s the exact opposite. This letting go of each other is a yes to each other. And it’s a yes that began years ago.
Does anyone remember what happened here about eight years ago, on September 18, 2014? It was the celebration of the new ministry begun by you all and Beth. It was the day Beth said yes to you and you said yes to her.
Beth, the Bishop read aloud your letter of institution by which you committed yourself to work as a pastor, priest, and teacher in this community; to care alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor; to proclaim the Gospel by your words and life; to love and serve the people; and to nourish and strengthen them to glorify God.
And then you were asked this: “Do you, in the presence of this congregation, commit yourself to this trust and responsibility?” Do you remember your answer? “I do,” was your answer. That was your yes to the people of St. Mark’s. That “I do” is why you cannot take them with you and you have to let them go.
And then the Bishop asked you all, “Will you who witness this new beginning support and uphold Beth in this new ministry?” And you said, “We will.” That was your yes to Beth. Your “we will” is why you cannot hang on to her and you have to let her go.
Ever since that day it’s been yes, yes, back and forth. You have spent the last almost eight years “yessing” each other. Sure, there have been some some hard days and bumps along the way including a pandemic and scaffolding that fell on and crushed your building, and I suspect there were some days when yes might have given way to “Ah shii oot, shoot.” But each time you got back to “yessing” each other. And that’s what has brought us to this day.
Today yes means letting go but that’s not the same as leaving behind. Letting go is the space in which you more deeply carry one another in your hearts, prayers, and love. It’s the freedom for something new to arise. It’s the grace by which God is “making all things new.” So I want to highlight some of the ways your letting go means yes.
Your letting go of Beth is a yes to her.
- Yes to her life and well being;
- Yes to her rest, renewal, and refreshment;
- Yes to her growth and transformation;
- Yes to her vocation and ministry;
- Yes to her gifts;
- Yes to her needs, passions, desires, and interests;
- Yes to her value and presence in your lives.
And Beth, your letting go of St. Mark’s is a yes to the people.
- Yes to their lives, faithfulness, and ministry in the Church;
- Yes to your trust and confidence in who they are and what they can do;
- Yes to their abilities and gifts, and their love and support of one another;
- Yes to their growth and transformation;
- Yes to their feeding the hungry with the Bread of Life, real food, knowledge and meaning, beauty and creativity;
- Yes to their sabbatical activities and the meaning they will make of them; and
- Yes to the priesthood and gifts of Ann and Matt.
Together, your letting go of each other is a mutual yes.
- Yes in thanksgiving for who the other is in your life, all they do, and what they have given you;
- Yes to an enlarged life together;
- Yes to a deeper relationship with each other;
- Yes to shared dreams and a future together;
- Yes to the movement of God’s spirit within and between you; and
- Yes to letting each other go in peace.
That’s a lot of “yessing.” Yes has been woven throughout the fabric of your life and ministry together. It holds God’s yes to you, your yes to God, and your yes to each other. Yes is at the center of and underlies the new commandment Jesus gives us today: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” It’s as if Jesus is saying, “I’ve given my yes to you, now you give your yes to one another.”
Yes, yes, yes. There is always a yes waiting to be spoken. I could go on and on with my list of yeses, but I won’t. I trust that you get the idea. So I want you to say it out loud.
Beth, let the people of this parish hear your yes to them.
And St. Mark’s, let Beth hear your yes to her.
Yes, yes. Yes to you St. Mark’s and yes to you Beth.
Thanks be to God for all the yeses and yes people in our lives. Thanks be to God.