Sermon: Letters of Recommendation

04 May 2008


Letters of Recommendation
Rev. Jennifer Whipple
2 Corinthians 3:1-6

Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts gathered here this day be acceptable in your sight. Oh Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

          Having been in youth ministry for the last 7 years I have been asked to write a letter of recommendation or two – letters for college, for scholarships, for post-college jobs or programs, for pastoral profiles.  Some advice that I once received about writing letters of recommendation was, “Don’t agree to write one…unless what you plan to write is true – and you can write it without laughing out loud every time you read it over.”  Luckily, the folks who have asked me to write letters for them have been easy to recommend to whatever program or school they may have been looking to enter.  You see letters of recommendation point out the gifts, skills, and abilities that someone brings to their activities and their relationships. Letters of recommendation generally mean new beginnings, a new chapter starting in a life.  New beginnings mean trusting that you will know the way to go – and hoping that there will be someone there to catch us when we fall, encourage us when we need encouraging, correct us when we need correcting, and love us along the way.

           When Bryn mentioned to me the possibility of preaching today to be sure that we were far enough away from the Whiplet’s due date, I said that would be fine.  She mentioned that it might be something like a “farewell for now” address as I get ready to head out on maternity leave.  We have been looking at the letters of the New Testament since the middle of April, and so I write a letter to you all today – centered around the new beginning that Ryan and I are about to embark upon and also upon the words of the Apostle Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians. 

           Now mind you a little background might be helpful.  Because when I arrived here nearly three years ago the only thing this congregation knew about me perhaps was that I was planning a wedding.  Since August of 2005, this congregation has helped to support me through ordination, officiating at my first funeral – wedding – and baptism, my service of installation as the Associate Pastor here, and my own wedding…not to mention the day-to-day challenges and joys that have come along with being a new pastor through a time of transition.  You have helped to support my ministry by calling a wonderfully knowledgeable, supportive, and faithful Senior Pastor in Bryn.  There are people who on their way out of church each Sunday mention that I have a smile on my face.  It is easy to do so, even in the tough times, when I get to spend time with children, youth, and adults like all of you in this place.  And what a joy it is to welcome new folks into the fold here today on this day when we will come to the table to share in Communion with one another, visitors and new members alike.

           The background for Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians has some similarities to mine. Paul had worked through a time of transition with the church at Corinth – in the time after Jesus’ death as they tried to begin and then continue a community of believers.  He had both ups and downs in his ministry, due to his own expectations of how his community would act and who it was that he was supposed to be as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  He had the support of communities of faith.  And he was writing to them at a difficult time, as they struggled to make decisions not based on what the world would have them do and be—not on the philosophy of get more of everything and don’t worry about who is hurt in return – but rather on the tenets that Jesus taught and the new covenant he left behind…one that called them to love others as they had been loved unto his death. 

So today, my Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

            I deliver this message to you as I prepare to embark on yet another new beginning among you.  There is a little person who kicks around inside of me every time the organ begins to play and whenever I sit down to write in front of my computer.   

            I worry about who I will be as a mother and how I will balance this new beginning with the ministries of this place.  And yet I am reminded that I am not the one who makes myself competent to do what it is that I have been called to do.  Our competence is from God – who has gifted us and prepared us to be ministers and to carry out the new covenant we have been given in Jesus Christ.  A minister serves the need, no matter what that is, and the whole church is to be equipped as we all are together becoming the Body of Christ—hands, hearts, heads, feet all working together.  After all Jesus not only taught that the great were those who ministered but was the model of one who came to minister to others in humility and service – out of deep faith and a need to do something that went beyond himself – to share both his tears and joys with those around him and to offer people new beginnings.

             We are challenged this day not to write letters or messages to one another – although receiving a nice letter instead of bills in the mail is always a nice change of pace!  Instead we are challenged to be letters in our lives…to be letters of recommendation for God.  We are challenged to find reconciliation as we come to the table today to share in communion with one another.  Despite the differences we may have – whether political, social, economic, or otherwise – we are invited to grow as one Body in Christ in this community.  We are challenged to forgive our debtors in the same way we hope and know God forgives us.  We are challenged this day to speak our faith through words and actions out in the world – understanding that the time we spend together in worship, fellowship, and education in this place are so important, but that others are looking for something in their lives that we might just be able to show them through the love, care, and support that we feel here and that we feel through the amazing gifts and grace God has offered us.  We are challenged to listen to others, no matter how crazy they may make us at times – to allow patience to take the day.  We are challenged to pray and grow in our own faith.  All of these things added together will help us to be letters of recommendation for God in our thoughts, words, and deeds if we just allow the space for that to happen.

             I am reminded of a story that I read once that goes like this.  London businessman Lindsay Clegg told the story of a warehouse property he was selling. The building had been empty for months and needed repairs.  Vandals had damaged the doors, smashed the windows, and strewn trash around the interior. As he showed a prospective buyer the property, Clegg took pains to say that he would replace the broken windows, bring in a crew to correct any structural damage, and clean out the garbage.  “Forget about the repairs,” the buyer said, “When I buy this place I’m going to build something completely different.  I don’t want the building; I want the site.”  Compared with the renovation God has in mind, our efforts to improve our own lives are as trivial as sweeping a warehouse slated for the wrecking ball.  When we become God’s the old life is over. God makes all things new.  All God wants is the site and permission to build.  (Ian L. Wilson,

             Many of you have asked if I will be back after the baby arrives.  My answer is “yes” for a variety of reasons, the main one being that being a pastor in this place is my calling at this time.  This is the place for me where God has found the site to build something new in and hopefully through our lives together.  I will be gone for maternity leave for a while this summer, coming back for some special occasions along the way.  I know that I will leave here a different person than I will return.  After all, I have heard more than once that “mine and Ryan’s lives will never be the same.”  I am hoping that you all will be open and willing to navigate this new terrain along with us. 

             My mom has always reminded me that although a church building might be absolutely beautiful that the building is not the church, the church is the people…and a community of God’s faithful people which sets us apart from any other club or organization out there.  As God’s faithful people “We too are called to live lives of righteousness and justice, of love and mercy.  As in Corinth , these attitudes and behaviors are not always cherished in our world.  Too often society directs us to ‘Do unto others before they can do unto you’ or to live by the adages ‘Don’t tread on me’ or ‘Looking out for number one.’  How will we respond to our call?  Will we embrace the opportunity of a new life?”  (  Will we live as letters of recommendation for God?  Will we be a part of God’s mission of re-creation – of restoring the world around us – and making the world (including ourselves) new? 

              As a community you have already given my new family an opportunity to be a part of that mission through projects like the Church World Service baby kits that will be/were assembled during the in-between time today in honor of our new addition. As I was on my way home yesterday afternoon I told the Whiplet that he or she had already begun to make a difference with his/her life through all of you…what an amazing gift and opportunity you have afforded my child already!  The Whiplet will be just as blessed as I have been to get to know all of you in this community.   

             So finally, my brothers and sisters in Christ, as our brother Paul might have said so many years ago, I may not be among you in body but will be with you in Spirit, mind, and heart in the days ahead.  So I challenge you to live in peace, greet one another with love, be kind and gentle toward others no matter who they might be.  Be letters of recommendation for God – wearing your faith on your sleeve.  And may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love and blessing of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you this day and all days.  Amen.



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