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Farewell, The Falls Church Episcopal

Farewell, The Falls Church Episcopal

The Rev. John Ohmer, Rector
The Falls Church Episcopal
October 27, 2019

Well I’ll name the elephant in the living room up front, which is that this is my last service here with you as your Rector, and therefore this is my final sermon.

I don’t have anything new to say to you this morning.

But, I hope, I’ve never had anything new to say to you - I hope I have spent seven years and two months reminding you of old truths, ancient truths, lasting truths.

Seven years and two months: that's roughly 366 Sundays, and while of course I’ve only preached on slightly more than half of those Sundays, most Sundays we preach twice, and so roughly speaking, I figure I’ve preached over 350 times here.

And in all those sermons I’ve really only been trying to make three points.

One, you are the Body of Christ and individually members of it.

Two, when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he said “love the Lord your god with all your heart, soul, and might, and you should love your neighbor as yourself.”
And three, love is not so much an emotion or a feeling as it is a series of concrete actions.

So for this my last sermon I want to unpack each of those, and for each of them, give you a specific charge, or challenge.

One: you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

This service began with the lovely words of Teresa of Avila:

“Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours.Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion will look upon the world; yours are the feet with which Christ will go about doing good; yours are the hands with which Christ will bless others now.”

I joined this faith community as your rector in 2012, shortly after you got this, your property back, the church having undergone a major split, because in 2006, the vast majority of the congregation -- several thousand of them -- voted to leave the Episcopal Church but attempted to keep Episcopal Church property and resources as their own, leaving a small “continuing congregation” group of Episcopalians to gather, first in the living room of Bill and Robin Fetsch, and then as guests at the Falls Church Presbyterian across the street.

And by a small group of "continuing Episcopalians," I mean small -- fewer than 40 the first few Sundays in 2007, but a group that would grow each year between 2007 and 2012 while they were at the Presbyterian Church waiting for the litigation to work its way through the courts. Which finally decided, in 2012, to allow The Falls Church Episcopal people to return to The Falls Church Episcopal buildings. And by the time they got the property back and hired me, they were 80 to 100 on Sundays.

The reason I go into all that is not just to remember and honor that part of this congregation’s recent history, but to point out a unique characteristic or charism of this faith community: 

if you were to ask the question, between the years 2006 and 2012, “where is The Falls Church Episcopal?” the answer would have been “they are over there at the Falls Church Presbyterian.”

Part of what attracted me to this parish in the first place is that this church really gets it -- really understands, deep down -- that the word “church” refers not primarily to a building, but to a people.

YOU are the body of Christ and individually members of it.


(I was looking through the service leaflet of my very first service here: September 9th, 2012. The back cover lists the staff as me and Cathy Tibbets as full time clergy, Michael Hinson as part time clergy, John Bean as parish administrator, Kate Anderson as interim minister of music, and Joe Ewbank as the office assistant. That’s it.

Although I noticed, buried on nearly the last page, a paragraph beginning “please welcome our guest organist and pianist this morning, Julie Huang.

Julie was the first of three finalists and was kind of “auditioning” that morning. I called her up either that afternoon or Monday morning and offered her the job; she said, "what about the other two finalists?" and I said, “I already cancelled the interviews; you’re the right person; God’s calling you here right now. No pressure.”)

God brings us the right people at the right time and no where is that more true than with those called to take on the unique responsibilities of serving on the vestry or working on staff.

In many ways, church governance and Sunday morning worship is like watching a duck paddling across a lake: Those of you who are mostly here only on Sundays see the duck calmly making progress, only occasionally flapping its wings. But those who have worked on staff or served on vestry see what’s underneath the surface: the furious paddling, the fact that there are sharks and alligators and other ducks circling, nipping away, and distracting.

I want to take a minute to thank, by name, each member of the vestries and then staff that have served here during my time here (and if you’re present please stand and remain standing when your name is called so we can all thank you at once).

Vestry, in chronological order:

Mike Lockaby
Sally Brett
Lillian Anderton

Elizabeth Bass
Bill Fetsch
Bob McCan

Janet Powell
Mike Simmons
Edie Smolinski

Mark Hadley
Sarah Liberatore
Andres Valencia

Robin Gardner
Raleigh Griffith
Jason Matechak
Rachel Woodson

Karl Jensen
Matt Lee
Kim McCleary
Lara Ramsey

Cleve Johnson
Tom Kearns
Aliceann Muller
Katherine Secrist

Paul Allvin
Jeanine Bonds
Ginny Gomez
Maury Wray

Courtney Morrison
Erin Muhlbradt
Steve Smith
Fred Thrasher

Erin Cline
Amanda Dupree
Jill Kettler
Paul Rosbolt


Cathy Tibbetts, Michael Hinson, Jim Councilor,Joe Ewbank, Julie Tucker,Nina Bacas, Rosemari Sullivan, Jean Milliken, Rachel Cilladi, Kelly Moughty...

...(story of interviewing Kelly: final interview, I said, “I checked your references and one had some reservations about you, I want to discuss that a bit..." Kelly sat back and (motioning with her hand) said, “bring it!

I thought -- and almost said right there -- “never mind, that response tells me everything I need to know about you: when can you start?!”)

Terri Katon, Heather Starek, Sarah Allred, Nikki Balttazis,
Casie Disantis, Lauren Breeden, and 
John Wunderlich.

Vestry and staff: Thank you!

The charge, or challenge, that flows from this my first point is this:
God is always bringing the right people at the right time.
But that doesn’t mean God brings perfect people according to OUR time.

So please, during and after the interim period, please resist the temptation to say,

“Everything is going to be fine.”

Why? First of all, most things already ARE fine. Don't postpone your joy.

But more importantly, remember that this side of Heaven, there will never be a time when “‘everything’ will be fine.”

In a church, fights are always breaking out, someone’s feelings are always getting hurt, balls are always being dropped. That has always been the case; it is the case now; and it always will be the case.

It didn't have to be that way: God could have wanted perfection, and populated the world and the church with angels, perfectly doing God’s will. Instead God choose to populate the world and the church with IMperfect, flawed, beautiful people like you and me.

Besides, it’s not about us.

“Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God gives the growth.” We are God’s servants, working together, you are God’s field, God’s building.”

So love each other, be gentle with yourself and each other, forgive each other.

That brings me to my second point: 

When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he said “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and might, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

When a lawyer asked Jesus what the greatest commandment of all is, Jesus reminded him of the Shema, the Jewish prayer from Deuteronomy 6:

“Hear -- listen, obey -- O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

And Jesus added, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Nothing matters more than that.

The first and greatest commandment is to love.

We are to love God with all our heart -- the Hebrew means the inner person, the mind, the will, the heart.

And we are to love God with all our soul -- the Hebrew means your life, your self, your person, your desires, your passions, your appetites, emotions.

And you we are to love God with all our might. There’s not a very good English translation for the Hebrew word because it literally means “muchness” “veryness” “your force,” your “abundanceness-ness."

In other words, when it comes to loving God, you’re to go all in.

Push all your chips to the center: God, the central and driving force of love and compassion--hold nothing back.

Which brings me to my third and final point:

Love is not so much an emotion or a feeling as it is a series of concrete actions.

Biblically speaking, “love” is not primarily a feeling or an emotion.

It’s a way of being, a way of seeing, and it makes itself known in the actions we take.

Love is known through tangible, practical actions, changed behaviors that change and benefit the world.

That’s why, in today’s Gospel, when Jesus asks Peter, “do you love me?” and Peter says, “yes,” Jesus tells him what to DO: feed my sheep; take care of people.

Not to put myself in Jesus’ place or compare myself to him, or you to Peter, but I was imagining this scene playing itself out today, making it real for our situation here and now.

If this passage were to be applied to you and me today, it might go something like this:

When they had finished their ministry together, John said to the people of The Falls Church, 

“Do you love me?”

(for the sake of argument) the people said, “Yes John, we love you.”

John said, 

“Double your pledge.”

A second time John said to the people of the Falls Church Episcopal, “Do you love me?’

The people said, “yes John, we love you.”

John said, “double your pledge for 2020. Read your Bible, pray daily, worship weekly (and if you go to the 9:00 show up at 8:55!), and get involved.”

A third time John said to the people of The Falls Church, “do you love me?”

The people of The Falls Church said, “uh, well, actually starting to have doubts about that, the more you talk…”

John said, “well, that’s okay, because it’s not about me anyway.”

It’s about three things:

One, you are the Body of Christ and individually members of it.

Two, when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he said “love the Lord your god with all your heart, soul, and might, and you should love your neighbor as yourself.”

And three, love is not so much an emotion or a feeling as it is a series of concrete actions.

You don’t just go TO church: you ARE the church.

So let my last charge, my last challenge, be the first words we heard this morning, those of Teresa of Avila:

Yours --yours, YOURS-- are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion will look upon the world;

Yours --yours, YOURS-- are the feet with which Christ will go about doing good;

Yours --yours, YOURS--are the hands with which Christ will bless others now.



  1. God Bless you John. You are the eyes, feet and hands of Christ and you have showed us how to be the same. May our paths cross soon. Chris


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