I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace. For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ. -- Philippians 1:3-8 (NKJV)
The Apostle Paul, by the grace of God and the eloquence of the Holy Spirit, has put into words the joy I experienced today. The saints of Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Metairie, Louisiana, welcomed me into the pulpit one last time this morning. I'm not a big fan of gushy personal outbursts from the pulpit, as I'm sure you could guess by now, so the sermon wasn't a farewell speech, instead focusing on the Gospel appointed for the day. Yet the Lord's sense of timing is divine: the Gospel reminded us that the children of God are heirs of a joy that will never fade away.
Between the services, the congregation welcomed Faith and me to a cake reception. Yet sweeter than the cake and richer than the gifts we received was the love which they shared with Faith and me in their kind regards for the times we spent together and their fond wishes and prayers for my family's move and our service in Illinois. After the sorrow of my experience in Ohio--though I know many members of the congregation in Zanesville loved me and continue to love me today--the warm welcome and the continuing affection of the people of Mt. Olive has been a balm to my soul.
It may be some time before I return to Mt. Olive. My wife's family living in Louisiana, we will no doubt have the opportunity to return from time to time. It will not be the same; nor would I wish it to be. These people took me in during a time of sorrow. Through the love they have shown me and the gifts of God they partook with me, they are sending me forth in joy, and I hope that every return to them will reflect that joy. Though it is very likely that I will eventually forget the names of these saints, I will always remember the love they shared with me.
Pastor Drew, brothers and sisters in Christ at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church: the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. We will meet again: maybe here, certainly at the Lamb's High Feast, and unto eternity by the grace of God.