Finishing Well Simon McLeay
What was your highlight of 2017? (Pause). What was your lowest moment? (Pause). One of my highlights was cycling half way around lake Taupo with Jono, passing on one of my loves to one of my loves! How about you? I think one of my lowest points was going to a special birthday and discovering that another special friend of my wasn’t invited. (pause). I want to speak to you all today about finishing well, I want to speak from the scriptures, but not just one passage, I want to bring some verses to you but also ask what a Christian worldview says about endings. I’m not planning on leaving. This sermon is about finishing because it’s the last day of the year. And I have in mind advice I would like to give to my friend Simon Cornwall who is leaving St James to go to Rotorua.
I want to start with an attitude, Live in such a way that if today was the END you would have no major regrets. Tell your children that you love them everyday, Kiss your wife good bye; more than that live in such a way that people know how you feel about them. Praise easily and sincerely, Work through hurts, and Forgive wrongs. The scripture say, 13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.James 4.13-14.Meaninglive everyday as if it might be your last.
I’ll narrow my focus to a little more ordinary endings now. Ending a project, ending ajob, ending a season, moving away. I want to use Moses as my example, when Moses finished his task, the task wasn’t finished, but his part in it was finished. When Moses finished his task, God still had much to do. I think this is important to remember whenever we are finishing something, When we are finished, God isn’t finished.
The most worthwhile tasks we have are tasks that have been given us by God, and he will continue the work. Moses had been given the task of leading and now his season was over, but God wasn’t finished. The first secret to finishing well, is to remember that God isn’t finished. In 1 Corinthians Paul talks about how he planted and another person called Apollos watered, but God made the seed grow. In a Christian world view we are challenged to see that all our work fits into God’s plan. We are privileged to participate, we are not essential. Even if we have started a business ourselves, if it is to have long-term value it must be God’s business and not ours. Even if the business is closing, God isn’t finished.
Now I have always struggled with this passage, because Moses had given his life to God’s work; and here he was stopped just before the river, he never got to enter the promised land, it felt so unfair. Then I realised entering the promised land was only one more step on a journey that would take years and years. Moses had to stop somewhere. And then, just a few years ago I discovered my favourite verse in all of scripture. Matt 17.3, At the Transfiguration Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus in the promised land. With the coming of the second Moses, the first Moses finally gets to enter the promised land. Just because we are finished doesn’t mean God is finished!
Secondly leave revenge to God. It is one of the great temptations we all have when leaving to lob a grenade in as we shut the door. There are always people who annoy us, or systems that need improving, or power structures that need redeeming. When we are leaving is not the time to do address these. And It is not our place, as we leave to have our revenge. One of the great teachings in scripture is, Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. Romans 12.19The desire to have revenge is toxic to our souls. When we leave a place, or finish a season, it is time to forgive and to hand over any rebalancing to God. As I finish the year I can think back on the things that annoy me and I can brood or I can forgive. There is a time to fight, but finishing well does bot involve a fight. This is not a soft teaching, don’t under-estimate God’s potential for repaying. I have seen people undone, their legacy destroyed, their pride collapsed, when God has revealed their sins. Choose to forgive. We have the choice where we place our attention and focus our energies, and finishing well means letting go of our hurts. At times it is tempting to justify ourselves, so much better to leave it to God to justify us. After all it is God’s primary desire to redeem the people we would like to have revenge upon, Jesus died for them. And with God Judgement and is always hoping to restore. Finishing well is letting go of hurt.
Thirdly,build bridges don’t burn them.Our words, our actions and our attitudes can leave all the relational bridges we have in very good repair, or we can burn bridges as we finish. I love the story of Jesus on the beach with Peter, here Jesus is leaving and he stops to rebuild a bridge with Peter. It wasn’t a bridge he burnt, but he chose to rebuild it. Now it’s not easy, his words to Peter are strong words “do you love me”. But a bridge that had been burning was now being repaired. I remember being encouraged when leaving to take time not just to say good bye to those that I enjoyed working with, but to say farewell those who I had had a difficult time with. I think relationally this is really important. Do any of you remember the song all the burning bridges that have fallen after me? When people divorce we have an opportunity as well as a tragedy. When my sister divorced I’ve always been sad that I haven’t managed to keep up with my former brother in law. But I’ve also always been polite, so the bridge while not strong is not burnt. If you are a parent, be careful what you say about your children’s partners and ex partners, sometimes they get back together, ‘ When you besiege a city don’t cut down the fruit trees.” Dt 20.19
Fourthly, hand over the baton. As he was finishing Moses blessed Joshua and passed on not just the battle plan, but the respect he had enjoyedto his successor. This handing on of the baton is one of the most difficult things to do in life. When we have cherished something it is so difficult to pass it on. We never think that someone else will do it as well as us. A job, a sports position, a house, a duty. I know when we bought our house the people we bought it off left a lovely little booklet all about the house, and they have gifted us undisturbed enjoyment of the house. There will be something's that each of us finish each year, how do we hand them on well. Moses blessed Joshua and spoke well of him. I left Papatoetoe many years ago and I have only ever spoken positively about my successor. Now she did a few things quite differently to how I would have done them. But she had the baton now and not I and so I honoured her. And you know what I think she got most of it right. I love the way that Paul helped Timothy to develop and grow. I think it’s great if we are always in the process of developing people. Seeing in people abilities and strengths that perhaps they don’t see in themselves. John the Baptist modelled finishing well when he said “He must become greater; I must become less. John 3.30
Fifthly,Finishingwell takes time. It takes time to finish the chapter, to close the book and put it away, and be aware that the auditor might want to see it one day. I distinctly remember becoming the treasurer of our school council when I was in year 13. The books were a mess and so I did my job faithfully all year, but handed them in at the end of the year in a similar mess, with receipts and statements all jumbled together because I thought that was the way it was done, and I had exams. And then the books came back to me to be finished. My accounting teacher was in charge and I think that she decided that someone who was sitting scholarship accounting could do a better job. They took ages, ages and ages. It was a little embarrassing, but finishing well took time. If you look at the last chapters of DeutMoses takes time, he talks with Joshua, he arranges for the law is read out regularly, he goes to the tent of meeting, he recites a song before all of Israel, then he prepared to die. He says his goodbyes well. Whatever you are finishing this year. Say your goodbyes well. Take the time to finish things.
And then look forward as you end. I love the idea of little hopes when big hopes have ceased. If the big hope was that I could keep doing this forever,then the little hopes are the things that we hope after accepting that wecan’t do this forever. In a case of a terminal disease the little hopes are about enjoy my last days surrounded by family, or being able to enjoy an ice cream. The little hopes might be that having stopped leading ICONZ, I might still be able to call in ocasioanllyand help with a project. The little hope might be now that your kids have left home they will send you a text once a week! The little hopes are about the future. When we finish well we can look forward to what we will do next. We finish well when we know that God will look after what we are leaving, and that he will look after us in our uncertain future. When we know that God has good plans for our future it makes it easier to leave our past. Jeremiah 29.11Is a verse for God’s people at all times and in all places. For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Finallythe Christian hope says that we will meet again, and there is one who knows all the truth. I find that so helpful when I am in conflict with someone. That God knows the troubles I've seen. He knows when I’ve been let down or hurt, or treated unfairly. And the best part is he also knows me and the bit where my glittering self-justification isn’t quite as glittering as I thought. The money I spent, or the time I gave, they were his in the first place. It is good to pour out our troubles to God. Because he knows the full truth. Is good as a Christian to know that all the people we leave, we will see again one day.
As we finish the year what do you need to do, to finish well?
When we are finished, God isn’t finished.
leave revenge to God.
build bridges don’t burn them.
hand over the baton.
Finishingwell takes time.
look forward as you end.
And remember God knows.