Passing the Baton
Hebrews 10:24-25; Jeremiah 29:11-13
You are an answer to prayer. To be able to come to Trinity as a pastor, to be able to follow Bill Green – and you know: it’s green, green; it’s green they say, in Knoxville, Tennessee. Well, really, it’s University of Tennessee orange, but given the song from last week we’ll go with green. I know that Bill has been a treasure to you over these past nine years. Jenny as well. The love you’ve shown them, including the service last week is a testament to that. And today, Bill has graciously agreed to be a part of this service. So, a little later on we’ll share a litany of welcome. Bill and I will transfer the Trinity stole as I move into this role, and as he moves into retirement.
Before getting there, let me begin with this.
For about seven years I coached high school track and field. My role was two- fold. First, I was the motivational coach or what we called the mental prep coach.
Beyond that I coached the pole vault, long and triple jump and the hurdles. But as mental prep coach part of my role was to prepare the individual athletes for each of their events. We would spend a few moments together visualizing their event. I taught them how to visualize perfection and then hold on to that vision as they went through the event. I had already helped the athletes set specific goals, and not just overall goals, but sequential goals for each event. As difficult as the pole vault may be, or as complex as the triple jump, it was the relays that created the most challenges.
Whether it was the 4 x 100 or the 4 x 400 relay, each of the four runners had an individual strategy, individual roles within the race. But as you know, they were all for naught if the handoffs didn’t go smoothly. We worked long and hard when it came to the handoffs. A dropped baton meant that the race was over. So, we created the kind of handoff that could be practiced no matter the runner. The mark was placed on the track where the next runner would begin their run.
As the runner came from behind, the one receiving the baton would begin to run, slowly at first and then continue to speed up. They would stretch their hand back with their thumb facing their body, hand set as wide as possible. The one handing off the baton would literally slap the baton into the hand of the receiver and would not let go until the one receiving it pulled it out of their hand. If it went well, the race would be flawless, each transfer done without issues. Twice in my career both the men’s and women’s teams broke state records. Most would say it was because of the flawless handoffs. And that is what we’re hoping for today.
Last week Bill thanked you for your faithful service. I know you then thanked both he and Jenny for theirs. Bill has offered himself to you fully as your pastor. Jenny has done the same with a heart as big as all outdoors. Under Bill’s tenure, you have shifted the way you do church; shifted the focus of what it means to be church, and even more so, shifted the population of focus in church. Under his tenure, you have become a church of radical hospitality, and The Church of the Resurrection has become a place of inspiration and education. Your focus beyond your doors has expanded as you all felt the call to move out into the community in new and creative ways, but I’ve also got to believe that it is where your hearts have always been. Bill also offered inspiration and education, and encouraged you to take on more than you could have imagined. And you did, and you do. And now I have the rare privilege of serving you in this time, in this place, with the challenges that face us. But I have to share that it’s not about me, or even about Bill and Jenny. It’s about all of us running the race set out for us, and doing it together, particularly now. Another aspect of our 240 track athletes was that as the 4 x 400 was getting ready to begin, and a reminder that it is the final race run in any track meet, our entire team would line the inside of the track, literally shoulder to shoulder.
As the runner passed, they cheered them on. As the race would continue around the track the whole team would move with them. Then they stood at the finish line cheering them in. No matter the outcome, it was all about team, all about support, all about encouragement, all about staying united in our mission…no matter what. And, that’s my hope for us as we enter this relationship together. Bill is coming around the track baton in hand. I’m at the beginning of that transition zone, ready to receive the baton and not break stride, and this is the Sunday of the handoff. We’ve strategized the handoff, and talked at length about the baton not being dropped, and I assure you that the race will continue on. It is who you are, and it is who I am.
So, on this my first Sunday with you, I just want to say thank you to my friend and my colleague for the way he has offered himself during this strange time. It has been a very precious gift to both Dorothy and me. So with that in mind, I want to ask Bill to come up and receive a couple of gifts I have for him.