I intended last Sunday’s sermon to speak, in part, to high school seniors and other young people who would soon be making a transition in their lives—leaving home, going to college, going into service, beginning a new career. As such, I assumed the sermon would have a valedictory tone. After all, Paul’s words in Acts 20:17-27, the scripture I chose a couple of months ago, are literally part of a farewell speech to elders in the church at Ephesus, a church with whom he had ministered for two years.
Little did I suspect when I chose that scripture that I would also be be making a transition—and that it would be announced on the very Sunday I was preaching this text. As a United Methodist elder, I’m “itinerant”: each year I either get reappointed to my present church, or I get appointed elsewhere. It’s always a year-to-year contract. I’ve been an associate pastor for six years, which is a long time in the Methodist system. So in June, I’m leaving Alpharetta to pastor a church of my own.
I’m sure the word “bittersweet” was made for such an occasion. As I said in my sermon, I know I’m ready for this new opportunity. I know it’s a good career move. And, most importantly, I know the Lord has good work for me to do down in Hampton, Georgia, where I’m headed. I know all this in my head—it’s my heart that still needs convincing. But it’ll catch up soon enough.
With all that in mind, you can imagine how I felt hearing the Vinebranch Band play the Beatles’ “In My Life.”
There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed.
Some forever not for better.
Some have gone and some remain.
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall.
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all.
Pass the Kleenex, please! I read somewhere that this was the first pop song that dealt so candidly with mortality and loss. It was certainly the first Beatles song to do so.
Regardless, by the second verse, it becomes more a love song than a reminiscence.
But of all these friends and lovers,
There is no one compares with you.
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new.
Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before—
I know I’ll often stop and think about them.
In my life, I love you more.
On the one hand, the narrator is making a statement about his new lover: “As much as all these other people mean to me, this new person means so much more.” But he’s saying more than that: thanks to this new lover, he understands love itself differently—he’s learned something about the meaning of love that makes the love he knew previously pale by comparison: “And these memories lose their meaning…”
In a way, isn’t this what happens to us when we enter into a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ? It changes everything—the way we understand the world, our values, our relationships, our choices. Once we experience Love Himself, the God-who-is-love, we see all other loves in relationship to the absolute. As the song indicates, human love can only pale by comparison.
Not that John Lennon necessarily had God’s love in mind when he wrote the song. He was likely confusing the “God who is love” with the “Love who is god,” a common mistake in pop songs and pop culture. But he wasn’t too far off, so I give him credit.
With this understanding in mind, it made perfect sense for me to say the following, alluding to the Beatles song, at the climax of my sermon:
So I’ll never lose affection for you—for your love, your prayers, your patience, and your forgiveness. I love you… and nothing changes that—certainly not moving away or changing churches. But I love God more. And this move is the difficult sort of thing that I have to do because I love God more.
My point was that sometimes all of us Christians have to make painful, heartbreaking choices because we love God more than anything or anyone else. Jesus himself makes the same point, through hyperbole, when he says that unless we hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, even our own lives, we cannot be his disciples.
Leaving all these people I love at AFUMC is at least one small example of what Jesus is talking about. Otherwise, in my life, I almost never have to choose.
Unless or until the Beatles camp decides to remove their songs from YouTube (and I hope they don’t) you can enjoy “In My Life” right here: