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Below is the manuscript from Fr. Cliff's final sermon to Christ Church as its rector. You can also watch the livestream of the service here as well as listen on our podcast here.


Fr. Cliff and Christine Warner
Christ Church; Austin, Texas
April 14, 2024; A Pastoral Letter to Christ Church


This is my last time in the pulpit as your Rector.

I have loved being your Rector, your brother in Christ, your friend, and an under-shepherd as we—all of us together—live in the care and goodness of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

Thank you for the ways you have loved me and my family, through mistakes and tragedy, through different stages of our family life and stages of my vocational life. I have learned from you and hope to be perpetually learning throughout my whole life.

Thank you for the courage you have shown through some challenging crises, through courageous risks we’ve taken together, and thank you for being a people of joy and hope.

Serving as your Rector has been one of the greatest honors of my life. I love you, Christ Church.


This morning I am going to start with a look at Paul’s letters and then move toward some more pastoral words for this unique moment.

You might have noticed that our first reading was from Acts, with a sample of a short letter. That little letter contains major elements of ancient letter writing…not just in the church, but how the ancient world structured their letters. The New Testament letters follow these conventions, more or less.

Here is the outline that most of them follow:

  • Name of the writer and recipient
    • Ancient letters began with an opening formula, identifying the sender and the recipient. For example,
    • Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: (1 Thess. 1:1).
  • Greeting
    • While ancient Greek letters usually began with a greeting like “be well” or “rejoice” in the opening formula, Paul often changed the conventional greeting by substituting “grace,” which immediately directed attention to the saving work of Jesus Christ.
      • Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you. (1 Thess. 1:1).
  • Prayer wish or thanksgiving
    • In the classical world, the introduction would be followed by either a prayer for health or a thanksgiving to the gods.
    • A short example:
      • “2 We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. 3 We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you” (1 Thess. 1:2–4).
  • Body
    • This is where the Paul or Peter or whoever is the author of the letter, gets into the core purpose for which they are writing.
    • A particular message to a particular people in a particular place . . . facing unique circumstances. Paul and the other New Testament letter writers did not think they were writing the Bible when they wrote these letters. They were just pastors encouraging the flock in a moment in time.
    • Paul would often spend a section of the body of the letter saying something true about God and then pivot with a THEREFORE . . . and the next section would be Paul’s practical instructions and encouragements and exhortations.
    • How we live as Christians FLOWS OUT OF who God is.
  • Final greetings and farewell
    • The simple concluding formula of a Greek or Roman letter is developed in New Testament letters. In place of a simple expression of affection and the occasional wish for strength and health for the recipient, the letters of Paul, for instance, frequently include a generous final blessing, and even greetings to specific individuals in the community. Like Paul is saying in his letter to the church, “Oh! And by the way . . . tell Frank hello!”
    • 23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. 25 Brothers and sisters, pray for us. 26 Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss. 27 I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters. 28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. (1 Thess. 5)

Christine and I have followed Paul’s approach and structure, with a letter to you in this moment of transition:

Cliff and Christine, To the church of 112 Medina St. in the East Cesar Chavez neighborhood, in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace and peace to you.

We always thank God for all of you, and always will, and continually hold you up in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your scrappy and courageous risks for the kingdom of God, produced by faith. We remember your labor prompted by love as we brought out four little children into your family, and as you loved us all through our own tragedy. We remember your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has called you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.

The Lord’s message rang out from you in this neighborhood, on the streets and in the homes, across this beloved city and beyond to Guatemala, Cambodia, El Paso and the borderlands, and the Middle East—your faith in God has become known abroad.

Brothers and sisters, we commend to you the healing love of Jesus Christ, and charge you to press on as priests of the world, by faith, walking in the Jesus Way, in conversation with Go—with words or in stillness and silence.

And we commend to you these guideposts on the Way, for such a time as this:

  • Fix your eyes on Jesus.
    • Our God is beyond all imagination and words, beyond our full comprehension. But he has shown us himself most clearly in Jesus of Nazareth.
    • Jesus is your North Star as you travel by night. He is your bright Sun during daylight. When lost in the confusion of our times, when perplexed by philosophical and theological puzzles, when stumped in the reading of your Bible . . . return to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.
    • Read the whole Bible through the lens of Jesus, and always remember that whatever you think the Bible might be saying about God and any point in the Old or New Testament, God is never less loving than Jesus, less merciful, less accessible or relatable than Jesus. This is our God, most fully revealed, Jesus Christ who called fishermen and tax collectors, dignified every person that others despised, and poured out his life as a ransom for the whole world.
    • And do not neglect the meaning of the incarnation. It is central to our faith: Jesus affirms our bodies, our relationships, our names, our care for culture, our story, our grit, and our limits. By his incarnation he assumed into himself all of humanity, and graced our own bodily lives.
  • And now, Church at 112 Medina St. . . .Be a “people of the ampersand.”
    • Hold paradox.
    • Just as our God is one & three, our Servant King is God & Man, our scriptures are written to people who lived long ago and far away & to us here and now.
    • So we are a people of the ampersand who hold together
      • Joy & Grief
      • Laughter & Sorrow
      • Trusting in Stillness & Battling for Goodness and Justice.
      • That we are both Wounded & Healers
      • Contemplative & Activists
      • Traditional & Experimental
      • “Red” & “Blue”
      • Sameness & Otherness
      • Word & Spirit
  • Cultivate a Curious Faith
    • Jesus invites us to Seek. Ask. Knock.
    • Let your minds wander and your imagination wonder at the glorious mosaic of God’s creation.
    • Let your hearts have the humility to understand that
      • You not only know what you know
      • And you might know what you don’t know
      • You also
        • Don’t know what you don’t know.
    • Christine: the Trinity invites us into mystery we can never tame or control. Hebrews 1:1 “he is always speaking, always revealing, never stops” we have but to hear.
    • Creation is always whispering to us the story of God: pursue and delight in creation as it is and endless treasure trove telling us of God’s love. We have but to see, to slow down and stop and see. Curiosity means going slower, and often smaller.
    • His glory is mending, healing, making all things new and it is more breathtaking than we can imagine and is always afoot.
  • Keep the Feast of Unity
    • Let this Table remind you each week that just as there is one bread and wine, we are one body, who enter by one baptism, following one Lord. And let this Table equalizes and bond us all.
    • Do not neglect to meet with each other in homes, in groups, and here in worship . . . at this Table, our family meal.
    • Christine: You are the groundwaters of our faith—”Groundwater is fresh water located in the subsurface pore space of soil and rocks. It is also water that is flowing within aquifers below the water table.”
      • I [Christine] can only continue on this journey because of your pursuit of Jesus and obedience to his countercultural ways. Yes, it’s mystical in an “all the body of Christ” way but it then also becomes very particular that it is this community that shows up for each other week after week here, with each other, that it is your faces and voices and not somebody else in Austin. That we have thrown our lot in with each other and the specificity of place and time matters. That it is you, matters. That it is me, matters. Specificity matters. Particularity matters. That you make a meal for him. That you pray for her. That you are in youth group with each other. That you are aging with each everyone else who is also aging. You are the groundwaters of my faith and the groundwaters for each other’s faith. We throw our lot in with each other.
  • Remember the Poor, the Weak, the Vulnerable
    • Proximity and Companionship
    • Hospitality

Instrinsic Value

  • It’s the whole story of the scripture.
  • It is Jesus himself: ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
  • For each person who isn’t flourishing, ask the question why? Come alongside and seek to discover what part of God has he entrusted this person with so that you learn more about God and his wonder and breath and kindness. Each person is a reflection of the imago dei, the image of God, so each person is our teacher. And for those who struggle to flourish, that imago dei is often extra damaged or hidden. We might get the honor of discovery when the obscurity is gently pulled away and we glimpse who this one person is that nobody else is like, and God chose to reveal himself in a way nobody else can.
  • We find ourselves: we run into our own false messianic impulses, we discover humanity that we share in common, we run into obstacles that turn our face to God in puzzlement and prayer and dependence, we discover that we are warriors and advocates. And we discover that we are tender shepherds just called to weep with those who weep . . . and that heals and that changes the world.
  • And often we encounter people of great faith and trust in God and their more outward brokenness reveals my own inward brokenness and they become my teachers in what it means to walk with limits and suffering and obstacles and stuckness and hope.
  • Most of all we encounter Jesus: it is mystical. But the fragrance of Christ is there.

Instrumental Value

  • Practice proximity and care and advocacy for the vulnerable, for the sake of the next generation—for whom justice and mercy and care for the vulnerable is a core value—join Jesus in mending the broken places of the world. The next generation has been given such a broken world. Their own faith is tied to whether the church is showing up.
  • The world is watching and “they will know you are Christians by your love.” Can they name Christ Church as a community in the city where they say “I don’t know what I think about Christianity, but look at what they are doing, they are the real deal. I’m curious”
  • Such service also improves personal wellness, mental health, and physical health
    • Volunteering reduces stress and increases positivity and relaxation by releasing dopamine.
    • By measuring hormones and brain activity, researchers have discovered that being helpful to others delivers immense pleasure.
  • For people who never volunteered, the odds of being 'very happy' rose 7% among those who volunteer monthly, and 12% for those who volunteer every two to four weeks.
  • 'High volunteers' (helping out at two or more organizations) had a 63% lower mortality rate than non-volunteers. Adults over 50 who volunteered regularly were less likely to develop high blood pressure (hypertension) compared to non-volunteers.
  • Remain a People of the Story, God’s Word.
    • Our scriptures are a treasure of wisdom and revelation. Enter into the sweeping epic of God, humans, and all creation.
    • Find your place as beautiful image-bearing creatures, marred by sin, loved and restored by God’s mercy, joining the company of saints around you and the cloud of witnesses beyond—in the glorious pursuit of God. Remember that we shall know him fully, sweetly—face to face—though now through a glass darkly.
    • The biblical narrative is a story nobody can make up. It is unique. It speaks to the treasure of each person, each breath, each pulse. It subverts power and in great power enters unexpected places and weakness and ashes and turn them into places of beauty and joy and strength.
    • It is poetry and story and history and every human groan and cry and craziness. In its untidy characters, the thread of love and hope is stronger: shalom in the person of the Trinity “forcefully” advances the kingdom of God. Darkness and despair do not have the last word.
    • It tells us that we are never forced or coerced to love, but invited and won over. And in that we are given dignity and agency and respect. How valued and treasured we are! And each of us matters. We are not a collective generic.
    • It is practical in its Proverbs and Ecclesiastes ways. It gives us the wisdom and vision for a society that seeks the flourishing of all.

We love you and thank God for you, and affirm that:

  • You are a people of joy
  • You love beauty and wholehearted endeavor.
  • You are not phased by tears and grief
  • You are a people of peace in a world that is divided and fraught
  • You are not afraid of rest and sabbath
  • You are faithful: you show up and love and serve.
  • You are a community: you value knowing and being known.
  • You are a people that welcomes others, seeks the lost and the outsider, and eagerly desires that “No One Stands Alone.”
  • If you still love and follow Jesus, with all your stories, then we can too. You will hold us up and we will hold you up.

And now, loosely quoting our brother Paul’s final blessing to the church in Thessalonica:

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful. Dear brothers and sisters, pray for us.

Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen. (1 Thess. 5)

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