Standing on the Shoulders of Others
April 2 2007 125th Anniversary Sermon
Scripture: Psalms 16
Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”
As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble,
in whom is all my delight.
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
Yes, I have a glorious heritage.
I keep the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.9
Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.1
You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
An aging Catholic bishop was getting so forgetful that it was getting to be a problem. He would attend a parish and invariably get the wrong name. When he celebrated mass at St Peter’s parish he would tell the parishioners how glad he was to be at St. Francis Parish. He would say things like I am so happy to be back with your pastor and my long-time friend Father Joseph Mahoney when the pastor of the church was actually named Father John Cavanaugh.
The cardinal didn’t want to put the old bishop out to pasture. He was a sweet man and had served the diocese long and with distinction.
So he decided on this solution. He would send a young priest along with the old bishop and the young priest would write out a script for the bishop…and the script would always have the correct names and places.
And so it came time for the old bishop to attend a parish for its hundredth anniversary celebration. Just before he stood up to speak the young priest handed him his script.
Here’s how it went….I am so happy today to be with you here at……..St Jude’s parish …..to help you celebrate your…..100th anniversary.
I bring you greetings from our cardinal….William.
From the holy father….Benedict.
And from our Lord….Jesus Christ.
I boned up for our anniversary celebration by reading “The First Presbyterian Church of Peoria the First 100 Years”. It was written by Juanita Comstock Trask. One of the stories there which caught my eye was the ministry of the church’s first pastor, the Rev. Henry Thompson. The Rev. Thompson was a circuit rider. His circuit stretched from Florence to Peoria to Wickenburg. According to Google Maps, it is 76.3 miles between Florence and Peoria via I 10. He preached here twice a month. And then he made his way from here to Wickenburg a mere 40 miles via Grand Avenue & US 60. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to ride a horse for miles and miles in the middle of August. According to our church history the Rev. Thompson packed a six shooter along with his Bible. A six shooter? To discourage robbers? To ward off rattle snakes? Actually I’ve encountered a few snakes in the congregations I’ve served and wish now I had known about Rev. Thompson sooner.
After the Rev. Thompson left there followed a succession of pastors. There have been 31 in all and we are blessed to day to have our two most recent pastors, Paul Kohler and Pat Young.
And what shall say about others who have made this church what it is today?. The original property owners of this property , Deloss S. Brown and Joseph B. Greenhut who deeded five lots to the congregation for the princely sum of one dollar. A visionary woman, Jennie Mann who started a SS for three children. And that SS grew into a church built in 1898 and 1899. We are unquestionably standing on the shoulders of others .
As I thought about this service I was thinking of the uncounted thousands who have gathered here across the years. Here parents have committed their children in baptism. Here young people have given their hearts to Christ. Here the strong have renewed their strength. Here the grieving have found peace of mind. Here the troubled have received consolation. Here the aged have found rest and light at eventide. Here each of us has discovered a reality not of this world, a mysterious recreating energy and refreshing grace.
A long-time member of my church in Portland, Oregon retired to California and returned to worship with us after an absence of several years. Afterward, her letter came to me:
“As I sat in the sanctuary last Sunday morning I experienced a swelling sense of gratitude for all of you who are helping preserve a living church within the stone walls of Westminster. There are many changes since I moved from Portland, but the church, although changed, still stands unchanged in her witness to the living Lord.
“As I look back on Sunday, I realize that Westminster means as much to me today, if not more, than it did when I could be present for worship each Sunday. It gives me a sense of doors that open on even greater horizons, of a call to and a promise of more abundant living, of a fellowship with a host of others both known and to be known, of worthwhile causes to espouse, and a lift of the spirit that brings one in touch with the great realities of our lives.”
What more need be said?
So here we are gathered in a fleeting moment between past and future. We do have a glorious heritage behind us. We have a promising future before us.
I stumbled across a welcome message which is posted in the narthex of Coventry Cathedral in England. When visitors arrive, they see this before they enter the sanctuary.
We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, widowed, straight, gay, confused, well-heeled or down-at-heel. We especially welcome wailing babies and excited toddlers. We welcome you whether you can sing like Pavarotti or just growl quietly to yourself. You’re welcome here if you’re just browsing, just woken up or just got out of prison. We don’t care if you’re more Christian than the Archbishop of Canterbury or haven’t been to church since Christmas 10 years ago. We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet and to teenagers who are growing up too fast.
We welcome keep-fit moms, football dads, starving artists, tree huggers, latte sippers, vegetarians, junk food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems, are down in the dumps or don’t like organized religion. We’re not that keen on it either. We offer welcome to those who think the Earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or are here because Granny is visiting and wanted to come to the cathedral. We welcome those who are inked, pierced, both or neither.
We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down their throats as kids or got lost on the Ring Road and wound up here by mistake. We welcome pilgrims, tourists, seekers, doubters and you.
I like that. I really do. We ought to think about posting that outside our doors with a big, bold beautiful banner, if the city council would let us. If there is one overriding characteristic about this congregation it is this: No matter who you are, or where you are, or where you have been, you are welcome here.
The Christian faith has been handed from witness to witness for sixty five generations. Every generation must answer the same question: will we pass on the faith we received from our forbears to our children. Will we be faithful stewards of the institutions, the programs, and congregations which have been entrusted to us?
Sixty five generations. Sixty-five. We are the sixty-fifth. Can the future count on us?