An anniversary is a special thing. We celebrate anniversaries of births, of adoptions, of the founding of our nation, of our marriages. Reminds me of a husband and wife who were getting ready to celebrate their 40th anniversary. The couple decided as a gift they would purchase a new vehicle. He wanted a new truck. She wanted a fast sports car. The discussion was getting very heated when finally the wife stated, "Look, I want something that goes from 0 to 180 in four seconds or less, and that’s all there is to it!
When the big day came, the wife went out to the garage, but there was no new car. Angry, she went back into the house looking for her husband, but he was not at home. Frustrated and upset, she went into the bathroom to get dressed, and there was her gift, wrapped in a big red ribbon. And it was something that would go from 0 to 180 in four seconds or less - a brand new scale.
Yeah, I know what you are thinking, leave it to Pastor Gordy to open with a joke on such a solemn occasion. And you know, I just can't help myself. But as we gather for our 150th today, I think that laughter has been a big part of our recent history; 150 years ago, probably no jokes in church.
Our denomination is Presbyterian and so our church is of Scottish descent. The early Presbyterians were not a fun-loving crowd in general. We come from the line of the reformer John Calvin, but the “Father of Presbyterianism” is the Scotsman John Knox. He was a great believer in a disciplined lifestyle and worship. Here's what that looked like for John Knox, “The liturgy was built upon the promise that a true Christian congregation would be a disciplined congregation which lived in obedience to the will of God. Accordingly, the Holy Communion was reserved for those who were distinguished by sincerity of faith and holiness of life. The unfaithful, and the callous had no place at His Communion; they were to be excommunicated, 'fenced from the table,' lest the sacrament be soiled and they be guilty of the Lord’s body and blood.”1
We have taken the path that says the Lord's Supper is not reserved for just the qualified, but for all who seek Jesus. Even here, it wasn't always this way. Arlyce Dedrickson taught me that in the span of her memory, we still had elders hand out tokens allowing communion to be taken only if the elders deemed you worthy. We have intentionally loosened the reins a bit as it turns out such a “disciplined” church was ripe for abuses of power and pharisee-ism. We do well to look back and emulate the self-control and piety that was called for, but we also understand that it is never our righteousness which brings us into God's favor, but the mercy and grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Our Scottish lineage is not so clear today. We have Mr. John MacKay who has strong Scottish roots and his own family crest and kilt and tartan. (book) Sue Berg also traces her family back to the clan of the Mackerracher's. Her Tartan comes from the clan of the Farquharson's. The bagpipe being shared today draws on our long-ago history. Myself, I did a DNA test and came up just 4% or less Scottish.
We are specifically celebrating 150 years here in Litchfield. It is not a Scottish celebration nor purely a Presbyterian celebration. It is a celebration of faithfulness. So today is a good time to look back on our traditions and experiences. But we need to guard against pure nostalgia. Someone once said that “nostalgia is the sand paper that smooths the edges of the good old days”. We truly seek to retain the best of the past while bringing in the grace and forgiveness that Jesus offers.
150 years ago a small group of Presbyterians decided that Litchfield needed the type of faith and liturgy and structure that our denomination offers. Through the years we grew, we were successful in many ways. We touched the community with our Lilac Teas, offering our facilities to the school system, and our bell as a fire call. We now touch the community with outreach to WINGS, Our Sexual Assault Survivors Support Group, our Blue Christmas service, working with the homeless through MAM and our Deacon's fund, and our Veteran's Day chili supper to name a few.
Our Epistle reading today and our verse of the month speaks to this call to live out our faith in Jesus through the church. The call is to “live for the praise of His glory.” First Presbyterian is not here for our glory, but for God's glory
In our early days in Litchfield, we were pioneers in the faith, having the first church building, first bell, first organ. Our founders followed the tradition of faith brought to the new world by their ancestors. But the world has changed and is changing. In the past, the large majority of people were church-going Christians. Today, the statistics say otherwise. The most recent Barna information I could find shows that less than forty percent of us are churchgoers, regularly attending worship services. I found it interesting how they defined “regular church goers”. According to their website, “An active member used to be defined as one who attended at least three times a week. Now, that number is three times a month.” And still the numbers go down. Another survey showed that only 18% of people are actually in church on any given Sunday. We are not worshiping in the same environment we did 150, 100 or even 50 years ago.
And yet, the purposes of worship don't change. Why do we gather? Our mission statement puts it this way, “As servants of God, we open our hearts wide with the heart of Jesus welcoming all as children of God. We strive to provide spiritual growth and support for all through prayer and community and the acceptance of mutual respect.” The statement is printed in your bulletin today. We want to look at this statement, telling what we do and why we do it. We are servants of God. We acknowledge Jesus as Lord and that makes us subjects of the Lord, servants. We seek to be welcoming, for practical purposes of course, but as representatives of Jesus. Jesus did not turn people away, he shared with the Pharisee, Nicodemus; he touched the lepers, he stayed past the point of exhaustion to be with those in need. And we recognize that all are children of God who creates all things. Not all have recognized the call of Christ into the family of God and so we welcome them and share the good news in word and deed and just by being here.
The church has always been about spiritual growth. For many years, the only way people had access to the Word of God was in the church service. We now have multiple ways to learn about the things of the spirit. But there is no better way than to do it face to face while studying God's word. Our bible studies are an important part of what we do. And learning portions of scripture through the verse of the month and the Sunday scriptures help achieve this goal of spiritual growth.
We support one another; we pray for those in need and give thanks for blessings. We gather in community to share our lives, our talents, our needs. And finally, we seek to respect each other in our differences. One of the bedrock statements of the Presbyterian Church USA comes from 1788, “'God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to his Word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship. Therefore we consider the rights of private judgment, in all matters that respect religion, as universal and unalienable.” We seek to listen, to hear, to share our differences as well as our agreements. We are not a homogeneous community, but fellow seekers after God.
The faith we share in community is rooted in ancient stories; Old Testament stories from thousands of years ago, New Testament stories written in the first and second century, and our own story here in Litchfield. And yet one of the sayings we claim in the Presbyterian tradition is “reformed and always reforming.” We are not stuck in the past even as we treasure many of our customs and traditions.
There is one statement we cling to from Hebrews chapter 13, “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.” It is followed by this admonition, “9 Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings; for it is well for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by regulation.” That's where our tradition, our doctrine, our history can keep us grounded. We do our best to remain true to God's call in our life. But in the end, for me our opening hymn gives us the key... this faith journey we are on does not depend on our faithfulness to God, but God's great faithfulness to us. We will never live the perfect life of perfect faith. Our church is not the prefect church. Yet here we are, gathered in community. Proclaiming our faith. Singing the songs of our heritage. Giving gifts to the glory of God. Being in the presence of the God who loves us so much that Jesus, God's own son, came to earth to show us how much we are loved... God so loved the world.... We are here because of God's love and faithfulness. Never forget that what we do here is done in response to God's love for us. The church is here and we are here for the praise of God's glory. To God be the glory, now and forever. Amen.
Hymn: Hymn: (Scottish) Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise 263 PH
Blessing: Me: Uh yay, byauncih na gale uh gus no halapanich vown d' hanug sheen;
Byaunich sheen ya, sna brechkun uh ha sheen hahst uh coor orn;
response: Uh gus byanunich uhn duelchus uh ha sheen uh koomuhl soo us.
Full blessing in English: O God, bless the Gaels and the Scots from whom we are descended; Bless us and the tartans we still wear; and bless the heritage that we uphold. Amen.
1John Knox liturgy, website