September 15, 2019: Anniversary Sunday
The following is a series of reflections offered by Pastor Andrew during worship on the 126th anniversary of the founding of FPC Enid.
Looking Back and Remembering
I have to begin today by saying that it is not just an honor for me to worship with you today but that it is also an honor for me to be the pastor of The First Presbyterian Church at this time in history. Today I’m thinking about all the faithful men and women who have led this congregation, as deacons and elders and pastors, and I am in awe that God brought us together a little over seven years ago and now we are here today celebrating the 126thanniversary of this vibrant and faith-filled congregation. Each morning I pray for two things. The first is that God will lead me and transform me into the sort of pastor that is worthy of the position I hold in this congregation. Then, right after that, my second prayer is that God will forgive me for the times I have failed to live up to God’s high calling. Luckily for us all, God answers our prayers, forgives our sins, and leads us on a path to abundant and everlasting life. Again, I’m honored to worship with you and with the great cloud of witnesses who are surrounding us today.
Looking back and remembering is a very important part of being a person of faith. Remembering is, as the word suggests, the process of re-membering, of putting pieces back together. When we remember, we take our memories and our thoughts and our feelings and we piece them together into a mosaic that tells our history. Parts of this mosaic are bright and extremely beautiful; other parts of the mosaic may be shaded and not as beautiful. Regardless, it is our history. For our ancestors the Israelites, re-membering history gave them strength to be faithful to God today. Psalm 126 that we’ve just heard puts in the mouths of the Israelites words to remember God’ power and mighty acts. Remembering God’s power and mighty acts in the past kept the Israelites faithful in following God today and also tomorrow, because if God did it then, God will do it now. God set the Israelites free, gave them a place to call home, and protected them, and If that’s how God acted long ago, that’s how God is going to act today and every tomorrow.
Today we look back and remember God’s power and mighty acts in our lives. In particular, we remember God’s power and mighty acts within this congregation. Did you know that just about a hundred years ago, The First Presbyterian Church almost went bankrupt? It was the years leading up to and during The Great Depression when our beautiful sanctuary was being built. But God lifted up bold and capable leaders to shepherd the congregation to financial and spiritual health. Wars, depressions, and recessions have threatened to take away people and resources from the church, but God has strengthened this church when other churches were folding. Just about 8 years ago now, a schism caused family members to break from one another and it caused people who grew up in this church to leave for others churches. But it did not stop God’s Spirit from moving. Through the rubble God lifted up a faithful group of Jesus’ followers who made covenant with one another to live unity and love in the face of disagreement. Every day we face choices that can draw us away from Jesus, but God is there to put us back on the path that leads to life.
As so as we remember God’s power in the past, God’s power in our lives to redeem and transform, we can be confident that God is still acting in powerful and mighty ways today. “The Lord has done great things for us,” and God is continuing to do great things for us and through us today.
The Gift of Love
A few moments ago, I said that it is a true honor for me to be pastor of The First Presbyterian Church at this time in history. Let me tell you a little of what I mean by that.
During the summer of 2011, just before I started my last year in seminary, I took a three-week seminar given by the Presbytery of Baltimore on how to find a call after seminary. In those three weeks I learned how to write a resume and cover letter. In those three weeks I learned about good interview posture and dress and how to ask questions that would show search committees that I was serious. In those three weeks I learned that in the PC(USA) there are 5 pastors for every church looking for a pastor. In those three weeks I also learned that 99% of first-call pastors are called to small churches in rural settings, churches that are usually just moment away from closing the doors. In all honesty, this seminar did not leave me too excited to finish seminary and begin discerning where God was calling me to go.
What this seminar failed to take into consideration is that the Church—the capitol ‘c,’ universal church—has never lived by statistics or trends or market research. The Church is the body of Christ and we live by his command of love. As I started to dip my toes into the call system in 2012 I read about churches all over the United States who are living in God’s love. Churches reaching out to indigenous populations who had been removed from their lands. Churches building schools and medical clinics and grocery stores in communities where there are none. Churches opening their doors to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give shelter to the widow and orphan. Churches using their resources, which are sometimes scarce, to go beyond themselves and serve in the way that Christ served. Do these churches look like they did 5, 10, or 50 years ago? Absolutely not. That’s because only Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. His church is always moving, always changing, always transforming.
And by God’s grace, I was called into one of those churches living by the rule of his love. I was called to a church on the corner of Maine and Jefferson in Enid, OK, that sits right in the thick of it—in the thick of the needs in our community, in the thick of the beauty of our community, in the thick of God’s Holy Spirit that is working to transform everything. I was called to a church that serves the needy, whether they look needy or not. I was called to a church that serves children and the most vulnerable. I was called to a church that reaches out with its vast resources to have a positive and lasting impact on so many people, groups, and organizations. I was called to a church that loves because God loved us, you, first. That’s why I am honored to be your pastor. You don’t hide behind the sanctuary walls or the Bible—you live in love as God has loved each one of us. Does this congregation look like it did 5, 10, or 50 years ago? Absolutely not. Does that make us sad sometimes? Sure. But we must never forget that God call us to love and love makes us change, it makes us move, it transforms us.
God has called us to love, and the gift of love calls us to do new and transformative things in God’s name. God never called us to be big. God never called us to have the nicest buildings or the newest technology. God never called us to build big, splashy, attention-getting ministries and programs. God loves us and because God loves us, we must love one another and everyone and everything God has created. The rest is up to God.
Something Old, Something New
Most pastors, myself included, are not good at admitting that fear is just as much a part of our lives as it is yours. But it’s real, my friends—we’re just a fearful sometimes as you are. One thing that causes the most fear in pastors is the survival of the church. Even though our Presbyterian and Reformed heritage levels the playing field of power in the church among pastors, elders, deacons, and church members, when churches grow and start new ministries and take on new programs, it is usually the pastor that gets most of the credit. But the opposite is also true—when churches stagnate or decline, when ministries and programs slow or end, it is again usually the pastor that gets most of the credit. Fear is as real for me as it is for you, and fear is the archenemy of faith.
When the people of Israel returned from exile in Babylon, they were fully expecting that their homes and their nation and their customs would be just as they left them. Exile in Babylon was their worst nightmare—they had to give up their religious and culinary customs, they had to learn different languages, they were bowed down as slaves to a conquering power. So, when they were rescued and assured that they were going home, you can imagine their joy and relief. But when they got home, they saw nothing but the ruins of a life that once was. After shipping the Israelites off as slaves, the Babylonian army went around Jerusalem and burned down every house, ransacked every business, desecrated the temple and then burned it to the ground. In some ways, living in captivity in Babylon was better than returning home—at least there they had a place to lay their heads.
Into this misery and hellish nightmare, God says, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” This is an invitation, one that rings down through the ages. It is an invitation to give up fear over what was and have faith in what God is going to bring about. God is worthy of our faith and trust—that’s what we’ve just learned from Psalm 126 and Isaiah assures us of the same. When the fires were burning, God brought us through without even a singed hair. When the waters were on the rise, God walked us through on dry ground. When we were captives of sin and darkness, God delivered us to freedom and salvation with a strong and mighty hand. Do not remember what the former things—the past is the past. God is doing a new thing—we just have to have the eyes, ears, and hearts to perceive it.
I had the opportunity this past week to attend meetings of FPC’s Nurture and Mission committees. It was so wonderful for me to watch God’s Spirit move in these committees. To put it simply, these committees approach their work asking, “Why not?” In our world, that’s something entirely new and different. They approach their work from a place of abundance and not from a place of scarcity. They are not afraid, as Jesus’ parable teaches, to take big handfuls of seed and scatter it all around, regardless of where the seed might fall. In their work, they are not afraid to try new things and fail. After reading Isaiah’s prophecy, we can very easily ask, “How do we perceive the new things God is doing?” This is how. But trying new things, by stepping out in faith, by throwing as much seed on the ground as we can, confident that God will do something wonderful with it. Living this way keeps us entirely open to the newness God has promised.
And so I think that’s the challenge for us today, in 2019, as we look at the next 126 and more years of The First Presbyterian Church in Enid. Will we approach our ministry, our faith, our programs, and our service, from a place of scarcity and fear, worried each day if it will survive? Or will we approach each new day with a wonder and awe at how God is moving in our midst? Will we yearn for what was, or will we anticipate what can be? We will remain locked away in the past, a past that at times wasn’t nearly as good as we thought it was, or will we boldly follow God into the future that God has promised? Will we choose fear, or will we take up our faith, the faith of Jesus Christ, and start moving mountains? If my seven years here as your pastor is any indication, I think I know what we will chose.