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It Takes All of Us

February 23, 2014

A sermon preached at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany, February 23, 2014

 Leviticus 19: 1-2, 9-18          1 Corinthians 3: 10-11, 16-23

2014 marks the 300th anniversary of our congregation.  And the 300th anniversary committee has been meeting to plan special events throughout the year.  When congregations celebrate significant markers in their life together, often the suggestion is made that past pastors be invited back to remember when and to offer encouragement for the congregation’s future.

As noted in your bulletin today, I am the 26th pastor of the White Plains Presbyterian Church, which somehow doesn’t seem like a lot when you think about 300 years of ministry in this place. (That number would probably expand to sixty or seventy if we were to include all the associate pastors, assistant pastors, interim pastors, student pastors and future pastors who have served here.) Four of my 25 colleagues are still living: Frank Watson is enjoying retirement in Cape Cod and in good health, having recovered from back surgery in the middle of last year; Don Jones retired to Virginia with his wife and is part of a fabulous church in downtown Winchester that has offered hospitality to my former church’s youth on many mission trips to Appalachia; Steve Geckeler is retired in Fort Collins, Colorado, and very much enjoying his grandchildren; and Carter Via continues to run a non-profit organization that sponsors international cultural exchange.

The church has had many beloved pastors and pastors who loved this church.  But our 300th anniversary committee made an interesting and important decision I think.  We decided that instead of telling our story in terms of our former pastors, we wanted to tell our story from the standpoint of our life together.  And so, earlier this week I sent a letter to each one of them, inviting them to reflect on their time here and to contribute something to the book that Bob Murphy is working on for our anniversary this year. I asked them not to recount our past, but rather, remembering their time here, to lift up for us what they think we are doing right now to demonstrate God’s love and to work for God’s justice in the world; how, in other words, this church is making a difference in our community and in our world.

Further, the committee didn’t stop with thinking about past or current pastors.  They enlarged the circle, believing that each one of us, each one of our lives, each of our experiences within this congregation, serves to build upon the foundation that has been laid in Jesus Christ.  In other words, all of us are builders – all of us bring insight that is needed to both understand our past and to nurture new life moving forward.

Think about the charette in which so many of us engaged around re-visioning our church’s campus.  A charette is a way of gathering people and inviting contributions from everyone, which are then gathered and prioritized by the entire group.  It’s a consensus building, creative, participatory process, that values all voices and helps us see where our ideas resonate and connect with the ideas of others.  So many ideas were shared and it was fascinating to see the intersections and to feel the energy rise in the room as ideas built off of one another or spurred exciting new directions.  That process was an example of what Paul was talking about when he wrote to the church at Corinth, “like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it.  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.”  Paul emphasizes that each of us must choose with care how to build upon the foundation that has been already laid.  But it is not simply one or two people, or certain leaders, but all of us who are builders of the church.

With this in mind, you will find in our March newsletter that there is an invitation for each of you to contribute to our 300th anniversary book.  The anniversary committee invites you to think back over what this church has meant to you and means to you on your own spiritual journey.  We hope that you will write entries exploring:

  • When have you experienced the generosity and hospitality of God through this congregation?
  • How has this community helped you to overcome behaviors, prejudices, or hurts that held you back from experiencing the fullness of God’s love?
  • How did or does the church support you in times of difficulty or doubt?
  • In what ways have you been encouraged to grow in love of God and neighbor?
  • What struggles took place here which were difficult at the time but which you now see as a season of growth in our understanding or practice of faith?
  • And when have you witnessed this congregation standing up, or speaking out, or demonstrating God’s radically alternative way of living in the midst of an often violent, unjust world?

The answers to these questions we believe will make a fabulous history for our 300th anniversary, one that will offer wisdom and guidance for our next 300 years together.  For after all, history isn’t something that just happens to us; it’s something we make together.

From the beginning of the year 50, to the early summer of 51, the apostle Paul spent eighteen months in Roman city of Corinth, countering Rome’s vision of Imperial Order with Jesus’ own vision of a Divine Kingdom, and he organized numerous communities of faithful resistance to demonstrate this earthly alternative which collectively he called “the body of Christ.” Small congregations of perhaps 10 – 20 persons (about the size of the largest homes or workshops) were spread out through the city, meeting for worship and a common meal, sharing as each had ability and giving as each had need, all in defiance of the religious, social, economic and gender divisions on which Roman culture depended. These communities of gentile and Jew, slave and free, strong and weak, female and male came together because they had experienced the reconciling and liberating power of the crucified Christ. Everything on which Roman domination was built had been crucified with Christ, and the Corinthians were now freed to be God’s new people. This was the good news Paul preached among them. They had become, as Paul reminds them in our reading today, a house built by God, a temple in which God’s Holy Spirit dwells.

There were challenges along the way as we’ve discovered these past weeks as we’ve looked at Corinthians.  But the foundation that was laid in Jesus Christ, was one that empowered our ancestors in the faith to bear witness to the love, justice and hope of Jesus Christ in concrete ways in their own life and in the life of the world.

According to the constitution of the Presbyterian Church, it is the church as a whole that is called to be “a provisional demonstration of what God intends for all humanity,” and as such we are to be together “a sign in and for the world of the new reality which God has made available to people in Jesus Christ.” [Book of Order] This takes all of us.

As we prepare to celebrate our 300th year of life together, may God’s Holy Spirit dwell, inspire, provoke and guide us.  Amen.

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