An Anniversary Sermon

Another Anniversary Sermon

  • July 23, 2000

    (2 Samuel 7:1-14a NRSV) Now when the king was settled in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him, {2} the king said to the prophet Nathan, "See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent." {3} Nathan said to the king, "Go, do all that you have in mind; for the LORD is with you." {4} But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan: {5} Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? {6} I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. {7} Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?" {8} Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the LORD of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; {9} and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. {10} And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, {11} from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. {12} When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. {13} He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. {14} I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.

    (Psalms 89:1-9, 14-18 NRSV) I will sing of your steadfast love, O LORD, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations. {2} I declare that your steadfast love is established forever; your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens. {3} You said, "I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to my servant David: {4} 'I will establish your descendants forever, and build your throne for all generations.'" {5} Let the heavens praise your wonders, O LORD, your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones. {6} For who in the skies can be compared to the LORD? Who among the heavenly beings is like the LORD, {7} a God feared in the council of the holy ones, great and awesome above all that are around him? {8} O LORD God of hosts, who is as mighty as you, O LORD? Your faithfulness surrounds you. {9} You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them. .... .... {14} Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you. {15} Happy are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O LORD, in the light of your countenance; {16} they exult in your name all day long, and extol your righteousness. {17} For you are the glory of their strength; by your favor our horn is exalted. {18} For our shield belongs to the LORD, our king to the Holy One of Israel.

    (Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 NRSV) The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. {31} He said to them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while." For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. {32} And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. {33} Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. {34} As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. .... .... {53} When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. {54} When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, {55} and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. {56} And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

    2 Samuel 7: 1-14a
    Psalm 89:1-9, 14-18
    Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56

    Why Are We Here?

    A number of years ago, I was talking to a colleague who was ministering to a church in the midst of a building program. The office and meeting space they had been using for a number of years was a mobile home and their worship space was a rented school gym. The people began to become serious about building when it hit them that they lived in homes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and their church was a mere mobile! They bit the bullet and went into massive debt to erect a building that met their needs and served their ministry to the community. It also looked nice, indeed, it looked very nice.

    King David would have understood this dilemma. He looked around at his palace built of cedar and he began to feel pangs of guilt that God was not housed in similar style. No doubt David wanted to be known and remembered as the ‘King who built the temple'. It would be a feather in his cap, as it were! God had other plans and concerns.

    Over the years, David had his share of victories; he also had his share of bitter disappointments. At this point he was not at war and things were relatively stable. But, as they say, "David was no saint!" The biblical record is as brutally honest about these faults as it is about his strengths. Even when David became King he still had a great deal to learn; about power, about God, about family and parenting, and about his relationship to all of these! In this passage we find out that God wanted to build a ‘house' for David, but not a house of bricks and mortar. This house was one built by family heritage and by a steadfast loyalty to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

    Of course, as Canadians, we are familiar with such "houses." Two of the younger members of the House of Windsor, Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones, the Earl and Countess of Wessex, were on tour in the Maritimes last week. By all accounts they were a "hit"! In addition, royal watchers all over the British Commonwealth are eagerly awaiting the 100th birthday of the woman almost everyone widely referred to as "The Queen Mother". Like the other members of her family she too has her weaknesses, particularly her lavish lifestyle, but the survival of the British Monarchy over the past half-century of wars and marital disruptions is due almost, entirely to this small, energetic and iron-willed centenarian.

    We have gathered today in a Christian ‘house' of worship, or a ‘church'. When the New Testament and the Christian tradition speaks of ‘the Church' there is also a double meaning. The church is also a term used to refer to the ‘body of Christ', to the group of folks who call themselves Christians, ourselves among them.

    One of my favourite children's hymns is "The Church Is Wherever God's People". It speaks of the church as that body of believers who are living out the call of the gospel. It speaks of the tasks of:

    singing with joy of God's goodness,
    remembering Jesus' story,
    walking in Jesus' way,
    caring for neighbours in sickness and need
    sharing the words of the Bile in word
    and deed.

    We would all do well to live these simple, yet profound and not so easy calls.

    When I was a teenager I loved to sing, "I am the church" . One verse and the chorus go like this:

    The church is not building
    the church is not a steeple
    the church is not a resting place,
    the church is a people.
    I am the church,
    You are the church,
    We are the church together,
    All who follow Jesus,
    All around the world,
    Yes, we're the church together!

    Words by Avery and marsh and copyright by Hope Publishing Company.

    At the same time, though, who could deny the importance of the church building as the focal point, or at least the firing point, of that life of faith; that place of worship, a place wherein the people find their faith strengthened and themselves challenged for service.

    In ONE sense we gather here to remember the past, to give thanks for the lives of those residents of Clairville and surrounding areas and who were the members and adherents of St. Matthew's. Their names are etched on tombstones in the cemetery and their lives are engraved in our hearts and our memories.

    We gather ALSO to give thanks to God for their faith and the example that is influential for our own lives. The faith filled their lives in different and varied ways and provided example and vision for our own living. We seek to share that faith, not as observers, as we might simply reminisce about the ‘good old days', but we must seek to be active participants, who live out that faith and that commitment in the present and in the forms and ways of the present.

    FINALLY we gather to re-orient our lives and to re-focus our vision for faithful Christian living in the next year and beyond.

    As I said before, we know that King David did not always follow God's ways, and as I said, the biblical record does not gloss over that aspect of his life. We all know the story of David, Uriah and Bathsheba! Yet the New Testament interprets this entire David tradition to mean that Jesus, as a member of the line of David, is the continuation of that ‘house' which God promised to build for him. Thus, as Christians, we are direct heirs of this promise. We are responsible for carrying on the task in whatever way we can.

    This building is maintained as a testament to the faith of those ancestors whose lives we remember. We gather here once a year as a testimony to the faith which sustained our ancestors and which has, for many, shaped our childhood and young adulthood. BUT we cannot stop there.

    We must be what Christians of every age have always been called to be; the church of the present. When the people who built this church first came for worship they came on foot or by horse drawn conveyances. They sang, they prayed and they listened to the word preached. Then they went home to live out that message until the next Sunday.

    Today most of your drove here, some a great distance and some in air conditioned comfort. We have adn will listen, sing, pray and participate in a service of worship. We will have a time of fellowship after the service. Some of you will tend graves and leave flowers. Some of you go by every week, and for others it is your only visit to the property all year. Each of you will go home to live out your faith until the next time you gather somewhere for worship or until you come here again next year.

    What then do we learn form this long ago story as we meet in Clairville in the year 2000? David wanted a feather in his cap, but God wanted to teach him about grace. We too can learn about the grace of God. God wants to be in a relationship with us. We were not created to go it alone, as if we were self made. That was often David's problem and it is often ours.

    We learn that people and relationships and service are what is important, not the grandeur or the simplicity of the bricks and mortar. Many happy families live in modest homes while many unhappy people dwell in palaces. The same is true for churches. The age old faith of the church is as well taught and caught in small churches as it is in large ones. The key is the willingness of the people to learn and grow. The key is the people who are willing to take that faith and live it our in our day to day lives.

    We now live in a time when people of the Christian faith are becoming a minority. This is not something to bemoan, and it is certainly closer to the early church than we have been in centuries. It does give us our mission though. In this context it is even more important that we rely on the strength that comes from the Holy Spirit and the community of faith to sustain us in our witness to the God whose love is made manifest in the life of one Jesus of Nazareth and the God who lives in us today.

    So let us go from here, energized by our memory to be the church in the places from which we have come. Scattered or gathered in one place, Yes we are the church together! Praise be to God.