An Anniversary Sermon

(Deuteronomy 26:1-11 NRSV) "When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, {2} you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. {3} You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, "Today I declare to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us." {4} When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God, {5} you shall make this response before the LORD your God: "A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. {6} When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labour on us, {7} we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. {8} The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; {9} and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. {10} So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me." You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God. {11} Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house."

(Psalms 23 NRSV) "The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. {2} He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; {3} he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. {4} Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff-- they comfort me. {5} You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. {6} Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long."

(Hebrews 12:1 NRSV) "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,"

(2 Timothy 1:1-7 NRSV) "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, {2} To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. {3} I am grateful to God--whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did--when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. {4} Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. {5} I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. {6} For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; {7} for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

(Luke 17:11-19 NRSV) "On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. {12} As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, {13} they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" {14} When he saw them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were made clean. {15} Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. {16} He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. {17} Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? {18} Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" {19} Then he said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.""

In Ages Past, Present and Future

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,"

On a rise of land overlooking the trans-Canada highway and a mountain formation known as the ‘Sleeping Giant', just outside of Thunder Bay (a city in North-Western Ontario at the western edge of Lake Superior) stands an imposing bronze statue on a base of granite and amethyst. It is a memorial to the life and efforts of Terrence Stanley Fox a young man who lost a leg to cancer and who wanted to run across the second-largest country in the world to raise money for cancer research. He only made it 2/3 of the way, but in the heart of every Canadian he was a winner. Every year since 1980 communities all across Canada have held runs to raise money for cancer research. His life has been an inspiration to many, an example of selfless devotion, of courage overcoming pain and tragedy. His story is also one of a deep personal religious faith.

About six months before his death he himself wrote, ""I don't care what percentages the doctor tells me I have. If God is true I know I've got 100 per cent, if that's what He has in His plans for me. And if I really believe and if God is really there, then I'm not going to lose even if I die, because it's supposed to be the Pearly Gates I'm going through, and if heaven is there, I can't lose out. ......Maybe now instead of being afraid and saying, ‘well look how hard Terry tried and he's still got it' , people will say ‘Look at the effort he put in and he died of cancer. We're really going to have to try hard in order to beat it, try harder than we ever have before." Thousands and perhaps even millions have followed in his footsteps by running in annual ‘Terry Fox Runs' in support of his belief that ‘somewhere the hurting must stop'. Terry Fox was a great Canadian but we do much more than remember this young one-legged Canadian every time we hold a run. In a sense we bring to life his courage, his perseverance and his mission. We pick up where he left off as we seek to participate in the race to cure cancer. We don't remember him as much as we bring to life the goals and the mission that brought him into our hearts in the first place. It's 18 years since he was running across Canada and I can still hear the song and still see his picture on the nightly news.

Today we have gathered here in this place to remember those who have gone before us. We remember all those who have gathered in this St. Matthew's United Church in Clairville, a point of the Harcourt Pastoral Charge and later the Harcourt Mission Field. Some of you may have been married here, you may have been baptized and confirmed here, you may have said goodbye to loved ones here and you came each week seeking to find a meaningful connection between the scriptures, the faith of the church and your life. Just as we perpetuate the Annual Terry Fox Run to keep alive Terry's goal of finding a cure for cancer we keep this church alive because the faith of our ancestors is a living and active faith. The Terry Fox Run, while it may be a ‘once a year event' is part and parcel of a year round search for a cure and better treatments. This service helps those of us who gather here to remember from whence we have come, and to pick up, as it were, where our forebears left off. We don't come here just to remember what once was, but we are here to gain strength and faith and insight from the scriptures and from our forebears in the faith so that we can carry the torch into the future.

The Sioux have a saying, "A people without history is like the wind on the buffalo grass". The people of Israel were a people with a history. For several thousand years ‘the exodus' was the formative event in their lives as a people. The passage from Deuteronomy that Marion read a few minutes ago puts a great deal of this history into one succinct little nutshell. The wandering Aramean was, of course, Abraham and he becomes the metaphor for the entire nation. This passage is part of a longer one outlining the annual thanksgiving ritual. They are to gather together the first and the best of their crop and bring it to the temple while giving thanks. Part of this ‘ritual of thanksgiving' is a recitation of the formative event of their history, an account of God's actions in the past. You see it was not just ‘God thanks for a great harvest". It was not "God thanks for enough rain this year and enough sun." It was a litany which placed their lives in a larger context, the context of their entire nation and its history.

There is clearly a time line operating here. In this passage the people are about to enter the land and they are instructed what they are to do each and every year from now on. It puts their lives in a context. When the harvest is great they are to remember their history because it has brought them to that place. When the harvest is not so good they are also to recite this litany to remind themselves of the God who has acted and is acting in their lives to be an agent of salvation.

In addition, at the end of this passage there is an instruction that we often miss: included in this ritual were both Levites and aliens. The clergy and the foreigners. No one was to be left out. Everyone was to benefit from God's bounty.

In the Epistle to the young pastor Timothy we have an older minister, probably in jail for his faith, writing to a young pastor. He is reminded that his faith had been nurtured within his family, among two women named Lois and Eunice. When we look at church history we often focus on the disciples, the famous apostles and the church leaders and reformers down through the ages. When we look at the history of this church we should not forget the ministers and elders who have followed God's call to discipleship but we should not forget the women who nurtured faith in the home. We should not forget the women who nurtured faith through the WMS. Women who had no income to call their own who would work and study and give to support the mission of the church in foreign lands. Women of the UCW and Ladies Aid who put on suppers and bake sales to buy carpet and Sunday School Supplies and pay the minister's salary in the days when cash was as scarce as hen's teeth and now when it's not always easy to come by either.

Like Timothy, our faith has been nurtured by parents, neighbours and relatives. Our faith, signified in the laying on of hands at baptism or confirmation, is one designed to carry us forward to act and live in the love of Jesus of Nazareth.

Have you ever seen the movie "John and the Missus". It's about the resettling of the ‘bays' in Newfoundland. Throughout the movie we see the ghosts of the past, in a large sense like the cloud of witnesses that Paul refers to. We might think of a crowd at a ball game, Paul might have been thinking of a sporting event at the coliseum in Rome.

In the movie, John Munn, played by Gordon Pinsent says that he can't move; he can't leave his ancestors behind, he can't go to a new place where they have no history, no memory. I'll never forget the line which goes something like, "We can't just go. Why I know every living one of them that's buried over in that there graveyard." For them their sense of who they were was tied to land and place.

For us this is also true. We are fond of this church. We have loved it and we love it still. We loved the people who made it special. As Christians though we are also a people with a story, a story that is portable, a story that is not bound to once place or one generation. It is a faith which is based in that faith, that foundation which was provided for us by our ancestors and for that we give thanks, but it is also one which has grown and developed so that we may be strengthened by it to go forward into the future. The early church faced many rapid changes and they had to continue to struggle to adapt their church to a new and frightening world. They had to apply the faith of the disciples to a world which wanted Christians dead. In a few centuries they had to take this faith into a world where the church was, for all intents and purposes, part of the official power structure. Our situation today is again very different. We can no longer assume that our friends neighbours and relatives will place any value on the church, either the building, nor the faith community. We have to cope with the small numbers that wish to continue the journey as disciples. We also have to remember, that as few as we are, we have a mission to those who are outside of the church, to those who are outside of society. The early church had a special mission to the widows and orphans , people who were shunned in their day. We have to ask who is on the ‘outside' in our day and we have to reach out to them and welcome them in the name of Christ.

We also have to be prepared for rejection. We have to be prepared for people like those lepers in the gospel story I read a few minutes ago. Only one came back to thank Jesus. Only one recognized in him the power of God. But we forget that the rest were still healed and were still blessed, even though they did not know it.

Our call is to remain grounded in the faith of the apostles, while living fully in the world in which we find ourselves, while not losing sight of that great vision of God's kingdom which has kept the church going for 2000 years.

Not everyone may appreciate us. Not everyone will welcome us but it is our call and mission It was the same for our forebears YESTERDAY It is the same for us TODAY and with God's grace it will be the same for ourselves and our children TOMORROW.

May God lead us into the future and give us the faith to face it without fear


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    Email: Beth W. Johnston