God Brought Us To This Place 11-20-16 Anniversary Celebration

Deuteronomy 26:1-11 Once you have entered the land that YHWH, your God, is giving to you as your inheritance, and you have taken possession of it and settled in it, Take some of the first fruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land that YHWH, your God, is giving to you, and put them in a basket. Take them to the place which YHWH, your God, will choose as a dwelling place for God’s Name and say to the priest in office at that time, “This day I declare to YHWH, our God, that I have come to the land YHWH swore to our ancestors to give us. The priest will then receive the basket from you and will set it in the front of the altar of YHWH. Then you will declare before YHWH, “My ancestor was a wandering Aramean who went down to Egypt with a small household and lived there as an alien. There they became a nation great, strong and numerous. When the Egyptians mistreated and oppressed us, imposing hard labor upon us, we cried to YHWH, the God of our ancestors, who heard our cry and saw our affliction, our toil and our oppression. YHWH brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and outstretched arm, with terrifying power, with signs and wonders. YHWH gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Therefore, I have brought now the first fruits of the products of the soil that you, O God, have given me.”  Then you must set them before YHWH, and bow down before YHWH. Then you all, along with the Levites, and the foreigner that lives among you, will feast on all the good things that YHWH, your God, has given to you and your household.

Those who are paying attention may have noticed that we have been a little mixed up about when our anniversary is. We used to celebrate the anniversary from the time of the dedication of the building in 1879. A couple years ago, we decided to celebrate from the time the first group came together from Radnor Methodist Episcopal Church to found a church in Bryn Mawr. We thought that may have started in 1876, 140 years ago, the centennial of the US. Then Carolyn found a paper with a founding date in 1877, so we are calling today the beginning of a year long celebration of our 140th anniversary.

Thank you all again for coming as we begin this celebration. God brings us together for a time such as this, to be a community of caring for each other in a time of uncertainty and anxiety. Next week I am preaching a sermon based on a book by Dr. William Barber called the Third Reconstruction. I just want to mention it today to notice that 140 years ago our country was in the middle of the first reconstruction, after the Civil War, putting the pieces together and trying to recreate a society after slavery ended. Many of us have been inspired by the Second Reconstruction, the civil rights movement that renewed the work of freedom and liberation. Today, Barber is pulling people together across all kinds of divides, calling for a Third Reconstruction, a moral movement to overcome the politics of division and fear.

So that’s next week. I just wanted to make that connection to the anniversary of our founding. For today we read from Phillippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I say rejoice.” Today we celebrate, even amidst anxiety and uncertainly. Listen for the word of God for you this day.

Philippians 4:4-9 Rejoice in the Savior always! I say it again: Rejoice! Let everyone see your forbearing spirit. Our Savior is near. Dismiss all anxiety from your minds; instead, present your needs to God through prayer and petition, giving thanks for all circumstances. Then God’s own peace, which is beyond all understanding, will stand guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, my sisters and brothers, your thoughts should be wholly directed to all that is true, all that deserves respect, all that is honest, pure, decent, admirable, virtuous or worthy of praise. Live according to what you have learned and accepted, what you have heard me say and seen me do. Then will the God of peace be with you.

Nov. 20, 2016

God Brought Us To This Place  -

Thirty-five years ago, on Easter Sunday in 1981, Elaine McDermott joined St. Luke Church. I guess Jim joined the same day, is that right? Thirty-five years ago. At the end of the service, as is our custom at St. Luke, folks sang the Hallelujah chorus. Guess who jumped in to sing? Yep, the Sunday she joined St. Luke Elaine also joined the choir. The next day Rev. Lurwick telephoned and asked her to sing the next Sunday. She’s been singing in the choir ever since. Thirty-five years.

If you ask her about it, Elaine will tell you the story. God brought her to this place. It’s a story of tragedy and a story of God’s grace in the midst of tragedy – how a horrible, heart-rending accident in their family led Jim and Elaine to come back to the church Jim grew up in, a church to which they have dedicated themselves tirelessly ever since. And they will tell you: God brought them to this place.

 

It’s not that God creates the tragedy to bring us to the place we’re supposed to be. Sometimes when you read scripture it sounds like that, but read a little closer. In the reading from Deuteronomy Nancy read this morning for instance, this is a classic line: ““My ancestor was a wandering Aramean who went down to Egypt with a small household and lived there as an alien. There they became a nation great, strong and numerous. When the Egyptians mistreated and oppressed us, imposing hard labor upon us, we cried to YHWH, the God of our ancestors, who heard our cry and saw our affliction, our toil and our oppression. YHWH brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and outstretched arm, with terrifying power, with signs and wonders. YHWH gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

In the passage it is clear that God is the One who hears the cry of the people and is with them to free them from oppression. God does not cause the oppression; God is with them in that place of tears and affliction, and gives them strength and inspiration as they move to a place of freedom and liberation…. [Of course, we always are a little self-centered and feel like God has brought us to a place, even if it was already inhabited (even if we’re the ones oppressing somebody else.) But that’s another story.]

 

For today, we are focused on how God has brought us to this place. Some of us came here like Elaine did, out of a sense of need, coming from a difficult place and needing the comfort and sanctuary this church offers. That’s how I got here twenty years ago. I was licking my wounds from a difficult experience and you gave me room to heal and to pay attention to my one year old son and to figure out what my ministry was really about. This place was – you were – a real gift from God. God brought me to this place.

Others of you came here to sing. Today we especially celebrate you. Sue came here to sing 50 years ago. Elaine 35 years ago. George 32 years ago. Your singing has been a gift from God, a gift to many people needing a place to land, a have from which to regroup, & then a nudge back into the world to be Christ’s hands and feet for others.

I’m glad to have this reunion today, this Thanksgiving Sunday to thank those of you who came here over the years to sing and to play and to minister. Marcia, Mary, Susan, Sally, Elaine, Emilie, George, Rob, Paul, Phil, and Clyde. God brought you to this place to be a gift to God’s people on this corner in Bryn Mawr.

The last few years we have been experimenting a bit – with different styles of music; lately we’ve been adding trumpet, guitar, flute, percussion, and other instruments to the mix, but it’s a blessing to have you back today. Frankly, it feels a little chaotic going into the Christmas season having to look for a new music director, and with different musicians from week to week, we struggle to have the consistency, the dignity, the elegance, and the power that you folks had no trouble offering every week.

So we thank you for your ministry to us. God brought you to this place, and we are grateful. Our anniversary luncheon today honors Susan and George and Elaine in particular, but we are honored to have each of you here today to celebrate them because you know how hard they have worked for decades for this church. I know that’s why you are here. God brought you to this place today.

 

God brings us into a community for a reason, of course. Today, that reason is to give thanks. Actually, it’s always to give thanks. Paul puts our current anxiety and worry into the context of thanks and prayer as he writes to the people of Phillipi, (Message translation:) “Celebrate God all day, every day… Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”

God brought us to this place to displace worry at the center of our lives with hope and praise, with a purpose, to grow in love for life. God brought us to this place for us to rejoice, even when we are grieving, scared, or licking our wounds. God brought us to this place to be a community of caring for God’s world, making a way for us where it feels like there is no way. God brought us to this place for such a time as this – to be a community where all are welcome, to sing God’s song in a strange land, to give thanks, always to give thanks, because we know God is with us on the road. This is God’s good news.

Responsive Hymn: 2175  Together We Serve