First Congregational Church
January 22, 2017
Third Sunday after Epiphany
“While Calling the Next 150 Years….”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A man had been driving all night and by morning was still far from his destination. He decided to stop at the next city he came to, and park somewhere quiet so he could get an hour or two of sleep.
As luck would have it, the quiet place he chose happened to be on one of the city’s major jogging routes. No sooner had he settled back to snooze when there came a knocking on his window. He looked out and saw a jogger running in place. “Yes?” “Excuse me, sir,” the jogger said, “do you have the time?” The man looked at the car clock and answered, “8:15”. The jogger said thanks and left.
The man settled back again, and was just dozing off when there was another knock on the window and another jogger. “Excuse me, sir, do you have the time?” “8:25!” The jogger said thanks and left.
Now the man could see other joggers passing by and he knew it was only a matter of time before another one disturbed him. To avoid the problem, he got out a pen and paper and put a sign in his window saying, “I do not know the time!” Once again he settled back to sleep. He was just dozing off when there was another knock on the window. “Sir, sir? It’s 8:45!”
As I thought about this morning’s message - over the past week - I thought it interesting, maybe even “God-cidental” that we, as a church family, begin our 150th year of organization, while at the same time, our nation begins a period that will forever change the direction of our country - for good and ill. For those about to get squirmy in your seats because the topic seems right close to politics, fear not. I don’t think this morning’s message is so much about that which is political as it is about the common denominator that binds us together as followers of Christ. If there seems to be a piece that falls over onto the political side, well, that’s going to be God’s intention, and not mine.
Since the 23 individuals that officially pledged themselves to each other under the framework of First Congregational Church of Frankfort, January 26, 1868, a lot of water has passed under the bridge. It was the year that General Grant became the president-elect, the US House of Representatives voted to impeach sitting-President Andrew Johnson, Kit Carson and James Buchanan died, the Wyoming Territory was organized and Cornell University at Ithaca was opened, all according to the Standard Atlas of Benzie County, copyright of 1915.
The next year, the Pacific Railway was completed, the Fifteenth Amendment was passed, the Supreme Court pronounced Confederate currency to be worthless, and the great Wall Street panic, known as Black Friday, took place on September 24. And while all that was going on, a group of individuals felt a need - a call - to commit themselves to God and each other in spreading the Good News of Christ in this little cranny of Benzie County.
In one place I discovered that there were three - three - families recorded living in Frankfort in 1868 and 400 individuals in 1871, according to The Traverse Region, Historical and Descriptive, dated 1884. That same record noted that 45 of those 400 of Frankfort individuals were Congregationalists.
Jesus started out with small numbers, too. You may recall that after Jesus’ baptism, he went on his desert/wilderness/temptation/40 day test, and then he started preaching. We don’t know how long he preached without official disciples, but it was sometime during his solo preaching days that our passage for this morning took place. (Mary Ann…)
Jesus Calls His First Disciples
18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him. 21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
Jesus Heals the Sick
23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.
Thank you, Mary Ann. While proudly showing off his new apartment to friends, a college student led the way into the den. “What is the big brass gong and hammer for?” one of his friends asked. “That is the talking clock,” the man replied. “How’s it work?” the friend asked. “Watch,” the student said then proceeded to give the gong an ear shattering pound with the hammer. Suddenly someone screamed from the other side of the wall, “KNOCK IT OFF! It’s two AM!”
I’m guessing that a multitude of sermons have been written over this morning’s passage; some, no doubt, in the mind of a person sitting in a fishing boat. And I’d be willing to guess that a large percentage of those sermons were connected to the topic of evangelism - the winning or revival of personal commitments to Christ. Perhaps there may be a person or two here this morning who gave their lives to Christ because of a passage such as this one. Some people come to Christ through scripture, some through preaching, some through a mystical movement of the Holy Spirit, some were born into it, and others through ways that are beyond our ken, and what really matters is not the route, but the result. And should anyone ever wonder, it is always a good time to make your promise to follow God, through Christ and the Holy Spirit.
I’m grateful that the writer of Matthew didn’t change horses after verse 22, because the next verse is just as important. “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.”
150 years ago, I would guess that the original members of this church - or maybe even most any church - didn’t come together merely for the sake of saying that they belonged to a church. Church membership then, as it is now, has to/had to mean something.
So I’d also guess that when someone was sick, a plate of food was brought to the one who was ill. With such a small population, they needed to take care of each other. If someone broke their leg and the firewood wasn’t finished for the winter, I’d guess that there might have been a couple of folks that would have seen to it that there was enough wood to make it through the worst of the winter.
Or is Mrs. So-and-So had a hard time with a pregnancy, I wouldn’t doubt that perhaps a neighbor would take care of the other youngins while Mrs. So-and-So recovered a little. And I’d guess that they didn’t do those tasks and mercies because they were aiming to get paid or for glory. I’m guessing they did it because those are the things that are not only the “right things to do,” but they proclaim the good news of the kingdom in helping to heal every disease and sickness among the people - as best as we humans are able.
Speaking of youngins, January of 1868 must have been a hot time in the old town, because it was also the time when the first school in Frankfort, the second in the county, was started, by one of our founders, Mr. Warren H. Marsh. Even if Mr. Marsh couldn’t solve familial or social issues that the school children had in 1868, it’s good to know that at least one person from this place had a heart for the children in the area, and through them, made a stake in the future that we now enjoy.
It is with certainty that I tell other people about those with hearts for children among this church family. Whether they come to us weekly, occasionally, yearly, or once-in-a-great-blue-moon, not only do our faithful Sunday School and regular school teachers have a heart for the children among us; so do most all of us. And as your pastor, I gotta tell ya, few things make my heart sing as when I witness the exchange between a young person and a person older than them around here.
As Christ calls us to follow him, so can we continue to have a heart for our children, and our elders, our sick, less-abled, and all the others that come through our doors - as we continue to grow the foundation of this church family for the next 150 years.
150 years ago, the cost of $5,000 to build this church was astronomical. But it wasn’t all that was required to build this place. If you have the ability at all, I truly encourage one and all to attend Al’s Academy this week, as Andy Mollema will be telling us more about our early history, some of which will be done in the area of finances.
Today, however, for as many as can stay after the service, we will once again take up the discussion of our church finances as we think about the next year, the first of the next 150. But like all previous years, the discussion is not essentially about money, but about ministry, and what we are called to do to continue to bring the Good News of Christ to our communities.
As I wrote this message, I wondered if there might be any among us that would be visitors, and I hoped so, to remind us of the larger picture, that our faith is not just about our here and now, not only about what God has done for me in the past, but about what God is doing, through mere human beings, in fulfilling the call to spread the Gospel, teaching in our places of worship, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people, as best as we are able.
Christ called us to do a lot of things: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,” (Lk 10:27) “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt. 28:19)
Jesus also called us to do a lot of things by his example: speaking to the “unclean,” having dinner with those that others wouldn’t be caught dead breaking bread with, confronting injustice when he saw it. We look back today to his call, but it is not a call stuck in time; the call continues not just to the coming year, not just to the next four years, not even to the next 150 years, but for as long as we get to continue to wake up each and every morning. I was going to say, ‘each and every morning on this earth,’ but Jesus’ call is not just about us earth-bound land lubbers. And it’s not a call to sign-up on a dotted line. Jesus’ call is to do something, even if all we can do is pray, because of all that we can do, that is by far, the greatest we can. So let us get to it.
Eternal Emmanuel, we worship you this day as people that represent the wideness of your love for us. As we sit in this sanctuary, built and rebuilt and restored over all these years, we are cognizant of the depth of what our words and motions have in time. As the cross and steeple draw our eyes upward, continue to draw our hearts up to where you live, even if we have the barest of understanding, that we see not only promise, but home. Regardless of where we go when we leave this day, help us to realize that we have a job to do in helping others hear your call - to all of us - to do what we can to bring the Good News of your Son to our world. For the blessing of your calling on our lives and the “belonging” with which you have baptized us, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.