10/27/2019: THE FAITHFUL BLESSING
Lamentations 3: 19-24 and I Corinthians 1: 3-9
A sermon by Thomas R. McKibbens
October 27, 2019
Today I want to celebrate this church’s present and its future. To do that I lift this splendid phrase from the Apostle Paul: I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind…you are not lacking in any spiritual gift.
Coming to this church a little over a year ago it was presumed; it was anticipated; it was hoped, that you would have a new pastor by Advent. Sure enough, you have a new pastor by Advent! I congratulate the Pastor Search Committee for its careful and thorough work! And I congratulate the entire church for its support of the recommendation of the Search Committee.
I did not enter with any agenda other than to nurture the good that is already here. I did not come to point out problems or to step on toes or to make big changes. I only wanted to hold up a mirror before you and remind you of your strengths. And they are enormous.
Years ago I excused myself from a church culture that measured success by the numbers of people who came to church on Sunday morning. Back in those days I would attend a Baptist convention, and the very first question posed to me by friends was this: “How many people do you have on Sunday morning? As if that is in any way a measure of faithfulness to the gospel! I know that institutions have to have a certain number of people to maintain the health of the congregation. We would all like to have more children in the Sunday School, more adults in the pews, and more bucks in the plate. But those things are not the first ways to measure the health of a church!
Over the months that I have been with you, your amazing gifts of caring have blessed me and my family, and those same gifts have blessed this congregation and this community. When you conclude your worship service each Sunday, you then scatter all over the community and sometimes all over the world to use your gifts of caring. I have considered the privilege of leading worship here each Sunday a gift of God. The drive from Worcester each week has been a pleasure because I knew that I was about to lead worship that is worthy of the best. Our weekly worship has refueled us for the life that lies before us. And I say “we” because, although I have led worship, I am also a worshipper, and I have been blessed beyond measure by being a part of this worshipping congregation.
Incidentally, the word used by the Apostle Paul in this scripture in describing their gifts is the word charismata, which we translate as “spiritual gifts.” He was saying that they were charismatic. And I can say the same about this church. You are charismatic in the best original sense of the word. You are charismatic because you are enriched by God with spiritual gifts of every kind. You are perfectly capable of meeting the challenge of transition in pastoral leadership with grace and kindness and sheer joy. And you will be led by an equally charismatic person in Pastor Gretchen Switzer. You are gifted; she is gifted; and together you will move forward by merging your gifts into a wonderful new day as the Federated Church of Sturbridge and Fiskdale.
Now I want to offer a further word of encouragement, and I do it with these words: God is faithful! No matter what has happened in the past; no matter what challenges you face in the present or the future: God is faithful! To support that, I call your attention the words from Lamentations: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. That, of course, is the inspiration for one of our favorite hymns: “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” The verb “is” plays an important role here: it implies not just the present, but also slides right into the future! God is faithful, and God will continue to be faithful. You can count on it!
Does the name Derek Redmond ring a bell with any of you? Derek Redmond was an Olympic sprinter representing Great Britain. In 1985 he broke the British record for the 400 meter sprint. He ran it in 44.82 seconds. Now I want to point out that 400 meters is exactly 437.445 yards, which is a complete circuit of the track around a football field. And they call that a sprint! Many of us would call it a long-distance run!
Holding the British record, Derek Redmond began training for the1988 Olympic games in Seoul, South Korea. He trained in preparation for the Olympics for three years, and when he finally ran in the Seoul Olympics, he heard an awful tear in his right leg, and he fell to the track. It was a torn right Achilles tendon. He had to withdraw from the Olympic games and face surgery.
He almost quit, but instead he withstood eight surgeries and began training for the 1992 Summer Olympics to be held in Barcelona, Spain. By the time he reached Barcelona, he was in good health and in peak form. He won the first two rounds, hardly breaking a sweat, including posting the fastest time in the first-round heats.
Then he lined up in the starting blocks to run the semi-finals. He felt good, and he got off to a great start. But about 250 meters from the finish line, the hamstring snapped. He began hobbling, and then he fell to the ground writhing in pain. Stretcher-bearers started to run toward him, but Redmond managed to stand up and start hobbling toward the finish line, mostly hopping on one foot. People who thought he was through suddenly turned their attention to this runner who was determined to reach the finish line.
Then something extraordinary happened. A man came bounding down out of the stands, barging past the security guards out onto the track. It was Jim Redmond, Derek’s father, who put his arm around him, and together they completed the race, with Derek leaning on his father’s shoulder for support. When they crossed the finish line, 65,000 spectators rose to their feet to give Derek Redmond a standing ovation.
Dear friends of the Federated Church, when we are called upon to run with perseverance the race that is set before us, we are not guaranteed that we will reach the finish line without injury, without a limp, or without pain. We are not guaranteed to reach the finish line without tears! But we are guaranteed this: God is faithful! When we fall along the way and think that our race must be over, when we are tempted to quit and give up, when doubt seems to overcome faith, when fatigue sets in and the race seems too hard, the presence of God comes down, barging past all the obstacles, puts an arm around us and says, “We will finish this race together!”
In other words, I believe that the future of this church is as bright as the faithfulness of God! How bright is that? Listen again to the words of the old Apostle Paul: God is faithful; by God you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. One of the great privileges and joys of life is to be a part of such a fellowship! This fellowship is bigger than any pastor, bigger than any local church, and stretches over the face of the earth! God has been faithful to this church in the past; God is faithful today; God will be faithful in the future! You can count on it!
Some day we will all be reunited in that home not made with hands. When that day comes, let us rejoice that we had these days together. And may it be that when that day comes, we will all hear those precious words, Well done…well done…well done. Then we will gladly join the rest of God’s people, including those we have loved and see no more, and we will sing: Great is Thy Faithfulness…great is thy faithfulness!