The sermon for week September 09, 2012
Our church has been in a time of transition. Transitions are all about getting our story straight: What have been the lessons of our past, what are we saying now, and what story do we want to tell in the future? Our transition team, consultants, staff, and search teams have been engaged in this for quite some time, and it appears as if it’s winding down.
This summer in our rock worships, I spoke a lot about the meta-story. The meta-story is the BIG story that we read about in scripture each Sunday, that our faith gives us. And it’s important. So let's remember our story this Rally Day. Let's remember what we’re celebrating by stating where we’ve come from, where we are, and where we’re heading in the future. You might already know parts of this story, but some of it might surprise you.
Part of our history and the story I will focus on this morning starts around the year 1600 in England. Our Pilgrim ancestors thought their differences with the Church of England were irreconcilable and that their worship should be organized independently of the trappings, traditions and organization of a central church. They wanted the freedom to think, explore, and worship in ways that honor their experience of God. The Church of England didn’t agree and made it illegal not to attend official Church of England services, with a fine of one shilling for each missed Sunday and holy day. The penalties for conducting unofficial services included imprisonment and larger fines. To avoid these penalties, the Pilgrims moved to the Netherlands. Life was stable, there were no fines or pressure from the government. Life was good.
But still the Pilgrims were restless. They feared that they would lose their identity as English people, that they would become too secularized by the permissive culture of the Netherlands. They looked at the job opportunities and future for their church and noticed that the young families were being wooed away to more exciting locations for jobs and adventure.
So the Pilgrims decided to make a go of it in the New World. They formed The Plymouth Colony and set sail for the New World in 1620 on a ship called The Mayflower. Initially the trip went smoothly, but along the way they met strong winds and storms which caused a main beam to crack. They thought that they might have to turn back even though they were half way to their destination. They persevered and designed a fix to the beam and continued on. After the storms, the opposite happened. No wind. Nothing. So they sat around and waited and waited and prayed for wind. Overall the trip from Plymouth, England, to Plymouth Harbor is about 2,750 miles, and it took the Mayflower 66 days to cover that distance. The Mayflower's return voyage, incidentally, only took about 30 days (Mayflower History).
They landed in what is now Massachusetts. And one would think life would be good. But the hardship continued. They landed just as the harsh New England winter set in. They were starving. To make matters worse, a contagious disease broke out. A little less than half the people who started the voyage survived it.
The survivors are recovering from sickness, mourning their loved ones, and mostly starving. Sure they had a nice meal we celebrate called Thanksgiving, but the situation was dire. They were subsisting on handouts from the natives. What do you think they were doing in during this time? Normal people would be planning where the fields should go. Normal people would be figuring out how they to eat and survive.
But our ancestors weren’t normal people. Normal people would be freaking out and planning and worrying about their survival but in this time what did our ancestors do?
They founded Harvard.
In all of the hardship they faced, in the cracked beam, slow progress, landing during the wrong season, the disease, death and starvation, they remembered who they were. They sought theological and intellectual stimulation. They weren’t just about survival: They could have stayed in England or the Netherlands if they were interested in survival alone. They could have planned their fields and figured out which crops to plant. Instead, they founded Harvard, arguably one of the greatest academic institutions in the world.
During our transition at Sylvania UCC, were we just surviving or were we founding Harvard?
Now I’m biased. I think we’re founding Harvard.
With the tough conversations of the re-structuring and the Open and Affirming discussions, we’re figuring out who we are: A welcoming, program-sized church who needs a welcoming, program-minded senior pastor. We are making strides in outreach, youth and young adult ministries, and our Families ministry is gathering steam. We’ve gained members in this transition. We’ve reactivated some members who, for one reason or another, were not coming to church. The Scientists in Congregations program has brought in local and national speakers and these will continue with the Chidester Memorial Lectures slated to start in January. Our music has been and continues to be top notch and the choir is ready to roll on another great season.
We are not a church that is much concerned with survival. We’re concerned with founding something that will last the generations. Something that will empower and inspire; a place that will care for and intellectually stimulate its members. That is what we’re celebrating today, that is the idea we’re rallying around today. That is the ideal that drives us. It is the same ideal that drove our Pilgrim ancestors in their period of transition.
So what can you do? What does this story mean for us today?
Just keep doing what you’re doing!
Keep coming to worship!
If you can’t make it, printed sermons are available outside of Wright Hall or you can sign up for educational brochures and check out one of the classes. If you’re a family, we provide childcare at your request. If something looks interesting and you need someone to watch the kids, call me, email me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook. Take part in outreach. Check out a Family Gathering or That Thing or the Women’s Retreat. Listen to the Pastor Luke Podcast. Join the choir or volunteer to play your instrument or sing on a Sunday. You can call someone up and have coffee with a friend from church. We have a strong history. And this story can affect your life, your children’s lives, and help you through the hard times when they come.
Remember the story, continue to live it out in this community and celebrate it! Amen.