Faith Enough to Be On the WayPosted: August 11, 2013
Faith Enough to Be On the Way
ANYTHING REALLY WORTH DOING TAKES MORE THAN ONE LIFE TIME
Anything really worth doing takes more than one life time. That is the message in our text from Hebrews. God called Abraham saying: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.”
God was calling Abraham to a project of immense proportions. Leave the place where you are living, leave your family, the religion of your ancestors and go to a new land you have never seen, where I will make of you a great nation and a whole new religion based upon one God, who cannot be seen or touched or even imagined. A God of no images, because the God of Abraham transcends all forms and categories of reality as we know it.
Abraham was also to dwell in the new land as a stranger and a sojourner. He would not fully possess the land in his life time. Rather he would live in tents, build temporary altars to his God and barely establish a line of descendants, since he would remain childless into his old age. The promises made to Abraham would not be realized in his life time, rather he was the beginning of a sacred project the launching of a people of faith that would stretch thousands of years into the future to the three major monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity, Islam and us.
A PROGRESSIVE COMMUNITY OF FAITH IN THE SOUTH
Anything really worth doing takes more than one life time and a faith that perseveres. The faithful souls who founded the United Church of Huntsville here in North Alabama, may not have realized what they were doing, but they were embarking on a project that would extend more than one life time. Many of them came South with NASA, the Army, Missile Command, and they brought with them their Congregational, Evangelical and Reformed and American Missionary spiritual roots. They dreamed of founding a progressive Community of Faith in a very religiously conservative environment. From the beginning they made it clear that everyone regardless of race was welcome at United Church. In a time and place when integrated gatherings were taboo, the United Church of Huntsville was radical.
IMMENSELY DIFFICULT TASK
In 1963 the United Church of Huntsville barely three years old undertook the immensely difficult task of hosting the first meeting of the all-white churches of the Southeast Convention in their first meeting with the delegates from the all-black Convention of the South. Remember this was before the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and there was a good question where within the geographical confines of what would become the Southeast Conference of the United Church of Christ it might be possible to hold an integrated meeting. Those brave founders of the United Church of Huntsville took up the challenge. They approached the Holiday Inn, on the Parkway at the time, and I am told that after they had negotiated the contract with the motel, only then did they reveal that this was going to be an integrated meeting. Courage, faith and little chutzpah carried them through.
REVISIONING THE DREAM INTO THE FUTURE
Like the legend of the Patriarchs, United Church’s story was not one victory after another. The big Boeing Layoff at the end of the 1960’s almost proved the undoing of the congregation. They had just managed to build the flat roof part of our present building, when half the congregation was laid off, and the church could not pay its mortgage. For years United Church struggled financially, but still survived. We even built and paid for this beautiful sanctuary keeping alive the dream of a progressive church in the South. I like Bill Green’s charge to the Re-visioning Committee, when he said, “For over 50 years I have believed there was a place for a progressive United Church of Christ in Huntsville, I have worked to make that dream happen, and I charge you with the responsibility for re-visioning that dream into the future.”
WELCOMING AND AFFIRMING EVERYONE
For those of you being received into membership today, I invite you to join in that dream. Huntsville needs a church that will welcome everyone, and follow the way of Jesus by welcoming and affirming all people who join in the covenant to pray with and for each other. The United Church of Huntsville is a legacy, and those of us who have joined the dream need to affirm that we are a part of that vision.
WHAT IS YOUR PERSONAL LEGACY OF FAITH?
In addition to lifting up the dream of a progressive Christian congregation for the Tennessee Valley, I would like to invite everyone today to consider what is your personal legacy of faith? Just as God called Abraham to a journey, what journey are you on?
Now when I talk about legacy I don’t mean what we have written into our wills, which reminds me of a story about a certain rich man’s Last Will and Testament. The lawyer was reading the document to the people mentioned in the will:
“To you, my loving wife Rose, who stood by me in rough times, as well as good, I leave you the house and $2 million.”
The lawyer continued, “To my daughter Jessica, who looked after me in sickness and kept the business going, I leave you the yacht, the business and $1 million.”
The lawyer concluded, “And, to my cousin Dan, who hated me, argued with me, and thought that I would never mention him in my will – well you are wrong. Hi, Dan!”
WHAT WILL BE OUR LEGACY OF LOVE?
This morning when I use the word legacy I am not primarily concerned about the disposition of our assets, property or personal affects, I mean the spiritual contribution we will leave behind to others, when we have finished our earthly journey. What do you hope to have accomplished in your life time?
Some of us will write books. Others will leave behind children, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren. Some of us may have a drawer full of newspaper clippings, or a wall full of trophies or plaques. We may leave picture albums of the cool trips we have taken. We may hope we have made contributions at our place of work that will survive a couple of weeks after we retire. Maybe we will contribute to the work of some organization that will go on doing good after our retirement or death. But if we are going to accomplish something that takes more than a life time, we need to consider our relationships. What we have to give spiritually has to be passed on to other people, and not just our ideas but also our love – our legacy of love.
SUNDAY SCHOOL SOMETHING NEW!
Allow me to provide an illustration of legacy by sharing a story from St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Monee. For those of us who grew up in Sunday School it is hard to imagine a time, when Sunday Schools did not exist. Families, especially fathers, were expected to read the Bible in their homes and see to the spiritual instruction of their children. But by 1900 Rev. Dorjahn, Pastor of St. Paul’s Church in Monee, noted that many young people who came for confirmation instruction were functionally illiterate in the Christian Faith. So, he decided to try the new experiment in Christian Education known as Sunday School, but first he needed a superintendent, someone who was respected. He needed a man who was truly interested in the welfare of children and not someone who was looking for a position to satisfy ego or power needs. So he asked Andrew Wehrli the village black smith.
ANDREW SHARED BIBLE STORIES WITH THE CHILDREN
Andrew was a physically powerful man, even the boys in the Sunday School respected his strong arms accustomed to wielding the smithy’s hammer. Besides his great physical strength, he was quiet and gentle. In the summer time children would gather at the Black Smith’s shop to watch him shape and bend metal, and listen to the Bible stories Andrew would tell them as he worked. He was a perfect choice for Sunday School Superintendent. His love and his wonderful story telling were well remembered by many older people I knew at St. Paul’s even into the 1990’s. These older people would become wistful as they would remember listening to the story of Creation or Jesus’ Parables as told by the village blacksmith.
ANDREW’S INFLUENCE SPREAD WELL BEYOND
But Andrew Wehrli’s influence spread well beyond the little world of Monee. For his son Allen went to college and then seminary and even joined the faculty of Eden Theological Seminary as professor of Old Testament. And Allen Wehrli was credited by the famous Bible Scholar, Walter Brueggemann, with having started the “narrative school” of Biblical scholarship. From telling Bible stories at his Black Smith’s shop Andrew Wehrli’s influence spread to the formation of an important approach to studying scripture. I would also note that Andrew’s grandson became the professor of New Testament at Eden, and then President of Eden Theological Seminary. We never know how many lives our love for Jesus will touch.
FAITH ENOUGH TO BE ON THE WAY
I don’t know what God has called you to do. I am still trying to figure out exactly what God wants me to do. The point is that we may never fully know just what we have accomplished, because anything really worth doing takes more than one life time to achieve. Like Abraham and the other Patriarchs we can only vaguely glimpse what the future may hold. Most of us like the great heroes of our faith will die in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar, having acknowledged that we are strangers and exiles on the earth.
CONTINUE IN FAITH AND FIND OUR WAY HOME
Allow me to challenge all of us to consider the legacy we are creating in our lives. We may not know exactly where God is leading us, but like Abraham we just need to be persistent and have enough faith to be on the way. Our faith journey will take us beyond our comfort zones to new destinations we cannot fully see, but God promises if we continue in faith we will find our way home.