Centreville Anniversary Sunday Sermon
Amid the distractions of these days, give us undivided hearts and attentive minds, O God, so that we might listen for your truth and discern your guiding Word, in our lives this day and the days before us. May these thoughts and words speak your truth in love, through Christ, your living Word we pray. Amen.
I’ve noticed over the last few years that there isn’t as many antique shops open as there used to be. I always enjoy looking through antique shops, examining things, pondering what objects might have been used for and recalling items from my own childhood. Many of the wood or metal items are marked with scars from their use which makes me ponder the environment in which they were used long ago. Sometimes items can bring back smiles and happy memories.
We live in a house that has a rich history of over 100 years. What is now our family room once served as the original post office in our village and, even today, you can see the markings on the floor where the counter of the post office once stood. Over time, the room also served as a doctor’s office and later a store. Other marks and clues of the home’s history can be found throughout the house and, like the items in an antique shop, I love to think about and ponder what life was like and how the house looked, in days gone by.
When we were renovating a room upstairs, we discovered another small room that had been locked away and covered over for many years. No, we did not come across a room filled with bygone treasures that had been mysteriously abandoned for many years – nothing as exotic as that! Instead, we discovered an old, long disused and disconnected water closet in what was originally a bedroom closet – and there it stood, the “latest and greatest” of luxurious indoor plumbing many years ago.
Now today, of course, we don’t consider indoor plumbing a luxury or even an “optional extra”, but a standard of home construction and daily living. And so it is that, when we run into difficulty with our water or plumbing system, we regard it as imperative that it be repaired ASAP.
Now, I share all this because, like our home, the church too has a rich and evolving history, indeed, the church has a history spanning, not just a hundred or so years, but a history that, then, now and throughout all of time has originated and been directed by God Himself.
At Pentecost we celebrate the birth of the church, that is, when God breathed His life, His own the Holy Spirit upon the people and the church came to life. And this same Spirit of life has been active in this congregation here in Centreville since 1845 – 175 years ago today. It was at that time, many years ago, that English settlers, after having worshipped in their homes and in a local log school house, came together to build a local church. The first church cost $1600 to build and included an adjoining horse shelter. Later, in 1884, that is, when the Wesleyan and Episcopal Methodists joined together to form the Methodist Church of Canada, the Centreville congregation became the head of their localized circuit which included the churches of Enterprise and Desmond. Later still, in 1925 the Centreville congregation would become part of the United Church -- that is a coming together of the Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational churches in Canada.
On July 10, 1945, just one month after celebrating its 100th anniversary, the Centreville church burned to ground. Almost immediately after the fire, plans were underway to rebuild the church and the name was changed to Centreville Memorial in honour of the former building.
In 1967, Presbytery placed Centreville church on the same circuit with the Reidville and Newburgh congregations and the Desmond congregation was invited to amalgamate with Centreville. Later, the Reidville congregation would also be incorporated into the Centreville church – and so it was that the Newburgh-Centreville Pastoral Charge came into being – a bond that has lasted fifty three years and counting. Today, we acknowledge and honour all those former churches and their members that have became an integral part of the Centreville congregation.
However, as with any anniversary or birthday, the old and the new mix together. We not only stop to celebrate and reflect on the past, but we also ponder what the future holds in store. And so it is that, however much as we may glorify and celebrate the past, we know we cannot return or go back there for time and life itself is always changing; always in a state of flux. Indeed, in this time of the Covid pandemic, we have learned a new way to be the church; a new way to communicate and share the good news of the Gospel with others and with ourselves. I am referring, of course, to newly commonplace phenomenon of recording and posting services on the internet. Since mid-March of this year, all of our worship services have all been on line, and for many in our PC this has certainly been a new, exciting and sometimes daunting way to organize and experience worship,
Of course, living in the present doesn’t mean that we have to seize on and embrace every new trend or fad. Indeed, if we look to Christ in all things and pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can be assured that He will lead us to faithfully build upon the past and incorporate what is worthy in the present so that we may go forth into the future with hope and confidence.
In scripture we read that, as followers of Jesus, yes, we are like those who can produce both the old and the new. And It is always tempting in our situation to choose one or the other, that is, to embrace and hold on to the comfort and reassurance of the past or (2x) to sweep it all away and “get on board,” get with the program, and so on. In other words, it is tempting to find our identity either among the traditional or among the trendy and the fashionable. But in matters of faith, a broader landscape lies before us. As faithful followers of Jesus, we acknowledge that the past, the present and the future is in God’s faithful keeping as HE provides and guides us day by day. We can always celebrate and treasure the past for the gifts of grace that it has provided for us; and for the wisdom that we can discern and cultivate. But we will always need to embrace the present so that we might faithfully identify and meet the challenges and opportunities of each new day; the new and novel ways that life is unfolding around us.
A farmer had two oxen an older and stronger ox and a young and inexperienced ox. An old and a new. Together they worked side by side in their yoke. The older was able to bear the weight of the work because the yoke transferred that weight from the smaller, weaker ox to the larger, stronger ox. By working as a team, the two ox were able to share the load. The younger new ox, was also able to learn the knowhow from the older ox’s years of experience.
We need to embrace the old and the new in our day – and that may mean embracing new ways of doing things that are unfamiliar and uncomfortable for us; when they are not altogether to our taste; not “our cup of tea.” But whether or not they are within our own comfort zone is surely irrelevant. The question is: do they speak and reflect the truth of God’s Holy Word? Indeed, with this in mind, imagine if all the people who have ever worshipped in this congregation were here today - there would be many hundreds and even thousands of them – and each with his or her own life experiences, stories, musical preferences, favourite Bible verses and so on. And in a way they are here - part of our storehouse of faith, part of who we are now and, on this Anniversary Sunday we remember them, that is we re-member them. But our faithfulness to God and to their witness lies in responding to the Gospel with integrity for our own times - while never or letting go of their hands. In that familiar story of the dry bones which we read this morning, God does not breath life into new bones. Incredibly He builds on what is past and gone; incredibly, it is old bones that He brings back to life again. In Christ, new life can and does emerge out of old; out of death itself. Together, in and through the Spirit of Christ in our lives, we can and will continue to move us forward in faithful service even amidst the changes and challenges of our present times and circumstances. And, more than all of this; more even than old and new; past and the present, God in Christ Jesus; God by His Spirit is leading us community, not just with one another, but with God Himself.
St Paul promises and declares that if we are in Christ we are a ‘new creation’, but of course another way of saying this is that we are restored to what God always intended us to be, since the beginning of creation, that is, in union; in communion with God Himself.
A faithful devout man, carrying a bag of potatoes on his back, was asked by a skeptic: "How do you know you’re forgiven?" The man took a few steps and then dropped the bag. Then he said: "How do I know I dropped the bag? I haven’t looked around." "No," replied the man. You can tell by the lessening of the weight." "Yes," replied the other, "that’s how I know I’m forgiven. I’ve lost the guilty feeling of sin and sorrow, and have found peace and satisfaction in my Lord and Savior." (“The Elim Emanuel”, http://elbourne.org/sermons/index.mv?illustration+3586)
That my friends is new, and it never gets old. New every morning is the love our wakening and up (New Every Morning - Hymn) rising prove , God’s amazing grace is fresh and new in every moment of every day. Our sins our regrets our burdens do not have to grow old upon our shoulders, through God’s sacrifice in Jesus Christ His Son on the cross, our burdens have been lifted from us, when we share them with Him.
13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,
14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
As we press on into the future in this changing and uncertain times. There is a certainty that always awaits us, as the past has shown us and as we are assured right now in this present time, we can be certain our Lord will protect and lead us as we stay yoked in His ever faithful, ever sure embrace.
Let us look to Christ and trust in Him in all things so that we may celebrate our church this day, not simply as a treasured object of the past with living stories to share, but as a faith living and vibrant force, for the future; and the continued upbuilding of God’s kingdom here on earth. Praise be to God now and forever. Amen.