MESSAGE – COME BEHOLD THE WORKS OF THE LORD!
Sunday Message, 06.06.21
Second Sunday after Pentecost
Celebrating FCC’s 162-year anniversary
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 37:7; 46:8-11
One of the things you know about me, if you know me at all, is what a history nerd I am. And the rich and deep heritage we have here at FCC is one of the things I treasure about serving among you.
We were one of the first churches organized in the new community of Muskegon in the days when this was a frontier of dirt roads and tree stumps.
- Of course, on a sign out front of their church, St. Mary’s claims pride of place as Muskegon’s first church. The date given is 1856. As to whether they beat the Methodists to the punch in that year, I am not completely sure. But local histories suggest there were Catholic mission stations in various locations around the Muskegon area since at least the 1830’s, so I’ll give them that claim.
- Central Methodist Church – organized in 1856 – built their first building in 1859 on the corner of Jefferson and Clay. According to their historical marker, the Congregationalists worshiped with them until we built our first building in 1864.
- 1st Reformed Church was also founded 1859
- 1st Baptist – another one of the older congregations – 14 women and 6 men established “The Baptist Society” in Muskegon in April, 1870, built a church one block down the street from us on 2nd & Clay. Their second building on that site: 1891, burned down in 1955, and that is why they are located out on Quarterline, even though we sometimes think of them as a downtown church.
I’ve already mentioned the honor roll of the folks who met on June 9 in 1859 to officially organize the First Congregational Church of Muskegon. They were moved by a fierce desire to make this community a better place for all, and by a commitment to justice for all.
I don’t think it is an accident, that in the days of ferment right before the Civil War, FCC’s first pastor was the Reverend Alanson St. Clair, whose main claim to fame before coming here was as an ardent abolitionist. Nor is it a coincidence that many of those who became leaders in the drive for women’s right to vote, learned how to agitate in the anti-slavery campaigns.
A generation later, in 1902, it was the minister of this congregation, Archibald Hadden, who was entrusted by Charles Hackley with the gift that would become Hackley Hospital. Hadden and fellow trustee F.A. Nims chose the location and purchased the land on which the Hospital would be built. And along with Dr. John Vanderlaan, Hadden toured the latest and greatest of the hospitals being built in the east to identify best practices and state of the art design.
And the people of this congregation were cooperatively involved, (and often took the lead) in many other projects for the welfare of this community:
- The founding of the Muskegon Rescue Mission.
- The Webster House.
- The Red Feather Campaign for Charity, which later became the United Way.
- In the 1960’s, we took the lead in building one of the very first HUD residences for seniors, Jefferson Towers.
- In the early 2000’s, the Saturday Breakfast, which ran without pause feeding several hundred people a week for over 17 years, until the pandemic caused us to shut it down.
But sometimes, all that history can get in the way. It can cause us to lose sight of the essentials in the midst of too much tradition.
The questions began to be too much about how did we used to do it?
Some of you undoubtedly recognize this picture. Sam Oliver, Minister of the congregation from 1929 to 1960. By all accounts, he was a good guy and a wonderful minister. The old-timers, fewer in number every year, have overwhelmingly positive memories.
So there is nothing personal against him in what I am going to say. But when I first came here in 1980 as a junior member of the staff, a phrase I often heard whispered around in the corners was, “What would Sam have done?”
And when I came back in 2005, though not as often, it was still whispered around when people had something to grumble about.
So it seemed perversely fitting that for a number of years, hanging next to this portrait in the Samuel Noble Oliver Memorial Library was this plaque, a quote from one of our Psalms today:
Be still and know that I am…
Of course the full phrase is “Be still and know that I am God”. An allusion perhaps to God’s words to Moses at the burning bush.
When Moses, nervous about being sent to lead God’s people out of bondage into freedom, asks, “And whom shall I tell them sent me?” God reply is Ehyeh asher ehyeh, “I am who I am,” an enigmatic phrase that could just as well be read, “I will be who I will be.”
A refusal by the ultimate reality to be pinned down to the limitations of human definition.
So let us not ask of a God, who is never limited by our idea of normal, “When will we ever get back to normal?” since by that we usually mean to the way things used to be.
Let us not get so hung up on the what and the how and the who that we lose sight of why.
What would Jesus do is a phrase I have heard often and repeated myself. But even that can confuse us if we lose sight of the why.
Why did Jesus feed the hungry? In order to convert them? To enlist them to his movement?
No, I think Jesus fed the hungry because they were hungry.
As the gospels often say, when Jesus saw people who were struggling, he had compassion on them. He loved them, why? Because that is in the very nature of God. For God so loved the world, an all of that.
God is love, calling us to love.
And our creed, such as it is, distressingly cooperative, ecumenical, and interfaith for many people’s taste, is to make that our why.
Why do we do whatever it is we do, and how are we to do it?
Because the love of God for us and for our neighbor is in our hearts.
And from there we work to figure out the what and the how and the who of bringing it to life
in our time.
May living up to that be our prayer, as we move forward into whatever the future may hold.
In the name of God,
Our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.