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8:30am & 11am Services

The Manifestation of God in Human Life

January 7, 2018 Pastor: Larry Gaylord

Topic: History & Christian Leadership Scripture: Matthew 2:1–2:12, Mark 1:4–1:11

Our two readings today point to an oddity of the liturgical calendar. Tradition holds that the wise men visited the baby Jesus on January 6. The next Sunday is the baptism of the Lord when Jesus was about 30 years old. A few decades are compressed to a few days. However, both holy days demonstrate the mission of Jesus and the manifestation of God in human life. The visitors from the East represent all the nations of the earth, bowing down to honor the One sent from God. In baptism, Jesus is identified as a beloved Child of God. At the Jordan, his mission launched with God’s powerful approval. Today, our ordination of elders and deacons reminds us that we are all called to serve, each in our own way; we can make a difference, showing forth God’s presence in our time and place.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of First Presbyterian Church. Our Sesquicentennial Committee has provided the beautiful logo for our bulletin covers. Our thanks to Darren Hansing for his work, designing it. The motto is, “Embracing the Future, Honoring the Past.” It’s a great way to describe the coming months and beyond, as we move forward in faith.

Today, we take a moment to remember a visionary who powerfully influenced the Bloomington-Normal community and indeed the course of world history. Jesse Fell moved to Bloomington when it had a burgeoning population of 180. He helped in its growth and development. He also participated in the founding of Pontiac, Lexington, Towanda, LeRoy, Decatur, Joliet, and Dwight. He founded a town called North Bloomington, later known as Normal. Jesse Fell was a strong abolitionist, hated slavery, believed in racial equality, and denounced segregationist practices. He welcomed African-American families here, including the Bartons and the Duffs, and helped them to get established. Jesse Fell and David Davis encouraged their mutual friend Abraham Lincoln to run for President. It is said, that the decision to run arrived at one of the upper floors of a building, which still stands in downtown Bloomington, across from the McLean County Historical Museum.

Jesse Fell was instrumental in bringing the Normal School for training teachers here, later known as Illinois State University, and now ISU. He remained active in the University’s development all his life. He was a committed churchman, first as a Methodist, then as a pillar of the Congregational Free Church, where he served in leadership the rest of his days. The Fell name is honored in parks, streets, and buildings of our area. Even his first name is featured, for his homestead in Adams County, which was affectionately called “Fort Jesse,” and hence we have Ft. Jesse Road in Normal. He wrote for the Bloomington Observer, later called the Pantagraph. His grandson was Adlai Stevenson, Governor of Illinois and ambassador to the UN. Jesse Fell had a vision for planting trees. The Fell Arboretum of ISU continues his vision, and the surrounding town is a testimony to the 10,000 trees whose planting he carried out himself, or encouraged.

About the time of our church’s founding, he was engaged in these civic activities. His ideals of progress, democracy, equality, and education still endure. His faith motivated him to civic action, working for the common good, and simple decency.

As Jesus followers, we can and should be inspired to embrace God’s future. We can make a difference far beyond our lifetimes, as we share faith with children, youth, and adults. We are called to live as reconciling agents in church, community, and the world. As we pray for peace, work for justice, and care for creation, we manifest God’s all-encompassing love in human life.