Sesquicentennial Sermon "God is Faithful"
Topic: First Pres Celebrates 150 Years Scripture: Jeremiah 29:11–29:13
It is truly a joy to be joined by friends and servants of the Lord here at First Pres church. They have come from east and west and north and south, and they have served other congregations and communities. Their life stories demonstrate our oneness in Christ, faithfulness to the call, and the power of love. We thank them for being here, and we thank them for who they are. At the end of the message, we’ll ask you, if you would like, to share a bit about yourself.
Yesterday morning, before our sesquicentennial festivities started, the Ecology Action center’s Smart Garden Walk around Bloomington-Normal, made its first stop here - at 2000 East College. Between 30 and 40 people were here at 9am, and they were guided through our landscaping by members of First Pres. The group appreciated the many points of beauty, and the water engineering project that has so successfully and attractively diverted rainwater away from the building. We thank them, our landscapers, our property folks, and special mention to the inventor of Laffy Taffy, as described in a great story in today’s Pantagraph, who helped us a lot with the water project.
I also want to share with you a message from the composer of our commissioned anthem this morning: To the people of First Pres of Normal: Thank you for including me in the celebration of your 150th anniversary. May the Lord continue to bless you as “one generation shares with the next, our wondrous story of God’s greatness.” -Pepper Choplin
On a summer Saturday in the year 1868, 13 people gathered in the basement of the Methodist church in Normal. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant had just been named Republican nominee for president only a few weeks before, at the convention in Chicago. Just 50 years before that, Illinois had become the 21st state of the union. Eleven of those people in that church basement became charter members of the First Presbyterian Church of Normal. I wonder, what hopes did they have? What dreams did they cherish? Those faithful few stepped out that day. Their small act of willingness opened the way for the future to happen: So was born a community, centered in Jesus Christ, gathered around the word and sacraments and the music of faith, in study and service, and compassion for the poor, the sick, the vulnerable, and all who are in need.
Many have come and gone since then. Beautiful spirits have walked among us, in the distant past, yes, and in more recent days, months, and years. Their spirit touches us still. We give thanks for them, and for everyone, and for the communion of saints in heaven and on earth, and for all who will come after us.
Like that nearly-apostolic number, our 11 charter members on that Saturday long ago, we press on. The Church continues in its call: proclaiming good news, sharing faith, speaking and acting for truth, for justice, and for love. In days ahead, the voice of the church, will be needed more than ever, sharing faith with coming generations of children, youth, and adults, and providing a moral compass for a world increasingly adrift. The gift of martyrdom may once again be poured out on the church, even as many around the world even now suffer for their faith.
In Romans 16 we have – well, it’s just a list of names—of people we otherwise would never have heard of, and whom we know almost nothing about. Yet, these names—these people—were so central to what Paul understood as gospel, that they are preserved for all time, simply because he so lovingly sent his greetings in a letter. In the spirit of Romans 16, those names - those beloved - we share this morning. Among us today, we have people, long-time friends and acquaintances, former staff and leadership—and we ask them to tell us a bit about themselves, and what they have been up to. Matt will bring a mic to you when you raise your hand. Remind us your name, and tell us where you’re from or what you’re up to. Like the academy awards, Phil will have a little tune to play you off stage if you use up your time, but only if necessary.
Emily McAllister, who will be on her way to India
Sandra Harmon, Jacque Hansing, Mary Evenson, Mark Briggs, John Anderson, whose dad Rev. Robert Anderson served as a pastor here from 1972-1978.
Now, we want to give special thanks to the person who put this great team together and created such a fantastic program for this sesquicentennial weekend, and all that has come before and after. One day almost three years ago, Barb Lemmon on her own initiative, came to me and said she’d like to lead the 150th celebration. That was a real sense of calling from the Lord—and a true expression of Barb’s love for this church. Barb, you are amazing. We are so grateful and proud, we continue to pray for your sister’s recovery in Texas, and we thank you for all you’ve done and for who you are.