I had the honour of being asked to preach at Sturgeon United Church’s 121st anniversary service this past weekend.
â€œTenders of the Lightâ€
Sturgeon Anniversary Service, Sept.30, 2007
Genesis 1:1-5, John 1:1-13
121 years, and still going. This congregation began in 1886. Think of the history since then. In 1886, Geronimo was captured, ending the last US-native american conflict. Also in 1886, Coca-Cola was invented, it cost 5 cents a glass. In 1908, General Motors was founded and if they keep going like they’re going, we may outlast them! Major League Baseball, NHL, pro football, all started after this congregation began. The life expectancy for someone in 1886, was 47 years. Today we can hope to live 77 years.
And what else has been witnessed? Two devastating world wars. Automobiles ushered in a whole mode of transportation. The assembly line, television, space flight, splitting the atom, computers and the internet, diseases eradicated through vaccines. It has been a very busy 121 years!
Just think of what this community looked like in 1886. What sort of road would have passed by our door back then? Probably not much more than well worn path I would imagine. In 1893, the Murray Harbour North Dairying Company, started, it’s first president, James Clow. It lasted until sometime in the 1930s. In 1885, the â€œTelephone Company of Prince Edward Islandâ€ was incorporated, it was another 10 years before phone service came to Montague to all of 6 customers. The first train arrived in Montague in 1906. It’s been what… 20 years since the last one? Montague is building its 4th bridge, all in the lifetime of this congregation. And we stand here today, celebrating 121 years of church history in Sturgeon. Something to be truly celebrated.
Our readings this evening show of an even longer history. God’s history… and it begins before time began. Genesis tells us that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. In the beginning God created… God existed before the beginning! He created the heavens and the earth. Then He separated light from the darkness, day from night, and said the light was good.
It’s interesting that the Gospel of John starts with the same words as Genesis. â€œIn the beginning…â€ This is probably because Jews knew the Old Testament by their first lines, just as we know songs by their first lines today. So by using this start, people would have immediately connected with the creation story.
â€œIn the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.â€ The Word John is referring to is, of course, Jesus. John is telling us that Jesus, too, predates time. Jesus was there when creation began. From that statement, we have to conclude Jesus is God. Humankind cannot survive without creation. We need this earth we live on, the air, the water, all of it. If Jesus is human, he could not have existed before his birth. But, since Jesus is God, Jesus was there when creation began.
But there’s much more than this in the early verses of John. There is also reference to light and darkness, just as in Genesis. As Jesus came to earth, he became the light for all people. As John puts it, Jesus is â€œthe light [that] shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.â€
Jesus entered our history to show us the way to God. To give us hope and direction, in a world which keeps dragging us down, pulling us apart from God. The darkness did not overcome Jesus. Satan tried to tempt him, but he resisted. Jesus died on the cross, but he did not stay in the tomb. Jesus overcame death and rose again. The darkness, the evil of this world, could not put out his light.
These first few verses of John are favourites of mine. They sum up a lot the life of Christ in just a few simple statements. We learn Jesus is Son of God. We learn he overcame sin and death. We learn Jesus is our light, our hope and our Saviour.
John the Baptist was sent by God we learn in verse 6. John came to prepare the world for the coming of Jesus. He preached, he baptized, he â€œtestified to the light.â€ Yet when Jesus came, no one recognized him. He was rejected by many, but he preached and healed anyways. Those who came to believe in Jesus, he welcomed them as children of God. He shared God’s grace and truth with those he met.
This congregation has been here for 121 years. It has seen the highs and lows of this community, it has served many people in many different ways. For a long time, this congregation has been the light of Christ shining for those who seek God. As John the Baptist was testifying to the light, the coming Christ, we have been carrying the light for this community. Sure we may not have big crowds each Sunday, sure we may not have a big choir, or even an organist. Our worship services may be seen by our more contemporary brothers and sisters in Christ as old fashioned, maybe even bland or boring. But we are still a very dedicated congregation, a body of Christians who seek to help people in need. A body of Christians who want to see God working in and around us. This congregation has exceeded it’s target for Mission and Service givings, with four months left to go in the year.
This congregation is a family, who gather regularly to share in each other’s lives. I can honestly say many large churches do not share in this intimacy with one another. It is smaller churches, in my opinion, that live out the Gospel message of love and care for our neighbours at a deeply personal level.
John the Baptist testified to the coming light. Jesus came as the light to fill our lives, a light that lives on in us.
This afternoon I heard something that triggered a connection for me. This is harvest time, and the apples are ripening on the trees. In fact some people have told me of their adventures in apple picking.
Inside an apple, no bigger than our fist, are seeds. Each seed has the blueprint of an apple inside it. When we plant the apple seeds we get more apples. But not just one apple, the seed produces a whole tree that contains hundreds of apples. From each apple we get a dozen or so seeds, from each seed we get hundreds more apples. It makes me think of the seed we have in each of us, the light of Christ.
So think, if we share with 10 other people, and each of those people share with 10 others, you can see how we have shared the light of Christ with a whole community in a very short period of time, just by sharing the light of Christ within us with others.
We are tenders of the light, sharing it with others, lighting the way through the darkness, even our own, as we struggle in a world which tries to pull us away from God. God who was there before creation, who came to the earth in Christ Jesus, God who lives in us each and every day through the gift of the Holy Spirit. God who loves all people, and looks to us to help build the family of Christ.
As I was reflecting on the readings for tonight, I remembered a song. It is written by some friends of mine. It was our theme song for Youth Forum at Maritime Conference this year. It speaks about tending the light. The light that came to us in Jesus Christ. The light that guides us, and many others, in ways of helping in times of darkness.
Tenders of the Light
(S. Spencer, V. Reid, C. Barkhouse, N. Beeler)
The flame that lights an empty room,
That warms an empty heart, gets stronger as we pass it on.
And we, as tenders of the light,
must climb atop a hill, a beacon light forever strong,
And Christ, open our eyes, open our hearts,
help us see how we have grown.
And Christ, lead us to be, your holy light.
Help us see that we are not alone.
One hand can take another hand, that takes another hand
and brings the world into its arms
And we, as children of the world, brothers sisters all
Sheltered by love safe from harm.