The Roundabout Way

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image by Walter Zerla, embedded courtesy of Getty Images ….

final sermon in a series of six entitled “The Story God is Telling Through Us”

I. Some may say today doesn’t feel like Easter, but I say otherwise. As I read the 16th chapter of Mark’s Gospel, I sense that they feel like we feel. Some disciples buy spices and go to prepare that which they love with the same care that our Presbyterian Women anointed kitchen appliances with cleansing agents, and carefully wrapped the dishes on which we have eaten thousands of family meals. Other disciples secluded themselves to deal privately with grief, like Presbyterians who could not be present to watch the team take apart the Steinway piano, wrap its lid in cloth, and carry it away to the dark interior of a moving van. To watch the piano being carried away, to worry that it might be dropped on the front steps, would have been more than fragile emotions could bear.

The fear felt at the first Easter is highlighted when we learn about the textual history of this gospel from the manuscript evidence that scholars can see and examine. One old copy brings Mark to a close with the so-called “shorter ending” between verses eight and nine. Many copies include verses 9-20, which constitute the “longer ending” of Mark. But the most ancient copies close the book at the end of verse eight, just as I have read it for you today.[1] Three disciples find the stone rolled away from the tomb, a young man in a white robe instructs them to go and tell, but the women flee in terror and amazement. Mark says the women who were told to go and tell the news did not because they were afraid. The final word, then, in the earliest version of this earliest gospel is a word of fear.

We can appreciate their fear, though it’s not a very satisfying ending to the story we call “good news.” Many emotionally powerful events have filled relatively few days. Their bodies are tired, their emotions are frayed. In the long history of this congregation, the feelings we are experiencing right now may be among the most Easter-like we ever will experience.

II. Today, we are gathered as members and friends of First Presbyterian Church Edwardsville for a unique occasion: to decommission this building from use after conducting mission in it for 93 years, and to say goodbye to this campus at the conclusion of almost 133 years of ministry at this location. We’ve been planning for this occasion a long time. During the past few months, we’ve made a special effort to remember our heritage and honor our spiritual ancestors. We’ve remembered the story that God has been telling through Presbyterian Christians, from the Colonial period, through the nineteenth century, through the early 20th century, to the late 20th century. Along the way, we have held commemorative events around the dedication stones of this congregation’s building projects of 1870, 1884, 1923, and 1960. Today’s worship concludes with a recessional of sacred symbols and relics, a gathering outside the building, final song and Lord’s Prayer.

III. Some might believe that we are losing our heritage, but I believe that we are reclaiming our heritage. I see it in simple things, like conversations around the dedication stones and tower bell. Before this journey, many Presbyterians were only dimly aware that this congregation might have had former buildings. Younger generations had never rung the tower bell, perhaps didn’t even know there was a bell in the tower above a drop ceiling and through an access panel in the original ceiling. I believe we’re reclaiming our heritage by remembering the story God has been telling through our spiritual fathers and mothers, in their courageous sacrifice and compassionate generosity to preach the good news of Christ, to further freedom for peoples long oppressed, to seek God in worship, and proclaim God’s amazing grace, to educate children and youth, to create not one but four homes for the advancement of Christian mission and ministry, always building programs, services, staff, and facilities through additional renovations and expansions, all the way to the edge of breaking ground for a new building in this year of 2017.

IV. In the story God is telling through us, an important chapter concludes today; it’s important to acknowledge the discomfort we feel as it ends. We’re on the threshold between one status and another status, no longer fully at this location, not yet fully at another, no longer what we were, not yet what we will be. At this point in the story, it is completely natural to feel disoriented, anxious, even afraid. What do we do at a moment like this one?

Today’s first scripture reading from the 13th chapter of Exodus records an event that provides some guidance. Most of you recall the basic outline of the climactic events of the first Passover, and the subsequent exodus from Egypt. The Lord’s “Moses Committee” of one said “Eat the Passover meal with haste, with ‘loins girded’ (gather up your tunic and tighten your belt), sandals on your feet, staff in your hand, ready for departure.” Like my father’s family leaving Germany, like your ancestors, you can’t take everything in the barn, house, or church. If you do that, then you won’t move quickly enough to survive. It will weigh you down, and you will die. You have to trust that out there in that unknown wilderness, God will provide manna. It may be a roundabout journey with twists, turns, and delays, but God will give his children what they need to survive.

Most of us don’t recall a significant detail from this story. At the same time the Moses told the Hebrews to lighten their load and prepare for departure on a grueling journey, he also remembered to bring along a relic some might have thought better left behind. The text says, “And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites, saying, ‘God will surely take notice of you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here.’”  At the same moment that Moses was envisioning the future, he was remembering the past, honoring and preserving the heritage and memory of his ancestors, as we are doing. The Hebrews couldn’t take everything, but they would take something, as we will do symbolically in our recessional today, and practically in the weeks and months to come.

V. More than once I have said to you that there is continuity in our history as Edwardsville Presbyterians. If we look closely, then we will see the repetition of themes and patterns. The “roundabout way” that God first led the Hebrews is part of it. Periods of disorientation, anxiety, and fear are part of journey. Yet, we must trust that God who calls us to this journey, travels with us, and leads us to a new home.

We have just entered a period of carefully choreographed moving and storage, organ dismantling and transport, asbestos remediation, window removal, building element salvage, and, finally, deconstruction. Tomorrow, this building will begin to resemble a construction zone. So I hope you’ll take the opportunity today, following the singing of “Blest Be the Ties that Bind” and the praying of the “Lord’s Prayer” to take a final walk through the corridors and rooms, and say “thank you” and “goodbye.”

When you walk away, may it be with more than simply a sense of loss or fear. Look forward with hope! The Lord is risen, and his Church is not just a building, but a body, built upon the foundations of prophets and apostles, reformers and our spiritual fathers and mothers, with Christ Jesus himself the chief cornerstone. At 2nd St., at Kansas St., at Goshen School, at Ridgeview Rd., may God’s children hear the Word proclaimed, be washed in the cleansing waters, and fed at the table of grace. Living Christ, be the chief cornerstone of our body, today and always, Amen.


[1] Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 3rd Edition, New York: United Bible Societies, 1975, pp. 122-126.


~ by JohnH1962 on April 16, 2017.