Grounded in the Past
The past two Sundays have found me preaching in two very different churches that were both born in the aftermath of a crisis.
Trinity UMC in DeLand, Florida, was our first pastoral appointment forty-three years ago. Preparing to preach for their 120th anniversary, I learned that it was born in the aftermath of Florida’s “Great Freeze” of 1895 which wiped out agriculture across the state. The church history says: “Several hearty, brave and faithful individuals and families persevered and chartered what is now known as Trinity United Methodist Church.”
Foundry UMC in Washington, D.C., was founded by Henry Foxhall as a expression of gratitude to God that his foundry was left standing after the burning of the city in the War of 1812. Their history says, “In a city often characterized by transience and change, Foundry has remained a steadfast beacon—long recognized for its commitment to mission service, social justice, and reconciliation.”
Born in the freeze and in the fire, they reminded me of Sir Robert Shirley. In the middle of the English Civil War he built a church in Leicestershire that still stands today. The inscription over the door reads:
“In the year 1653 when all things sacred were throughout ye Nation either demolished or profaned, Sir Robert Shirley, Baronet, founded this church, whose singular praise it is to have done the best things in ye worst times and hoped them in the most callamitous.”
In different places, with different stories, Trinity and Foundry are both here today because across the generations, faithful people have dared to do the best of things in the worst of times and to have hoped for them when times seemed calamitous. They bear witness to Paul’s words about Abraham: “Hoping against hope…no distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith…fully convinced that God was able to do what God had promised.” (Romans 4:18-21)
Committed to the Future
But if that were the whole story, both churches would be little more than religious monuments to the past. The good news is that while both churches are grounded in the past, they are looking to the future. In both congregations I experienced that power of the Holy Spirit at work among people who are energetically committed to doing whatever is necessary to invite people to experience God’s love in Christ, to be drawn into community with one another, and to be a part of God’s transformation of their world.
That’s the spirit in which the letter to the Hebrews was written. The 11th chapter of Hebrews is the roll call of the saints as the writer reminds the readers of all the faithful people who went before them. But the writer doesn’t leave us there. The 12th chapter opens with a stirring challenge:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1)
Then the epistle challenges hearty, brave, faithful disciples in every age:
“Lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.” (Hebrews 12:12-13)
I came home from these churches giving thanks for the privilege of be a part of churches that have a long history and are committed to the future.
Grace and peace,