What legacy will we leave behind?
Yesterday, I had the chance to look through some of Gethsemane’s Historical Records, photo directories from past years, and particularly the “Mortgage Burning Celebration” in 1994. Did you know that in just a few short years the church family that meets at Gethsemane Lutheran will be celebrating 45 years of ministry together? The very first worship and bible class was held on January 30th 1972! January 30th 2017 will be the church’s next big anniversary date!
I learned a lot of important things from those old historical records. I saw some great 70’s and 80’s hairdos! (no, that wasn’t the important thing)
What I saw was the courage of a small group of dedicated Christians wanting to follow their Lord wherever he led.
I saw the desire to share Christ with their community and to become a safe place for people in need.
I saw a church that cares about family and about being a Christian family for each other.
I saw the great leaps of faith, sacrifice and commitment given and needed to begin, build, pay off the debt, build again and grow.
I saw a church family that wants to follow Jesus.
Wherever and whenever you are in this church family’s history that meets at Gethsemane Lutheran, this is part of your heritage and history, this is a legacy of Christian love made for future generations and given to you freely in hope. As this church family’s most recent pastor, I also understand that this is part of the heritage that you have shared with me to safeguard and honor.
There was some advice an older pastor shared with me once about when a pastor is installed with a church family. How that church family is not only sharing with you their ministry but their heritage as a church to safeguard and look after. It made me think of my installation service at Gethsemane, when you handed me your symbols of ministry, from the hymnal to the Bible, part of what you were handing me as well was your history and your heritage, the hopes for the future.
For as many years as the Lord gives me to minister with here, I am invested in your history and will treat your legacy as a sacred trust. You are a church family of living stones built into a spiritual building by our Lord. I am honored to share these years with you.
But what does our future legacy stand upon and what will last?
Another memory. Visiting a very old stone Lutheran Church building a few years ago. They had built a giant gymnasium and in the 20’s was a very active community center. Now their beautiful gothic sanctuary that once housed thousands of worshippers on any given Sunday, barely held a tenth of that number. The community had changed from German and Anglo to Hispanic and then Asian, the church families left their community and moved to the suburbs, leaving instead of embracing the change and adjusting the ministry focus of their church. This same story is told in countless places in the country and abroad. Inside that gymnasium there was painted on the walls a long timeline with pastors, building campaigns and attendance. Someone there said to me it was a shame for that building that once housed so many for it now to sit so empty. I was torn on how to respond. On the one hand, in my heart, I wanted to rejoice for the legacy of so many Disciples of Jesus that church brought through the waters of Holy Baptism and how many generations shared the Lord’s Meal together at the table and how many hearts heard the Word of God and believed. What a success! But only if that is what you determine success by because it became clear that in their later years what was important to them became their building and committees and property, all eclipsing their desire to make disciples. So from that vantage point they had failed, the legacy was an empty building and they were slowly waiting for someone to turn off the lights.
What legacy is left behind has so much to do with how we determine success and failure as Christians. This past Sunday we sang the hymn “Built on the Rock the Church doth stand.” The first verse is a reminder for us about what is important and what legacy we want to leave behind.
Built on the Rock the Church doth stand,
Even when steeples are falling;
Crumbled have spires in every land,
Bells still are chiming and calling,
Calling the young and old to rest,
But above all the soul distrest,
Longing for rest everlasting.
A Church by Godly, Biblical definition is the people of God surrounded around the Word and Sacraments, making and growing disciples. When we as modern Christians think about the word “church” more often than not we think about a location, building, committees and property. What all of these are, are tools and outward manifestations of the people of God who are surrounded around the Word and Sacrament, making disciples. They are not the church. Buildings, property and the like are what the people of God, the Church at that place and time, have determined to use to carry out their calling to Be Loved by God, Grow Together and Serve Jesus. But they are not the Church’s legacy. Steeples fall, spires crumble, but the Word of the Lord stands forever and the Heart and Souls clutched out of the Devil’s hands and claimed by Jesus for all of Eternity, that is a Church’s legacy.
That is a legacy that honors God. That is the legacy that this church family’s forerunners and pioneers created for those who are inheritors of that hope today. What legacy will we leave for those who will inherit our hope tomorrow? Our shared legacy is not one of brick and stone alone, but a legacy of the Word and the Sacraments, of hearts changed and souls written in the Book of Life, a legacy of being a light in the darkness and a beacon upon the hill. A legacy worth leaving.