Sermon   “Serving Christ in this Very Place” by Rev. June Fothergill   December 18, 2016

Isaiah 7 ,   2 Chronicles 6:1,2,18-21,40-42; 7:1-4 ; Hebrews 10: 19-25

The little Kingdom of Judah was in trouble, surrounded by enemies on all sides.  The Bible says ( vs. 7:2) his heart shook like the trees of the forest shake before the wind.”    The King Ahaz, had heard a word from God to ask for a sign. But he said, “ I will not ask, I will not put the Lord to the test.”  But the prophet Isaiah saw his fearful heart.  “  Come on. “ He said, “ God asked you  to seek a sign. Can’t you just trust God and look for one?  So look the Lord is giving you a sign.  The young woman is with child and shall bear a son and shall name him  Immanuel- God with us.   For before this little one is weaned, this threat that so frightens you will be  gone.

The sign God gave to the frightened king was a little baby-  someone to love and cherish, to care for with  curds and honey.  These were choice foods for a weaned child but hard to find in a city under siege.  God was telling King Ahaz that all would be well for this little child.   By the time the child was weaned, those who threatened Judah would be gone.    Centuries later, the first Christians, particularly the writer of Matthew’s gospel looked upon this promise of God in scripture and saw a parallel to what God was doing in Jesus and Mary.  God came to bring salvation through a little child- God with us.  A child needing our tender loving care.  Could it be that God continues to come to us as the vulnerable one who needs our love .   That opportunities for tender loving care still give our world hope in the midst of despair, pain and fear?

The other night at the Egan Warming Center, I met a young woman who was frightened and cold.  It was her first time in such a place.  She didn’t want to talk with anyone.   I invited her to sit with me and introduced her to a couple of my friends also staying at the Center.    They reached out to her with gentle TLC and humor.  Before I left that night she was talking some with me.  Tonight the Egan Warming Center will open once again.  Folks  from all over the valley will come to show tender, loving care for the most vulnerable in our midst on a cold night.  Soon it will be our turn to host the Center, already several of our members are involved as volunteers.   For one hundred years this congregation has served and loved in this way and many others in this very place on 6th and C, as we say, the place to be.

One hundred years ago in December people from Springfield and dignitaries from the region gathered to dedicate a new church building. At the time it must have been one of the biggest buildings in the town.   Quite an undertaking.  We are grateful to them for that good work.   This space continues to allow us to undertake ministries of tender loving and care.  Down through the hundred years many  people of all ages have learned about Christ, loved one another, struggled with differences and sought to serve with joy and kindness  the God who loved them.   Many of you here today have stories about how this place and people have touched your lives.    I want to thank  The Rev. Alice Knotts for writing about her experiences and sharing them with us.  I want to thank Kazuko  Sacon for coming all the way from Japan to share her music with us again.   I want to thank the Caldwell family for coming to share the advent wreath today.  I give thanks for all of us here today.  We are not here because of a building. We are here because of TLC, Tender Loving Care.

Buildings need TLC to stay standing.  Empty ones mostly just fall apart and become ruins.    Groups like a congregation also need TLC to keep going in vital life giving ways.  Without it they descend into disharmony and bitterness.    I believe that in this very place, in this community of faith, there is enough love and power and faith- enough TLC -not just to keep this building and congregation going  but to transform the world.

I know that sounds audacious.   Do I really believe it?   I do.  Not because you and I are special but because we are ordinary.  We are the ordinary ones with the clay feet who Jesus came to love and save.  We are the ordinary ones like Mary and Joseph who welcomed a little baby who both needed their TLC and would grow up to be our savior.  We are the ordinary ones who have received the forgiveness, the touch of grace Jesus offers the world.   And because we have decided to follow this Christ, we challenge ourselves to lives of TLC, not just for our own families but the strangers, not just for the easy nice folks but also the addicted, angry folks, not just the young and beautiful but the elderly and wrinkled .    Not just the tiny baby, our savior in the manger but every child born.

I believe that it is this TLC which transforms the world.   In 1916 the people of this church also sought to change the world.  They wanted the world to know Jesus and his grace and forgiveness. They challenged their members to live a godly lives and not get distracted by the ways of the world.    In the 1916 Discipline of the Methodist Episcipal Church there continued to be an admonition against slavery. There was guidance to watch out for distracting amusements.  There was an emphasis on temperance and morality.  The Bishop’s address  declared that the purpose of the Methodist E Church was evangelizing the continent and “ to spread scriptural holiness “ over these lands.   How did they do this?

The discipline speaks of the rules of the Methodist societies, or small groups.  1.  Doing no harm, avoiding evil   2. By doing good by being in every kind merciful after their power; As they have opportunity doing good of every possible sort and as far as possible to all ( men).  3. Attending upon all the ordinances of God: worship, prayer, communion.   This sounds rather familiar, does it not , we even have it on our Ebbert T Shirt.

Yet things were also different 100 years ago.  There was also a section in the discipline about trials for  a church member for : immoral conduct or imprudent conduct or neglect of means of Grace or Causing Dissension, or Disagreements in Business  or insolvency.   It doesn’t say how often this happened.  Yet this review of the discipline of the church in 1916 tells us that a lot has changed !    Yet, underlining all of this was, I believe was the same desire we have today- to faithfully follow Christ.  To live lives that truly reflect  His love and mercy.   And I believe such living transforms the world.

The world is transformed when a mother learns to treat her child with TLC.    It happens when a group of woman  both Jewish and Muslim decide to meet and work together in a country- Israel – which is deeply divided.    It happens when my sister buys Divine Chocolate bars for Jim’s birthday, thus supporting cocoa farmer cooperatives in Ghana which builds schools for the farmers and their families.   It happens when someone takes the time to deliver communion and Christmas flowers to a lonely older person.  It happens when we wrestle in our hearts with homelessness and seek solutions together.   It happens when you leave this place to do all the good you can wherever you can.

This building, this history we celebrate today is not about trying to recreate the past.  It is about living with integrity and TLC the challenges of today and  like Ahaz learning to trust God for the future.   King Ahaz was not given a new weapon to fight his enemies. He was not given a better strategic plan or even more fighting men.  He was given a new baby named Immanuel- God with us.  A baby to cherish and treat with Tender Loving Care.   So too today, we are not given all the answers we might want about how to deal with the problems around us.  What we are given is a baby- Immanuel- God with us.  A baby who invites us to love.    A vulnerable one who  teaches us to care even when he or she is crying and colicy.  And a little one who shows us unreserved, undeserved love.

I close with the words to one of my favorite songs by Ron and Carol Harris:

In this very room there’s quite enough love for one like me,
And in this very room there’s quite enough joy for one like me,
And there’s quite enough hope and quite enough power to chase away any gloom,
For Jesus, Lord Jesus … is in this very room.

And in this very room there’s quite enough love for all of us,
And in this very room there’s quite enough joy for all of us,
And there’s quite enough hope and quite enough power to chase away any gloom,
For Jesus, Lord Jesus … is in this very room.

In this very room there’s quite enough love for all the world,
And in this very room there’s quite enough joy for all the world,
And there’s quite enough hope and quite enough power to chase away any gloom,
For Jesus, Lord Jesus … is in this very room.

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