Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Hundred Year Sermon - II

100- Year Celebration Sermon, continued

City of Prayer: Clairton calls itself the City of Prayer. There certainly seemed to be more churches per capita in our town than in others. We have spoken in previous blogs about some of the others but today we will continue our comments regarding one in particular. In our previous post we shared part of the sermon that was given by Rev. Robert Crilley, a Clairton lad who had gone into the ministry and was invited to give the sermon on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Clairton’s First Presbyterian church. The sermon continues:

Throughout the Christian world today, the opening verse of Acts 2 will be read. “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all gathered together in one place.”

Now, for me that verse can be taken in two ways; the first way is the obvious one---the early church was gathered together for worship when the power of the Holy Spirit descended with might upon them.

But there’s another sense to these words---“they were all gathered together in one place“---a sense more along the lines of the ending of the movie Places in the Heart. Some of you may have seen that film starring Sally Field, Danny Glover, Malkovich and others.

The closing scene takes place in a church. And as the camera slowly pans the congregation taking communion, the audience is suddenly shocked, actually stunned, because all the characters in the movie---the ones who died as well as the living---are sitting together in church celebrating and sharing Communion.

There’s one particularly poignant camera shot of a black man who was hung by the Ku Klux Klan. He is shown passing a morsel of Christ’s body to one of the men who hanged him, saying, “The peace of Christ.”

And while all this is going on the choir is singing “In the Garden”

And He walks with me,
And He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;

To me, all the people who blessed my life in this place---the living as well as those who have ascended to the heavenly father, are gathered together with us this morning. They’re here.

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all gathered together in one place.”

I think our Lord was trying to say something like that at His Last Supper. He said to his disciples, “When you do this in the future, do it in remembrance of me.”

What did he mean? Surely he wasn’t talking about taking some nostalgic stroll down memory lane. He wasn’t asking them to recall the details of the event itself– Peter, for example, saying to John, “Well, John, I think he broke the bread like this, and I think he held the cup in his left hand.”

No, no----- not that kind of remembering!

In the Greek “to remember” means to bring the past into the present. By “remembering” Him in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup, Christ meant, “I will be with you. I‘ll be in your presence.”

And what’s truly thrilling is how the author of the book of Hebrews takes this thought and pushes it to a staggering conclusion.

He develops a word picture that suggests that not only is Christ present, but all our loved ones in Christ are, in very important ways, alive and witnessing these moments of ours here on earth.
He pictures the Resurrected in heavenly bleachers witnessing our earthly endeavors and urging us on to victory.

“Therefore,” he says, “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith..”

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.”

Throughout my years in the ministry, I’ve had dozens of people ask me, “Rev. do you think I’ll see my loved one in heaven and be recognized by them?”

When I was a young Pastor I used to give a long, overly theological answer.

Now, when anybody asks me that, I say, “Will it be heaven if you can’t?”

On an anniversary occasion, surely we think of the Pastors who have served this church.

I think of the Rev. Karl Monroe. I was only six years old when he came to this church and when he left I was a sophomore in High School. I don’t remember a word of a single sermon of his---not one illustration, but I remember him, the man, his smile---his readiness to be helpful, his kindness, his dignity, his graciousness.

He taught our Communicant Class---helped us get ready for our first Communion every week for six weeks after school. I’ve never forgotten my first communion here. Maundy Thursday. We sat in the first row of pews---none of our feet could touch the floor. It was night time. A white, white table cloth glistened---it‘s folds perfectly arranged.. I sat mesmerized by the holy thing I was about to do. I remember the first time I tasted the bread--the body of Christ, and felt that thimble full of grape juice trickle down my throat---the blood of our Lord. Awesome. Awesome. In Seminary I would learn how Martin Luther was struck by the enormity of his first communion and it was my story.

And I remember the Rev. H. D. Hough. He served here from 1951 to 1956. He was something else that man---he was a kind of legend in his own time.

I remember how amazed we all were when, several weeks before the birth of his first child, he stood up in this pulpit and preached on the text, “Absalom, my son, my son,” and then boldly predicted to a stunned congregation that his first born would be a boy child.” This was way before those pictures that tell the gender of a child during pregnancy.

And his first child was a son! Blew us away is what it did.

Rev. Hough had a way of pushing limits. I remember one particular Sunday when he was preaching. I was here. Someone up the street began a carpentry project and soon you could see that the Rev. Hough was becoming increasingly unnerved by the noise of all that hammering and sawing.

Suddenly he stopped his sermon and said, “Would one of the ushers please go and tell that sinner to stop working on the Lord’s Day!” The congregation was stunned.

“I will not preach until he stops!” Rev. Hough said. Time stood still as we all waited. You could hear the movement of a fly’s wing. Suddenly the hammering stopped and the Rev. Hough resumed his sermon. What power. I never forgot it. No one ever pounded while I preached, but I tell you folks I was ready if it ever happened.
The conclusion of the sermon will appear in our next post.

A little blogging music Maestro… The hymn “Morning Has Broken,” written by Eleanor Farjeon.

Dr. Forgot

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