125th Anniversary Dinner – York First Church of the Brethren
November 22, 2009, 12:15 P. M.
Anniversary statement: “A tree with roots in the past and branches into the Future”( meaning the church )
Sermon theme: “Root Awakening and Extending Branches” Related scripture passages: Parable of the barren fig tree – Luke 13:6-9 : Parable of the mustard seed – Matthew 13:31-32
Blessed Celebration and what a meal! Thank you for including me and the “spiritual presence” of Anna Mary to this event. I came to you, this congregation, when I was 46; at age 58 I left to help the neighboring COB district start a new congregation; I return to be with you today at age 87. Don’t anyone of you dare to say, “Curtis you are still the same, you haven’t changed a bit”. That would be a lie. I have changed and so have you, but don’t ask me how I know you have changed.
So has this congregation of believers changed! So has this community! When we came in 1968 you were living in these facilities for a year asking the question, what are we doing here? What are we going to be and do here?
*Homes were springing up on these flats and hills of Haines Acres
*Two Greek families built across from the parsonage and invited us to celebrations and to taste their unique and delicious pastries.
*Caterpillar Corp. was going full blast transferring their personnel from their plants and offices in Scotland and Peoria, Ill. Some of those persons checked us out including the Sievers and Ed Miller families.
*York Refrigeration and Allis Chalmers Corps. were alive with new experiments and research.
*This new community of Haines Acres was called by some ,“Snob Hill” That was on of the reasons I said yes to York First. I never served a COB in Snob Hill before. So I thought I would give it a try. Connie, our youngest daughter had a difficult adjustment going to the Suburban High School that included children and youth from Snob Hill.
But all or most of this has changed. Amidst these transitions, are you as a congregation asking again, what are we doing here? What are we going to be and do here?
Well you didn’t invite me here to reminisce but to help celebrate the yesterdays and encourage you navigate into the tomorrows.
Using your celebrative theme, “A tree with roots in the past and branches into the future”, referring to this congregation , I’ve chosen two parables that Jesus told that I think are relevant for these times.
The first is the story of a barren fig tree located in the Gospel according to Luke, ch.13: vs. 6-9, A fruit grower came into the orchard and discovered that one of the fig trees was not bearing any fruit. In fact, he had been looking three years for this fledgling tree to get into production. The man said to his gardener that the tree is wasting space in the orchard. ”Cut it down”, he said. The gardener said, ’Hey boss, let it stand one more year. I’ll dig around the roots and try to awaken the roots with manure. If nothing happens in another year, then let’s cut it down.’
Many denominations within the Christian Church, who because of the surrounding culture when they came into being, emphasized certain teachings of Jesus more than some others. The COB, born at the time of Anabaptist / Pietist thinking, majored in service to others – washing the feet of the suffering and the poor – engaging in reconciliation and peace – developing lifestyles of practicality, simplicity, moderation. These are our roots. I encourage you to keep awakening these roots ( today we give them an upgraded name, we call them “core values” ). Please don’t apologize for them. Teach them! Nurture them! Live them!
From your past, here are examples of your awakening of the roots:
*Upon Ralph and my arrival you had just started renovating a run-down house on S. Queen St to demonstrate to the neighborhood how homes can be upgraded when a community provides low interest loans and loving labor.
*You kept reaching out to numerous displaced families and persons from Europe and Asia saying, ‘come, we will help you get a start in this community.
*A committee with Dick Long’s leadership saw a need in the community for child day care while dads and mothers were working. A day care center was started. I think the first teacher/administrator was Mrs. Dolan. One day, after attending a state conference on day care ministries, she said that at the conference she was congratulated for having the best day care center in York County and the state of PA. at that time.
*In the early 70’s, young adults and youthful married couples were coming out of the woodwork attending York First. During the civil rights movement and other 1960 upheavals , these twenty-something adults felt that the church was not relevant for the times and temporarily dumped the church. So they checked York First out and formed a young adult fellowship. When they felt the need for closer relationships of love, they talked about it and found ways to nurture love. When they discovered brokenness among several of them, they planned a Love Feast. Those with strained relationships washed each others feet. The meal of love that we had together was not rice soup but fondue pots where we dipped bread into cheese and chocolate. These new-comers in our midst encouraged us to continue to awaken our roots. For some of us, it was also a rude awakening.
So I encourage you along with Pastor Keith, Pastor Don, Director Mike to keep awakening your roots.
But don’t stop there. Extend your branches also. The second parable of Jesus I’ve chosen is the parable of the Mustard Seed ( symbolizing the growth of the Kingdom of God ). It’s mentioned in Matthew 13. Some farmer sowed the tiny mustard seed. Surprise of surprises! That mustard plant became a big shrub and then a tree and birds came and made nests in its branches.
Roots without branches is no tree. No branches, no bird nests.
Here are some illustrations of your branches which you have been celebrating in your yesterdays.
* Downtown YMCA wanted a satellite in the Haines Acres area. You said, we’ll rent you some rooms and gymnasium.
*Third shift workers at Caterpillar said we would like to have some exercise before we begin our daytime sleep. You said we will reach out to you and allow you to use the gym.
*Because of your connections with some of the high schools, the psychology teacher at Suburban asked whether one of your pastors might give a day meeting with five classes of students to discuss the theme, “What is man and what is man’s responsibility to others and himself?” The Home Ec. Teacher from Northwestern asked whether one of your pastors would discuss with students what marriage is and how to prepare for marriage. Through the Executive Committee you said you will reach out to those student needs and share in their education.
Dear friends of the faith, in these changing times and in this present culture, I encourage you to continue to creatively engage in extending your branches.
Saved on my internal spiritual computer disc is the memory of several Christmas Eve services here at York First when every pew was filled and the ushers set extra chairs in the aisles ( without checking the fire code ). After the services I returned to 2700 Kingston Road, looked into the gleeful and sparkling Christmas Eve eyes of Anna Mary and asked, Where did all these people come from and why? Upon going to bed which was now Christmas Day we concluded that many of those persons are the “birds” who have been building nests on the congregation’s branches.