Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Fifty Years Hence

The 50th Anniversary Sermon of Mount Royal

The first preacher in the opening service of the official congregation of Mount Royal, in his thick Scottish brogue, asked this question:

“Suppose you do build a church in this place, suppose you continue, what will its purpose be? What will you have to offer? What does the world need from you today?”

Imagine that – fifty years ago the first sermon asked the same question that we could ask today – what next?

Statistically, fifty years is halfway through the average life cycle of an institution. When a company hits 100, or a church, it either lives forever, or dies out quickly. We are halfway there. Today we stand on the precipice of the history of this congregation and we do something very human, we look backwards while thinking about moving forwards.

This is really an incredible thing – for this reason – we would not be able to look ahead to a future of any consequence if it were not for how wonderful and meaningful the past has been.

Our first reading today, the one from Nehemiah, is actually the reading chosen by the preacher fifty years ago. He chose it to talk about the possibility of actually building a church on a vacant lot, in a newly developed but unknown area of town.

In essence this is what the Rev. Dr. W.S. Godfrey first said to you:

There was a time when Jerusalem was destroyed. Well to be honest, there have been times when Jerusalem has been destroyed. Some of the time the people also ended up exiled, strangers in a strange land.

Once upon a time there was an Israelite named Nehemiah who happened to have become a beloved civil servant of the Babylonian government. When he had earned enough respect, he approached the emperor and said, “Can we go home? We have been exiled for so long...” and lo and behold, he said yes.

What they found when they returned was a vacant lot on the corner. They found a destroyed and desolate city. Standing in the rubble they could have lost hope, they could have returned to Babylon where at least they had houses; but instead, they remembered.

They remembered what it used to be like... all that had happened in this city they call home.

Do you know that twenty five years ago John Logan used the anniversary of the church to scheme his way onto the choir and into asking Claudia out?

Yesterday John Eatmon ran 50 km’s to celebrate his fiftieth birthday.

Just two examples of our own memories, both past and recent; each of you could probably come up with your own top ten memories about Mount Royal.

There have been CGIT’s and Boy Scouts, Camps and Sunday Schools, Musicians trained and first loves lost, marriages and baptisms, tragedies and celebrations – all within the last 50 years that we have been on this corner.

And what if it had never happened? What if it was all destroyed. What if I asked the same question that Bill Godfrey asked you fifty years ago: “Suppose you do keep this church in this place, suppose you continue, what will its purpose be? What will you have to offer? What does the world need from you today?”

When the people returned to Israel they saw their capitol city in ruins, everything was abandoned and destroyed, the temple had been torn down.

It was as if they had returned to the site of an earthquake, and they turned on the news and discovered that global warming was melting the ice caps, that there was a worldwide war being waged in fifty different countries, that the entire world economy had collapsed, and a pandemic was on the doorstep.

And into the middle of the crowd waded Nehemiah and asked a simple question, “What do you want to do?”

And almost with one voice they answered: “LET US RISE UP AND BUILD”

See, they had a vision of what they wanted done, a city restored, and not just a city like all the rest, or even a city like had been there before, but a wider wall, a more glorious temple, a city of God. And that vision existed because in their hearts they remembered who they were; whose they were, and what mattered most.

Fifty years ago the people of the new west end of Moncton had a vision. From what I have seen since I have joined you, that vision has not dimmed one little bit.

This church is and always has been a family. Sure there are crazy aunts and uncles, there are days when we can’t stand our siblings, and there are times when we don’t all want to do the same thing. Just like any family. But I have seen what happens when we need each other. I have seen love and concern and compassion. I have seen faith, and doubt, and questioning.

In other words, I know you to be real, to be alive, to be on a journey in which you really are trying to be what we are supposed to be.

There are not many places left in the world that allow us to be who we are, and yet challenge us to be something better; while at the same time loving us just the same.

Mount Royal is that type of place, and can continue to be that type of place, but we need to ask those same questions Nehemiah asked, we need to be sure we have a vision of what we are being called to be, and we need to faithfully tread into the fearful waters of the unknown future.

It is the vision that counts, and when we catch the vision, when we see what can be possible, we can build. This was the message of the very first sermon preached for you and it is my message today.

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