April 3, 2022, “Go!” by Rev. Dr. Tom Eggebeen
Isaiah 43.16-21; Philippians 3.1-16
Now it’s official, now it’s real.
As of Friday, April 1 (no fooling), I’ve become your Interim Minister … with joy and pleasure, I accept the task, and gladly promise each of you my very, very best.
It’s fitting and right that this Sunday, a Sunday of beginning, is also the end of my little three-part sermon series, “On Your Mark,” “Get Set,” “Go.”
I’ve used the analogy of a race … runners emerge from the locker rooms, shake limbs, stretch muscles, lost in thought, when the announcement comes, “On Your Mark.”
We are the people, and these are the times.
There is no one else here, but you and me.
We’re the runners; this is the race.
It’s our moment.
Others have run the race before us.
Now it’s our turn – we’ll do our best, to push ahead to victory.
It’s the race of faith, which means we do this together … arm-in-arm, hand-in-hand … helping one another to run the race … no one crosses the finish line alone … we cross the finish line together.
Last week Sunday evening, Donna and I watched the Oscars … I was particularly touched by the sense of gratitude that marked most of – I suppose a result of the last two years of Covid … all the challenges, delays, restrictions, disappointments – everyone seemed profoundly grateful and deeply humbled, to stand before their peers with an Oscar in hand – acknowledging everyone who made this moment possible – it takes a village to raise a child … it takes an industry to make a movie.
On your mark, get set, go.
And where shall we go?
We go to the future.
None of us know what the future holds, and that’s scary, but the God we know in Christ Jesus our LORD has made it abundantly clear to us, that the future is ours … and God is clearing the way.
As your Interim Minister, it’s my task to work side-by-side with you, to review and consider everything that has led to this moment … the brightest moments, the unhappy setbacks … every bit of the journey – to be studied, pondered, questioned … where did we do it right? when might we have made better decisions? what do we need to do now?
Very importantly, we’ll examine our neighborhood – demographics – who’s moving in, who’s moving out? What are the schools like, and what are the challenges?
We will consider the powerful cultural changes that now shape our times.
I was ordained in 1970, the First Presbyterian church of Holland, Michigan … when the future of the Presbyterian Church was certain … I went to high school, college, seminary … and expected to serve the church my entire life … the church was here, and so was I, and so were my colleagues …
In 1990, I became senior minster at a church in Livonia, Michigan, a Detroit suburb … the church was founded in 1951, in the rush of the post-WW2 era – when folks went to church in droves, by the millions, all over America.
The church grew to 2400 members in the late 60s, with a beautiful building, a fine staff, and an elevator …
One of the former associate ministers of the church said to me, “Those were the days; we couldn’t stop people coming to church. The parking lot was jammed, the Sunday School overflowing … the coffers full; it felt good, and we thought we were great.”
By 1990, it had declined to 1300 members, on the books at least. In reality, it was more like 500 members. Folks had moved, times had changed.
When Dr. Max Morrison was minister here, along with a huge staff and much excitement, folks got up Sunday mornings, put on their Sunday Best, and made their way to the church … here in Pasadena, and all across the land …
But all was not sunshine and sugar … the Supreme Court and its landmark decision, Brown v. the Board of Education in 1954 … President Eisenhower sending troops to Little Rock in 1957.
Westminster Presbyterian Church stands in favor of school integration, invites the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to speak here in 1962 … and, in time, a thousand members walk out. A serious loss, no doubt.
But God looked upon Westminster and said, “Well done, good and faithful church. You chose the better part. You stood on the right side of history.”
In the 80s and 90s, evangelical churches had a go at it, with praise bands and megachurches, and for a time, they were on top of the heap, even as mainline churches continued to lose membership. Now, evangelicals are in the throes of it, too, torn apart by infighting, scandals, and young people simply moving away from the faith of their parents …
As for religious affiliation in America, more and more simply check “none” … who knows the outcome?
Yet God makes it clear: There is always a way to be faithful, always a way to serve the LORD, always a way to bear witness to the world for the love of Christ.
We will never return to the heyday of the 50s and 60s … or to any other moment in time … the past is past – it’s gone; we learn from it, build upon it, and then we move on … we do what our forebears did in their time – they innovated, they invested, they took chances.
Building this church was taking a chance.
A chance on something new, a Tower on Lake Avenue.
God speaks through the Prophet Isaiah:
Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
In the months ahead, we will consider how best to serve the LORD in 2022 and 2023; how to bless this neighborhood, welcome everyone, engage in ministry, focus our priorities, care for our campus, revise and renew, and prepare the way … prepare the way for the next installed minister of Westminster Presbyterian Church.
To the glory of God, for the healing of the nations.
On your mark, Get set … Go!
Amen and Amen!