Proverbs 22:28a – Remove not the ancient landmark. (RSV)
I recall preaching on the above verse at the anniversary of a church that had closed years and years before. Each year, there was an anniversary service to honour the prairie pioneers who had built the church and built up the faith in the community. It was obvious to me that the people took today's verse literally. No one wanted to tear down the old building.
The tearing down of buildings is one thing, but in worship and church life, we have torn down many things. One of the things that we have torn down is "story time". I was pleased to receive word that Calvin Reid's book, Birdlife in Wington is being republished. It has been out of print for a number of years, and yet, this book is for me one of my ancient landmarks. All the stories are good, and the one that keeps me laughing is about the church usher leading a couple to a pew. Arriving at the spot where the usher wants the couple to be seated, he turns around, only to discover that the couple had ducked into a pew near the back of the church.
My stories were never as good as Rev. Reid's; however, I tried. One day, I took five sweet potatoes and dressed and gave each one a name and a story. Present in church that day were Mrs. Common Tater; Mr. Spec Tater, Miss Mash Tater, Mrs. Emmy Tater, and the Rev. Mr. Po Tater.
Another Sunday we were introduced to the song, Magic Penny, which tells us that "Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more." I went among the congregation gathering pennies, and at the right time of "Lend it, spend it", I threw them all onto the floor. The noise was awesome!
Forty years later, I am still asked for copies of those two stories.
The memories of ancient landmarks built by relationships and experience can never be removed. However, the removal of those ancient landmarks into which we have invested our energy, money, talents, and congregational experiences do hurt.
I lived through a church fire. I recall looking at the ruins of the church hall and recalling the many times when we had gathered in the hall for games, dinners, receptions, celebrations, plays, conventions, even meetings of presbytery. It was a time to grieve, to accept, and to re-invest.
More recently, I journeyed with a congregation that closed its doors after fifty years. The membership joined a sister congregation, and while it hurts to see the old landmark remade into something new and useful, the membership is living out these words:
Hebrews 4:16 – Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (RSV)
In such circumstances, we will find God's grace to help us … just when we need it.
Together, we pray: Gracious God, we thank You for humour, for in it, we see ourselves. When we are in the process of seeing things that we treasure being removed, may Your grace meet our every need. Amen.
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