Toward Love and Good Deeds (150th Anniversary)

November 18th, 2018, Pastor Galen

“And let us consider how we spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together…but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24-25)

What If They Had Given Up?

Imagine for a moment that Hampden Church never existed. Imagine that 151 years ago when that small group of passionate and visionary individuals met together in the home of John Knight to pray and dream, that they decided that the sacrifice was too great, that the cost was too high, that the dream was too large to be accomplished. Imagine that they said to one another “Let’s just carry on with our lives and go about our days, ignoring the plight of those around us, and pursue lives of comfort and ease.”

Or imagine with me that at any point along the way in this past century and a half, the congregation gathered here in this place said to one another, “let us discontinue meeting together.” Imagine that when the going got tough they just decided to lock the doors and walk away.

Imagine how many lives would not have been transformed, how many souls would not have found peace with God, how many people would have never heard the Good News of Jesus Christ. Imagine how many hungry people would not have been fed. Imagine how many hurting, lonely people would never have experienced a loving, supportive community of brothers and sisters in Christ surrounding them in their darkest of times.

Looking Back with Gratitude and Thanksgiving

I for one am grateful to God that that small but committed group who assembled 151 years ago did not decide to let go of their dream. And I’m grateful that week after week, Sunday after Sunday and all throughout the week people have assembled here in this place to worship God together, to learn and grow in love for God and one another, to minister to the needs of the community, and to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:25) as the author of Hebrews says.

Think of all the precious moments in people’s lives that have take place within these walls. Weddings, funerals, baptisms, birthday parties, anniversaries, graduations. Think of how this church building has been a landmark within the community. Think of all the fellowship meals that have been shared, the ham and oyster dinners going back 85 years, the community gatherings and neighborhood meetings.

And think of all those people who have walked in through those double doors for Sunday morning worship or Bible study with heavy hearts, burdened down with grief, having been tossed about by the cares of this world, having wrestled with doubt and despair, who stepped foot into this sanctuary and immediately received a welcoming hug or a warm smile, whose hearts were stirred by the playing of the organ or piano, who heard the Scriptures read and the Good News of Jesus proclaimed, who came forward and knelt at this altar and cried out to God, who experienced the life-saving grace of God and had their guilty consciences cleansed.

Think of the children and youth who have experienced a safe and nurturing environment to grow in love for God, to be instructed in the faith, to have fun and play and learn and grow, to learn what it means to participate in God’s mission and to be a part of a community, who have had mentors and role models pour into them and invest in their lives.

And think of all those who have walked back out of those doors, having been transformed by the love of Christ, who have gone out into the world to be agents of healing and reconciliation, who have proclaimed the Good News through word and through deed to their neighbors across the street, in other parts of the country or even around the world.

I’m grateful that those saints down through the generations and those gathered here today did not give up meeting together. I’m glad that you stuck it out through thick and through thin. Oh I’m sure there were times you were tempted to toss in the towel. I’m sure there were disagreements, times when the finances were tight, when the congregation felt defeated. But you didn’t give up. You pressed on. You gave sacrificially of your time, talents, and treasure. You  continued to dream, you didn’t lose hope, you continued meeting together. And because you persevered, we are here today.

Moving Forward With Hope and Creativity

But today is not only a day to look back. It is also a day to look forward. Because the needs in our world today are just as great. There are lost and lonely people all around us. There are people who are burdened down with care, people longing for meaning and purpose and a place to belong, people trying to fill the voids in their lives that only God can fill.

But some people today are saying that we are living in a “post-Christian” society. We’re living in a day and age where society so often does not revolve around the church, where it is not assumed that people must come together to worship God. We’re living in a day and age where so many people are skeptical of organized religion, where many people, having felt like they have given God a chance, have now moved on to other things. We’re living in a day and age where religion is seen as more polarizing than unifying, where people have more faith in corporations and governmental organizations than in religious institutions.

And yet, despite what some may say or think, I believe our world needs Jesus now more than ever. I believe that only Jesus can heal our wounds, both individually and as a society. I believe that only Jesus can bring true and lasting peace and security. Only Jesus can bridge the chasmic divisions within our country. Only Jesus can transform our hatred into love, and turn our bitterness into joy. Only Jesus can transform people’s hearts and bring healing, hope and restoration to families and whole communities.

Political leaders and so often even religious leaders will let us down. Corporations will come and go. But in Jesus we can put our complete trust.

And so the idea that we are living in a post-Christendom era does not mean that we should give up meeting together. We should not lose heart and we should not lose hope. We must remember that God is faithful. And we must move forward with confidence, knowing that the good work that God has begun will be brought to completion (Phil. 1:6).

We must continue to assemble together, to spur one another on toward love and good deeds. As the Message paraphrase of the Bible says, “Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love” (Hebrews 10:24, MSG). The approaches that have worked in the past might not work in the future. The programs that met the needs of previous generations may seem to meet the felt needs today. And so we must be creative, constantly discerning the needs of our neighbors, constantly in tune with the cries of our community, and ask God for insight to see past the surface and to see the deepest, innermost longings of people’s hearts, and to cry out, “God, here am I, send me!”

Today, as we celebrate this tremendous milestone for our congregation, as we look back with joy, as we share memories, reconnect with old friends, and talk of the wonderful times gone by, let us also look to the future with hope. Let us “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for God who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together…but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:23-25).