Saints and Witnesses

Good morning, Friends! Thank you all for coming today.

Today we’ve got a kind of a double header. We’re coming up on All Saints Day, which in the rest of the Christian church is a very big deal.

Back in the Middle Ages, if you read your newsletter this week, people believed that once a year, God opened up the doors of Heaven, and all the saints, the people who died in the faith, their spirits were allowed to come down to earth and bless us again.

All through their earthly lives the saints blessed us. But once a year, they had this extra chance, this extra opportunity, to come down and inspire us and guide us.

All Saints Day was always on November 1st, which falls on Tuesday this year. But we’ve also got a double dose of this, because next year, 2023, is the 250th anniversary of the founding of Springfield Friends.

You all know that I’m really interested in history. I like to learn more about the lives of people. I want to know how they lived, what challenges they faced, what words they said.

I want to know about their mistakes, too. One of my father’s favorite sayings was, “Those who do not learn from the past, are condemned to repeat it.”

So, we need to learn from the Bible. We need to learn from the lives of all the great Christian saints. We need to learn from the history of our very own meeting, Springfield Friends.

This isn’t just a hobby. It’s a matter of life and death. If we don’t know our past, if we don’t know what the good and bad examples are, we have no future.

Today I want to read from part of the New Testament. The writer of Hebrews knew all about the Jewish past. It relates directly to where we are today.

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets. Through faith they conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; they shut the mouths of lions, they quenched the fury of the flames, they escaped the edge of the sword.

Their weakness was turned to strength; they became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.

There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword.

They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them.

They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles us. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 11:32-12:2

Our 250th anniversary is a big deal. It’s like watching the odometer on a car roll over, from 97’s and 98’s and 99’s into one of those really big numbers.

We have been here for a quarter of a millennium. We’ve been here longer than the United States of America. Springfield Friends were here, worshiping in this very same place, before the American Revolution.

Think about all the events that have happened since then. Springfield saw them all. Think about all the inventions. The wars. The new industries.

There were probably less than 200 people here in this area back then, where there are more than 100,000 now.

The things they did. The things they saw. The leaders they had, who knew their Bible, and who listened to the Holy Spirit.

You know, in 250 years, I’ll bet we only missed holding worship here 10 or 15 times. During my 8 years here, we’ve only missed worship twice. Once was for a snow storm, and the other was at the very start of COVID. The other times, there’s always been some kind of worship here at Springfield.

People met here every week, all through the Civil War. Half the families in the meeting had fled to the North. The other half kept on meeting.

Most of the young men had gone during the Civil War. They were hiding in the mountains. They’d only come down at night. Many of the young men were forced by the government to work in the salt pans down at Wilmington, to gather salt by evaporation, in the killing heat and freezing cold. Springfield kept on meeting.

We kept on meeting when a Confederate army camped down there, at the foot of the hill. The army commandeered the home of the clerk of the meeting for an army headquarters. The clerk refused to have a military guard out in front of the house. Said they’d be all right.

We closed for a week or two during the terrible Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918. Over 675,000 people died in this country. Springfield helped to set up a temporary hospital.

I want you to feel proud of being a part of that amazing past. Our meeting helped to start a college. We helped to build a summer camp which has served thousands of young people.

Dozens of members of our meeting have served as teachers. At least three people from Springfield have been missionaries. We contribute, every month, to a program which feeds 500 children every week.

People who come to worship here at Springfield were pioneers of the huge furniture industry. We’ve had bankers, attorneys, judges, doctors, and reformers.

  • One of the members of our meeting was put in charge of the State Welfare Department, all through the early part of the 20th century. Another was the head of the Internal Revenue Service, all through the years of Prohibition.
  • One was the first mayor of High Point. One was head of the school board for more than 20 years, and built High Point Central High. Others built the Allen Jay High School, and the Rock Gym.
  • Do you hear what I’m saying? We are here, today, because people in our meeting who had faith and vision.
  • One of our members, a woman, started the first Sunday School in the state, which she held in her own home, till it moved to the meetinghouse.
  • Another woman from Springfield was head of the Home Demonstration Department for the State of North Carolina. She taught a generation of homemakers, from all over the state, how to feed their families better.
  • A woman from Springfield was the first woman admitted to practice law in the whole state. Another woman from Springfield was the first woman to teach college chemistry in North Carolina. Her sister was the first professional librarian.
  • Every time you sit down to worship here at Springfield Friends Meeting, you’re sitting in a pew which was given in memory of one of our members who risked everything he had before the Civil War, to teach slaves to read. That was extremely illegal at the time.
  • After the war, this same member of our meeting built a school for former slaves, at the corner of Centennial and Martin Luther King Drive.
  • Later on, one of the pastors of our meeting was the president of the Southern Women’s Anti-Lynching League. Not exactly a popular position to hold.

And in between all these famous and well-known members of our meeting, there were hundreds – thousands – of ordinary people. Farmers. Lots of farmers. Small business owners. Factory workers. People from the neighborhood.

Back in the day, for over 100 years, there was a school building here at Springfield. Right out there on the lawn.

Almost within living memory, there were kids who came every day to the Springfield School, who walked here barefoot, and put on their shoes down at the bottom of the hill. They would dip water to drink from a bucket in the classroom with hollowed-out gourds. They studied at home by kerosene lamp-light. That’s in the memory of people who are still alive today.

Do you hear what I’m saying?

We are here because of their faith. We are here, because they built and sustained this very place. We are the heirs and inheritors of 250 years of their love, and 250 years of experiencing God’s grace.

For the first 100 years at Springfield, worship was different than it is today. There were no hymns, no sermon, no bulletin on Sunday to tell you what was going to happen.

It was all what today we would call open worship. Some of it was quiet prayer. Nobody minded it the whole time was quiet. But we did have ministers, many ministers, who spoke out of the silence.

They spoke about the Bible they’d read that week. They spoke about faith, and hope and love. Ordinary people talked about the love of Jesus. They talked about the light of Christ at the center of their lives.

We know that they spoke out, during worship, against slavery. We know that there were women ministers, as well as men. For our first 100 years, women and men sat on different sides of the meetinghouse, not because women were inferior, but to demonstrate that men and women are equal in the sight of God.

Along the way, we built new buildings. We planted trees. We buried our loved ones. We raised children. This is a living place, not a dead archive. Springfield is faithful lives, not just buildings.

But, by the way, did you know that this building, where we worship every Sunday, was designed by the same architect who went on to re-build the Oval Office in the White House? That’s part of our history.

Do you suppose anyone has ever counted all the meals which have been shared and served here in our meeting? It has to be thousands.

All the times when people have sat down, and given thanks to God, and broken bread, or barbecue, or fish fry, together. All the ham and egg dinners. All the Brunswick stews that helped pay for this building we’re sitting in today.

All the times people rejoiced and ate together, whatever was good and delicious, the best that we had.

All those meals, where everyone was welcome. All those meals, when someone sat down as a stranger, and got up as a friend. All the fellowship of planning, and preparing, and serving, and cleaning up afterward.
250 years.

One short hour, here on a Sunday morning, isn’t enough to tell the whole story. Two fat history books, which we published as part of our celebration, only scratch the surface.

To tell the story, you need the cook books, and the minute books, and the letters and diaries of the faithful Friends who made this place their spiritual home. And even that isn’t enough.

I want you all to be proud of being a part of Springfield Friends Meeting. You are a part of this story. You are part of this life.

We are just the most recent generation of people who have found the love of God here. We’re the most recent ones, but we are part of the story.

We’re not small or defeated. The meeting has been this small before, not just once, but several times. We have always risen again, by faith, hope and love. We have always found new ways to reach out and to be faithful. God isn’t done with us yet.

We may feel poor, but actually we are rich. Rich in faith, rich in history, rich in all kinds of resources.

I want us to be rich in imagination. I want us to be rich in curiosity, about everything we experience in our lives. I want us to be rich in the Spirit, not just in dollars and cents.

I want us to be rich in giving, and sharing. We all have so much more we can give – not just money, but time and care and energy. When we give those things, the money will take care of itself. Don’t worry about the dollars. Share the love.

If we feel excited about how we find God in this place and this fellowship, we will tell other people, and they will want to come. If we ask other people to share what we have, they’ll come here.

We love this place. We love each other. And we love Jesus.

We remember our past, much more than most other churches do. Most churches have no idea what their past is, or what their roots are.

They just go along, from week to week, from year to year, with no idea about the saints who built their church, or the rich history they have.

But living in the past isn’t what we’re trying to do. We’re guided and inspired by our past. But we live in the present, and we build for the future.

In today’s Scripture, after all that long list of Bible heroes and Bible saints, the writer of Hebrews says:

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles us.

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

God has something even better and even more which God has planned for us. God is not the Great He Was; God is the Great I AM.

God knows everything about us. Not just who we were, but also what we can do and who we can be. Our story isn’t over. There is more life for us to live.

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