251. . .and counting!

Good morning, Friends! I want to start off this morning by telling you all a story.

This guy was eating his breakfast one morning. His wife came over to him, gave him a hug. She smiled, and said, “I bet you don’t know what today is, do you?”

He looked at her and said, “Well, of course I know what day it is!”

The reality was that he didn’t have a clue. He was afraid that he would make his wife upset. She was really sensitive about special occasions. So he thought to himself, “Is it her birthday? That must be it!” So after he got to work he called the florist and had a big bouquet of roses sent to his wife.

Then as the day went on, he began worrying that flowers might not be enough for such an important day. “What if it’s our anniversary?” he thought. So he went to the jewellery store down from his office, picked out a beautiful gold necklace and had it special delivered to his wife.

As he started home from work he decided that maybe he should stop and buy an expensive box of chocolates to bring to her – just in case. He pulls into the driveway and his wife runs out to greet him. He gets out of the car and presents her with the box of chocolates.

She throws her arms around him and says, “Oh, honey, I thought you’d forget that this was trash night, and that you wouldn’t take the garbage out to the street!”

Well – happy birthday! This isn’t the all-out bash we did last year. We didn’t have a special concert this time and a tent outside. We aren’t having a guest speaker and a catered lunch.

When the odometer rolls over and says 250,000 miles, that’s a big event. The reality is that our 251st anniversary is just as important. It’s still a pretty big number. Very few churches ever last as long as we have.

We deserve to be glad about it. We deserve to be congratulated. In a way, this year is even more impressive, because this year we weren’t resting on our laurels the whole time. This year, we did it all ourselves.

With, of course, some help from God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. And a lot of work, and a lot of donations, and a whole lot of dedicated volunteer hours.

Last year, we talked a lot about our history. We had history talks. We had special bulletin inserts, every week, about our history. We had a 250-year timeline posted on the wall, that wrapped all the way around the fellowship hall. It was a big deal!

But as you’ve heard me say before, you can’t drive a car down the road looking in the rear view mirror all the time. We need to look forward now. We need to look ahead, not behind us.

But we can’t live in the past. We need to live now. And Birthday Sunday also needs to be a time when we look around and see where we are, and look ahead and see where we’re going.

I haven’t already obtained my goal. I haven’t already arrived there. But I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.

Only let us live up to what we have already attained. Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.

Philippians 3:12-17

Springfield Friends Meeting has been through a lot. I often tell people that we were here three years before the Declaration of Independence.

We were here when the U.S Constitution was written. We have lived through 46 presidents and 118 sessions of Congress. And you know what? The world hasn’t come to an end yet!

Springfield was here, with much suffering, through five long years of the Civil War. Up here on our little hill, we’ve seen huge migrations, and we’ve seen whole new industries spring up.

We’ve seen incredible changes and met with incredible challenges. And the first point I want to make today is, “We never saw it coming.

For the first fifty years of our meeting’s existence, there were no roads going in or out of this community. Everything came in by oxcart, on horseback, or backpack. Fifty years.

Then somebody had the bright idea to build a highway. They called it the Plank Road.

People from Springfield built sections of it. It was wood planks, laid side by side in a bed of sand. 130 miles of planks, from Fayetteville to just beyond Winston-Salem. It was one plank wide – just wide enough for one wagon.

The Plank Road ran in one direction on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and it ran in the other direction on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. That wasn’t a strange as you might think. Oxen need to rest. So they’d haul one day, and rest one day. It might take two weeks to get where you were going. But it was progress!

At least two of members of Springfield contracted to build 5-mile sections of the Plank Road. Other people in the meeting thought they were foolish. About 10 or 15 years later, they did seem foolish, when the railroad came through. They never saw it coming.

People from our meeting helped to build the railroad, too. High Point didn’t exist till then. The beehive of all the activity was at Bush Hill, where all the factories and businesses were.

There were only 500 people in High Point in 1860. Even in the 1920’s, there were only 14,000. People couldn’t even imagine how the place could grow any more.

Everyone today at Springfield looks back at the 1950’s and 60’s and 70’s as our glory years. We think they must have been so much more spiritual back then.

The reality is, there wasn’t much competition. There were a lot fewer churches. The population doubled, and then it tripled. We couldn’t help growing then. There were only 3 channels on TV and no internet. Most businesses were closed on Sundays. So, there wasn’t much else to do.

We never saw it coming. When I started as a pastor, there was no internet. I was the first pastor in town to buy a personal computer.

Let me show you something else we didn’t have.

[Hold cellphone]: Alexa, are there any Quakers in the world today? [Alexa answers]

Everybody’s got a cell phone. We don’t just use them for making calls. I could have asked my phone to read me the news, give me directions, buy groceries and have them delivered, pay a bill, find a quotation, and hundreds of other things.

This is the kind of thing we used to see on Star Trek when I was a kid. Or if any of you remember Dick Tracy in the Sunday paper – they were always showing his two-way wrist TV. It was science fiction.

Even twenty years ago, we didn’t see it coming. We couldn’t imagine the technology. We couldn’t imagine ordinary people could afford it. And we couldn’t imagine all the huge changes in society all these things would bring.

The people who started this meeting had some pretty modest goals. They cut down some trees and built a log cabin to worship in. They met twice a week for quiet prayer. That’s what Quakers did then. No pastor. No hymns. No children’s message. Kids were supposed to sit still and listen to their elders.

The big thing was, we worshiped the way we wanted to. We didn’t want to be like all the other churches in town. We wanted to be their own kind of Christians. We wanted to be 100% honest in religion. That was our goal, and we worked really hard at it.

Just a few years later, we started a school here in the meetinghouse. It only met during the winter months. But it was the only school in town. We never imagined the schools and colleges we have today. In most homes, the only book they had was the Bible. They never imagined books being cheap and readily available. They never saw it coming.

My point is, even now, we don’t know our future. We have almost zero idea what things will be like here, 20 or 30 or 50 years from now.

In today’s Scripture, Paul says: “I haven’t already obtained my goal. I haven’t already arrived there. But I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

We look at our past, and we think, “Bigger numbers are better!” And they are. But we’ve been a strong meeting, with less than half the members than we have now. When Springfield got started, I think there were less than a dozen families in the meeting.

We look at our past, and we think, “We were blessed, just to survive!” And survival is good. But survival isn’t the only goal we should be thinking about.

“I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. . .”

We’re here, because there are certain things we need to be doing.

Worshiping God in whatever way that seems honest and truthful to us. It may not be the way we worshiped 250 years ago. It may not even be the way we worshiped here 20 or 30 years ago.

But our goal shouldn’t be to be our ancestors. Our goal should be to let Jesus take hold of us, in a way that feels right, today.

Forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead. Press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

We’re not called to be satisfied here. We’re not called to be happy with the way things are now. We are definitely not called to be whatever we were 50 or 75 years ago. For one thing, it ain’t going to happen. For another thing, it isn’t what Jesus wants.

Our meeting – our little branch of the world-wide church of Christ – has so much to offer. We have peace – peace here in this place, here in our beautiful surroundings. People come here and they say, “Where’s this been all my life?”

Part of our goal is for who we are and everything we have, to share the peace that Jesus offers. It means being a quiet refuge from the noise of the city. It means being a place of prayer, anytime that anyone is here.

It means sharing the peace of Christ, sometimes just by our presence, but sometimes more explicitly.

Jesus once said, “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there. Eat and drink whatever they give you. Cure the sick, and tell them, ‘the kingdom of God has come near to you.’ If no one welcomes you, shake the dust off your feet, and move on. But always tell people, ‘the kingdom of God has come near.'” (Luke 10:6-11)

Another thing we need to do, is always be planting seeds. I can’t repeat this too often: always be planting seeds.

Seeds of peace. Seeds of mercy. Seeds of knowledge. All kinds of seeds. Plant a seed any time you have the opportunity. Never stop planting seeds, everywhere you go.

Quite a few people here at Springfield remember when the oak trees were planted out in front of the meetinghouse. They were saplings back in 1990. They’re giants now.

One of my neighbors in Indiana, a famous Quaker named Elton Trueblood, used to say, “It takes a noble person to plant a seed for a tree that will some day give shade to people he may never meet.”

That’s a whole lot of what we do at Springfield. We plant seeds for future generations. They may not wind up living here, or belong to our meeting. Our young people have a pattern of moving away. But we plant seeds anyway. Because that’s what Jesus did.

Another thing we need to do is to be people of faith and hope.

Faith means trusting God. Hope means trusting God, when you can’t see the future.

I have been here for 10 years. I’ve listened to you, and I’m starting to get to know you.

Never once has anyone told me that the people you love and remember were the people who were rich and powerful. When I listen to you, the people you admire are always the people with radiant faith, with faith that shines out of them.

Whether it was a pastor, or a Sunday School teacher, someone who greeted you at the door, or just a friend, the people you love and remember are always the people with faith and hope.

Our goal is to be people like that. If what we say and what we do, shows that we trust God, we will be doing exactly what Jesus wants.

If we trust God, even though we don’t know how it’s all going to turn out, if we’re not afraid today, and if we’re not afraid of the future, then God will see us through.

Whatever church we have, and whatever church we give to the future, needs to be based on prayer. If our prayer life is weak, we won’t be strong.

Whatever church we build here, will be built on fellowship. We often think that fellowship means food. But it really means friendship.

If you see someone looking uncomfortable and sitting by themselves, sit with them.

You may not know what to say. That’s OK. Listen instead. It’s amazing what a good conversation you can have, by listening.

If you know someone who hasn’t been here for a while, call them. Reach out to them. Call, or stop by, or send a text, or take them something. People don’t come back just because we wish they would. People come back, because we reach out.

Same thing is true of growing a church. 9 out of 10 people first come to church, because someone they knew, asked them. We all need to be that someone who asks and invites.

People stay because they feel welcome, because they feel needed and useful. Nobody joins a church because they want to be part of a head count.

People want to feel they’re being listened to. They want to feel they make a difference. People want to be liked, or even loved.

The best illustration I ever knew of that, was in the first Quaker meeting I served. There were these two women who always sat together. They’d been friends for over 50 years.

Turns out, one of the women was really shy. She first came to meeting when she was a teenager, and she was petrified when she walked in.

The other woman, who was only a couple of years older than her – maybe 20 years old at the time – saw she was scared. She patted the place next to her and quietly said, “You sit here beside me, and I’ll be your friend.”

That’s all it took. She came every week. They sat together. Over time, she stopped being scared. They were friends for the rest of their lives.

It’s all about the basics. You know what your doctor always tells you: eat healthy food. Get enough sleep. Drink plenty of water. Watch your blood pressure.

It’s the same thing for a congregation: pray more, worry less. Trust God. Don’t be scared all the time.

Forgive when we make mistakes. Forgive, and forgive, and forgive again, because God has always forgiven you.

Don’t just live in the world around you. Live in the kingdom. Live the life that Jesus teaches us about. That’s the goal!

Encourage each other to come as often as you can. That’s the single biggest reason our numbers are down.

It’s not the people who have died. It’s the people who used to come every Sunday, who only come once every 3 or 4 weeks. The people who used to come every other week, who now come once every 2 or 3 months.

And don’t just come. Contribute. I’m not talking about putting money in the plate. Contribute more of who you are.

Share your journey. Share your hopes and dreams. Share what’s working and what’s not working in your life.

Share your skills. Everybody’s good at lots of things! Share your job skills. Share your people skills. Share your hobby skills. We need all those things, somewhere in our meeting.

Next time we sing, try singing about 25% louder. You don’t have to yell or scream. But lift up your voice. Sing like you mean it. The Psalm says,

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord! Praise the Lord!
Praise God at worship!
Praise God up in heaven!
God’s deeds are marvelous – too wonderful to describe!
Praise God with trumpets, harps, tambourines and dancing!
Praise God with stringed instruments, with woodwinds and cymbals!
Let every living creature praise the Lord!”

The past is the past. Don’t forget it. But don’t get stuck in it. Live now. Be the best and most honest Christian you can.

Trust God. Trust God even when you can’t see the road in front of you. Trust God when all you can see is only one or two steps ahead.

  • Pray every day.
  • Share God’s peace, wherever you go.
  • Listen, and love and forgive.
  • Plant seeds, all the time.
  • Invite people. Welcome people. Reach out.
  • Share whatever gifts you have.
  • Come as often as you can.
  • Sing like you mean it.

And praise God. Always praise God.

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