The Sunday Sermon: Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 11, 2016
Scripture: Hebrews 12:1-2
Wow … what a morning.
That beautiful anthem reminds us that this day is one that will forever be commemorated through music, through gatherings, through the thoughts and prayers of a country and its people still grieving for all those lost on September 11, 2001; a country still grateful to all those who responded – first responders and those still responding to the terror of that day, and; a country still seeking to understand how we may live into God’s Kingdom of love and justice for all in this world. We have some time later on this day to gather in prayer and song and look forward to that opportunity to share our hope and God’s promise for our future. But this day, this morning, includes even more for us here at Pewee Valley Presbyterian.
Because we are a people of hope and because we do trust in God’s promises for our future, we are bold to celebrate. To celebrate both what is and what may be! This morning is our Annual Rally Day Sunday. We celebrate the opportunities we’ve been given to minister with one another and to one another in the coming year in the classroom and through all our gatherings, of children, youth, and adults. And we’ve added another special celebration and gathering this year. As humble and simple as it is, this morning is also “Reunion Sunday.” As part of our yearlong Anniversary celebration, leading up to our 150th Anniversary in late November, we invited Pastors, Directors, musicians, and Interns back to join us, as they were able and we have been profoundly blessed by the presence of some of those past shepherds, leaders, and students:
Gary Pennington is with us. Gary served this community as an Interim Pastor from late 1977 to late 1979. One of my favorite stories about that time period is how he finally convinced his dear friends Ted and Dorcas Merhoff to stop passing this congregation on Sunday morning on their way to Harvey Browne Presbyterian. Welcome Gary and …
Dick and Sue Neely are with us. Dick pastored here from 1994 through most of 2001. One of the longer pastorates in this community provided the stability needed to vision and complete the Family Life Center next door. Welcome back Dick and Sue.
Shirley Hawkes is here. We continue to be blessed with her gifts as she fills in for our music staff, as able, and accompanies our men’s quartet regularly. The difference is, we don’t pay her now! Shirley was the choir Director through all of the 90’s, serving with Dick, and continued as Assistant Director and Accompanist from 200 – 2007, under Director Noel Weaver. So good to have you here, Shirley, as always.
Chrissy and Dirk Westbury are with us this morning, as well as Daphne and Ryan. Chrissy is still fresh in our congregational memory, having served as our Student minister only two years ago. She and her family blessed this congregation by their total immersion in our communal life in the short eight and a half months she served. In addition to Chrissy’s role as Seminarian, she was our CE Coordinator in that ministry year. Her own children, Daphne and Ryan increased our children’s Sunday school class by 30% every single Sunday, and Dirk and Chrissy enhanced our choir during their time with us. In fact, knowing they’d be here with us this morning, Chrissy called last week to see if she and Dirk could step into the choir loft this morning. Walter thought long and hard about that and immediately answered “Yes!”
Many other past staff that were invited were not able to be here, this is a big Sunday for many congregations, this Sunday after Labor Day. We heard from Karol Farris, Andrew Black, Jenna Heery, Tom Farmer , Wayne Willis, and others who sent their regrets. But are here in Spirit, and forever a part of the community that was, is, and (we trust) will be, Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church.
Pray with me …
And so (finally!), we find all of this – remembrances of the past – both the happy and the tragic, celebrations of present realties, and hope for our future together – deeply embedded in our scripture. And this morning, in an attempt to embrace yesterday, today, and tomorrow our reading is from the book Hebrews, as well known and as mysterious as it is. The short passage I’ll read this morning is actually the end of a larger pericope that begins with verse one in chapter eleven. Chapter eleven starts low, with the decisive definition of faith – the assurance of things hoped for the conviction of things not seen – and it begins by fairly slowly moving through a series of names and events, chronicling heroes of the faith from the past. The pace quickens as the chapter progresses, the list is filled with stories of prophets and saints, holy ones and martyrs. The parade grows in size and quickens its pace. And, just as this procession of faith reaches the church door, it pauses – in verse thirty-nine, and in verse forty, we – you and I, the present church, todays followers of Christ, are summoned to join in the witness, to join in the march of the faithful and run with the dogged determination of the saints of old. Therefore …
Listen for the Word of God … Read 12:1-2
Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding it’s shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God …
Jesus “the pioneer of our faith.” Of the many names descriptions of Jesus in the New Testament, pioneer is about the most provocative, don’t you think? It’s not the first title we think of for Jesus, probably not even in the top ten – Messiah, Son of God, Son of man, Shepherd, Lamb, Bread, Vine, and so forth. But “pioneer” … with its images of uncharted territory, unknown people, and risky ventures. That title can grab at our imaginations, so crucial to our lives as followers.
What the preacher of Hebrews is saying to his audience and to us in our day is that the ministry that began with Jesus of Nazareth, the pioneer, stretches from the past, through our present, and far beyond. The “Way” that began with the first experiences of the Risen Christ moves through history, travels right through the doors of our own sanctuary, into the lives of each one us here, and points toward a future that may be unknown but is undeniable. We humbly (humbly) celebrate 150 years of trailblazing in South Oldham County.
By faith …
Hebrews chapter eleven, through these first two verses of chapter twelve, sets forth a vision for the church, you see, rooting us in our past, calling us in our present, and sending us into our future. It is faith, of course – our assurance of things hoped for and our conviction of things not seen – that allows us to see beyond what was and what is right in front of us, to see beyond the past and the present. Faith allows us to see what God has done throughout the ages, not just millennia ago through Jewish covenants, or centuries ago through the church Universal, but decades and only years ago through this particular church … and others; through those pioneers who have led this community in the past. Faith allows us to trust in the pioneers of today and to trust that there will be those who will charter new paths in our future.
All year we’ve been remembering, giving thanks, and celebrating the past 150 years of witness and faith. We gather together on this morning with the saints of our recent past. On every occasion we have done so with an eye on what may be if we persevere. If, as the author of the Book of Hebrews puts it, we “run with perseverance the race that is set before us. For that, after all is what will finally lead us to “God,” to the Kingdom of God on earth. Not perfection. Our author doesn’t say we should run with perfection the race set before us. Heaven knows, even the saints that the preacher of Hebrews lists were not perfect. Consider Noah and his nakedness, Abraham and his laughter, Jacob and his dim sight, David and his adultery. No, thankfully, perfection is not what leads us to God. It is perseverance.
But with those witnesses of old, we are to “lay aside every weight we carry and the sin that clings so close,” to lay aside the imperfections, and persevere. By faith, we re-engage, we re-dedicate, we re-member. And we persevere. We give thanks for our past, for 150 years of faithful perseverance. We give thanks for you Gary, and Dick and Sue, Shirley, and Chrissy, Dirk, Daphne and Ryan. We give thanks for the pioneers of today, all those teachers and leaders prepared to engage in another year of education and fellowship. We will Commission you more fully moments from now. We give thanks to God for all the saints that have led us here, that lead us here, and that lead us ever onward.
Let us stand and sing a song to these Saints of God and continue our worship …
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / September 11, 2016
 Imagery and rhetoric from Interpretation: Hebrews. Thomas Long, 112-129.