Sermon Text 07-17-2022

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Sally Colegrove

Founders Day, July 17, 2022

Psalm 15; Colossians 1: 15 – 28

          It is a pleasure to be with all of you today, those of you who are here in the Meetinghouse and those watching on your computers at home. I am usually among the later group, as I often watch you all from my home in Maine when I’m not preaching at one of our local churches. You are doing such good work here at First Church. I love to listen to Patrick and Cydney preach and to hear the music of Craig and the choirs. It’s great fun to look at the screen and recognize lots of old friends, even as it is wonderful to see so many new folk joining the life and ministry of First Church. I am proud to be one of your 50 year members. Some of you recognize me from the worship and retreats, committee meetings and shows which we shared during my 25 years on the First Church staff. For others, I might be a familiar name as I am often listed on the back of the bulletin as your Pastor Emerita. I was delighted when Patrick emailed and asked me to preach today. I am awed each week as I watch Patrick and Cydney preach and pray, at their ability to work largely without notes. That has never been my gift, so you will have to put up with my use of a script. Let us pray:

          May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, o Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer.   Amen.

Many might call Founder’s Day an anachronism, a celebration right out of the 1920’s, which, of course, was when it was begun. But celebrating our history is more than just a birthday party. It is a chance once a year to take stock, to see where we have been and what we have believed, to let the past dialogue with the present.

“This is our church today….

The vaulted arches soar above our heads,

The window glows, its jewels muted

By the evening dark.

“A handsome building,” people say.

“A lovely setting by the park.”

This is God’s house – a mansion by some standards.

And raising pardoned pride in those who built it.

Here we meet to worship God.

We are together, yet each of us is quite alone

With deep and private ways of thanking God

Or asking for help, or just content to share

A quiet hour with others in this house.

The stirring music of the organ and the choir

Lift up our hearts. The gentle ministry

Of prayer and sermon is our inspiration.”

Those words were written by noted author Charlotte Heimann about First Church around sixty years ago. This is a beautiful place, a sacred space. This congregation has a long and distinguished past. We honor that past today, but we can’t let it define the present and future of this church.

          Past, Present and Future. Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. What do we know about First Church, this unique congregation just outside of New York City, a church which through the years has brought faith to the village and town, but also to the boardrooms of Fortune 500 corporations. This church has taken its responsibility seriously, to speak justice and peace, inclusivity and mission to those with the power to influence the future of the world. It is a high calling. This church has always been called to be a frontrunner, leading the way both theologically and ethically. From the very beginning of our history, First Church has been, and is now, an exciting place to worship and learn and grown in faith, always looking to the scriptures of the Hebrew and Christian traditions as a guide.

          How did we begin? 1665 was a turbulent time of violence, transition, distrust of government, theological innovation, disease and racial unrest. Sounds a bit like today! The little band of settlers who had come to North America with Governor John Winthrop had broken away from the Massachusetts Bay Colony and came here to what would become Greenwich seeking a new way of life. They were radicals who did not conform to the rules of Plymouth. One of them was a woman named Elizabeth Winthrop Feake, who became the first woman to own land in her own name, what we now call Greenwich Point. She was an outspoken advocate for women’s rights and spoke out in support of the native American tribe that inhabited this land.

          The past might inform the present and guide us toward the future. Once again, we are in a time of transition and violence, we are seeking human rights for all. First Church, from its earliest days has been a vital voice in dialogue with the society around it. Our Founders were bold and were willing to forge a new community centered in their understanding of God. They were not constrained by the orthodoxy of the past. We have often been known as a radical town and a radical church. Think about the climate here in Greenwich before First Church was founded: Reading from the minutes of the New Haven General Court, in 1656 concerning the land called Greenwich “the inhabitants live in a disorderly and riotous manner, sell intoxicating liquors to the Indians, receive and harbor servants who flee from their masters and join persons unlawfully in marriage.”  It was time for a church to organize to try to tame the town. We have been trying to do that for a long time now. But we have also been a church which has walked hand in hand with the town. There could not be a town here, separate in itself, unless there was a settled pastor. That pastor became a voice, teaching and counseling, leading and steering the town toward a more ethical and civilized lifestyle. That is a call for pastors and people today as we live in another wild time. Our world today is a wilderness, a time and place which calls for strong faith leadership.

          The scripture lessons today speak to how God would have us be church, the body of Christ present in our world. It is not an easy call. The Psalm asks, “who may dwell on your holy hill?” and counsels us to “do what is right and speak the truth” to do no evil to our friends. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians reminds us that we follow one who is the beginning, who should have first place in all things. This Jesus Christ has reconciled us to God and turned us away from things estranged and hostile in mind, evil deeds. In this new age, we have the privilege of bringing the message of the gospel to those around us, who so need to hear of God’s love and forgiveness.

          Our history should inform our present, but never limit the capacity of our vision to grow. What will the future hold? First Church is called to be people of vision and imagination. Our faith directs us, including all people as affirmed, seeking out new international and national mission agendas, continuing to develop programs for children and young people, finding new members to increase the rich diversity of our congregation, moving forward out of the pandemic with courage and even in this turbulent financial environment increasing our stewardship. This is a hard agenda, one faced by so many churches across our denomination. First Church is challenged to be a leader, even as we have been throughout our history, using our resources of pastors and people to point a way toward a sustainable and faithful future. Even as the first settlers did, our church is called to think outside of the box of orthodoxy, to embrace new ideas, to set new goals, to be excited and energized and empowered to create a church in the wilderness.   Amen.

Parting Shot

I have something, a piece of our history, which I saved about thirty years ago. When the pastor’s office was being redecorated back then, a piece of artwork was going to be thrown out. It had been in the senior pastor’s office for as long as I could remember, probably back into the 1960’s. I kept it and when I moved to Maine, I took it with me. I think it is time for it to come home. Some of you might even recognize it.