January 8, 2023
Scripture Reading: Hebrews 12:1-4
I suspect that many of you remember those years when, one day of the year, we children had to get up a little early, scrub a little harder, and put on nearly our Sunday best because – it was class picture day! And that wasn’t the worst part! When the time came to get ready for the class to process to the spot where the photographer had already set up his/her camera, then the teacher said: “Line up according to height!”
The only good thing about that moment was that I had a place and knew my place. The only hope I had was that some little girl had not grown as much last year as the year before and, by some act of fate, would replace me at the front of the line!
This exercise of standing in line was a ritual of finding your place in a particular group of people. Mrs. Thone’s 3rd grade class of 1949 in Alliance Ohio.
It seems like we are always trying to find our place in a line of some sort. And it is sometimes comforting, other times annoying:
-when we call someplace for customer service, we’re in a line where the person on the other end says: “we’ll answer in the order we received the call”
– there’s birth order. “Oh, you’re a middle child! That explains that!”
Ancestry in Amish community. The first order of business for a stranger is to find out who one’s father, brother, cousins are!
Some of these lines we find ourselves in – show us how we’ve come to be the people we are. They are lines of influence. Who helped to shape us? Who gave us our values, and opinions? Who helped us find meaning for our lives at particular stages.
Maybe the line consists of educators, but it was more. It was family members, church people, community leaders. Some of us remember their names (they were that important). The names of others are long gone, but their imprint remains. Sometimes it is a positive imprint, sometimes very negative, but still an influence.
You know how it is. We take a look down the line of our history and our influencers and we say: “I want to be just like_____.” And then we point to another and say: “Whatever I do in my life, I never want to be like _______.” These people are also influencers and they are also, in the line where we stand.
Mrs. Thone, my 3rd grade teacher was a mean and a harsh disciplinarian. My sister, to this day, recoils when she thinks about her, but she has helped to shape Carol – to make her who she is today.
So we stand in a line (most often an invisible one) and we can look up and down the line. We get a sense of where we fit – and how other people have had a place in our lives over the years. It is the memories, the connections, the values, the features in them that we carry to this day.
This is HERITAGE SUNDAY. You may wonder where that came from. Just me. Nobody else. But the inspiration for it was the History Team.
The photos we’ve put in your hands this morning are a little piece of the grand work they have done to uncover and expose us to the line that is St. Johns. 100 years ago – 1923 – the addition was placed on our building which included the Chr. Ed wing, fellowship hall, and the offices. Look at those people gathered around to dedicate the addition! They are in our line.
Caroline, Ruth, Joan, do you know someone who was in that crowd?
140 years ago – 1883 – this sanctuary and the parsonage (no longer standing) was built for German-speaking immigrants who had outgrown their church building on W. Main St and decided 130 S. Walnut would be the perfect spot for you and I, our children, grandchildren, and neighbors. They stood in our line – the same line in which we all stand today. They gave their energy, their time, and their money as an investment in US! We are only here because they stood in our line!
I want to anchor ourselves for a few Sundays in the book of Matthew and in particular the Sermon on the Mount. Do you know how Matthew begins his book? By listing one by one the people, saints and sinners alike, that stood in the line (geneology) which, at that moment, ended with Jesus. Now that line includes you and me.
It is an awesome thing to stand and consider the line that ends with you! From where you stand, you can see back through the ages to the Apostle Paul, Jesus and Abraham. If you look closely, you can look the other way along the line and see people in the future whose name you will never know but to whom you have a responsibility. You owe them the courage, commitment, and the sacrifice that it takes to see that they too, are handed whatever we can give them so that they can walk with God in their own way, seek God with all their hearts, and love their neighbor as they love themselves.
So, in your mind’s eye this morning, you stand in this line with a load of gratitude for the “generational wealth” that you never earned and also with a load of responsibility for whomever 100 years from today reprints one of the ancient photos from 2023 and they will feel gratitude for our faithfulness!
So, then with the writer to the Hebrews we say: 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. 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.