Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

The Church in Celebration

The Church in Celebration

We join together this morning, members, friends, family to celebrate the anniversary of this church. On special occasions like anniversaries it is natural to look back over the past, to smile as we remember the good times (like in the ‘photo’s we’ve shared), and perhaps to sigh as we recall the not-so happy times. So it is today that we look back over the years since the founding of this church – to the ‘birth’ of this church, brought into being through the vision of a small number of people, dedicated to following Jesus.
I sometimes think what a wonderful time it must be, when a new church is founded. How exciting it must have been as the founders of this church sought to come together in Christian community, then to build a place of worship. And how exciting it must have been for the people to build themselves up as Christ’s church here, to strive to fulfil Christ’s commission in faith and trust in God, to “preach, baptise, and live out the mission” he had begun. What a wonderful time that must have been, seeing the building rise to the glory of God, and seeing the congregation grow and strengthen – a Christian community singing and praying to the glory of God. Yes, what wonderful times they must have been, the first couple of years of this church’s life when, in its infancy, perhaps it was even a joy to overcome the many problems and difficulties that arose!
And who could have foreseen what it would mean for this church community to provide loving, Christian service to this area? Certainly there were things to be thankful for: a growing church, several generations of people gathering here at one time to worship and learn: babies, children, young people and adults of all ages – all together in Christian community! What joy and thanksgiving must have been felt at the rites of baptism, marriage and in the seasonal celebrations of the church year!
Then there are memories of worship services every Sunday morning. Then there were church socials during the week and evening activities – all to foster Christian fellowship: memories of life-long friendships forged here among the people of this church – perhaps often where one met one’s marriage partner too! Happy times! And what a source of strength and support the church must have been for people in sadder times too – as we think back upon the past.
For, at times of remembering – and giving thanks to God for – the life of a church when celebrating its anniversary, we often think of the less-than-happy times its people have seen too.
But it is testimony to the strength of Christian community, a community of people dedicated to living their lives in faith in Christ Jesus, that even in those most terrible of events, the church here not only survived but continued to thrive. So it is that the love of God wins through even the bleakest of times. And so it is that this church has seen times of great joy and celebration, and times of great hardship, as we look back over the past. A past through which people sought-out the presence and guidance of God; a past where people strove to live-out their faith and share their faith with others;
This church anniversary, then, provides the opportunity to reflect upon what God has done through this church community over the last 70+ years. It is a time to reflect upon our experience of God being (as it says in Psalm 46) our refuge and strength in times of trouble, thus there is no cause to fear – even though change is all about us – and not necessarily change for the better!
You know, when people voice concern for the future of the church – we can turn to the biblical theme of the ‘remnant’. It is a theme that resides deep within the biblical story of the faithfulness and obedience of God’s people. Now, we are used to thinking of a remnant as being a ‘left-over’ piece of cloth or carpet, being sold-off cheap because it is the ‘end-of-a-roll’, or an odd shape or size, of little value. But the Biblical idea of remnant is very different.

One example of the biblical ‘remnant’ is the story of the Noah. In the messiness of a corrupt culture, God was gracious and chose Noah, who is described as ‘blameless’: Noah, who ’walked with God’, his family and the animals survived on the Ark. They were God’s ‘remnant’ from whom the earth was once again re-populated. The theme of God’s ‘remnant’ appears again and again throughout the Old Testament. In whatever calamity befalls God’s people, always there is a hint of God’s grace in the survival of the ‘remnant’. Throughout the history of God’s people, the same pattern appears – the disaster, followed by a diminished number of people, and then the survival of a seeming ‘handful’ of people – faithful and obedient people, who are not so much the end, but a new beginning. They are called to continue witnessing to God’s love, made known to us in Christ Jesus, to the world around us.
Yes, the church is God’s remnant. In the messiness of the culture, God inspired a group of people 70 some years ago to come together, just like Noah’s family, and listen to the guidance of God; people who were willing to obey God’s directive to make this ark in the midst of this community. You know there were nay sayers just like there were around Noah, yet faithfully and obediently this small group of God’s remnant, built this sanctuary and gathered as a community of faith and headed out onto the seas with great hope for the future.
No matter how large or small a church community the church is God’s ‘remnant’. Not in the sense that the church is a ‘left-over’, going cheap, the ‘end-of-a-roll’, or of little value. But rather, a ‘handful’ of people – faithful and obedient people – who are not so much the end, but a new beginning. In this we can all take hope and courage because we can believe, in faith, that no matter how fierce the present challenges; however painful the change; however steep the decline, God’s promise is that the remnant will live-on. The ‘remnant’ is that within which God invests all hope and faith for the future – the church.
As we gather here today on this day of celebration, what do we take from here?
The single-most important thing is to remember the faith of those people who were willing to get on the boat called Sweetwater Presbyterian, to focus their lives on Jesus Christ enough and get this congregation up and running. It means we too need to live in Jesus. For apart from Jesus we can do – be – nothing. We retain the commission of Jesus to ‘bear much fruit’, and become (more and more) as Jesus’ disciples. Moreover, Jesus calls us to be empowered, to be encouraged, to be hopeful, drawing on his love. If we live in the love of Jesus, by obeying the commandments – especially his command to love – then we will be living in him, and his love through this remnant still willing to stay with the ark in choppy waters or calm seas.

Let us reflect, then, that as ‘remnant’ we are called not to be pessimistic about the future, but to be the source of all hope and future promise. Even if the church is small in numbers, and the trend continues to be small, then the biblical message is that this ‘smallness’ need not be a cause of despair, but rather a call to give thanks to God that he still entrusts us with the Good News, called to celebrate the fact that God still has purpose for us. Let us remember, no matter what is to come – we are still the body of Christ, living in the love of Jesus.

Let us celebrate, then. Let us give thanks to God for all his blessings to us here through the past 70 years. Let us give thanks to God for all his blessings to us through to the present day. And let us give thanks to God that, as ‘remnant’ God entrusts to us the responsibility to live-out the Good News of Christ Jesus; we are called to continue witnessing to God’s love. As ‘remnant’, we are that within which God invests all hope and promise for the future, rooted and living in the love of Christ Jesus. Like Noah, God has set us on the boat and trusted us with his future.

Amen.