“A Good Heritage” Pastor Ross Kershaw
Psalm 90:1-6 & 13-17
Lord, you have been our help,
generation after generation.
2 Before the mountains were born,
before you birthed the earth and the inhabited world--
from forever in the past
to forever in the future, you are God.
3 You return people to dust,
saying, “Go back, humans,”
4 because in your perspective a thousand years
are like yesterday past,
like a short period during the night watch.
5 You sweep humans away like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning.
6 True, in the morning it thrives, renewed,
but come evening it withers, all dried up. …
13 Come back to us, Lord!
Have some compassion for your servants!
14 Fill us full every morning with your faithful love
so we can rejoice and celebrate our whole life long.
15 Make us happy for the same amount of time that you afflicted us--
for the same number of years that we saw only trouble.
16 Let your acts be seen by your servants;
let your glory be seen by their children.
17 Let the kindness of the Lord our God be over us.
Make the work of our hands last.
Make the work of our hands last!
The church has long been aware of its heritage in the words of Isaiah 40:3-5, which is quoted in reference to the role of John the Baptist.
“A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” We have seen it as our mission in the world – opening the way for people to discover the power of God in their lives. We are about introducing the world to Jesus.
Rev. L.C. Thompson was one of those voices. On October 8, 1897 the town of Thermopolis was platted and open for settlement. On October 24, 1897 Reverend L. C. Thompson preached the first protestant sermon in Thermopolis. Rev. Thompson gave us “Our Voice.” Through his dedication and hard work, he brought together the beginnings of an amazing Body of Christ who had a passion for loving God. Many since have followed in the steps of one who ‘made straight in the desert a highway for our God.’ Many have paved the way for generations to come to the Lord.
In our scripture text this morning, Psalm 90:1 & 14 lead us to the life-giving waters that will keep us extending this heritage of faith and service for our Lord. It begins with God’s faithfulness and asks that God fill us with what we need to claim our identity and take our place in serving the living Lord. Listen again to verses 1-2 and 16-17. Beginning with verses 1-2 - “Lord, you have been our help, generation after generation. 2 Before the mountains were born, before you birthed the earth and the inhabited world— from forever in the past to forever in the future, you are God.” The focus is on God, from beginning to end. Then, in verses 16-17, the Psalmist (who in this case is attributed to Moses) makes a plea to the Lord of life. “Let your acts be seen by your servants; let your glory be seen by their children. 17 Let the kindness of the Lord our God be over us. Make the work of our hands last. Make the work of our hands last!” “Our lives and labors participate in the eternal when grounded in God.” Our faithfulness comes from God’s faithfulness. It keeps us grounded. Paul, in I Thessalonians 2:4b says, “Rather, we have been examined and approved by God to be trusted with the good news, and that’s exactly how we speak. We aren’t trying to please people, but we are trying to please God, who continues to examine our hearts.” Our hearts and lives all point to God, the one who gives us life.
In the structure and wording of Psalm 90 we are “put in communion with past generations who found a dwelling place in God AND with future generations to whom the work of God will be manifest.” After placing us in this endless line of the faithful, the structure then moves us to stay in touch with our humanity, frailty, and limits. From God’s eternal presence to our returning to dust. Did you catch the quiet reference to Genesis? There we are formed from the dust, and we are returning to that dust. What this contrast between God and humanity does is ground our being and ministry in the power and faithfulness of God. Generations pass, but God is eternal and faithful. It is not “we” who are faithful, but God within us. His faithfulness shines through our service and witness.
On Dec 1, 1900 we held our first service in what is now our current parlor. This came after our 12’ x 12’ first structure. But then there was another line in our heritage that was forming. In 1906 the Presbyterians met to organize. The Rev. H.W. Bointon was their founder, and Rev. Ira McConaughy was their first pastor. Another powerful expression of the gospel was coming to be. A defining moment, however, in the heritage we celebrate came in February 1921, and brought a major change. In God’s wisdom, the faithful here in Thermopolis formed Community Federated Church! Do you realize that it will be 100 years this coming February! That deserves a celebration don’t you think? Rev. Hubert Webster, who was a Methodist, was our first pastor in the newly formed partnership in the gospel. Space was needed and an Annex was added in 1921. It was a multi-purpose space that measured 40’x50’. It was in 1934 that we received our first Presbyterian pastor.
All this points to a work of God among and through a passionate people. I believe that this work has been grounded in Matthew 22:37-40. It is Jesus’ formulation of the Great Commandment and the second , which is like unto the first. “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” Love of God, neighbor and self has motivated and directed this church. Across generations that has been our “good heritage.”
Rev. Anspaugh (1929-1934) said of this congregation, upon leaving for his next church, “Some people are the salt of the earth and the hope of every church. The church is not a rest camp, but a front-line trench, and it is a devoted few who stand in their places who make possible the advancement of the Kingdom of God.” In 2001, Karl Alen said this about the congregation, “The one thing this church has had from the very beginning is a strong laity. The real strength of Community Church has been the faith, leadership, commitment and courage of its people.” As I said last week, the gospel has been “ringing out from God’s people.” As I thought about this I pondered 1 Thessalonians 2:2, where Paul says, “…our visit with you wasn’t a waste of time. 2 On the contrary, we had the courage through God to speak God’s good news in spite of a lot of opposition, although we had already suffered and were publicly insulted in Philippi, as you know.” The courage of this congregation to speak God’s good news is also our good heritage.
The “call” of Psalm 90 is in v. 16, “Let your acts be seen by your servants; let your glory be seen by their children.” The “your” in the verse is God. The call is to see God’s mighty acts as his servants, and let God’s glory be seen by the children of the servants of today – as we have seen God’s glory in those who have gone before us. It is an endless line of faithful followers of Christ we are asked to join in each succeeding generation. His generational heritage put me in mind of Psalm 78:5-7 – “He established a law for Jacob and set up Instruction for Israel, ordering our ancestors to teach them to their children. 6 This is so that the next generation and children not yet born will know these things, and so they can rise up and tell their children to put their hope in God— never forgetting God’s deeds, but keeping God’s commandments.”
This is a clarion call to pass our good heritage onto future generations. Our commitment is stated in verse 17 – and not just stated, but repeated for emphasis. “Let the kindness of the Lord our God be over us. Make the work of our hands last. Make the work of our hands last!” Heritage is something that lives in the past and present, and extends into the future. It will extend long past this time as long as we remain faithful to our faithful God through Jesus Christ. Our confidence is contained in1 Corinthians 15:58 – “You know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Amen.
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Pastor Paul Grossman