The Rev. David Minnick
Sunday, 14 September 2014
Text: Exodus 17:1-16

Sermon Text

Sermon      09-14-14                         Exodus 17: 1-16

          Several years ago, Maggie and I enjoyed an end of the summer/Labor Day picnic at the home of some friends, along with a number of other families.   One of the guest’s young daughter spent a good amount of time wandering beneath some oak trees on the edge of the yard.   When she came back to be with the rest of us, her pockets were full of acorns, which she then emptied into a small bucket.   When someone asked her if she knew what an acorn was, she stood tall, looked him straight in the eye, and with all the righteous authority that a six year old can muster, when they’re about to teach an adult something, declared, “they’re baby oak trees!”

          What a point of view!  The joy of young eyes, seeing in an acorn the possibility of becoming a mighty oak.   It is a timely story for a Rally Day, a day of rich possibility.   It is so good to have everyone back again, after a few weeks apart.   And we would be wise to look ahead with that same enthusiasm and hope.

          Summertime is so often a time for renewal and refreshment, as we savor the chance to get a break from our routines, see new places, visit family and friends and enjoy the opportunity to serve as hosts, as family and friends come to visit us here in CT.  But this day, it is good to be back, to be back together, here in our sacred home.

          On this Rally Day, we are mindful that this looks to be a busy year ahead.   Many of our church members and committees have worked on ideas/hopes/projects all summer and now are ready to engage others in moving our shared mission and ministry here forward.  

          It is so good to have all our young friends back today as we begin a new year of church school.   We are grateful for the efforts of Laurie Bleickardt and the Christian education committee in putting the pieces for the upcoming church school year in place.  We are blessed with so many bright and inquisitive children, and maybe even more blessed, to have an abundance of adults who have expressed a willingness to teach this year, leaving Laurie with the unusual dilemma of how to utilize so many willing adults.

          Last month, Kristen Provost Switzer and Braxton Carrigan led our annual youth mission trip to Staten Island, where with three of our youth, efforts were made to help rebuild a community still struggling to get back to normal after Hurricane Sandy.   Looking ahead, we are currently exploring some options for leading and organizing our youth this coming year.   And we look forward to meeting tonight with our youth and their parents to begin exploring some of this.

          Work continues to progress in our following through on our bold choice made earlier this year, to go “off the grid” for the most part.   By installing solar panels, scheduled to be completed before the end of 2014, on the roof, we look to become about 95% self-sufficient for our electrical needs.  And we’re all excited about this move toward faithful stewardship and energy independence.

          And this is indeed a bittersweet day of sorts, as we say good-bye and commend with all our good wishes, our dear friend, Terese Gemme.   Terese’s long-awaited sabbatical is here and we celebrate with her the next few months when she will be apart from us—a time to rest, compose, study and “follow her bliss” in any number of ways and in a number of different countries.   We look forward to her return with us on January 18, 2015 and the stories and inspiration from which we will all benefit.

          Terese assures us that she is leaving us in good hands.  In a few weeks, Wyatt Smith will join our staff and our church family for three months as our sabbatical replacement.   Wyatt was an organ performance major in college, prior to beginning his studies at the Institute for Sacred Music at Yale.  Terese assures me, “we would be wise to let his star shine” while he is with us.  She is confident that the day is coming regarding Wyatt, when we will say to others, “we knew him when….”

          And perhaps most importantly, our Senior Pastor Search Committee is up and running at full speed on our behalf.   Taking on the high calling of determining what qualities and gifts church members here desire in a new senior pastor and then going out in pursuit of that person.  Let us keep them in our daily thoughts and prayers as the work they are undertaking is so important for the days ahead. 

          These are among the many goals that are “alive and well” here.  But as we are busy pursuing these good works, let us be wise also to look at the big picture of what we seek to build and nurture here at Spring Glen Church.

          Today’s lesson, from Exodus 17, is likely to be a very unusual story to draw inspiration from on Rally Day.  It tells of Moses, pursuing the long anticipated and promised land, a land described in the book of Numbers as being “a land of milk and honey.”      

          The lesson tells the story of Moses’ pursuit, of the challenges set before him and the nation in this holy effort.   An effort which eventually would demand the crushing of the nation’s enemies; those who would challenge and oppose their efforts.

          The reason I chose this story, as the source of inspiration for Rally Day, comes from one of the images it describes.   From the first time I heard this story, as a child in church school many years ago, I have always remembered that powerful image of Moses, at an advanced age, with his arms raised as he watches the battle taking place below him, between Israel and the Amalekites, a nomadic tribe seeking to conquer them, from a nearby hill top.   As long as his arms are raised, Israel’s forces are succeeding.   But every time he tires and lowers his arms, the nation’s enemies, the Amalekites begin to succeed.   First his companions, Aaron and Hur, seek to help by placing a stone behind him, so he can sit.   But then as his arms tire and begin to slump down, Aaron and Hur stand by his side, one on his left, the other on his right, holding up his arms for the good of the nation.

          We each face different challenges, battles of sorts, in the course of our days.   As individuals, as families, as the small “c” church known as Spring Glen Church, UCC, in Hamden Ct, as the big “C” church, the body of Christ alive in the world today; on so many levels today, we face challenges, share in witnessing battles before us.   And this image, of others by our side, holding our arms up, sustaining us, so that the shared dream of the community can succeed, is a rich one.  For the nation of Israel, that dream is freedom; for the Church today, the establishing of the realm of God.  And I believe that spirit of community and support is what we seek, in any number of ways, to develop here.

          Indulge me for a moment, a personal story.  As you know, the events of the past two weeks have been challenging and emotional for my wife and me.   For those who may not be aware, about a week and a half ago, my wife Maggie broke her leg while we were on vacation in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.   She had surgery two days later and a day after that, a week ago Friday, I needed to leave her, in good, caring and competent hands at the hospital in Plymouth NH, to return home.

          Being in central NH on a Friday afternoon, I wanted to avoid coming home via the Mass Pike, which is notoriously busy on Fridays and so I began to look at some alternative routes, through New Hampshire, to get to I-91 where I could more easily travel south to Middletown.  Looking at the map, there were several possible routes.   One was a thin black line, a circuitous smaller route which would need to be traveled slowly.  The other was a thicker red line, on which I could travel more quickly, but which looked to be less direct, actually heading in the wrong direction for a time.  

Overwhelmed by the events of recent days, too tired to try to sort out which would truly be the best route home, and just wanting to get back to my home and dog, I looked at the GPS and pushed “Go Home,” a feature in GPS units in which one programs their home address, allowing the GPS to guide them home from anywhere in the lower 48 states.

          For me, part of “going home” included coming here.  Coming back to the comfort of a routine, the encouragement of being back with the church family, the special support I knew would come from others on the church staff. 

          That depth of community is what we are about as God’s people, as we seek to be a faithful church.  At so many levels, here we seek to be that place, where the hurting, the broken, the doubting, the loss, and the overwhelmed know they are welcomed and have a place. 

          And so on this Rally Day, let us begin again the work Jesus calls us here to do.   In so many ways, using so many different gifts, blending together dreams and hopes.   May we be bold enough to envision the baby oak trees in our midst, eager to hold one another up in the face of daily challenges, battles and struggles.   May our efforts together help us to build here a home, a sanctuary, the place where, when the circumstances of life seem to overwhelm us, we know we have a place.    Thanks be to God.  Amen.