June 2, 2013 Sermon

Sermon

“Let Us Rejoice and Be Glad”

June 2, 2013

The Reverend Harold E. Masback, III

 

Psalm 118:1-9; 19-25

A Song of Victory

1 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;

his steadfast love endures forever!

2 Let Israel say,

“His steadfast love endures forever.”

3 Let the house of Aaron say,

“His steadfast love endures forever.”

4 Let those who fear the Lord say,

“His steadfast love endures forever.”

5 Out of my distress I called on the Lord;

the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place.

6 With the Lord on my side I do not fear.

What can mortals do to me?

7 The Lord is on my side to help me;

I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.

8 It is better to take refuge in the Lord

than to put confidence in mortals.

9 It is better to take refuge in the Lord

than to put confidence in princes.

19 Open to me the gates of righteousness,

that I may enter through them

and give thanks to the Lord.

20 This is the gate of the Lord;

the righteous shall enter through it.

21 I thank you that you have answered me

and have become my salvation.

22 The stone that the builders rejected

has become the chief cornerstone.

23 This is the Lord’s doing;

it is marvelous in our eyes.

24 This is the day that the Lord has made;

let us rejoice and be glad in it.c

25 Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!

O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!

 

Matthew 6:25–34

Do Not Worry

(Luke 12:22–31)

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

 

Romans 1:19–21

19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21 for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.

 

        There is a legend that this rickety pulpit is all that remains from our second meeting house, the one built on this hill in 1752 and struck by lightning in 1841. The pulpit’s mill work makes me wonder about its precise provenance, but I do not doubt how central this old pulpit has been in the long life of our congregation.

Let me begin by sharing just two brief moments at this pulpit that will explain a lot about our nineteen years together.

First, on September 5, 1994, I was sitting right there in that chair when Lidabell Pollard, our seventeenth senior minister, stepped to this pulpit to offer her weekly invocation from Psalm 118, “This is the day that the Lord hath made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” It was the first Sunday of a wonderful partnership.

That’s the first moment. Here’s the second: on January 5, 2008, I stepped to this pulpit myself to eulogize Lidabell, noting, “There are some people in life you have to love. Then there are a few people in life you choose to love. But then there are some people in life you just can’t help but love, and Lidabell was one of those.”[1]

I say these two moments explain a lot about our nineteen years together, because I have opened every Sunday worship service with that same invocation to remember Lidabell even as we worshipped God together. You may have been seeing my smile as I opened worship, but, in my mind’s eye, I still remember Lidabell’s.

Over the years, I have come to appreciate this verse ever more deeply – not just as a cherished fragment of scripture, and not just as a remembrance of Lidabell, but even more as an almost perfect seed bed for a flourishing life. I have come to believe that if we did nothing more each Sunday than let the Psalmist’s ancient invitation sink deeply into our souls – nothing more than let God’s assurance root truly in our hearts, our worship would nevertheless support the growth of vibrant, God-centered lives.

You see, beloved, embedded in this simple little verse is a three-point spiritual prescription bearing the power to transform any life, and the three points should come as no surprise: 1) this is the day; 2) that the Lord hath made; 3) let us rejoice and be glad in it. Moreover, given the priceless legacy of our church, each of these points can be made through the words of our own preachers and teachers over the past 280 years.

First, “This is the day.” Not yesterday; not tomorrow. Today. Through this psalm, God calls your soul, your awareness, your attention, into this day: this single, unique, never before seen, never to be repeated day of your life. For, in the end, it makes all the difference whether we experience life as an undifferentiated blur, blindly tumbling through an endless series of rapids or whether we experience life as distinctly blessed days, attentively savoring each pool before sliding over the spillway into the next.

We can remember transformative experiences from the past, we can dream about abundant life in the future, but the only time in which we can actually encounter God, actually be transformed, actually experience joy, actually live abundantly is the present moment, the present day. “This is the day.”

Whether the circumstances of our lives are stormy or sunny, an attentive eye can always catch a glimpse of God’s majesty and blessing in the day. Listen to how our first minister, John Eells, invoked God’s presence on a stormy day 275 years ago, improvising a wedding litany when a young couple appeared beneath his window as thunder crashed.

Under this window in stormy weather

      I join this man and woman together

     Let none but Him who made this thunder,

     E’er part these married two asunder.”[2]

        Lamentably, it seems the Rev. Eells was not the most industrious of our ministers. He not only refused to come down from his window to perform the wedding, tradition records that he added, “it [is] customary, on such an occasion, to make a prayer, but it [is] nothing essential, also to sing a hymn, but it [is] nothing essential.] To which the happy groom replied, on leaving, “that it [is] customary to pay the minister a dollar, but it [is] nothing essential. Good night!”

Or listen to how our first Sunday School superintendent, Julian Sturtevant, savored God’s presence on a sunny June day 187 years ago as he hiked from Norwalk to God’s Acre for the first time: “The heart-ease and youthful joyousness of that walk in June in the cool tranquil air under smiling skies, over swelling hills, through green valleys and fragrant forest resounding with the sounds of birds beside crystal brooks murmuring in their pebbly channels are delightful even in the dim pictures of a far off memory. It was not so much hope for the future as enjoyment of the present that brought happiness. It was the response of a young and sensitive spirit to the sweet influence of nature and nature’s God; a most fitting introduction to what was before me.”[3]

Or, listen to Howard Hoyt, our church’s thirteenth minister, as he leaned over this same rickety pulpit 100 years ago this summer, exhorting the congregation to see God in the humble tasks of each day. “Be on the look-out for God. Train your ear to catch His voice, your eye to trace his footsteps, and you will not be disappointed. The field, the factory, the shop, the office will be transformed into none other than the house of God, and your common toil will become a sacrament of grace.”[4]

Or, finally, listen to Loring Chase, our church’s fifteenth senior minister, who concluded a sermon on today’s Gospel lesson by saying, “Jesus is opening the secret of his own life. He is saying that if we can dwell in love where the eternal intersects each moment, then the moments when our past accuses us will be redeemed by forgiveness, and courage will be given us to face the moments when the future makes us tense and anxious.”[5] “This is the day.”

Second, “this is the day…that the Lord hath made.” This unique, unrepeatable, God-created day presents every person paying attention with a simple binary choice.

When we look out the window on a day like this, when we see the wonders of creation stretching out before us, we face a simple binary choice: did God create this wonder or did we? When we reflect on our gifts, our talents, our opportunities, we face a simple binary choice: are we God-made creatures or self-made creators?

We turn to God the creator readily enough when we are hunkered down in the fox holes of life. But how easily we begin to think of ourselves as self-made men and self-made women when the wind is at our back and the sun in our face.

So it was on January 5, 1806 as our church and our town prospered, that Justus Mitchell, our fourth minister, peered over our pulpit to caution,

“Men who have obtained wealth; are ready to say by the strength of my own arm have I done all this. If they prosper how ready to ascribe it to their own skill in the management of their affairs: not considering that both the strength of their arm and their skill to manage their affairs, were given by God.”[6]

Beloved, this is the day “that the Lord hath made.” And, as Charlie Smith, our sixteenth senior minister, proclaimed, “God does not make junk.” Our minds need not wander into the past burdened with guilt, for in Christ God has forgiven our sins. Our minds need not wander into the future burdened with anxiety, for Christ’s victory over death assures our eternal destiny. We are the creatures God hath made, set in the creation God hath made, free to enjoy this day God hath made for us.

Finally, “this is the day that the Lord hath made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Surely, this invitation follows inexorably from the first two truths. When God calls us into God’s life and love in the present moment, when we reflect that this day, this world, this life are all gifts of the God whose steadfast love endures forever, how can we not be grateful, and how can our gratitude not lead to joy?

I remember Lidabell telling a story of a parishioner who asked her minister, “What is God’s will for my life.” The pastor told her to read Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.[7]

Folks, you can’t get much clearer orders than that. The more we give thanks, the more we are grateful, then the more we will rejoice. And the more we rejoice, then the more we will be grateful.

So it was that on November 27, 1800, Justus Mitchell, reflected on the blessings God had showered on our congregation during the Revolutionary War, rejoicing and thanking God that, “Great wars have been waged against us. Fleets and armies have been sent to subdue us, and desolation hath been made in many parts of our land….  In all our dangers, God appeared for our help and gave wisdom to our councils, and fortitude to our armies, and disposed other Nations to think favorable to our cause.”[8]

So it was that on May 31, 1898, Howard Hoyt praised God and rejoiced in God’s care throughout the Civil War, recalling “the woolen blue jackets…. The camp life, the long, weary marches, the picket duty, the hospital, the prison, the battle field, the cry of defeat, the shout of victory” before concluding, “When we think of all that this land of ours has been in days gone by, the untold treasure poured out for it, the spirit and enterprise exhibited by it, the true hand with which she has carried the standard of the cross through many a troublous time…our hearts swell with devout praise unto God.”[9]

And so it is, beloved, that on June 2, 2013, your eighteenth senior minister joins this 280 year old chorus of praise on God’s Acre, giving thanks in my last sermon from this rickety pulpit as your pastor.  I give thanks for how God has brought us through times of terror, recession, and storm together, for how God has blessed us with such amazing kids in our church school and in our youth groups, for how God has blessed us with a future brightened by swelling numbers of young families and children, and for how God has called to this hill outstanding lay leaders and staff to walk with you through transition.

And in the spirit of the Psalmist, I give thanks for this day: for the verdant beauty of this very day on God’s Acre, for the spiritual beauty of our wonderful congregation – for you wonderful people that I love so much – gathered together in worship to praise and thank God, and for the familial beauty of my wife and Vance and Katy and Libby and Owen reunited from their far-flung endeavors by your generous gift.

Finally, beloved, Amy and I rejoice and give thanks that God called us to serve you, this wonderful congregation, and to live amongst you these nineteen years. For you see, there are some congregations you have to love. Then there are a few congregations you choose to love…. But then there are some congregations you just can’t help but love – Amy and I rejoice and give thanks that you are one of those.

“This is the day that the Lord hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Amen.

 


c Or in him



[1] Harold E. Masback, III, “Eulogy for The Rev. Lidabell Lunt Pollard”, January 5, 2008.

[2] This litany, attributed to The Rev. John Eells, is said to be recorded in a short poem by Jonathan Swift, the famous Anglo-Irish satirist, poet and cleric who also wrote Gulliver’s Travels and who became Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. The litany and the attribution to Dean Swift have been cited in various church histories over the past 150 years. On June 20, 1883, on the occasion of the church’s 150th anniversary, The Rev. James S. Hoyt, D.D. described the circumstances as follows in his “Historical Discourse”: “Merrily, and often, for more than a century has laugh burst forth as the story has been told of ‘Priest Eells’ marrying the couple under his bed-room window in a thunder storm…. Tradition adds to this story that when the anxious couple came to the open summer window, Parson Eels, about to perform the ceremony remarked that “it was customary, on such an occasion, to make a prayer, but it was nothing essential, also to sing a hymn, but it was nothing essential’ Then directing them to join hands, the ceremony was performed in the manner above indicated. The happy groom replied, on leaving, “that it was customary to pay a dollar, but it was nothing essential. Good night.” See Historical Account of the Celebration of the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Organization of the Congregational Church of New Canaan, Conn. [June 20, 1883.]

[3] Julian M. Sturtevant, Julian M. Sturtevant: An Autobiography, Julian Monson Sturtevant, ed. [Fleming H.Revell: 1896.] Available online at Google Books: http://books.google.com/books?id=Z7o3AAAAMAAJ&pg=PA1&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=3#v=onepage&q&f=false

[4] The Rev. J. Howard Hoyt, “Sermon”, September 21, 1913

[5] The Rev. Loring D. Chase, “Of Transience and Eternity”, in The Cornerstone: Forty Two Sermons Preached During Forty Two Years of Pastoral Ministry, 1939-1981 [1982] at p. 33. Chase ended his sermon with an extended quotation from T. S. Eliot, “The Dry Salvages” (Harcourt Brace & Co., 1958) p. 136:

Man’s curiosity searches past and future

            And clings to that dimension. But to apprehend

            The point of intersection of the timeless

            With time, is an occupation for the saint –

            No occupation either, but something given

            And taken in lifetime’s death in love,

            Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.

            For most of us, there is only the unattended

            Moment, the moment in and out of time,

            The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,

            The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning,

            Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply

            That it is not heard at all, but you are the music

            While the music lasts. These are only hints and guesses,

            Hints followed by guesses; and the rest

            Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action

            The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is incarnation.

[6] The Rev. Justus Mitchell, “Sermon”, January 5, 1806.

[7] The Rev. Lidabell Lunt Pollard, “Bring Me the Light”, December 15, 1996

[8] The Rev. Justus Mitchell, “Sermon”, November 27, 1800.

[9] The Rev. J. Howard Hoyt, “Address”, May 31, 1898.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 2, 2013

“Let Us Rejoice and Be Glad”

Scripture:

Psalm 118:1-9; 19-25; Matthew 6:25–34; Romans 1:19–21

The Reverend Harold E. Masback, III


 

Sermon

“Let Us Rejoice and Be Glad”

 

June 2, 2013

The Reverend Harold E. Masback, III

 

Psalm 118:1-9; 19-25

A Song of Victory

1 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;

his steadfast love endures forever!

2 Let Israel say,

“His steadfast love endures forever.”

3 Let the house of Aaron say,

“His steadfast love endures forever.”

4 Let those who fear the Lord say,

“His steadfast love endures forever.”

5 Out of my distress I called on the Lord;

the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place.

6 With the Lord on my side I do not fear.

What can mortals do to me?

7 The Lord is on my side to help me;

I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.

8 It is better to take refuge in the Lord

than to put confidence in mortals.

9 It is better to take refuge in the Lord

than to put confidence in princes.

19 Open to me the gates of righteousness,

that I may enter through them

and give thanks to the Lord.

20 This is the gate of the Lord;

the righteous shall enter through it.

21 I thank you that you have answered me

and have become my salvation.

22 The stone that the builders rejected

has become the chief cornerstone.

23 This is the Lord’s doing;

it is marvelous in our eyes.

24 This is the day that the Lord has made;

let us rejoice and be glad in it.c

25 Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!

O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!

 

Matthew 6:25–34

Do Not Worry

(Luke 12:22–31)

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

 

Romans 1:19–21

19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21 for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.

 

        There is a legend that this rickety pulpit is all that remains from our second meeting house, the one built on this hill in 1752 and struck by lightning in 1841. The pulpit’s mill work makes me wonder about its precise provenance, but I do not doubt how central this old pulpit has been in the long life of our congregation.

        Let me begin by sharing just two brief moments at this pulpit that will explain a lot about our nineteen years together.

        First, on September 5, 1994, I was sitting right there in that chair when Lidabell Pollard, our seventeenth senior minister, stepped to this pulpit to offer her weekly invocation from Psalm 118, “This is the day that the Lord hath made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” It was the first Sunday of a wonderful partnership.

        That’s the first moment. Here’s the second: on January 5, 2008, I stepped to this pulpit myself to eulogize Lidabell, noting, “There are some people in life you have to love. Then there are a few people in life you choose to love. But then there are some people in life you just can’t help but love, and Lidabell was one of those.”[1]

        I say these two moments explain a lot about our nineteen years together, because I have opened every Sunday worship service with that same invocation to remember Lidabell even as we worshipped God together. You may have been seeing my smile as I opened worship, but, in my mind’s eye, I still remember Lidabell’s.

        Over the years, I have come to appreciate this verse ever more deeply – not just as a cherished fragment of scripture, and not just as a remembrance of Lidabell, but even more as an almost perfect seed bed for a flourishing life. I have come to believe that if we did nothing more each Sunday than let the Psalmist’s ancient invitation sink deeply into our souls – nothing more than let God’s assurance root truly in our hearts, our worship would nevertheless support the growth of vibrant, God-centered lives.

        You see, beloved, embedded in this simple little verse is a three-point spiritual prescription bearing the power to transform any life, and the three points should come as no surprise: 1) this is the day; 2) that the Lord hath made; 3) let us rejoice and be glad in it. Moreover, given the priceless legacy of our church, each of these points can be made through the words of our own preachers and teachers over the past 280 years.

        First, “This is the day.” Not yesterday; not tomorrow. Today. Through this psalm, God calls your soul, your awareness, your attention, into this day: this single, unique, never before seen, never to be repeated day of your life. For, in the end, it makes all the difference whether we experience life as an undifferentiated blur, blindly tumbling through an endless series of rapids or whether we experience life as distinctly blessed days, attentively savoring each pool before sliding over the spillway into the next.

        We can remember transformative experiences from the past, we can dream about abundant life in the future, but the only time in which we can actually encounter God, actually be transformed, actually experience joy, actually live abundantly is the present moment, the present day. “This is the day.”

        Whether the circumstances of our lives are stormy or sunny, an attentive eye can always catch a glimpse of God’s majesty and blessing in the day. Listen to how our first minister, John Eells, invoked God’s presence on a stormy day 275 years ago, improvising a wedding litany when a young couple appeared beneath his window as thunder crashed.

     Under this window in stormy weather

      I join this man and woman together

     Let none but Him who made this thunder,

     E’er part these married two asunder.”[2]

        Lamentably, it seems the Rev. Eells was not the most industrious of our ministers. He not only refused to come down from his window to perform the wedding, tradition records that he added, “it [is] customary, on such an occasion, to make a prayer, but it [is] nothing essential, also to sing a hymn, but it [is] nothing essential.] To which the happy groom replied, on leaving, “that it [is] customary to pay the minister a dollar, but it [is] nothing essential. Good night!”

        Or listen to how our first Sunday School superintendent, Julian Sturtevant, savored God’s presence on a sunny June day 187 years ago as he hiked from Norwalk to God’s Acre for the first time: “The heart-ease and youthful joyousness of that walk in June in the cool tranquil air under smiling skies, over swelling hills, through green valleys and fragrant forest resounding with the sounds of birds beside crystal brooks murmuring in their pebbly channels are delightful even in the dim pictures of a far off memory. It was not so much hope for the future as enjoyment of the present that brought happiness. It was the response of a young and sensitive spirit to the sweet influence of nature and nature’s God; a most fitting introduction to what was before me.”[3]

        Or, listen to Howard Hoyt, our church’s thirteenth minister, as he leaned over this same rickety pulpit 100 years ago this summer, exhorting the congregation to see God in the humble tasks of each day. “Be on the look-out for God. Train your ear to catch His voice, your eye to trace his footsteps, and you will not be disappointed. The field, the factory, the shop, the office will be transformed into none other than the house of God, and your common toil will become a sacrament of grace.”[4]

        Or, finally, listen to Loring Chase, our church’s fifteenth senior minister, who concluded a sermon on today’s Gospel lesson by saying, “Jesus is opening the secret of his own life. He is saying that if we can dwell in love where the eternal intersects each moment, then the moments when our past accuses us will be redeemed by forgiveness, and courage will be given us to face the moments when the future makes us tense and anxious.”[5] “This is the day.”

        Second, “this is the day…that the Lord hath made.” This unique, unrepeatable, God-created day presents every person paying attention with a simple binary choice.

        When we look out the window on a day like this, when we see the wonders of creation stretching out before us, we face a simple binary choice: did God create this wonder or did we? When we reflect on our gifts, our talents, our opportunities, we face a simple binary choice: are we God-made creatures or self-made creators?

        We turn to God the creator readily enough when we are hunkered down in the fox holes of life. But how easily we begin to think of ourselves as self-made men and self-made women when the wind is at our back and the sun in our face.

        So it was on January 5, 1806 as our church and our town prospered, that Justus Mitchell, our fourth minister, peered over our pulpit to caution,

“Men who have obtained wealth; are ready to say by the strength of my own arm have I done all this. If they prosper how ready to ascribe it to their own skill in the management of their affairs: not considering that both the strength of their arm and their skill to manage their affairs, were given by God.”[6]

Beloved, this is the day “that the Lord hath made.” And, as Charlie Smith, our sixteenth senior minister, proclaimed, “God does not make junk.” Our minds need not wander into the past burdened with guilt, for in Christ God has forgiven our sins. Our minds need not wander into the future burdened with anxiety, for Christ’s victory over death assures our eternal destiny. We are the creatures God hath made, set in the creation God hath made, free to enjoy this day God hath made for us.

        Finally, “this is the day that the Lord hath made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Surely, this invitation follows inexorably from the first two truths. When God calls us into God’s life and love in the present moment, when we reflect that this day, this world, this life are all gifts of the God whose steadfast love endures forever, how can we not be grateful, and how can our gratitude not lead to joy?

        I remember Lidabell telling a story of a parishioner who asked her minister, “What is God’s will for my life.” The pastor told her to read Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.[7]

        Folks, you can’t get much clearer orders than that. The more we give thanks, the more we are grateful, then the more we will rejoice. And the more we rejoice, then the more we will be grateful.

        So it was that on November 27, 1800, Justus Mitchell, reflected on the blessings God had showered on our congregation during the Revolutionary War, rejoicing and thanking God that, “Great wars have been waged against us. Fleets and armies have been sent to subdue us, and desolation hath been made in many parts of our land….  In all our dangers, God appeared for our help and gave wisdom to our councils, and fortitude to our armies, and disposed other Nations to think favorable to our cause.”[8]

        So it was that on May 31, 1898, Howard Hoyt praised God and rejoiced in God’s care throughout the Civil War, recalling “the woolen blue jackets…. The camp life, the long, weary marches, the picket duty, the hospital, the prison, the battle field, the cry of defeat, the shout of victory” before concluding, “When we think of all that this land of ours has been in days gone by, the untold treasure poured out for it, the spirit and enterprise exhibited by it, the true hand with which she has carried the standard of the cross through many a troublous time…our hearts swell with devout praise unto God.”[9]

        And so it is, beloved, that on June 2, 2013, your eighteenth senior minister joins this 280 year old chorus of praise on God’s Acre, giving thanks in my last sermon from this rickety pulpit as your pastor.  I give thanks for how God has brought us through times of terror, recession, and storm together, for how God has blessed us with such amazing kids in our church school and in our youth groups, for how God has blessed us with a future brightened by swelling numbers of young families and children, and for how God has called to this hill outstanding lay leaders and staff to walk with you through transition.

        And in the spirit of the Psalmist, I give thanks for this day: for the verdant beauty of this very day on God’s Acre, for the spiritual beauty of our wonderful congregation – for you wonderful people that I love so much – gathered together in worship to praise and thank God, and for the familial beauty of my wife and Vance and Katy and Libby and Owen reunited from their far-flung endeavors by your generous gift.

        Finally, beloved, Amy and I rejoice and give thanks that God called us to serve you, this wonderful congregation, and to live amongst you these nineteen years. For you see, there are some congregations you have to love. Then there are a few congregations you choose to love…. But then there are some congregations you just can’t help but love – Amy and I rejoice and give thanks that you are one of those.

        “This is the day that the Lord hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Amen.

 



c Or in him



[1] Harold E. Masback, III, “Eulogy for The Rev. Lidabell Lunt Pollard”, January 5, 2008.

[2] This litany, attributed to The Rev. John Eells, is said to be recorded in a short poem by Jonathan Swift, the famous Anglo-Irish satirist, poet and cleric who also wrote Gulliver’s Travels and who became Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. The litany and the attribution to Dean Swift have been cited in various church histories over the past 150 years. On June 20, 1883, on the occasion of the church’s 150th anniversary, The Rev. James S. Hoyt, D.D. described the circumstances as follows in his “Historical Discourse”: “Merrily, and often, for more than a century has laugh burst forth as the story has been told of ‘Priest Eells’ marrying the couple under his bed-room window in a thunder storm…. Tradition adds to this story that when the anxious couple came to the open summer window, Parson Eels, about to perform the ceremony remarked that “it was customary, on such an occasion, to make a prayer, but it was nothing essential, also to sing a hymn, but it was nothing essential’ Then directing them to join hands, the ceremony was performed in the manner above indicated. The happy groom replied, on leaving, “that it was customary to pay a dollar, but it was nothing essential. Good night.” See Historical Account of the Celebration of the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Organization of the Congregational Church of New Canaan, Conn. [June 20, 1883.]

[3] Julian M. Sturtevant, Julian M. Sturtevant: An Autobiography, Julian Monson Sturtevant, ed. [Fleming H.Revell: 1896.] Available online at Google Books: http://books.google.com/books?id=Z7o3AAAAMAAJ&pg=PA1&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=3#v=onepage&q&f=false

[4] The Rev. J. Howard Hoyt, “Sermon”, September 21, 1913

[5] The Rev. Loring D. Chase, “Of Transience and Eternity”, in The Cornerstone: Forty Two Sermons Preached During Forty Two Years of Pastoral Ministry, 1939-1981 [1982] at p. 33. Chase ended his sermon with an extended quotation from T. S. Eliot, “The Dry Salvages” (Harcourt Brace & Co., 1958) p. 136:

            Man’s curiosity searches past and future

            And clings to that dimension. But to apprehend

            The point of intersection of the timeless

            With time, is an occupation for the saint –

            No occupation either, but something given

            And taken in lifetime’s death in love,

            Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.

            For most of us, there is only the unattended

            Moment, the moment in and out of time,

            The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,

            The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning,

            Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply

            That it is not heard at all, but you are the music

            While the music lasts. These are only hints and guesses,

            Hints followed by guesses; and the rest

            Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action

            The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is incarnation.

[6] The Rev. Justus Mitchell, “Sermon”, January 5, 1806.

[7] The Rev. Lidabell Lunt Pollard, “Bring Me the Light”, December 15, 1996

[8] The Rev. Justus Mitchell, “Sermon”, November 27, 1800.

[9] The Rev. J. Howard Hoyt, “Address”, May 31, 1898.

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