Monday, June 22, 2015

Youthful Nerve and Passionate Faith


Preface:
This is not the sermon I wrote for this Sunday. As the folks from Tuesday morning Bible study know, I was heading in a different direction, and while neither the text nor the title has changed, when I awoke on Thursday morning, I realized it was time to start over.

Fifty years after the founding of First Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, DE, about 20 miles up the road, another church was just getting started, a church that could not have been more different from the venerable Presbyterians to the south.

For starters, the new church was Methodist and followed the doctrine of Charles Wesley as opposed to the divinely inspired and infallible teachings of John Calvin. A second, and more significant difference was that while the Delawarean Calvinists were primarily Socts-Irish, the members of the First African Society were all free blacks living in the north.

Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, free blacks themselves, are the ones credited with founding the Society whose goal in 1787 was to create a non-denominational religious organization to serve the spiritual, economic and social needs of Philadelphia's African-American community.  Clearly an enterprise of youthful nerve and passionate faith.

In 1794, Jones would found an Episcopal church, and Allen a Methodist church, the beginning of the African Methodist Episcopal or AME denomination, today with 12,000 congregations and 7.5M members. For comparison, the PCUSA is currently at 10,000 congregations with 2M members.

One only needs to have a cursory understanding of the history of this country to realize the plethora of struggles and setbacks these congregations have withstood throughout their tenure. I don’t doubt that every one of those 12,000 churches can tell a story after story of torment, oppression, hatred, and violence all steeped in America’s Original Sin of racism.

The Emanual AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in headlines this week, has been the fodder of newspaper ink before: (from the church’s website)

It was founded in 1816 by a black pastor named Morris Brown, and it's the oldest black church still standing south of Baltimore. Booker T. Washington spoke there in 1909, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech of his own in 1962. In 1969, Coretta Scott King led a march from the church's front steps, advocating for higher pay for hospital workers.

But decades before Washington and King graced its halls, Mother Emanuel was also the spiritual refuge of Denmark Vesey, a former slave turned carpenter who bought his own freedom in 1799, after he won $1,500 from the Charleston lottery. He was described by many as a martyr, and became symbolic of the abolitionist movement.

In 1822 the church was investigated for its involvement with a planned slave revolt. Denmark Vesey, also one of the church's founders, organized a major slave uprising in Charleston. Vesey was raised in slavery in the Virgin Islands among newly imported Africans. He was the personal servant of slavetrader Captain Joseph Vesey, who settled in Charleston in 1783. Beginning in December 1821, Vesey began to organize a slave rebellion, but authorities were informed of the plot before it could take place. The plot created mass hysteria throughout the Carolinas and the South.

During the Vesey controversy, the AME church was burned. Worship services continued after the church was rebuilt until 1834 when all black churches were outlawed. 

And then last Wednesday night during a weekly Bible study, a 21-year-old white kid with a “Dutch boy” haircut, who had been welcomed by eight members and their pastor, opened fire with a handgun, slowly and deliberately killing them with bullets from his pistol interspersed with racial slurs from his mouth.

I suppose he too could be subtitled, “youthful nerve and passionate faith.”

Only it isn’t. And it isn’t a call to open the conversation about mental illness. Why is it that when white kids kill it’s about mental illness and when black kids kill it’s about the moral decay in the African-American family and culture?

This is about deep, systemic, and proliferated racism that is imbedded in the DNA of our country from the Constitution to today that will never be addressed because white people like it too much.

This is about the grip of the NRA and the gun lobby on our politicians genitalia that render them impotent and mute when their re-election is threatened. If being a politician is the only job you know, it’s time to do something meaningful with your life because we don’t have enough days on this planet to pander.

This is about a deeply engrained culture of weapons-based security and a system of racial supremacy.

So now it’s time to turn to the Bible.

As a simple act of solidarity for the deaths of Clementa Pinckney, 41, the senior pastor at the church; Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45, an assistant pastor; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Ethel Lance, 70, the mother of one of Kaci’s seminary classmates; Susie Jackson, 87; Cynthia Hurd, 54; Myra Thompson, 59; Daniel Simmons Sr., 74; and DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49, please take a Bible and turn to page 260 while we too study the Bible in our house of worship.

Let’s read together verses 4 – 7:

And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; and his shield- bearer went before him.

So…this story is right smack dab in the middle of the Iron Age, and the Phillistines, being coastal people, think modern day Gaza, had it first and they were good at it.

Goliath, loaded down with all of that iron, all of those weapons of mass destruction, represented the best in national defense, so good, he was invincible to say nothing of cocky and bombastic.  And, none of that was lost on the Hebrews. They, and their king, were shaking in their boots.

Now move down to verse 19.

This is how we’re introduced to David – and hear this in comparison to the description of Goliath:

Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. David rose early in the morning, left the sheep with a keeper, took the provisions, and went as Jesse had commanded him

Did you catch that little nuance? Saul and all the MEN of Israel were away at war, but David was not, hence, he was not considered a man, he was just a boy.

In verse 32, Saul restates the obvious:

David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth

Yet, David convinces Saul that he’s brave, courageous, and confident in God’s protection and deliverance. He asserts his skill as a shepherd and exudes youthful nerve and passionate faith. If he can slay the predators of his flock, with God, he can save his people from their overgrown iron-clad menace.

The next scene, starting in verse 38 is a bit of comic relief as the tension grows with the conflict on the horizon:

Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” So David removed them.

You can just picture this slight young man burdened with the weight of Saul’s armor. It’s a pathetic attempt on Saul’s part of accommodate, to hijack David’s faith and overlay the conventions of war.

So David takes all of that off and instead takes a simple leather slingshot and picks five round river stones and heads off to greet impossible odds!

Goliath is either amused or insulted or both.

When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance.

You know, I don’t know what the deal is, but David had to be one good-looking dude. No one else in the Bible garners such gushing about physical looks. The point is, he’s too young and too pretty to fight.

In response, David speaks one of the most theologically disciplined speeches in the entire Bible:

But David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord ’s and he will give you into our hand.

The speech is bracketed key phrases:

Opens with:  You come to me with weapons, but I come to you in the name of God.

Closes with:  So that all the earth may know that there is a God who does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord ’s and God will give you into our hand.

And then, after waiting 47 verses, the action is quick, decisive, and effective. David didn’t even need all 5 stones; one was enough.

This story of David and Goliath is easily among the best known in the entire book and has infiltrated the vernacular with its vivid depiction of embodied hope for all who face overwhelming odds and evil. It’s not just about rooting for the underdog; that cheapens and misleads. This is about the subversive power of truth, of God’s ultimate opposition to arrogant and self-serving power and its violence.

Arrogant and self-serving power and its violence: Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC.

A 21-year-old given a gun for his birthday by his father that he uses to kill 9 African-Americans while they are doing what we just did. They welcomed the stranger and he opened fire on them and the country is aghast.

No…not the entire country. Not people of color who have faced oppression for their entire American experience. Not the parents of children massacred in Sandy Hook. Not Gabby Gifford. Not moviegoers in Aurora, CO. Not the families of 13 people killed in Chicago last week; or the 23 shot and killed in Wilmington in 2014; or the 100 gun deaths in Delaware in 2013.

In those pews of Emanuel AME rose up the hellacious vortex of the feverous infection of racism and the mindless proliferation of guns; and we do nothing. Our church prints anemic, safely worded prayers on its website (“racial unrest”) and is the proprietor of “disaster of the day” jingles so congregations can lament and sing and go home and never give it another thought.

That’s not good enough.

No guns. Period. No guns. No one in this country, other than law enforcement and the military, needs a gun. If you want to go hunting, rent a rifle. No handguns. No automatic weapons. No guns. The 2nd Amendment has been hijacked in ways the framers of those words would never have envisioned. No guns.

As for racism? When white people are willing to acknowledge their unearned and unquestioned privilege in this country, racism might begin to erode. Just look at the way the shooter in SC was treated vs. a young black man committing the same crime. They put a bullet-proof vest on him. Immediately the cry for mental health treatment goes up. He must be ill; no white person would do such a thing!

This is not something “the church needs to do”: this is personal and it’s up to each of you and to me. Nothing changes until one person who possesses a shred of faith and confidence in God, steps forward, and holds a stone that says, “this stops here and now. In my hearing. In my view. In my day. This stops here and now.”

David only needed the one stone to confront overwhelming odds. He confronted the threat of one people dominating and oppressing another. Racism in our day. He confronted the massive strength, influence, and power of weapons. Gun lobby and the NRA in our day.

With youthful nerve and passionate faith. With one stone. He prevailed.

No, I take that back.

With one of God’s well-place stones, David prevailed.

So can we.


Amen.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Purpose and People


Some things are such boldface lies that we simply have to laugh when we hear them:

The check is in the mail!
The doctor will call you back!
The puppy won't be any trouble, Mom. I promise I'll take care of it myself.

And…

I'm from the home office and I'm here to help you.

For the most part, if you’re managing a satellite office or a company store and someone shows up from “corporate” you can typically be sure it’s not to tell you what a good job you’re doing and to deliver a big fat bonus check.  Now, I’m sure there are exceptions but in my limited experience, when someone shows up from the home office it’s rarely good news! Most folks would rather be left alone and never hit the radar screen of those “out of touch” corporate types!

Such is the case with those poor trembling elders of Bethlehem who ran to the city gates to find out why Samuel, King Saul’s emissary, was rolling into town!

Bethlehem was way off the beaten path. It was a tiny hamlet a few miles south of Jerusalem that no one cared about. Apparently the village elders liked it that way.

King Saul really only controlled the northern section of Israel and his influence didn’t extend as far south as Bethlehem or even Jerusalem. All the action took place up north and the south was left alone – although everyone knew that if Saul wanted to forage the agriculturally rich southern region – there was nothing or no one that could stop him.

So when Samuel came rolling up it had to be bad news.

If he came as Saul’s ambassador to scope out the land for future pillaging – the Bethlehemites were in trouble.

If Samuel showed up and he was on the down low from Saul, the Bethlehemites were at risk for harboring him and inciting Saul’s anger and rage – again, a consequence they dearly wanted to avoid.

No, Samuel showing up from the “home office” was clearly of no help to them!

Samuel knew that was going to happen as soon as God dispatched a few weeks earlier and put up a fuss. First of all, Samuel was afraid for his own skin, after all, God had basically told him to commit treason – out king making while the king he had already made was still on the throne. Sam figured that folks would be less than thrilled to see him coming and would rather dispatch him than risk the king’s ire and revenge.

So God cooked up a little deception. Does it bother you that God would resort to such things? Apparently God is capable of just about anything to see God’s purpose through so a little surreptitious bovine sacrifice seems harmless enough.

The cow is good cover for Samuel and it appeases the excitable elders so that they, at Samuel’s invitation, gather for worship.

There, with the elders and their families in attendance, Samuel surveys the wondrous gaggle of Jesse’s boys and his eyes light upon the first-born, a bit of “eye candy” named Eliab, and Sam assumes he’s the one. But God redirects and says stop being fooled by good looks and height – just because someone is tall doesn’t make them a good leader – an assessment I try not to take personally.

So, like some Iron Age version of “The Bachelor,” the sons of Jesse are paraded in front of Samuel and each time God withholds the rose even after number 7 makes his debut. This is quite the dilemma, after all “7” was the sacred number of completeness yet was unlucky for the sons of Jesse.  With a note of desperation, Samual asks Jesse “is this all you got?”

No, Jesse, responds, there’s one more, the runt, just a kid, he’s out taking care of the sheep.

Samuel looks at him and simply says, “we’ll wait!”

So they stood there, looking at each other, while David was fetched from the fields. God knows how long it took. It’s not like he was in the backyard playing. It could have been a hike. Yet Samuel waited. The elders waited. The cow waited. The brothers waited. Israel waited. Israel had been waiting a long time for a decent king. They could wait a little longer.

Finally, in comes the young man and although God had just told them to ignore outward appearance and looks, what’s the only thing the narrator tells us?

“Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome!”

Don’t you know that God was just rolling God’s eyes with a muttered, “oy!”

Yet son #8 won the Golden Ticket, was doused with a little EVOO, and caught a holy breeze. Samuel, with perhaps the very relieved cow in tow, left to go home.

So that’s how Saul’s successor was named, although at this point, we still don’t know what his name is. Later on, we’re told that he’s called David and that he’s an excellent musician!

As Walter Brueggemann notes:
Israel will never be the same again. This is a newness in Israel, not caused by oil but by spirit. It is a secret newness not yet known outside the circle of the family, or perhaps the village. The anointing is not a public relations event. It is a sacramental act binding God to this new vision of the kingdom.
And good-hearted David was the one through which God would work God’s purpose out; and despite God’s stern admonition to the contrary, David’s good looks were underscored in glowing, even affectionate terms. The narrator really wanted the readers to know that he was clearly “above average!” despite the fact that he was one of the marginalized, un-credentialed, with no social claim or status. Maybe the readers of the story liked the idea that he was one of them, that he was handsome and charming, that among the rabble there were beautiful people, that among the “little people” there was the potential for greatness.

From the rabble to the beautiful people, from the little to the greats within those ranges most everyone here should fit. We’re often the rabble, at least sometimes the rousers, and given our status vis a vis the balance of the world’s population, we are the “beautiful people” even if we don’t always recognize ourselves as such. From us, within us, despite us, God is at work in the world.

Again from Brueggemann:

[The story of David is] the hidden purpose of God worked out through awkward and raw events of historical interaction.

Awkward and raw juxtaposed with David’s grace and beauty; the clumsiness of misguided humanity juxtaposed with God’s dogged pursuit of justice; the false security of self-reliance juxtaposed with openness to divine purpose – all captured in this tale of Samuel arriving on a mission from the home office.

Samuel and David don’t appear to have much in common. One is old and haggard; the other young and handsome; one born into a priestly lineage the other the runt of the litter sent to chase after wayward sheep; one a respected leader of the community the other a nobody – yet what they do have in common is simply this: God’s purpose was worked through them.

Throughout the biblical narrative we see that God isn't as interested in people or their specific gifts as we might think; rather, God is interested in the purposes these people are meant to carry out.

Adam and Eve were big disappointments before they even got dressed. The people Israel were often a ragtag bunch of whiners who lost their sense of direction and allegiance at the drop of a golden calf. The disciples were often portrayed as oblivious stooges. The early church fell into dispute and disarray just as soon as Jesus was out of sight – yet God has worked God’s purpose through these and others since the beginning of time.

The Good News is that God might even be able to work God’s purpose through you and me.

The sobering reality is this: it’s not about us – our skill, our attraction, our stature, our talent, or our innate beauty. God will work God’s purpose in spite of all the characteristics that we hold as special.

Our part in all of this? David can give us a hint: when he was brought in from the field and marked as one through whom God intended to work, how did he react? What did he say? Nothing. He said nothing and God’s spirit was with him.

Perhaps our greatest “spiritual discipline” is to hush up – and given that I’m the one who has been talking non-stop for nearly 15 minutes clearly I’m the one who should heed my own advice!

Perhaps our most challenging of tasks is to be quiet, to be receptive, to be open and available to God working God’s purpose out through us. Do I think we know it when it happens? Probably not. I don’t think David had a clue what awaited him when he trudged in from the fields, feet covered in mud or worse, his clothes reeking of day-old sheep.

There stood an old man with a nervous looking cow and a jar of olive oil who looked at him and said, “he’s the one!” and after pouring some of that oil on him, left and went home.

David was silent. David was accepting. David was open.

And then David went back to his day job and God went back to God’s and through this young, inexperienced, unsuspecting, handsome kid – God changed the course of human history, a history that culminated with Jesus, and a history that includes us.

Who you are, what you think you are or are not capable of, or good at, or where your gifts and talents may or may not be, or whether or not you’re ready for it or see it or want it or have time or be receptive or afraid or happy about it – I’m here from the home office and I’m here to help!

God works God’s purpose through each every one of us, in ways large and small, and you can do nothing about it! Remember: it’s not YOUR purpose and it’s not up to you to discover it or claim it or name it – it’s God’s purpose and its about doing justice and loving kindness and walking humbly and openly with God.

My helpful words from the home office today? Simply this: Live so God can use you, anywhere and anytime.

Amen.


Sunday, June 7, 2015

It's Not You, It's Me!


Show of hands…

Who has ever been told:

“It’s not you; it’s me!”

Now for the real test…who has ever said it!?!

“It’s not you; it’s me!”

The classic appeasement after someone’s been unceremoniously dumped. It’s the impotent salve that’s meant to assuage the pain or embarrassment just inflicted by the one who has rejected us. In short: you’ve been dumped but the fault in the failed relationship lies not with the dumpee, but with the dumpor.

Uh huh…

Anyone who has been on the receiving end of “it’s not you; it’s me,” knows that and so does anyone who has said it. It’s an attempt at minimizing awkwardness only it simply adds insult to injury. The true statement is, “it’s not you; it’s me, but it’s really you!”

So I’ve dug myself a big ol’ hole because I’ve painted people who use the line as somewhat disingenuous who are trying to make themselves feel better for dumping someone.  Now I’m going to tell you that God said that exact same thing to Samuel – only God really meant it!

Here’s the big difference: God wasn’t saying it to assuaged his guilt at dumping Samuel and his sons, God was saying it in response to God being dumped by the Hebrews who were, in fact, saying: It’s not us; it’s you!

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.

And God said to Samuel, “it’s not you; it’s me!”

Israel had a unique situation and apparently it made them nervous.

All of the countries around them, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Babylon, had monarchies. One king and his court that ran the country, usually with a iron fist. Such concentrated power served three important functions:

1.  Decisions and direction were swift and non-negotiable.
2.  Wealth was concentrated and accounted for.
3.  National defense was coordinated and formidable.

Israel, on the other hand, was organized as a loose collection of tribes or clans, each with its own personality, problems, and leadership. For an overly simplistic comparison, think the original 13 colonies before a federal government, about the time this place was built!

Rules and customs varied from place to place – like marriage today – and a collection of “judges” were elected, appointed, or anointed in each area to dispense justice, and more importantly, to manage the local militia.  

Among the best of the bunch? Samuel. From cradle to grave he was a prophet, priest, and judge above reproach and served his people and God well.

Alas, his shortfall, however, was either flawed DNA or parenting skills or both. His kids, notably his boys, were bums and everyone knew it and they weren’t about to continue the family dynasty. Given the presumed front-runners of the current presidential election this may be easy to relate to.

As a consequence, the elders, the 1% of Israel, got together and planned a polite coup d-etat: “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.”

Samuel hated the idea and complained to God, who, in a surprise to Samuel, said, “nope, put your big boy pants on Sam and do what they want!”  God knew it was a lousy plan but God had had to listen to the Hebrews’ whine in the past and decided to let them have their way and deal with the outcome.

In my family we called these, “natural consequences!” Don’t want to do your homework? Fine, but don’t complain to me when your teacher gives you detention. Don’t want to study for the test? Fine, but no excuses when you get a bad grade. Don’t want to pay your taxes? Fine, but don’t complain that your cell at Leavenworth is too small!

Natural consequences are the Side B of God’s Greatest Hit: Free Will, which is one of the, if not the point, of today’s reading.

God allows the people to make a decision, even a bad one, even one that will eventually work against them; for God allows people to have control of their lives and destiny. It’s called agency: the capacity to act in any given context.

Free will, freedom of choice, agency all obligate the consequences of our decisions, repercussions. Yes, we are free to make our own choices, but none of them carry a “get out of jail free card.” Everything we do, everything, carries consequence – large and small, good and bad.

What Samuel outlined for the Hebrew people was his laundry list of the downside of a monarch.

All the people could think of was the upside: centralized defense, concentrated wealth, ease of control, and unfettered manipulation of power and policy.  To the 1% this was almost as exciting as the “Citizens United” ruling.

Samuel, old as he was, still had a few pearls of wisdom to share:

"This is the way the kind of king you're talking about operates:
  • He'll take your sons and make soldiers of them.
  • He'll put some to forced labor on his farms, plowing and harvesting, and others to making either weapons of war or chariots in which he can ride in luxury.
  • He'll put your daughters to work as beauticians and waitresses and cooks.
  • He'll conscript your best fields, vineyards, and orchards and hand them over to his special friends.
  • He'll tax your harvests and vintage to support his extensive bureaucracy.
  • Your prize workers and best animals he'll take for his own use.
  • He'll lay a tax on your flocks and you'll end up no better than slaves.”


And finally, this dire warning:

“The day will come when you will cry in desperation because of this king you so much want for yourselves. But don't expect God to answer.”

Here’s the punch line: if you fast-forward about 100 years, all of those warnings became reality under the reign of the last king of united Israel, David’s son, Solomon.  Natural consequences on a grand scale.

Yet, not every human decision is bad, and in the interest of the fun and festive picnic that follows, I’ll spare you the discourse on Calvin’s doctrine of total depravity of humanity.

Not every human decision is bad, and often the only bad decision is no decision.

Let’s go back, just for a moment, to Samuel and the disgruntled Hebrews. The decision to recognize that Samuel was getting too old to be effective, and the decision to rule out his ne’er-do-well sons as successors was also prudent. Where they went awry was when they dismissed God and opted to take their future into their hands. Hubris made worse by the fact that they knew better. Their own story was steeped in this very fallacy, as is ours.

It would have been so easy for Samuel to take all of this personally – and frankly – I don’t know how he couldn’t have. This has to feel like a rejection of him. It had to hurt and then for God to say, “listen to the people,” that was salt in the wound.

Yet to the end, he was diligent. After listening to, and warning the people about, their demands, “Samuel took in what they said and rehearsed it with God. “

Did you hear it? That little phrase at the end? That’s key to all of this: rehearsed it with God.  It’s great language and such an accessible image.

How do we make good decisions? We rehearse them with God. We practice them, see how they feel, sound, look, and measure up to what God expects from us; our highest good and that of our community.

We rehearse our decisions before God to ferret out manipulation and self-serving ends. To root out insincerity or false pretenses. To illumine greed and conceit.

Think, for a moment, as we sit in a church that was built in 1740 – nearly 3 centuries ago, before we were a state or a country.

This building was originally on Market Street between 9th and 10th and this gambrel-roofed church was the spiritual home to a congregation of Scots-Irish Presbyterians. They marked the church's construction date by spelling out "1740" in black bricks in one exterior wall, which date survives on the building today. The number of worshippers waxed and waned over the years, at times dropping perilously low.

A century after the congregation built the little church, however, their number had grown sufficiently large to warrant a new church, built on the other side of the graveyard and dedicated in 1840. With the dedication of the new, larger church, the congregation modified this old church by adding an upper level for Sabbath School and meetings.

In 1878, the Historical Society of Delaware rented the little church, installing exhibits on the upper floor and using the ground floor for lectures. By 1895, the Historical Society rented space to the National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the State of Delaware, charging $2 per year for meeting space, an arrangement that continued until 1910.

In 1919 Wilmington was expanding and prosperous and a deal was struck to move the little church and the accompany graveyard from the center of the city so that a public library could be built and Rodney Square established.

Nearly 100 years later, we gather again, the descendants of those Scots-Irish Presbyterians here on the banks of the Brandywine and worship and sing and pray and read the story in much the same way.

Countless decisions relative to the witness, presence, personality, and prominence of the church in this particular context had to be made. Clearly, not all were easy, not all were right, not all were good, not all enjoyed consensus, not all were popular – yet somehow the church survived and in some instances, thrived.

I like to think that one of the reasons we’re still here is that our ancestors, in making those decisions, took time to rehearse them with God. I like to think, as well, that when we, as caretakers for this sacred trust in 2015, rehearse our decisions with God as well, and that, like Samuel, we’d yield to God’s will and subjugate our own, even when it is painful, embarrassing, or humiliating.  

In essence, we know that we’ve fully rehearsed our decisions before God when we come to the realization that the will to follow, the direction to take, the one to please and listen to sounds less like, “it’s not you, it’s me,” and more like, “it’s not me…it’s you!”


Amen.