2 Thessalonians 2:13-17; Matthew 22:23-33

“I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Jesus points out that we worship the God of the living, not of the dead. A Jewish friend of mine pointed out that his tradition interprets the verse Jesus quoted there as meaning that God is found anew by each generation. We continually bring new ways of understanding and relating the divine mystery, so we can’t just depend on the past. Not that God really changes – the verse reads “I Am,” not “I Was” – but each generation is present to God in its unique way. There’s something eternal about each moment we inhabit. In the same way, God is present to each generation in the legacy of the past and hope for the future.

God is present in the faith that gave this building and tradition to us, in service of the future. We see and celebrate God’s presence in the lives that remain present to us through their time and gifts, these tangible signs of a spiritual connection. We are grateful to Mr Coates for his leadership in making this building possible and fitting it with our pipe organ. We give thanks for Rev. Raymond and many others for the life of the institution. We celebrate the many lives that are marked by memorial gifts in this sanctuary. Our ancestors are present to us in a transformed, spiritual way, not of this way of being, and so we allow these forms to support our awareness of that presence.

We receive deeper spiritual legacies from our predecessors as well: a thinking faith, a commitment to practical service, scripture and music in our unique forms. Our worship is saturated with music, scripture, and prayer. We made that explicit today by celebrating the Reformed practice of singing Psalms as our hymns. We celebrate that philosophy, science, and critical history are unified with our faith (that’s not always a given in Western Christianity). We humbly seek our place in a legacy of community leadership that was given selflessly, at least when we’ve been at our best. Our heritage today is a faith that is committed to making God’s love real.

I was invited to say grace at the Range Mental Health Center’s 50th anniversary banquet last night. I gave thanks for the heritage of William J. Bell and Bill Sauve, to say nothing of Craig, Gordy, Frank, and Joe, who helped make that institution what it is (and Mel is now on the board). I was not invited on my own account but on theirs, and in honor of the Billy Bell Bakery. I’m not worthy to do more than give thanks; the honor belongs to others. That organization is one legacy among many for this congregation, but if all we ever did were to play such a great role in our regional mental health care, it would be enough.

Our legacy at RMHC stands in a deeper tradition than just this congregation’s people. It’s part of HCPC’s particular heritage, but it’s part of our Presbyterian heritage more generally. As Dr Draper said in his remarks last night: mental illness had an even more terrible stigma than it does now, but Bill Sauve insisted that we see and deal with it just as we would a physical illness. That deeply pragmatic humanism came from Bill’s emphatically Presbyterian faith, because we serve with our minds fully engaged and seek to understand the world Christ loves. Because our faith must lead to practice, helping to feed and heal people as Jesus did. Because as long as there have been Presbyterians, we’ve been giving ourselves (our careers and our “free time”) to putting our lives where our faith is.

So we respond in faith by continuing to pass this gift along to others. We claim our faith in the Apostles’ Creed, which uses the first person singular to mean that this is our own relationship with God. The traditional language affirms the hope of resurrection that animates all our gifts. We pass along the gift of life-giving scripture, as next week we will present Bibles to our 3rd graders, and every week in the worship and service we support together. We learn all there is to know – about the world around us, about human need, and about God’s way of new life. We study, pray, and listen to others. Then we open ourselves to work and share where we’re most able, making God’s ways real in the world today as they have been always.

Amen

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