Summary: A sermon shared at a service at a small church to celebrate their 100th anniversary. A sermon to give encouragement and hope for the future.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we join together this morning, members, friends, family and brothers and sisters from local churches, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of this church. On special occasions like anniversaries it is natural to look back over the past, to smile as we remember the good times (like in the ‘photo’s we’ve shared), and perhaps to sigh as we recall the not-so happy times. So it is today that we look back over the 100 years since the founding of this church – to the ‘birth’ of this church, brought into being through the vision of a small number of people, dedicated to following Jesus.
I sometimes think what a wonderful time it must be, when a new church is founded. How exciting it must have been as the founders of this church sought to come together in Christian community, then to build a place of worship. And how exciting it must have been for the people to build themselves up as Christ’s church here, to strive to fulfil Christ’s commission in faith and trust in God, to “preach, baptise, and live out the mission” he had begun. What a wonderful time that must have been, seeing the building rise to the glory of God, and seeing (gradually) the congregation grow and strengthen – a Christian community singing and praying to the glory of God. Yes, what wonderful times they must have been, the first couple of years of this church’s life when, in its infancy, perhaps it was even a joy to overcome the many problems and difficulties that arose!
And who could have foreseen, back 1909, what it would mean for this church community to provide loving, Christian service to this area? Certainly there were things to be thankful for: a growing church, several generations of people gathering here at one time to worship and learn: babies, children, young people and adults of all ages – all together in Christian community! What joy and thanksgiving must have been felt at the rites of baptism, marriage and in the seasonal celebrations of the church year!
Then there are memories of a full church – services every Sunday morning and evening, and with Sunday School in the afternoon to boot! Imagine! Sunday with no Sunday football (soccer) games, no Sunday shopping! How times have changed! Then there were church socials during the week and evening activities – all to foster Christian fellowship: memories of life-long friendships forged here among the people of this church – perhaps often where one met one’s marriage partner too! Happy times! And what a source of strength and support the church must have been for people in sadder times too – as we think back upon the past.
For, at times of remembering – and giving thanks to God for – the life of a church when celebrating its anniversary, I often think of the less-than-happy times its people have seen too. For instance, who of the founders of this church back in 1909, could have imagined that, within the first four decades of its life, the people of this (and other local churches) would witness the terror, loss and upheaval of two world wars? The memorial plaques in many of our churches testify to the service to monarch and country, and to the tragic loss of life – at home and overseas – sustained by so many.
But it is testimony to the strength of Christian community, a community of people dedicated to living their lives in faith in Christ Jesus, that even in those most terrible of events, the church here (as with our sister churches locally) not only survived but continued to thrive. So it is that the love of God wins through even the bleakest of times. And so it is that this church has seen times of great joy and celebration, and times of great hardship, as we look back over the past. A past through which people sought-out the presence and guidance of God; a past where people strove to live-out their faith and share their faith with others; a past reflected in some of the words of that hymn, a paraphrase of Psalm 34, we sung a moment ago – “Through all the changing scenes of life / in trouble and in joy / the praises of my God shall still / my heart and tongue employ.”
This church anniversary, then, provides the opportunity to reflect upon what God has done through this church community over the last 100 years. It is a time to reflect upon our experience of God being (as it says in Psalm 46) our refuge and strength in times of trouble, thus there is no cause to fear – even though change is all about us – and not necessarily change for the better!