Summary: Church is a Growing Place
When this building was first constructed, it was called Garden Methodist Church. The name was changed to First United Methodist Church when Garden Church and Redeemer Church merged in 1975. But on this day, when we dedicate our memorial walkway, I want to look back a bit and then look forward.
Why was this building first called Garden Methodist Church? Rev. Wesley Jensen, the first pastor here, wrote in a history of the early days of the church that a woman named, Lenore Mosbaugh suggested the name, ‘Garden Methodist Church,’ with our text for today, Isaiah 61:11, in mind. “For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.” And maybe part of the garden image was because there had been a lot of vegetable farms in the area. Part of it was a dream of this being a congregation with a lot of greenery around it. You can see that has happened right here in this sanctuary. But most important, this was to be a place for growing people. They were planting a witness for Christ in Oak Lawn and watching to see what God would grow out of it. We are God’s garden.
Today let’s think about the church as a garden, looking back a bit, and looking forward, too.
Now would you please stand as Maggie comes and reads our scripture for us? She’ll read all 11 verses of the chapter. You might recognize that in the New Testament Jesus quoted the first two verses the day he announced his calling in his home synagogue in Nazareth.
1 The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion-- to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory. 4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. 5 Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, foreigners shall till your land and dress your vines; 6 but you shall be called priests of the LORD, you shall be named ministers of our God; you shall enjoy the wealth of the nations, and in their riches you shall glory. 7 Because their shame was double, and dishonor was proclaimed as their lot, therefore they shall possess a double portion; everlasting joy shall be theirs. 8 For I the LORD love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. 9 Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the LORD has blessed. 10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.
Let me give you some of the context of our passage. It’s written to the people of Israel at one of the lowest points in their history. They had disobeyed God. The superpower of the day, Assyria, invaded Israel and conquered it. And in order to keep the many peoples that they had conquered from ever rising up again, the Assyrians had a nasty policy of fruit basket upset. They took the people they conquered and they moved them all out of their homelands. They scattered them all over the Middle East as exiles from their homelands, in hopes that they would be so disoriented and so disheartened that they would never be able to stand up against the Assyrians. That’s why Esther and Daniel lived far away from their homeland in Israel. Can you imagine having your family uprooted to Germany or Peru or Malaysia, forced to start all over again? How would you feel?