Summary: For 1989, 70th anniversary of the church. Three Scriptures with the number "70" in them ... life includes pain and conflict; but we are to forgive without reservation; God knows the plans He has for the next 70 years of this church.
We’ve reached a milestone, a real milestone. Seventy years old. That’s a good long while. That is, in fact, a lifetime, according to one of the Scriptures I’m going to read, the typical, average lifetime of a human being. And it’s not too bad for an institution like a church.
We’ve been here, or somebody has been here, in this community, preaching the Gospel and praying and serving and being church for seventy years. That’s a long time.
Oh, I know there are others who can beat the record by a long shot. About a month ago we hosted a preaching conference here in this room, and one of the teachers was the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia. He told us that his congregation had been in business for 290 years. Still, for you and me, seventy years is a lifetime, almost, and it’s hard to get our minds around that much activity and history and relationship.
As a matter of fact, it helps me to get a grasp of how long and yet how short seventy years is when I think back to an experience my wife and I had a few years ago. She and I were spending about three weeks touring Britain, getting her accent refurbished and doing all the tourist things. And one day as we were leaving the Tower of London, happily with our heads still on our shoulders, I looked across the road and saw an old parish church, and on the wall of that church a large poster. The poster read, "Jesus Christ has been worshipped in this building for 300 years, on this site for 900 years, and in Britain for 1300 years. Isn’t it about time you got started?" What a history, what a tremendous heritage! It makes me reflect that if we are today celebrating seventy years of ministry, well, as the title of my message last week put it, "You ain’t seen nothin’ yet".
Wouldn’t you like to know a few of the things that had happened over nine hundred years? Wouldn’t it be fascinating to get a picture of the history and the style of such a congregation? How many sermons were preached there in nine hundred years? How many Gospel birds do you think those folks have consumed? I don’t know whether dinner on the grounds was done in the 11th century!
But this I can tell you for sure: they more than likely had a few fights, more than likely they have their share of conflict; my guess is that it has not been nine centuries of uninterrupted bliss, because human beings are just not like that. Human beings struggle and fight; human beings, even Christians, or maybe I should say especially Christians, fight. They fight about church because church is important to them. You don’t fight about things that don’t matter, and so if Christians squabble instead of living in harmony, sometimes that’s all to the good, sometimes that just means, "We care too much to stand by and shut up". So I imagine they fought at this ancient parish in London.
Any lifetime has its conflicts, doesn’t it? Any lifetime has its low moments, and I think that’s what the Psalmist is saying to us in the first text I’m going to read, the first text that contains the number seventy. The psalmist looks at a seventy year life span and is more than a little dismayed by the way it seems to add up!
Ps 90: 1-4, 10-12: Isn’t that pessimistic? Isn’t that negative? Just think about it: the years of our life are threescore and ten – that I S seventy, for those who need a little help with the math – yet their span is but toil and trouble. Very pessimistic.
And yet, you see, what the Psalmist wants us to do is to look realistically at our lives over our threescore and ten years, or, if by reason of strength, fourscore or more; he wants us to look back over these years and to learn from them. “So teach us to number our days, and get a heart of wisdom." Learn from seventy years of living.
You see, one of the hardest things to do is to take a realistic look at our own histories, whether we are talking about our individual lives or the life of an institution like the church. We just don’t want to tell the truth to each other, out loud, up front.
When did you ever go to a funeral where they told the whole truth? No, funerals are a time to remember fondly and maybe to think about somebody’s peculiarities, but with a light touch, with a smile, but never with a frown, never with hammer blows. Do you know the story about the preacher who was burying the town bully, and because custom says you do not speak ill of the dead, about all the preacher could do was to say, “Well, he wasn’t the absolutely meanest man I ever knew.”