This was the message that I gave at Walker Valley UMC on the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, 30 September 2001. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Jeremiah 32: 1 – 3, 6 – 15; 1 Timothy 6: 6 – 19; and Luke 16: 19 – 31.
I found the Old Testament reading for today interesting for two readings. First, Jeremiah bought the land in anticipation of the rebirth of the nation of Israel. In buying the land, Jeremiah put his faith into action and showed the people there was hope for the future, even when faced with imminent danger. We as a country are being asked to do much the same thing, move towards the future even as we recover from the devastating events of almost three weeks ago.
And second, the Old Testament reading reminded me of how this church got its own start. And as I studied some of the history of this church, especially the record of baptisms and marriages I got a sense that perhaps the past of my daughters may be tied to this church more than I might be. It seems that Elnora E. Eitel was married to Robert W. Marion in this church (or actually its predecessor) on December 10, 1878 by the Reverend J. S. Walker. And while this event may not have much meaning to you, there is the possibility that Elnora is somehow related to my daughters through their maternal grandfather, Manuel Eitel.
If we know our history, we have some sense of why we are here and what our future will be. In reading the informal history of Walker Valley we know that James Walker set aside some $300 for the purpose of erecting a house of worship in Walker Valley. He stipulated that the congregation would have to raise $!,000 in order to receive this bequeath. Sometime in 1854, the Rev. Edward Oldrin appointed a Board of Trustees consisting of Jacob Walker, James Kerr, James Lebody, Isaac R. Talmage and Matthew Wilkinson to oversee the task of raising the $1,000. It was reported that they circulated a subscription, which was met with a fine reception. As a result the money was raised.
The first structure was begun in 1854 and dedicated on January 8, 1855. The cost of the church was $1750. On July 18, 1907, lightening struck the church and it burned to the ground. Under the leadership of James M. Walker, grandson of James Walker, they started to rebuild. It appears from the history that I got these notes from much of the effort in building this present structure come from donations and personal effort. On May 30, 1908 this building was dedicated to the work of God.
The tradition of donating not only money but also time and energy was continued with the building of the education building. In 1964, the congregation of this church wanted to build what is now our educational wing. The Conference gave permission for the project but with the stipulation that the costs not exceed $8,000. The building committee for that project consisted of Andrew Baxter, John O’Connor, Leon Allen, Roy Upright, Gertrude Martyn, and Beulah and Gordon Frost, familiar names to many of you. The education wing was dedicated on July 9, 1967 with a service highlighted by the presence of the bishop of the conference. When Bishop Lyght comes here in December, it will be the first time since that service in 1967 that a Bishop of the New York Annual Conference has visited this area.
But our interest in the past should not cloud our concern for the future. It was for the future, both in 1854 and again in 1964, that this church was built. It was because there was a need for a place to worship God together that this church was built; it was because there was a need to educate the children of the congregation that the educational wing was built. So when we see these building from only the past, we fail to see where we will be in the future.
Jeremiah bought the land in Anathoth not as land speculation, knowing that it would be valuable after the Babylonians left but rather because he knew that there would be a future. When he bought that land, there was no bright hope in the future. To many that would have been enough to quit or give up.
But, in purchasing the land, Jeremiah quietly said that there was a future, there was a hope.
Paul, in writing to Timothy, pointed out we cannot take what material goods we have accumulated during our lives with us when we die. And we should be equally concerned that the only reason that we seek to accumulate material wealth is for our own purposes. Paul warned about loving money, as if in doing so, we would gain that which we did not have. It is not money that gives life to all things or serves as the foundation of our hope.
There is no sin in being rich but you must always be aware of where the money and the riches come from. What we have to understand is that money is a tool to be used in the service of God. That is what Paul meant when he wrote to Timothy to teach people to be "rich in good works, generous and ready to share." (Verse 18)
Jesus also reminds us that which we have here on earth cannot be taken with us into heaven or that what we have here is going to be of any assistance when we get there. While we might want to live a life like that of the rich, we have to stop and think if that is an adequate representation of who we are or what we want to be.
The challenge that we face today is do what do what we can that not only honors the traditions of this church but also insures that those traditions are carried forward. This church was built to insure that the word of God would be represented in this community; that people would be able to hear the Gospel message. And while it may not seem so, what we do here goes beyond the community.
If nothing else, the recent tragedy clearly shows that our world is not limited to a simple little country community, assuming that it ever was. So what we do in this little corner of Ulster County will have an impact on the world around us.
We seek a world of peace but peace doesn’t come simply because we hope for it or because we pray for it. Make no mistake, prayer helps but our actions make the prayers come alive. Paul wrote
"Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12: 19 – 21).
Jeremiah was sitting in a jail when God commanded him to buy that piece of land. The hope for the future came not from what Jeremiah said but rather from what he did.
Paul pointed out that our presence would be increased more by how we helped others than by what we had for ourselves. Jesus pointed out that we could not help others from the grave and that we must work in the now for the future.
As members of the United Methodist Church, we have pledged to serve through our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service. This coming week, the chairs and members of the Administrative Council will be getting notes about the upcoming Charge Conference. One of those notes speaks to the budget for the coming year.
We have never had a major stewardship drive and I have never really thought it was needed. But I am challenging each member of this church to think not only about what this church has meant to them but also to think about what this church can mean to others who have yet to come. I want you to pray carefully about what this church has done and what you can do to help this church do the same for others.
Our future is built on our past. Those who felt there was a need for the word of God to be heard here in Walker Valley built this church. Today you are being asked to build on that history and make sure that there is a future.