Today we recognize the faithfulness and dedication of Bill and Jo Howington, Barb Roberts, Marilyn Stock, George and Marjorie Strom, and Bob and Loretta Thompson to First United Presbyterian Church. We are gathered this day in celebration for all that they have contributed to the spiritual growth and spiritual strength of this church during the past fifty years.
As I was trying to find some appropriate scripture readings for this day, I finally settled on the short reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans and the reading from James. Both of these readings seem to sum up succinctly what the people we are honoring this day have meant not only to our church but also to their faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Paul’s letter to the church in Rome has the theme of righteousness that runs throughout it. What we read today is early in what we could call Paul’s introduction to his letter to the Roman people. He said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation for everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”
When I think of each one of our honored guests I know of no shame or embarrassment from them about the gospel. In all that they say and do, they reflect the gospel of Jesus Christ. They have indeed lived a life of faith that reflects the righteousness and grace that God has opened for each one of us.
Whether it is in their dealings with the church or with others who are not members of this congregation, you can see the love of Christ in them. Their words and actions speak volumes about the type of people that they are. Both their words and actions are a reflection of the spiritual foundation that this church was built on and continues to live by.
Just as the saints of this church helped guide and teach them about Jesus Christ, they continue to do the same for all of us. They not only reflect our past heritage but also the present. And who they are continues to shine bright and will guide us towards our future. They are, in a sense, paying their faith forward by living their lives they way they do. Without people like them we would not have a future.
The letter from James, the brother of Jesus, is one of the earliest of the New Testament letters, written about 48 CE (the Christian Era, commonly referred to as AD). The letter is addressed to all Christians and not just to one specific church. James insists that if we have real faith we will show it by acting like Christians.
The people we honor this day are as good an example as there is for what James tells us this morning. We often hear the statement in our world today, “If you talk the talk, you must walk the walk.” James says that in today’s reading. Our friends say it in their actions. Each one of them walks the walk of Christian brotherhood and sisterhood.
James states (James 2:14), “What good is it, my brother, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?” He continues by saying, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17). He challenges each one of us by writing, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:18b).
James’ advice is not just good advice for Christians but for all people. Most of us can talk a good game but it is how we play the game that is important. As we reflect on the lives of our eight honorees, we can see throughout each of their lives that they live the gospel not only in what they say but also in what they do. They back up what they believe by how they behave.
Service to others is the dominant theme that runs through the lives of each of our celebrants this day. Whether it is their service to this church or service to others out in the community is not important. What is important is how they have gone about living their lives – their lives be guided by the teachings and principles of Jesus Christ.
The gospel lectionary for this day (which we did not read) is John 10:22-30. In this reading, the religious leaders are asking Jesus if he is indeed the Messiah. Jesus says he has told them but they do not believe. He explains to them that the reason they do not believe is because they are not his sheep. “The sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me,” John writes (John 10:27).
Bill, Jo, Barb, Marilyn, George, Marjorie, Bob, and Loretta are some of Jesus’ sheep. They know his voice and have continued to follow it no matter how much outside interference (or static) the world puts in their way. They have committed their lives to Jesus Christ.
Are they perfect people? They would all emphatically answer no but they continue onward, putting one foot in front of the other as they navigate and deal with life on life’s terms. Being a Christian does not guarantee an easy life. None of their lives have been easy but they continue to draw their strength from the fruit of the vine, Jesus Christ. Their faith has led them to take the yoke of Christ upon their shoulders. And it is the yoke of Christ that has helped them during the hard times.
Bill, Jo, Barb, Marilyn, George, Marjorie, Loretta, and Bob whatever we say or do this day will not be enough of a thank you for all that you have done for our church. Your church and fellow members are truly grateful for the examples you have been and continue to be.
Your service, commitment, dedication, and love for First United Presbyterian Church has been and still is amazing. You have freely shared your gifts, talents, and tithes for many, many years because you believe in this church and it’s continued mission in our community and the world.
You are the example that James is talking about in his letter. All of us are better because of the lives you had led and the love that you have shared. Well done good and faithful servants.