I read a story a few months ago that I couldn’t ever get out of my head. It’s about a family who lived in the Tennessee Valley during the Great Depression. The federal government put together a plan called the Tennessee Valley Project to build a dam and create more jobs. The family, who lived in a homestead cabin, knew that the dam would create new jobs, that their neighbors and their town would benefit from the work and opportunities. They knew that the government built them a new home outside the area of the lake, but on the day that they were to move, the father came out on the porch of that little cabin and told the government workers that they weren’t leaving. The construction workers didn’t know what to do until someone thought to send in a social worker to listen to the family’s concerns. She sat with them all morning, drinking a cup of coffee and getting to know them. Finally she asked them to tell her why they were refusing to move so she had something to report back to the construction crew. The father of the house looked at her and said, “Do you see that fire in the fireplace?” as he pointed to the only heating and cooking source in their small home. “My grandfather tended to that fire his whole life because he didn’t have any matches and the neighbors was too far away. Then my father tended to that fire his whole life, and I have been tending to it my whole life. I'm not about to let that fire go out now.” This gave the social worker an idea. The next day she brought with her a large apple butter kettle. She explained to the family that they could put the coals in the kettle, that she had kindling and wood ready in their new home, and that they could bring the fire with them. The family asked her to leave as they discussed this. When they invited her back into their cabin, they were each taking turns shoveling up the coals into the bucket and then they walked together, carrying the fire of their ancestors to their new home.
Many of you chose to come to this new place four years ago. And you brought what was im-portant to you-- the things that made the old building sacred for you-- the tree of life; the stained glass; the organ; the cross; and many other things. You brought the things that would make this building feel like home to those of you that worshipped in the old building. But I noticed that you didn’t create the same building in a new spot. You brought what was sacred to you and put them together in a new way that would be attractive and welcoming to new people like myself who came later on that journey.
But that’s not what makes this place sacred. What you really brought with you, that makes this place sacred, are the stories of how God has been at work in your life— stories you have been willing to share in this space. And those who have come since the move, those of us who came after that, we have brought with us our stories and witness of who God is in this world— the love that we have experienced because of God’s presence in our lives. We have been praying for the Holy Spirit for over a year now, to break into this church and unleash God’s Spirit, but it’s not like the Holy Spirit wasn’t here before that too. The Holy Spirit has been a part of our lives from the beginning! And that's why I know that we can be bold in this moment, at this time-- because God's Spirit did not so much come with you in the move, as it moved ahead of us, waiting for us to recognize it. This is not our work; it is God's work through us. God's vision that led us to this time and this place.
Did you know it was 160 years ago that Pastor John Pugh began this church by having some people over to his home? St. Cloud had just been incorporated with a population of 200 people. I wonder what that looked like? He didn't have an organ; or a choir; or stained glass windows. But they prayed for the Holy Spirit and this church began to grow. People began to share the love of Christ. And right from the beginning it was a place of welcome for those who were just beginning to make their home in St. Cloud; right away it was a place to deepen spiritually for those who longed to know Christ; right away it was a community invested in social justice and reaching out to families and neighbors. None of that has changed. None of that will change.
The Holy Spirit has been afoot long before we realized it, and the Holy Spirit is willing to work through us! And now, today, we have been given the gift of a way forward-- the gift of having a way to bring the fire of our ancestors of faith to a new home and be able to reach out in new ways, to continue sharing the love of Christ and to watch the Holy Spirit grow this church once again.
I’m so grateful for you. For your courage, for your commitment to God, for your love of people who aren’t in the room yet, for the ways that you have been a witness to me about how good God is and how to be faithful people who follow God even out to the prairie. I feel more called today than I have my entire ministry— and that has a lot to do with you. There is not a day that goes by, when I don't thank God for sending me here to be your Pastor. I'm so grateful that we are here together in ministry. Now is our time, church. Now is our time to keep stepping out in faith and to follow the fire of the Holy Spirit so that God's love can continue to spread through the St Cloud region. This is our time to bring the fire of our ancestors— the stories of those people who shared their faith with us— and make sure everyone in this region knows God’s love. This is our time! Let’s do this!