Jesus Christ calls us to be a joyful community that celebrates God's love, transforms lives, and is a force for justice in the world.

A Goodly Heritage

St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church
The Rev. Bart Smith
70th Anniversary Sunday (June 10, 2018)
Psalm 16 – “A Goodly Heritage”

1 Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
2 I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”
3 As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble,
in whom is all my delight…
5 The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
I have a goodly heritage.
7 I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
8 I keep the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.
10 For you do not give me up to Sheol,
or let your faithful one see the Pit.
11 You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
I have a goodly heritage.

A former professor of mine, David Jones, wrote a piece in the most recent issue of The Presbyterian Outlook, a flagship magazine for our denomination. It was entitled “the Power of Family Mottos.” By family mottos he means, “those pithy aphorisms or enduring adages that codify the salient features of a family’s life, such as rituals, jargon, inside jokes, fears, anxieties, customs, beliefs, rhythms and traditions.” These mottos are very telling about our emotional heritage—what has been passed down to us in terms of beliefs, habits, and other patterns—that shapes how we lives our lives today. Here are some examples Jones gives:

“What happens inside these walls, stays in these walls.”
“A place for everything — and everything in its place.”
“Big boys don’t cry.”
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

What are some of your family mottos?

These mottos include all kinds—the good, the bad, and the ugly. When I think of some of the things my grandfather used to say included the good, the bad, and the ugly. Some of them aren’t appropriate to quote from the pulpit. So as not to air out the family laundry (there’s another one…) I’ll tell you a good one.

Whenever we’d go out for a family dinner Papa and somebody else would always, without fail, fight over the check. But if Papa picked up the tab, at some point he would without a doubt say, “Order what you like, but eat what you order.” Lord have mercy on the one who left food on her plate; this man remembered the Depression! And his father, my namesake, owned the grocery store in south Macon, and word is he floated people on credit when times were tough. There’s value in cleaning your plate because others don’t have the luxury of a full one.

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
I have a goodly heritage.

Some family mottos bring up a lot of pain. My apologies if I’ve stirred up somes stuff for you this morning. Jones talks about a recent movie in which features a lead character who had a tumultuous relationship with his parents. The character, whose name is Bart, has a passion for music. He pursues that passion, but still hears his father’s voice, “Dreams don’t pay the bills.”

Sometimes the boundary lines have fallen in unpleasant places. We may have a badly heritage. Good therapy and other deep, introspective work can help us uncover those “tapes” that play on loop in our head and impede our living abundant life.

Jones reminds the reader that “Faith communities, organizations and institutions have mottos too.” He mentions one church that had a large, but problematic, endowment:

Someone left them $500,000, and over time it grew to $1.5 million. Sadly, as often happens with endowments, it became a proverbial “golden calf” — a sacred object that had to be carefully guarded, even worshipped… On the one hand, members were no longer giving sacrificially because “the church has so much money in the bank.” But, on the other hand, the church leaders hated to spend the endowment because people were not giving…

The anxiety around the endowment even manifested itself when the church searched for a new pastor. The presbytery secretly vetted the new pastor to see if she had any previous history of embezzlement! The Ten Commandments were inscribed on the church’s chancel wall. It should have added an 11th: “Thou shall not touch the endowment…”

The new pastor attempted to help the session re-envision how the endowment was to be used by offering a 10-year plan…

How do you think that went?

The pastor got so frustrated that she said: “You are going to have to decide whether you want to be the living, breathing body of Christ in this community or whether you want to be a museum. I went to seminary to shepherd a flock of believers who desire to be the body of Christ. I am not a museum curator — and have no intention of becoming one!”

When she asked why they refused to use the money for mission, several replied: “We’re saving it or a rainy day.” The pastor replied: “Have you looked outside lately? It’s pouring!” She could never overcome their entrenched mindset regarding the endowment, and she left. The church was heartbroken — but not enough to let go of one of their most intractable mottos.

I became acquainted with St. Mark’s family motto when we arrived in Tucson. I believe it was my first Sunday when Sharon Kha did a rap for us after worship. She started off this chant: “When I say ‘justice,’ you say ‘that’s us!’‘Justice!’… ‘That’s us!’ ‘Justice!’… ‘That’s us!’

I like that on the front of the bulletin, in our purpose statement, the words “justice” and “joy” bolded because I think that’s what it’ll all about when you get down it to: justice and joy. That’s been the family motto here for 70 years. You get that sense (or at least I hope you get that sense) when you’re here on a Sunday morning. But one also picks that up when one reads the two volumes of church history that Lee Gustus has lovingly, diligently, persistently put together.

I read the first volume, which covers the first 50 years, a couple of years ago. I read the next volume, which covers the last 20 years, this past week. What I kept thinking was, “What a “goodly heritage” God has blessed us with! A couple of weeks ago I gave a copy of the first volume to someone to read. When she gave it back she said, “Whew, I’m tired after reading that!” I felt the same after reading the 20 year update. I’ve only been here 3+ years, but wow! I’d already forgotten some things. And I was amazed at all that the Spirit has done here among us and through us! The “goodly heritage,” the family motto here is “justice and joy,” and these pages are saturated with it.

Justice. Here are just a few of the issues for which St. Mark’s has offered a strong public witness: civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and immigrant rights; the fight for stronger public education, the fight for sanctuary for Central American refugees, the fight against gun violence; the fight against racial profiling. And the acronyms of venues in which we have worked for justice: PCIC, TIHAN, ACSWP, and the PCUSA. I could keep going, but read it for yourself…

Joy. There are the mission trips, youth trips, senior trips, border trips; thousands of pounds of coffee drunk and thousands of pounds of baloney sandwiches assembled; fellowship dinners and neighborhood dinners eaten; nucleus groups and Micah 6 groups gathered musicals produced and classes taught; choirs rehearsed and sermons preached. I could keep going, but you really ought to read it for yourself…

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
I have a goodly heritage.

One commentator on the Psalms writes this about Psalm 16:

When the Psalmist speaks of lot and lines and heritage in describing the goodness of
his destiny, he is using the vocabulary and concepts… in the Book of Joshua to describe Israel’s [inhabiting] the promised land as the outcome of God’s salvation of Israel. Tribes, clans, and individuals were given a portion [of land] as their heritage that was laid off by lines determined by casting sacred lot. [1]

We have been good stewards of the inheritance God has given us—the land, the building, the people, the resources, the mission. No, of course, we haven’t been perfect stewards. Not every moment has been filled with justice and joy. There’s been a fair share of moments filled with transition, disagreement, and frustration, and even a little heartache. That’s true. This is a community of human beings, after all.

But when it’s all said and done, the portion, the lot, the boundary lines that God has given us have been used to the glory of God and for the benefit of the common good. We are a part of a church family whose motto is justice. I hope being a part of something larger than yourself means something to you, because it does to me. Like that other pastor in the story of the church endowment, I am not called to be a museum curator, and I certainly don’t feel like one here!

Not long ago someone asked me what I love about St. Mark’s. I replied, “Down to a person, everybody here wants to make a difference. They want the world to be a better place. And that’s a beautiful thing. It inspires me.”

After reading the church history this week, something I’ve been struck by how cyclical events and concerns and emphases are. What I mean is, something the church focused on 20 years ago we’re taking up again today. And that’s good, because it means we’re being faithful over time. It made me remember what Coretta Scott King said about progress in history, “Struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation.” In other words, we still have work to do in this generation. And we will in the next.

The journey is by no means over. The Psalmist gives thanks for his heritage, but he’s also placing total trust in God for whatever lies ahead. Yahweh has been with him in the past, and the Psalmist has confidence that Yahweh will be with him in the future.

May it be so with us.

[1] James L. Mays, Psalms – Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (1994), p. 87.

[2] Quoted in The Sun magazine (June 2018)