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.

“…to all generations”

St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church – The Rev. Bart Smith
Trinity Sunday (June 11, 2017)
Psalm 100 – “…to all generations”

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.
Worship the LORD with gladness;
come into his presence with singing.
Know that the LORD is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

Let’s do that last verse responsively:
“For the LORD is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever…
and his faithfulness to all generations.”

I think it’s kind of fun to be worshiping in this room this morning because this is where it all began, right here in Geneva Hall. The first service of Mountain View Presbyterian Church (as it was originally called) was held in this building in April of 1948, while the organizing meeting of the congregation was held on June 8, 1948, a mere 69 years ago last Thursday. Remember that this was a patch of desert on the eastern edge of Tucson, when this town had less than 45,000 residents.

Let’s do a visualization of that organizing meeting on June 8, 1948. Imagine being in this 52 x 48 foot room before these sound panels were above your head, before there was a kitchen back there, before that courtyard existed, or the Sanctuary or any of the other buildings on this campus existed, for that matter. The alcove behind me was a window. It wasn’t originally supposed to be but the founding pastor, the Rev. Paul David Sholin, argued for it—what good would Mountain View Presbyterian be without a mountain view? Now close your eyes. It’s 8:00 at night. Try to feel what’s around you. They were probably dressed a little more conservatively. They were crammed into the room just like we are, sitting in chairs just like we are but… there’s no air conditioning. They had to open the windows and let that dry desert air flow through. And guess what? The power is out because Tucson Gas & Electric wasn’t prepared yet to handle the overload from coolers all over this rapidly expanding town. And candles won’t work because the wind keeps blowing them out. So what do you do?

Now open your eyes. What they did was encircle the building with their cars and let the headlights shine through! Two kids were baptized that evening. Mountain View Presbyterian Church got its start.

“For the LORD is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever…
and his faithfulness to all generations.

Of course, some things were not so good in 1948, as we know all too well. On the charter member list, there’s not a single woman’s name listed. They were all “Mrs. Man’s Name.” The Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown vs. Board of Education was 6 years away. I could keep going with the social maladies, of course, but Mountain View (later St. Mark’s) folks began to evolve in their understanding of these things through study, prayer, and action in the community. The church became known for Rev. Sholin’s passionate preaching of a Biblically-rooted, social justice-conscious faith.

[And let me tell you: from what I’m reading and observing out there in the culture, that brand of faith is a vital as ever. Progressive voices of faith need to be heard. But I digress…]

The church took positions or otherwise engaged a variety of issues: public education, desegregation, poverty—you can almost feel yourself propelling through time—and later the Sanctuary movement, HIV-AIDS, women’s rights, LGBTQ equality. God’s Spirit blew through this place, stirring up new awareness and inspiring people toward transformation, not only of themselves, but of the larger society.

“For Sovereign Love is good; her steadfast love endures forever…
and her faithfulness to all generations.

We could be here for hours talking about what all has changed over the last 69 years in this congregation, in Tucson, in America, in the world. We can remember and celebrate the lives of all those who have gone on before us and joined “the great cloud of witnesses,” those people who made a difference in and through this place. They’re still present with us when we gather around Christ’s Table, I choose to believe, cheering us on as we run the race in our own day and in our own way. Those people who served in big, bold, obvious ways, but also those who labored silently and without recognition, for decades. Everything we do here is built upon the foundation they laid for us.

“For the LORD is good; her steadfast love endures forever…
and her faithfulness to all generations.

No bones about it: change is hard. I can say that because it’s a true for me as it is for anybody. So I’ll be the first to acknowledge that the changes to our Sanctuary are painful for many of us for lots of different reasons, on lots of different levels. I love that expression, “The only person who doesn’t mind change is a baby with a wet diaper.” It’s true!

I’m also confident that our leadership discerned that these changes are necessary for us to live into who God’s is calling us to be, as a community. These changes are grounded in a sound and inspiring vision that has, first and foremost, the needs of ministry in mind. We can’t predict what changes will come to this congregation or to the wider Church in North America in the coming years. That’s a sermon for another day. It’s not just the furniture; the environment in which the church does ministry is changing dramatically and rapidly in ways we are only beginning to understand. But while we can’t predict the future, we can equip ourselves to be as flexible as possible, to be nimble for whatever change is coming.

“For the LORD is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever…
and God’s faithfulness to all generations.

“To all generations.” The one thing that has not changed, the one thing that will not change, is the faithfulness of God. That word, faithfulness, in Hebrew, emunah, shares a root with the word for trust. Faithfulness describes God’s character: steady and trustworthy. This was ancient Israel’s collective experience. That’s why lines like this made it into their hymns and liturgy, their hymnbook, which is what the Book of Psalms is, because God proved faithful, not just in one moment in time, but over the generations. God’s enlivening presence never left them. Not once. Not once through a tumultuous, and even violent, history. From Egypt to Canaan to Babylon and back to Judea again, God’s faithful, loyal love was their anchor.

But here’s the thing: God’s faithfulness is most visible in the rear-view mirror. That’s true for a church. That’s true for our personal lives. Providence reveals itself most clearly in retrospect.

This place was a mission of the Southern Arizona Presbytery back in 1948. Can you guess the cost of construction? We’ll see who’s closest…

$11,500. That was the budget. I know all this, all these stories I’ve been telling you, from Lee Gustus’ 50 year church history, by the way. She’s doing a 20 year update for our 70th birthday next year. Lee wrote, and get this, “The Presbytery was even opposed to the cost of a rest room, stating that it would never be more than a mission and ‘outside facilities’ would be sufficient. Dave insisted that washrooms be included.” [1]

“It would never be more than a mission.” Did you hear that? 69 years later, thousands of lives impacted, vital ministry done in Tucson and beyond.

“For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever…
and his faithfulness to all generations.

I wonder, when future generations look back on 2017, what will they say about how God was faithful to us and through us “back then?” How will they say we witnessed to God’s reign now through how we loved and cared for one another (especially our younger people), through our engagement with our immediate neighborhood, through our advocacy efforts? What will they say about how we put the gospel into practice now in this political climate, in this moment in history? How will they say we responded when faced with changes and challenges of our day?

“For the LORD is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever…
and God’s faithfulness to all generations.

Time will tell…

[1] Oletha Bostic Gustus, Making Straight in the Desert a Highway for Our God: A Fiftieth Anniversary History, p. 3, emphasis mine.

Featured Image photo credit: Elizabeth Smith