ENDURE – Pastor Donna Doutt – October 6, 2019 – 1 Colossians 1:9-20
Today is a great day of celebration for our sister church, Riverview UMC, as we celebrate their 100th anniversary. They were formed in 1919.
It made me wonder about this church, and its history. I knew it was old, but wasn’t sure just HOW old. But it’s much older than I realized. Faith Community started life as a Methodist Episcopal Church in what was then called the Pittsburgh Conference. At the Pittsburgh Conference session of 1867 Reverend Louis Paine was appointed to establish a Methodist congregation in Rochester.
The Reverend Thomas Baker, a Wesleyan Methodist missionary from England is cooked and eaten by Navatusila tribespeople in Fiji, together with eight of his local followers, the last missionary in that country to suffer cannibalism.
Meanwhile back in Rochester, seventy-five persons attended the first meeting in 1867. The organization was incorporated February 3, 1869. The first Church was completed in 1874. It was razed in 1911 and a second Church building was constructed. A fire destroyed this Church in 1928 and the third building was completed in 1930.
That’s the one we are in right at the very moment. The educational wing was consecrated in 1964. A parsonage adjacent to the Church was purchased in 1966, and a second one in 2004. The name changed to Faith Community after our merger with the former Rochester Zion United Methodist Church.
Here WE are 152 years later looking backward at the brave folks who stepped out in faith in Christ, their love of Christ, and a willingness to endure for the long term.
In our scripture today, we’re reading another of Paul’s letters to one of his new churches…the church at Colossi (Col-os-eye). Ironically, Paul never visited Colosse by the time of this writing, but was living about 100 miles to the west in Ephasus. He established a thriving church there, and it was probably through the outreach of the congregation at Ephesus that the gospel was carried to Colosse, probably by Paul’s friend, disciple, and founder of the ministry at Colossi, Epaphras (Ep-a-fras’).
In those days, Colossi was a mish-mash of different religious factions, including, but certainly not limited to, Judaism, cult worship, and paganism. As the leader of this new church, Ep-a-fras’, struggled just as many of our pastors do today to keep the church moving forward in a positive way.
Please remember that Christianity was a new thing at that time. We’re looking at many people who are just… right then…right at that moment… hearing the Good News. They’re perceiving it, digesting it, learning to pray about, and learning to live it. They need a guiding hand in learning how to BE the Christian church. They’re filled with good intentions but it’s often so easy to slip off to the old ways, or be influenced by others around you, or even in your own family.
Apparently, Ep-a-fras’ shared his struggles with Paul, just as the other emissaries to the new Christian churches did. After all, they considered Paul their mentor and guide. So from prison, Paul writes these words of encouragement to the church at Colossi.
Oh that Ep-a-fras’ surely had his hands full with the fledgling church, just as your Rev. Paine must have had his hands full with this fledgling church.
But from our scripture, we are blessed. I want you to hear this scripture from Paul, and think about not just the church at Colossi, but this church. This letter could have been written to the new congregation of Rochester.
Go back in time with me, visualize, if you will Pastor Louise standing in this pulpit. He picks up the hand-carried dispatch, gives it a shake for dramatic effect, and beings to orate the words of Paul to his new church:
“9-12 Be assured that from the first day we heard of you, we haven’t stopped praying for you, asking God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to his will, and so acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works. We pray that you’ll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.” (The Message)
Can you feel the power of these words? “Be assured” he says…”we haven’t stopped praying for you!”
“…thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.”
God is giving us “strength to endure the unendurable!” How great is that?!
This is Paul’s assurance to Colossi and also to us. We are so blessed!
Then we come to the real meat of this scripture because Paul reminds us so eloquently that Christ holds everything together. He wants us to know this…to believe it…and to live our lives accordingly.
We hear Paul tell us, 15-18 “We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.”
“One Bread, One Body, One Lord of all!” One cup of blessing which we bless. And we, though many, Throughout the earth, We are one body in this one Lord.”
The declaration that “holds it all together right up to this moment” lends itself to thinking about what some of those things are that might feel as if they are falling apart or are not held together at all in our churches.
Budget struggles, building repairs and maintenance, diminishing attendance. Where have all the children gone? It’s the pastor’s fault. What is happening in this denomination? Where is Christ in all of this? Where is God in all of this? If His eye is on the sparrow, why are we facing struggles to endure?
Rev. Elizabeth Forney, Spiritual Direction Instructor at Columbia Seminary writes, “we are given a summons to unified vision and ministry. While there are separate parts of congregational life and activities… celebrating Christ and sharing his message of reconciliation and forgiveness is our supreme task. While there are many different views of God as different denominations, it is love for Christ and Christ love for us that ultimately trumps any one doctrine or theological dispute.”
“How many church arguments, …or dilemmas might be resolved by simply asking this question, ‘Does this allow Christ to have first place?’”
“…when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together…”
Our scripture continues, 18-20 “He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.”
It is only through Jesus Christ that we can endure in this church. Christ is the head of the church and the deliverer of peace to us.
Today, we look backward to the beginning of the church, and yet forward for the people of Faith Community United Methodist Church.
Endure is defined as to “remain in existence.” But it also means “to suffer patiently.” We have done both. This congregation has had many highs, and disheartening lows, yet we endure.
And as we endure toward our next 100 years, let us never forget that our future does not depend on the pastor in the pulpit, the hymnal from which we sing our songs, and whether those songs are sung by guitar or organ. What it depends upon is your faithfulness. “One Bread, One Body, One Lord of All.” The one and only Jesus the Christ and our love of him.
 Bible Gateway. The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson
 Forney, Elizabeth Barrington. Feasting on the Word, Year C. vol. 4. P.331