Reading about our congregation’s history led me to reflect upon the many, many church histories I have read in my years as a seminary student, intern, and pastor. As I reflected upon these things, I started to see a common theme in those histories. For the most part, they center on a few main things. Can you guess what they might be?
1. Who the pastors were; when they arrived, and when they left.
2. What the worship attendance, Sunday school attendance, and other such groups attendance were under said pastors.
3. When the congregation undertook a building program and how much they paid for those buildings.
Sometimes, such topics make for very, very dry reading. I mean, there’s not a lot of action involved in such things. And as I thought about that, I wondered why these things seem to be the main foci of our church histories. Why do they focus on the pastors, the attendance, and the buildings? In my estimation, there is something gravely missing in such histories: the people–congregation members, congregation leaders, and those who work behind the scenes to make the church function and work.
You see, I am under no such illusions that it is the pastor who makes or breaks a church. As I said last week at our pot-luck dinner, "Pastors come and go. One day, I’ll leave or retire just as many have before me, but the people here will remain. And you cannot have a good church without good people. I do my part, but each of us must do our parts together and well in order for the church to thrive." I said it, and I meant it. I still mean it. Without good people, you cannot have a good church.
For eight years, our congregation has thrived. We’ve had a few bumps, but whereas many churches of the Lutheran persuasion aren’t holding their own or doing too well, St. John has continued to be a welcoming congregation; has managed to make its budget; and has reached out into the surrounding community and even around the world to make a difference in the lives of others. Good churches–good people do good things. Stop a moment to consider some of the good things we have done in the past eight years since I’ve been here.
We made use of the community care fund to care for the Johnson family when they lost two homes to fire and April Johnson was dying of cancer.
We raised money for the Grinde family to help them pay medical bills when Corrine endured treatments for cancer.
We spearheaded a movement in the community to build the Washburn home to help provide for Clifford Washburn who has been disabled from little until now.
We raised thousands of dollars to help defray the cost of Remington Reichardt’s medical bills after she suffered with an illness which attacked her brain.
We have made countless payments out of our community care fund paying electric bills, rent, food, and other items of need for the poor and needy in our community.
We raised over $30,000 to help buy motorcycles and provide health care for people in the Central African Republic.
We gave $10,000 to victims of last summers devastating wildfires here in Texas.
We’ve provided for Christian Patterson and his family following his accident and subsequent surgeries.
We’ve participated in Operation Christmas child every year since I’ve been here reaching out across the world through this ministry.
We’ve participated in providing Christmas gifts for local children through Austin County Outreach and now the Salvation Army.
You know, I could go on. There are other things I can list. I can talk about those of you who volunteer for the Sealy Christian Pantry. I can talk about those who have given money secretly to those who are in need or who suffered in our community. I could talk about the many volunteers who set up our ministries with our youth; who visit our shut-ins; who bring food for funerals and organize the receptions we offer families during their times of grief; those who work on the altar guild. Good Lord, do you realize how much good you accomplish through your work here at the church? Do you realize how much you do?
And you do realize, I haven’t been the one telling you to do these things, don’t you? You do realize, paying for all these things hasn’t come from my pocket solely, don’t you? You do realize my part in all of this stuff is minimal compared to the investment you make in this congregation, don’t you? I do my part, but you certainly bear much of the burden. Looking at all this, is it any wonder why we have grown as a congregation in the past eight years? Is it any wonder why folks wonder what is going on in our congregation when we are out in our community announcing all this stuff that we are doing to directly affect the lives of others?
You can’t have a good church without good people. Period. It won’t happen. I don’t care how good a preacher you have. I don’t care if he or she preaches the best sermons in the world. I don’t care if she or he is the most compassionate person in the county. I don’t care if he or she is funny or entertaining or extremely talented. If the people of the congregation do not care and participate in the life of the church, the congregation is doomed. It will not prosper.
That means, if our congregation is prospering, we have good people. And where did you learn how to be good people? Where did you discover what it means to follow Christ and do deeds that are in line with His Spirit and nature? Did you just absorb them from the air? Did they just pop into your mind? Did it just hit you one day that these are the things you should be doing?
Probably not. I won’t discount the fact that such things could happen, but the reality for most of us is that we were taught by those who went before us. As a congregation, we were taught by those church members who founded the Nicolai Church. Their faith was passed down from generation to generation to many of you. Others of you who have moved out here recently had family members and church members teach you such things. You watched them and saw how they conducted themselves in relationship with others. You saw the things they did. You saw the respect they had. You saw their goodness, and you began to imitate it.
You picked up on the good qualities of those who went before, and you put those into practice into your lives. And now, you are doing the same thing for others. Your actions are being noticed whether you like it or not. You are right now leaving a legacy for those who will follow in this congregation and for those who will move somewhere else. They will take what they learn right here and right now with them. This is the reality of life.
And it is the reason we set aside a special day in the church to recognize the saints–those who have gone before; who have passed their faith down to us and who now wear the heavenly crown of glory. Their goodness has been passed down to us, and it has made a difference in our lives. And now we have a chance to pass that goodness to the next generation. Without good people you can’t have a good church. Let us thank God for those good people who went before us, are with us now, and who will follow after us. Amen.