February 5, 2017

Bible Text: Isaiah 58:1-12 & Matthew 5:13-20 |


The idea of a legacy, when someone or something passes, points us in two directions: back into the past, from whence we came; and onward into the future, as our influence lives on.  What will be the legacy St. Paul’s leaves as it closes later this Spring?

We need to be thinking about that for at least two reasons.

One is so that we are not blinded by the hard fact of closing and the disappointment and grief that goes with the end of something that has been so intrinsic to our city and to our lives.  There is a loss for sure with the end of St. Paul’s.  But there is also so much to look back on and to celebrate with gratitude and even with pride.  Please, let no bitterness overshadow and obscure the gift St. Paul’s has been for us and for so many over a century and a half of its worship, its work, and its witness.

And the second reason we need to be thinking about our legacy is very practical.  The Presbytery will be asking us to prepare a Mission Plan as part of the process leading to the dissolution of the congregation.  A Mission Plan, in black and white terms, is a proposal of how we want our remaining assets to be used to continue to contribute to the work of the Presbyterian Church in central and northern Saskatchewan after we close.  St. Paul’s may be no longer; but through the wise and prayerful use of its assets, the work of spreading the Gospel of Christ, of the advancement of the Kingdom of God, can continue, providing a legacy for many more years to come.  So we need to be thinking about our legacy.  We need to be considering how we want our remaining assets – particularly the money left in the bank – to be used after we close.

We will need within the next several weeks to provide a suggested Mission Plan for the national church and the Presbytery to consider.  We have already started those discussions; and I want today to encourage continuing prayerful thought and conversation that will lead us to a shared consensus on this important matter.

Let me put this conversation into the context of scripture, in particular the scripture lessons for today.  There is a common theme running through both scriptures this morning.  And that theme is putting our faith into action: as the people of God in the Hebrew Scripture and as followers of Christ in the Christian Scripture, to be difference-makers in the world around us, in the lives of others around us.

Through the prophet, Isaiah, God is railing against a people whose religion stops at ritual.  The people were very good at fasting, apparently, but that is not enough to satisfy God.  Listen again to these words from Isaiah with that thought in mind.  It starts with the people asking God a question, basically this: “Why is it that you do not bless us when we observe the fast days so rigorously? Don’t you owe us something for all our sacrifice?”  And listen to how God answers that question, in the words of Isaiah:

Look, you are serving your own interest on your fast-day,
and oppressing all your workers.
Yes, you fast but you also quarrel and fight
and strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast that I would choose,
just  a day to humble oneself?
Bowing down yourhead like a bulrush,
and lying around in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord? 

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from those you should honor as your own kin?

In other words, what good is religion if it stops at ritual and doesn’t get put into life-changing action on behalf of others?

The words of Jesus, from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel, also stress the importance of faith in action.  “You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus says, and then goes on to echo the prophet, although in a bit gentler tone:  “But if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot."  "You are the light of the world,” Jesus continues, and then adds, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stead, and it gives light to all the house.”  “Be salt, be light,” Jesus insists.  “Don’t just go through the motions; make a difference, for heaven’s sake!”

And that brings us back to this question of the legacy of St. Paul’s.  What will live on after the congregation closes?  How will we continue to make a difference through the legacy we leave after us?

Well, certainly a part of the legacy we leave is our story.  And what a significant story it is.  You cannot tell the story St. Paul’s without also telling the story of Prince Albert and this surrounding district, of the opening up of this region of Saskatchewan when it was still part of the Northwest Territories, of the movement west and north of the Presbyterian Church in the early days of the development of Canada as a nation.  The stories of the Nisbet Mission;  the work of Lucy Baker in providing education in this region; the special relationship between Presbyterians and the people of Mistawasis; the development of Camp Christopher; the support for young mothers; the continuing partnership with local schools to provide summer Christian camping experiences for so many young folks; and so much more. If you haven’t done so recently, make a visit to the museum and see how much of the history of this city and this region is so closely interwoven with the Presbyterian story.

And certainly part of the legacy we leave is the visible presence of the enduring monuments that will continue to keep our story alive after St. Paul’s is closed: the museum displays; the Nisbet name on significant features in and around the city; the Red River Cart and the Cairn on the riverbank where the Nisbet party landed in 1866; the cornerstone of our old church at the corner of 12th Street and 1st Avenue East, including the stone sign on 12th Street still carrying our name even after another congregation is housed in the building; the original log church sitting in sorry shape in Kinsmen Park up on the hill.  In fact, one of the proposals for our Mission Plan is that a significant donation be made to the Historical Society to help restore that log building so that it can continue to bear its witness and tell our story for generations to come.

But wood and stone monuments – as significant as they are – are lifeless things, aren’t they?  And, above all, we want to leave a living legacy that will pulsate down into the future.  So, yes, I agree, it might be a very good investment of some of our reserve funds to help restore the old log church.  But what else can we do with the rest to ensure a living legacy continues beyond us?

And that is why so much of our discussion about our Mission Plan so far is how to direct as much of our reserve funds as we can to continue the TRI4KIDS4CAMP Program.  An investment in flesh and blood people.  An investment in providing a strong foundation upon which to develop people of character for the next generation of leaders in PA.  An investment that will strengthen families through the children and be part of our contribution to the healing work that needs to flow from the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  An investment that will help address some of the critical social issues facing our city.  One of the most significant choices we can make is finding a practical way to continue the TRI program even after St. Paul’s is officially closed.  A continuing legacy of lives changed through a personal encounter at Camp with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

So these are some of the ideas we have been considering so far, as we move towards closure and prepare a Mission Plan that details how we want our reserve funds to be used to continue the work of Christ even after we are closed.  And we invite further ideas for possible inclusion in our Mission Plan.  Please, don’t be shy about putting your idea forth.

But, in closing, I want to focus on what I think is the most significant legacy that will outlive St. Paul’s.  And that is you.  Each and every one here this morning – each person who has been part of St. Paul’s along the way – is the legacy we offer this city and beyond.  Our lives – yours and mine – are the lives that have been touched and changed by our walk with Christ in the company of one another.  We are the living legacy St. Paul’s bequeaths beyond its closing.  We are the ones who will continue to be salt of the earth and light for the world even after St. Paul’s becomes just a fond and stirring story to tell.  Christ in us will continue to influence everyone we meet.  Christ in us will continue to affect the quality of life in this city.  We will be the ones who – in the company of other Christian people in whatever communities of faith we settle – who will do more than just go to church on Sunday, who will also “loose the bonds of injustice,  undo the thongs of the yoke, let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke … who will share our bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into our house; and when we see the naked, cover them….”

I am learning so much about being a church from my sojourn with you.  And I will be taking all that back to the Comox Valley with me as Tammy and I look for a community of faith where we can put our weight down and help make a difference in that community.

You have been given so much in your time together as St. Paul’s.  That will not be lost, for it lives on within you and will continue to live through you in all you do, wherever you do it.  Treasure that, share that, offer it up for the glory of God.  Be the living legacy that St. Paul’s bequeaths at its closing.

The Rev. Ted Hicks

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