Happy Anniversary! It is both a privilege and an honour to have the opportunity to say a few words at this grand celebration. 75 years of history as a church is worth celebrating. Some of the memories we celebrate come to us second hand. The majority of us were not there 75 years ago. We can only imagine how this church first began. There are very few people left who were here in those early years of the church. My father was one of those. For us as a Klassen family we are having a double celebration this weekend. We are celebrating my parents 60h anniversary as well as the church’s 75th. Both are significant milestones.
A grandchild sitting on her grandfather’s lap listening to the Bible story of Noah’s Ark, asked “Were you in the Ark, grandpa?" He chuckled and replied, “Why, no I wasn’t.” There was a pause, and the child looked up at him quizzically and asked, “Then why weren’t you drowned?”
This morning we want to reflect on 75 years of the story of this church. We also want that reflection on the past to challenge us for the future. So George Toews and I have divided our talk into two parts. I will focus on the past and George will focus on the future. For the first part I want us to use the prophet Isaiah’s words in chapter 51 as a guide for our thoughts.
Isaiah 51:1 Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the LORD. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. 2 Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many. 3 For the LORD will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song. 4 Listen to me, my people, and give heed to me, my nation; for a teaching will go out from me, and my justice for a light to the peoples.
These verses reflect a time in the history of the people of Israel when they are in exile. Perhaps it is a time when they would sooner forget the past and focus on the future. However, a note of optimism seeps out of these verses and it comes from a reflection of the past.
The prophet says, LOOK! Look to the rock from which you were cut, look to the quarry from which you were dug. It is good for us to go back to our origins and take a look at what they were like. Every one of us is connected to a source, a beginning, a rock that was cut into pieces deliberately, a quarry that was mined and its products shipped all over the world. Come back to the source and take a look. That’s why we’re here this weekend. That’s why a number of you have come a long distance to be here.
Of course the metaphor of rocks and quarries suddenly takes a turn and now we find the prophet speaking about our ancestors, Abraham and Sarah. Look to Abraham your father. Look to Sarah your mother who suffered in pain to birth you. Recall the story of the people who began here 75 years ago. That’s what it means to look. And when you look, do it honestly. Don’t sanitize the story. The scriptural accounts of father Abraham and mother Sarah are told with both the good and bad included. Some of those details are rather embarrassing.
Somehow, we have a tendency to glamourize the past; the good old days we call them. And with our selective memories and retelling of the story we seek to maintain a good appearance to those who are observing us. In the words of Homer Simpson, and I quote: Remember as far as anyone knows, we're a nice normal family.
The Starr family of Montana was putting together a book on their family history. But they had one problem, it was great-great uncle Remus Starr; a man lacking in character who had been hung for horse stealing and train robbery in 1889. The only picture available of Uncle Remus showed him standing on the gallows moments before his death and the words on the back of the pictures read:
"Remus Starr: Horse thief, sent to Montana Territorial Prison, 1885. Escaped 1887, robbed the Montana Flyer six times. Caught by Pinkerton detectives, convicted and hanged, 1889."
Such a picture would be an intrusion into their nice family history so they did a little editing. With the use of a scanner and some image processing software they were able to crop the picture so all that was seen was Uncle Remus’ head.
Next they did a little editing of the text and came up with the following: "Remus Starr was a famous cowboy in the Montana Territory. His business empire grew to include acquisition of valuable equestrian assets and intimate dealings with the Montana railroad.
Beginning in 1885, he devoted several years of his life to service at a government facility, finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad. In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the renowned Pinkerton Detective Agency. In 1889, Remus passed away during an important civic function held in his honour when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed."
The point of the prophet Isaiah’s call to look back at our roots, our history, is not to invoke selective memory but to honestly recognize where we have come from. In the midst of imperfect beginnings and imperfect people we can recognize the goodness and grace of God to Father Abraham and Mother Sarah. We can recognize the hand of God in guiding our fathers and mothers who had the courage to gather together for weekly worship at Manitou, 75 years ago. Were they a perfect people. No, they weren’t, yet they had the faith and the hope to begin again in a new place.
So we celebrate today. God has been good to us. And we recognize his goodness in our history. We recognize how out of the wilderness experience of leaving a rich homeland in Russia and relocating to a strange land, God was with them. From that wilderness experience God once again created a garden. And the gardens flourished as they had in the Old Country. And the waste places became home and once again brought comfort to our people.
Walter Brueggemann, an Old Testament theologian has proposed that there is a predictable pattern that emerges in history where people are always moving through 4 stages. Those 4 are: location; dislocation; exile; relocation.
The story of those pioneers who began this church 75 years ago is one of relocation. They found a new place to call home. Place is reason to celebrate. Brueggemann says:
Place is space which has historical meanings, where some things have happened which are now remembered and which provide continuity and identity across generations. Place is space in which important words have been spoken which have established identity, defined vocation, and envisioned destiny. Place is space in which vows have been exchanged, promises have been made, and demands have been issued. Place is indeed a protest against the unpromising pursuit of space. It is a declaration that our humanness cannot be found in escape, detachment, absence of commitment, and undefined freedom.
So we celebrate today because God provided a place for the people who came to Manitou 75 years ago.
But this celebration of God’s goodness to the people of this congregation is premised on a word we find in the opening lines of our text. That word is PURSUE! Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the LORD. This is a conditional statement to all that follows. And the two parts are synonymous. To seek the LORD is to pursue righteousness and justice. Such righteousness takes seriously the gift of place and land. And the people of Manitou MB congregation are people of the land. God has led us to this place and now the ongoing challenge is be stewards of what we have been given.
To be the church in a new millennium, in the next 75 years is premised on seeking the Lord and pursuing His righteousness. The future is yours! Isaiah says, Isaiah 55:5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. 6 Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.
And that brings us to Part 2 of this message:
 Brueggemann, The Land, p.5.