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    Feb 09, 2020

    Looking Back, Moving Forward

    Looking Back, Moving Forward

    Passage: Isaiah 40:27-31

    Speaker: Pat Botelle, Lay Speaker

    “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

    For the past several years I have preached on Anniversary Sunday and each year I struggle with what to say. I don’t want to stand up here and just give a history lesson, yet I think it is important to understand our past, both as Methodists and as members of the Reisterstown community.

    I admit I felt a sense of burden, of heaviness, not necessarily despair, but of sadness for the past several months. Our church finances are not in great shape. We ended 2019 with a deficit and 2020 may follow suit. Our church is facing a change in pastors and the General Conference of the United Methodist Church will be considering resolutions on a possible separation at their May meeting. All these things can dishearten us if we let it but, as the Psalmist says, “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength” (Psalm 40:31).

    I am going to begin with a bit of a history lesson though. As a faith community, the Methodist church in Reisterstown traces it’s beginning to February 6, 1777 when Francis Asbury spoke a few words and found his soul refreshed. Here’s a little of our history:

    On that February day the first Methodist building, called Asbury Chapel, located in a log cabin on a site which is now our cemetery, was still 14 years in the future. It would be 25 years before the town had a post office. A second church would be built in 1830, somewhat closer to today's Main Street and in front of the first building.

    A third church, today's "Old Sanctuary," was built in 1868 and dedicated on New Year's Day 1870. The lives of the little church and the little town were beginning to intertwine. You may recognize the names of those who built the third church: Washington Gore, James Berryman, Phillip Owings. Their names are etched not only in the stained-glass windows of our Old Sanctuary, but on roads and landmarks throughout our community.[1]

    As I read the minutes from Trustee meetings dating back to 1833 and minutes of various board meetings, I realized that financial challenges are recorded throughout our church’s history. Special appeals were made when there wasn’t enough money to pay the pastor or pay for coal to heat the building, but someone always stepped up to meet the need and the church continued to survive. Will that willingness to step up continue?

    Then there is the number of pastors we had over our 243-year history. Believe it or not, over 250 pastors have served the Reisterstown Methodist community, that includes multiple pastors during the circuit rider period and during the time when the church was divided over slavery. The church in Reisterstown welcomed each pastor and moved forward when there was a change. The congregation survived despite the number of pastors, not because of them. Paul reminds us in his letter to the church in Corinth, we are the church made up of various parts forming one body (1 Cor 12:12). It is our responsibility to decide what God has planned for us, along with the pastor, it is not a responsibility left to the pastor alone.

    Which brings me to the issue of the possible split our denomination is facing. This is not the first issue that has caused a split in the Methodist Church and it may not be the last. Groups of Methodists have separated from the main Church over theological issues as well as social and political issues during its long history:

    1828 – The Methodist Protestant Church was founded because groups were dissatisfied with the governance of the church not its doctrine.

    1841 – The Wesleyan Methodist Church was founded because of disagreements regarding slavery and church government.

    1845 – The Methodist Episcopal Church South was founded over the issue of slavery. 

    1866 – approximately 100 members of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Reisterstown split and formed a congregation of the Methodist Episcopal Church South meeting in a building just down the street (the one with the columns in front).

    1939 – The Methodist Church came into being when the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Protestant Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church South united.

    1941 – The Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church South in Reisterstown reunited and formed Reisterstown Methodist Church after a 75-year separation.

    Financial challenges, pastor changes and political differences are struggles that have faced our faith community during its 240-year history.

    What do you do in times of struggle and turmoil? Many of us turn to scripture or hymns of faith or members of our faith community to help us through times of personal struggle. As a community, we need to do the same.

    Throughout the Old Testament and even in several books of the New Testament, the history of the Israelites – the chosen people of God – and their struggles are recorded. These histories remind them where they came from but more importantly remind them of the plans the Lord had for them. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

    While planning this sermon, Pastor Vivian gave me a book “Legacy Churches” by Stephen Gray and Franklin Dumond. It talks about the life cycle of churches and gives advice to dying churches. It talks about how to leave a legacy rather than just fading away. Now I’m not saying we are a dying church, but it could happen someday. It is the first chapter of the book that really speaks to me. The authors titled the chapter “Lessons from the Life of Joshua” and outline three things God taught Joshua about his tough time.

    For those of you who may not be familiar with Joshua, he was Moses’ assistant and became the leader of the Israelites after Moses died. He was one of twelve spies sent into the land of Canaan to do some advance reconnaissance for Moses. He led the Israelites into the land of Canaan and allocated the land to the tribes.

    According the authors, God taught Joshua three things:

    1. Don’t look back. God effectively said to Joshua “Moses is dead, now move on!” God reminds us that history is to be lived out, not lived in.[2] How many of us continue to live in the past? I know it’s hard and gets harder as we get older. God wants us to move on. We can’t fulfill the plans God has for us if we continue to live in the past.
    2. God’s plan is still in play. “When tough times hit, often we buy into the idea that everything is lost; we panic as if somehow the frustrating events of the present nullify the ministry of the past.”[3] Is it time for us to pass the baton? Is it time to let go of some old ministries and make way for new ones?
    3. God never promised a bed of roses! “God’s work is hard! You cannot escape the fact that God has called us to serve Him in the midst of a world that hates Him. God needs us to have enough courage to be involved in His work and to do His will.”[4] Determining what God’s will is is hard work! It takes all of us to be in prayer, to discern God’s will for our faith community. We must work together, young and old.

    So how do we continue to move forward? Even though the authors of the book tell us not to look back, I think it is important for us to look back occasionally, to remind ourselves what wonderful things God has done through us already.

    I would like you to find the book of Hebrews in a bible. You can use your phone and go to or you can use the pew bible. Hebrews is in the New Testament about 2/3 the way through after 1&2 Thessalonians, 1&2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, then Hebrews. Now find chapter 11. I would like us to read the first verse together: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Then chapter 11 continues, beginning each section with “By faith…” Take a moment to glance over what is written.

    What “faith” statements can we write about our faith community?

    1. By faith – Francis Asbury came to Reisterstown and found his soul refreshed
    2. By faith – VIM teams have formed and gone out to serve
    3. By faith – a food pantry was started by George and Marguerite Maynard and continues today
    4. By faith – members of our congregation started the Community Kitchen
    5. By faith – members of our congregation started His Hands and Feet homeless ministry.
    6. By faith – Jamal Oakman is involved in ministry at U of Md.
    7. By faith – We are still here after 243 years
    8. By faith – We will move forward knowing God has a plan for us and
    9. By faith – We will figure out what that plan is

    Hold your place in Hebrews because I’m going to come back to it.  Some of you know that I am in a program to become a certified lay minister. This semester we are learning about our Wesleyan heritage. On Thursday night we looked at the first part of the Book of Disciple which outlines the doctrine, mission and ministry of the United Methodist Church. There is a mission statement for the United Methodist Church that is shared world-wide: “The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Local churches and extension ministries of the Church provide the most significant arenas through which disciple-making occurs.”[5] We need to be reminded of this. This is why we are here; this is why we exist; this is our primary focus. We can disagree about a lot of things, but on this we must agree.

    Now, look at the first three verses of chapter 12 of Hebrews. This is what we need to do to move forward and continue to make disciples:

    Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

    My friends, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Take a deep breath, fix your eyes on Jesus, have hope in the Lord who will renew our strength so we can sour on wings like eagles, run and not grow weary; walk and not be faint.

    Even after all the preparations for this sermon and knowing all the difficult decisions that lay before us, I return to those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. We may not know what God's plan is, but if we pray and work together, I am confident we will figure it out.  Our history proves it.


    [1] Brian Ditto, Committee on Records and History, written for the 225th anniversary of Reisterstown UM Church

    [2] Stephen Gray and Franklin Dumond, Legacy Churches, (Illinois: ChurchSmart Resources, 2009): page 19

    [3] Ibid.: page 20

    [4] Ibid.: page 22

    [5] From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church – 2016, Copyright 2016 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission. page 93, paragraph 120.