“Depression, War and New Possibilities”
March 18, 2018 – Lent 5 – Year B
September 10, 1939 is a date that has forever changed the course of history. The Battle of the Atlantic and the outbreak of WW 2 saw Canadian men and women engaged in conflict that would last 6 years. During that time our congregation was faithfully singing the National Anthem immediately following the doxology. We were proud of our home and native land.
During the war years Rev R.C. McGillvray served as our minister. In 1944 it was determined that 2 ministers were needed and Rev. Bob Stobie and Rev. Ernie Rands were called to serve in our midst. Sermons such as “When God Seems Hiding”, “What is Man?”, and “Getting the Best Out of Life” were proclaimed from this pulpit. Mrs. Monica Craig Fisher was our faithful organist for our morning and evening services.
We were a busy church, especially post war. In addition to our Board of Stewards we had a Sunday School, a Mission Band, 40 girls in CGIT in 1944, Young People’s group, a Boy’s Club, Red Cross Unit, 5 Women’s Circles, The Couples Group, and As One That Serves (a men’s group) consisting of 40 men in 1940.
Some interesting tidbits gleaned from our archives include: in 1940 a motion was passed to support more temperance legislation. That same year the Senior Choir organized a fundraising concert featuring Luther King, a black tenor. In 1941 the Women’s Auxiliary raised $1,387 at their bazaar. They organized socks, sweaters, and clothing to send to the Red Cross. In 1943 a Fellowship Committee was established to visit homes and support the young wives of absent soldiers. In 1944 the lot immediately north of the church was purchased. Room was needed for the Sunday School, with attendance averaging 185 children. Plans were discussed. Membership was 471. There were 30 child baptisms, 8 adult baptisms, 43 marriages, 25 funerals. In 1945 The Sunday School registered 269 children with 29 teachers. In May 1946 the Young People held a bike-hike to the Summerland Experimental farm with supper at the farm. In 1947 the M&S covenant was $1,600. By 1948 a Building Committee was formed to evaluate the condition of the premises and to carry out any needed refurbishing. Such a committee has been active ever since. In 1949 the AGM called for $50,000 to be raised for the construction of the Memorial Hall (Narthex)
In the minds of many, the 1940’s were the glory years. We thrived as a church in-spite of the hardship of war. We had a cause and we were determined to support our men and women in the very best way we could. Post war we grew and thrived. Marriages and births were celebrated in numbers we had never seen before. We were a faith community that had found its legs. 20 years old and all was going well.
Like today, Sunday worship was an important constant in a greatly changing world. The reading of scripture and the sermon was vital to a strong faith, was the understanding of our large congregation. And so, scriptures like we heard were offered and expounded upon.
Jeremiah warned the people of the catastrophe that would befall their nation. This was news the people didn’t want to hear. Just like the outbreak of the Battle of the Atlantic, fear fell over God’s people in the 6th Century BCE. Yet, it was in this context that the prophet Jeremiah speaks of a new covenant. Jeremiah was a prophet in Judah during the last days of that nation’s sovereignty around 627 BCE. He had been in conflict with the official theology of the nation for much of his ministry. While many around him saw the covenant as broken beyond repair, Jeremiah saw God creating a new way.
The conditional covenant theology of the Exodus was rejected by Jeremiah as untrue to God’s nature. God the creator would create something new that would better express the nature of God’s relationship with God’s people. Jeremiah speaks of a new covenant written on the heart, not in books or precepts. With this new covenant the law will be within God’s people and they will know God’s way within their very being.
This new covenant has been interpreted by Christians from the earliest days of the church to refer to Jesus. So it is that you and I seek to live our lives in such a manner that God is revealed in all that we say, do and are.
To have God’s way written on our hearts and lived out faithfully in our lives is surely grace. I can just imagine that on September 2, 1945 when war was declared over there was not only cheering and hugs and kisses. I imagine that God was saying, “learn from this, my way is in loving relation with all my people from now on!” We have not done a very good job in living out that directive.
Like the people of Jeremiah’s day, Jesus’ disciples and followers were not pleased to hear predictions of doom – they did not want to hear about Jesus’ impending death. In the Gospel text, Jesus uses the visit of the Greeks as an opportunity to tell them again about what lay ahead for him. Like Jeremiah, he also gives them a word of hope through his comparison of his death to the planting of a seed of wheat. “Only if a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies will it bring forth fruit,” he says.
The image of the seed lies at the heart of John’s understanding of the meaning of Jesus’ death. The death of the single grain brings about the growth of many new seeds. Through Jesus’ death on the cross, something new will enter and transform the world. Through this amazing truth, you and I are forever made new.
None of us want to look to the future and foresee doom. We squirm a little knowing that Good Friday is just less than 2 weeks away. Yet, we know that our call is the way of the cross. The middle verses about those who love their life and therefore will lose it, have a strong resemblance to parallel sayings in Matthew, Mark and Luke. The mention of taking up one’s cross as a part of following Christ is another saying that we hear in all 4 gospels.
Jesus’ horrible death does not release us from having to go through our own death in order to emerge into the fullness of eternal life. The process of transformation from seed to plant, death to resurrection, this world to eternal life is clearly a difficult and painful process. However, the gospel of John does provide us with a wonderful assurance that through whatever we must endure, we are never alone. As we take up the crosses of our lives, we are assured that we have a close and loving companion.
So, what cross are you prepared to take up? Is it one for the environment? Is it one to give a little more time volunteering to a worthy cause? Will you take up the cross of racial justice? What about committing yourself to contacting 2 lonely people each week? How about writing letters on behalf of those facing abuse? Could you do a little extra donation to the church to ensure it continues to proclaim the Good News for the next 90 years?
Well, there you have it. We have looked at our 2 scripture texts and reflected on the call to bring forth fruit. The 1940’s was a decade that bore much fruit. We have a history to be proud of. We honour our veterans. Please take time to view our memorial Plaque in the narthex on your way down to coffee hour. The men and women who helped to build this country and this church deserve to be honoured. May our celebrations continue. Amen.
Rev. Laura J. Turnbull
Penticton United Church