Today is All Saints Sunday, that day when we celebrate all the faithful believers--all saints --who have gone before us. And today is also the first Sunday in our Financial Stewardship Campaign. Our stewardship them for today is Inspiration. Inspiration for growth. May the inspiration we receive today help us to take a step forward in our financial stewardship. I can think of no finer inspiration for us as a congregation than the ongoing story of the saints of this church!
"100 Years in Ministry." is the title of the history of our congregation compiled by resident historian Diane Slocum- Zastovnik in honor of our Centennial. You know from my very first day here as your pastor I have encountered one pioneer of this congregation after another.
The day we moved into the parsonage on Ralph Ave. Lena Potter Clark died.
The Potter and Cate families gave the land on which this church is built. Beginning with Lena Potter Clark's funeral the funerals of the pioneers I have presided at have been too many. And yet each one has been like a chapter in this book, linking the past to the present in a very powerful way: The family names parade before us: Potter/Clark, Sturgil, Pendegrast/Wamsely, Davis, Lose, Keneaster, and others of you who are still on this side of the Crimson Line:
(Schell, Wasson, Weyant, Polson, and so many more all having roots in the origins of this community, and in the history and ongoing ministry of this congregation.
All of these are a parade of saints whose faithful stewardship in the midst of tremendous obstacles and struggles has made it possible for us to be here in this place, in this church facility and in ongoing ministry in Jesus name in this community.
You know the thing that struck me over and over again as I read this historical account, as names and faces jumped out at me and became real was how this church was always on the verge of financial disaster while it was at that very same time and often in the same breath making plans to raise money to help others or literally giving money away to help others less fortunate than they themselves--once even while arranging a loan to keep the church finances afloat!
You see it's a matter of priorities. The priorities of Christians are not the priorities of the world. Jesus gives us our priorities in his Beatitudes read this morning from the gospel of Luke in which he warns the rich and contented and commands us to love our enemies, lift up the downtrodden and the oppressed, and treat all as we would like to be treated. This is the blessing of discipleship: that God is overcoming the world through us and in spite of us.
As an illustration of Jesus' words hear this very typical account from 1898 recorded in our church history only two years after the church had it's official consecration service.
This is recorded in the minutes of the Women's Parsonage and Home Missionary Society which was organized in that same year:
"Sister Weyant reported a destitute German family in our midst, who are about to lose their only cow and sewing machine, by mortgage....
Each one present were to consider them elves a member of an investigating committee, to see what could be done for their relief and raise the needed funds ($35.00), if possible, to clear said cow and sewing machine."
Then it is recorded: "Sister Parker appeals to the Home Mission Society for 2.74 with which to finish paying for song books that she purchased two years ago. As she had received word the debt must be paid or we would have trouble."
In spite of financial difficulties the ladies go on to hand out their funds to those in need as it is moved that another amount of money be apportioned for the relief of the pastor of Big Oak Flat who lost all his belongings in a fire.
Mission and helping others was a priority of the ministry of this church from the beginning.The values of caring, giving, serving and lending a helping hand up to the helpless are at our core. Worrying only about ourselves and our buildings and our needs came second. These core values may be summed up by the word compassion. God had compassion for the helplessness of humanity and came to us in Jesus to save us. Jesus had compassion on the needy and impoverished in body and soul and sent disciples out in his name to spread abroad the love of God through acts of compassion.
Listen to how our forebears continued this ministry through the 20th century: Under the direction of Rev. J. Kenny in 1925 the congregation reached out to establish a Sunday School for migrant Mexican laborers and their children in the south part of Fresno.
The pastor recorded, "Our Sunday School for the Mexicans is having its trials, but there is no disposition to give up the work."
Over the years there were continuing struggles to pay pastors, build and maintain buildings and yet the church continued to grow and be in ministry throughout the first world war, the depression and the second word war.
You've heard me share more than once how during World War II when the Japanese were being deported by train to camps, it was members of this congregation including Dr. Wilbur Lose and Kay Andrews who went down to the tracks in Clovis and provided sandwiches, punch and conversation and support for these Japanese Americans.
Dr. Lose remembers your pastor at the time, Ralph Dregar was "censured by the community because he went down to the train when all the Japanese were taken out.
He said, 'What else would I do.'
Lena Clark recalls, "People stood on the sidewalk and stared daggers at us....We tried to be decent."1 Rev. Ralph Dreger joined the saints in his death this year. But his legacy among us continues here.
Not long after we occupied this Building, in 1963 we were in very bad financial straight. This was when Merle Clark had just come to be pastor here.
A banker said to Dr. Lose,"Do you realize that you're several payments behind? We might have to foreclose."
Dr. Lose, always quick on the up take responded, "Oh, good. Then we'll rent from you."
His quote concludes astutely, "The bank didn't want the church." He and former pastor Bill Dew who just retired from active ministry as a United Methodist Bishop this year managed to outwit the bank more than once in order to keep the church afloat!
These stories and so many more in this book are about you....and those who came before you.
People, we are writing the chapters that follow. We are living history today. We are living the history of the saints of God in this place. We are carrying on this ministry by continuing to care, give, serve and lend a hand to those in need of a hand up.
Your willingness to receive a woman as pastor is one shining example. Our ministry with our Hmong brothers and sisters is another. Today we have in our midst a young mother who would like to share her testimony with us of God's dream for her life. I give you Melody Yang, the wife of our Hmong Language pastor Kham Dy Yang.
(Melody Yang shares her call from God to Ordained Ministry and her goal to be the first Hmong Woman ordained in the United Methodist Church)
The Yangs are making great sacrifices to be in ministry in our community and through our congregation.
Their primary source of income is from the HART Academy for elementary students of which Kham Dy is the principle and Melody is the school Administrative Assistant. The school seeks to serve young people by helping them maintain the best of their heritage while assimilating into this culture so they may be good citizens and leaders for tomorrow.
Due to no fault of their academy they and their staff have not been paid a salary for the last four months all due to mismanagement of the charter under which they were umbrella-ed.
As a result they have lost nearly everything they have worked so hard to achieve over the years for their family but are determined to survive and are persevering against great odds to continue to serve their community and continue their evangelistic outreach here with the Hmong Community.
Our Hmong membership continues to increase at great personal sacrifice to the Yangs and their tireless efforts. Because of this ongoing crisis, Pastor Kham Dy has not been able to with us as much as he would wish to. Please keep he and Melody and their family in our prayers.
God is good and the school has managed to relocate to St. Paul's UMC and to find shelter under the charter of Valley Preparatory Academy who were also victims of the same situation just prior to receiving their own charter-- but at severe cuts in pay.
Lest we grow complacent with doing good or rest on the laurels of those who've gone before us let's remember the words of Pastor Dregar in 1943 in the midst of the dark war years. He said:
"....I will never tire of reminding the church that the only task it has is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus.
The church does not exist to make a community a better place in which to live, it does not exist primarily as a character-building agency, it is not a social club or lodge.
The church does raise a community's standards, does build character, and does provide good society; but when it fails to understand that it's primary purpose is to provide Christian fellowship in which persons may come to know and serve Christ better, the church is an empty institution in more ways than one."
Rev. Drager's words echo the Apostle Paul's words to us this All Saints day in our Ephesians passage for this morning.
Listen:....."we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory. For this reason, ..... I do not cease to give thanks for you, ....having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which (Christ) has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints..." 2
And now I want you to take out your All Saints list of the Honored Dead. It is truly awesome to be in the company of these saints many of whom are members of this church and others who represent other churches elsewhere as family and friends.. I don't know about you, but when it comes time to make out my Estimate of Giving next week, on Dedication Sunday, I will be giving a silent prayer of thanks for this opportunity to count myself "in that number" of Saints who have already gone "marching in" as well as give thanks to be among those who are marching on this very day.
Later in our service we will have a brief tribute to the saints who have died this year. Then as I offer the prayer of Great Thanksgiving at Christ's table, these and all those who have crossed over the Crimson line will be present with us as surely as Christ himself is present.
As I come to these words in the Great Thanksgiving: "Renew our communion with all your saints, especially those whom we name before you in our hearts" there will then be a brief silence at which time you are invited to silently lift up the names of the saints you wish to honor.
And now, look up at the stained glass windows. The smaller ones were brought over from the church on Fifth Street. See the light shining through?
One Sunday morning a small boy went to church with his parents. "He asked them who the people were on the colorful stained glass windows. His parents him of the bible people pictured there and their stories and then told him they were the saints.
A few weeks later, his Sunday School teacher asked the class if anyone knew who the saints were. This child replied, 'The saints are people who let the light shine through.' "
Let the people say, "Amen!"
1All these quotes are from One Hundred Years in Ministry, D.Slocom