James 1:17-27

You may or may not be aware that we are nearing the date when Marty McFly transported to the future in Back to the Future II.  Traveling to October 26, 2015 Marty found a whole host of amazing gadgets and gizmos such as hover boards, self-lacing sneakers, automatically adjusting jackets, and flying cars.  Though the movie prognosticators were incorrect on a few things, allowing room for interpretation, they got several things right such as video conferencing, wall-mounted televisions, tablet computers, wireless video games, and our obsession with technology.  There is also the matter of the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series in 2015. While unimaginable a few years ago, with the Cubs much improved and in-line to make the playoffs, this isn’t so far-fetched.

Here we are in 2015, nearing that date Marty McFly was imagined to travel to back in 1985.  Today, in 2015, we are also celebrating the 110th anniversary of our very own Henderson Community Church, known formerly as Henderson Congregational Church.  Suppose we had our very own time machine like the Delorean from Back to the Future, although I suppose it would have to be a retro-fitted school bus to fit us all in! Let’s say we sped up to eighty-eight miles an hour and zapped back into the year 1905. What would we see? Some of our senior members can give us a better sense of what life would look like. I imagine standing in the midst of a dusty road, looking across a wide-open prairie. Suppose we arrived on a Sunday morning just in time to see some folks heading up to the second floor of Mark Morris’s General Store where the Grange also met on what is now Oakland Street. We’d see many walking in, perhaps a few riding in on a wagon or buggy. What a different world it was back then…

The General Store / Grange building

The General Store / Grange building

At the turn of the century, 1900, Henderson consisted of an elementary school, hotel, railroad depot, blacksmith shop, barber shop, cheese factory, general store, a Grange hall, and a post office.  The only religious influence was a Sunday school started in the late 1800’s and was taken over by Mr. Ralph Byers in 1897. By the end of 1904 Mr. Byers convinced a few people that Henderson needed a church and on March 26, 1905 twelve people met to sign the charter. In 1905 there were six Congregational churches started in Colorado,[1] and of the six our church is the only one still in existence.

Since we’re time travelers now we might as well zip ahead two years to see the first church being erected. We would listen in on the conversation deciding to affiliate with the Congregational Church in order to receive a building grant. We would see Mr. Brose McCool, the man who donated one acre of land east of the railroad on what is now 120th Avenue.  We would see the bell, given by evangelist Jim Norvell who held special services to create interest in starting the church, first being raised into the bell tower and listen to its booming ring. We would even be there for the dedication of the church building in 1909, when that iconic image was likely taken.


Henderson Congregational Church – 1909

Can you imagine what those early founders were thinking? Did they have any idea what the area of Henderson would look like today? Did they have the future in mind when they founded their little church or were they just looking for a place to gather in community and worship God? Do you think they even gave a thought to their little church existing in the year 2015? Again, this is where we must come back to our senior members.  Did you ever imagine what the church would be in the future?

Knowing the long history of our church, perhaps we’ve sat day-dreaming one Sunday morning, wondering if the church would still be here in another 110 years. We can only wonder.  Whether or not our church will exist in 110 years, I think we can all agree that we want to see our church exist in another 10, 15, even 20 years.  Yet we tend to take these things for granted—when in fact there is no guarantee. What then is our path to the future, to see our church alive and thriving for years to come?  We would be wise to heed the words of James…

This morning our text comes from the book of James, my favorite book of the Bible.  As a teenager, I remember regularly sitting on the couch holding a Bible open to the book of James and listening to my dad as he tried to memorize the book of James, in the King James Version of course!

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;
Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.  But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.[2]

And on and on he would go. I’m not sure how far got past chapter one, but I grew quite an affinity for James having heard it so many times. I loved its practicality, I loved its poetry.  And even more, I loved its prescriptions.  Ask for wisdom, endure in faith, be quick to hear-slow to speak-and slow to become angry, and be doers of the word not hearers only. Verse 27 is one of my favorite verses in the entire Bible:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.[3]

James is no-nonsense throughout his book. Faith without works is dead—no ifs, ands, or buts about it. James has zero patience for anything else. He wants us to be doers of the word, not simply hearers, for in his mind, real religion, proper worship of God, is about putting our faith into practice in ways like caring for those in poverty and those being mistreated.

This morning, as we think about our last 110 years, as we think about our next 110 years, as we think about the book of James and practicing true worship of God—I would like to propose what the path to the future might be for our church.  But to go into that bright future, I believe we must first go back… This morning, I propose that the future of Henderson Community Church is found in going back and re-invigorating what has gotten our church to this point.

To go into our future, we must go back to the visionary frontier spirit of the original founders.  One hundred and ten years ago in Henderson, Colorado twelve Christians took a step of faith and signed a church charter. I’ve got to imagine these twelve had some sense of the dedication that would be required to keep the church alive. Surely they knew to some extent the odds of the church’s survival were not in their favor. In fact, of the five other congregational churches started in 1905, four lasted no more than three years, and the other twenty-two years.

The first church with rear addition

The first church with rear addition

Do you think they realized the risks they were taking with no guarantee of the future? I think they did. And I think it is that risk we must imitate.  I think we must be willing to risk taking a renewed look at everything we do at the church. To risk examining our systems and structures, our policies and procedures to make sure that the organization of our church is not limiting the mission of our church.  We must have that same visionary spirit to try new things, take steps of faith into the unknown, being ready to leave everything we’ve known behind, and be willing to risk all for the sake of the gospel. Our path to the future is about re-engaging the visionary, frontier spirit of our founders.

To go into our future, we must go back to the gospel-centered mission of the church.  The gospel is what propelled so many ministers to travel to the rough-and-tumble world of the Colorado gold rush.  The gospel is what brought meaning and transformation to those early settlers. The gospel is what urged these believers to unite into congregations of faith. While we may understand it differently, the gospel must be the overriding principal of our existence and mission.  God has called us, as Jesus said in the book of Luke to proclaim good news to the poor, to work for the freedom of the oppressed, to bring renewed vision to those blinded by the ways of the world, to proclaim a different way of living—living according to the ways of God. Our path to the future is about re-energizing the gospel-centered mission of our founders.

To go into our future, we must go back to the community-centered focus of that church. In a historical writing from the 1960’s, it was mentioned that before affiliating with the Congregationalists, the church was rumored to have been called “Henderson Community Church.” Writing in a collection for our 100th anniversary, Nancy Ottem noted that Henderson has always been a community church in the truest sense of the word.  To that point, the future of HCC must focus on reaching out to the community that now surrounds Henderson, the neighborhoods springing up all around us, not the community of the past. One writer notes that when a community around a church changes, the church has three options; relocate, adapt, or die.[4] We have no plans of moving locations, we certainly don’t want to die—that means our only option is to adapt. Our future is dependent on our recommitting to the community around us, reaching out to and welcoming in the residents of these new communities, shaping our ministries and programming to meet their needs, not simply our own. Our path to the future is about truly being the community church we have always been.

Can you imagine what the future will bring? I can,  and as I see it, our path to the future is built around re-engaging and re-energizing what built this church. And as we continue to build on the foundation that has been laid, as we continue to live according to the legacy that has been left for us, as we continue to be the church our ancestors were so long ago—we will live into the future God dreams for us.HCCSingle

Our path to the future, our journey of faith, is about putting our faith into practice.  Faith is after all about doing—as James says— therefore our focus must be on living out in faith the visionary frontier spirit of our founders, re-energizing the gospel-centered mission of that church, and re-focusing on the community centered engagement of our ancestors. We must be doers, not simply hearers. We must take what we do in here and apply it to our lives out there. After all, it’s not what we do in here that makes us Christians, it’s what we do out there. Faith, without works, is dead.

Henderson’s 110 years is a testament to working faith. Whether or not this church lives to see another 110 years will depend on whether we continue to live into the legacy of our founders so many years ago and whether we continue to build on their foundation. Here’s to another 110 years, here’s to continuing the legacy from way back then, here’s to being doers of the word. This morning I invite you to join with me as we journey into that future.

[1] The Bible and the Gold Rush: A Century of Congregationalism in Colorado (Denver, CO: The Big Mountain Press, 1962), 91.

[2] James 1:1-6 KJV

[3] James 1:27 NIV

[4] Rom Edmondson, “When your church no longer reflects the community,” MinistryMatters.com <http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/6279/when-your-church-no-longer-reflects-the-community> (accessed August 26, 2015).

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