Mark’s Letter to the Heritageans

Heritage Presbyterian Church

October 11, 2020
40th Anniversary of Heritage PC
Scripture reading: Philippians 4: 1-9

My dear sisters and brothers of Heritage…today on the 40th anniversary of the founding of our church, it is altogether fitting and proper that we look back at what our church has accomplished and celebrate.

However, as I studied Paul’s letter to the Philippians this week in my sermon preparations, I was struck by the tone, words, and message this stubbornly faithful Apostle chose.  Despite being in a prison in Rome – which would lead most of us to look back fondly at the past – Paul was still imploring that church in Philippi to continue the faithful work they had started long ago.

So, let us imagine that it is several, uncounted years in our own future.  Let us imagine that I am writing to you as an old friend who served you and loved you long ago.  Let us imagine what such a letter might say to us on this unusual, yet special day.

From Mark’s Letter to the Heritageans:

Mark, a servant of Christ Jesus, to all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Heritage, together with the leaders, elders, and deacons:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 I always thank the Lord whenever I think of you and remember all the good work we did together.  As I write to you this day, I am thinking of four goals that I hope are continuing as you work and serve together as a faithful family of Jesus Christ.

First, I am always mindful of the relationships that were formed during our time together.  Those relationships have sustained me over the years during bad times and good as I remember your faithful examples.  Yet, we all know that earthly relationships are vital to the health of any family – and especially a church family – but they pale in comparison to the relationship necessary with our tender, loving Lord.  Our relationship with the Lord is an intimate relationship – not one borne of distance and separation.  Paul wrote, “The Lord is near; the God of peace will be with you.”  While some believe the Christians of Paul’s day knew Jesus would return in their lifetimes, Paul might have realized that the Lord is near in the way he is constantly available to us; because God is near, why should any of us fear anything?  Teaching and modeling this lesson is most important for all believers to do.  We must always remember that God’s love for us is a covenant relationship – one that was demonstrated and repeatedly fulfilled beginning in the Old Testament.  That means God requires us to do more than show up on Sunday and listen well.  

The second goal I hope the church at Heritage continues to follow is one of preparation.  Christians love to “conveniently” forget that we know neither the day nor the hour when our Lord will reappear.  Paul’s eye was always on the certainty of God’s ultimate triumph.   So he often urged his fellow believers – and especially those in the churches he helped – to stand firm in the Lord.  Paul had no time for quarrelling between leaders or between any of the people.  We all know that human interaction often leads to conflicts and misunderstandings; we also know sometimes it can lead to worse when we do not treat one another with love and respect – especially when we disagree.  Every face we gaze upon contains a measure of the very face of God.  Yet every face we gaze upon is not always treated in a loving and careful way.

I guess this is why I have always tried to nip any and every problem in the bud before it can grow into something destructive and ugly.  Often church leaders must endure some of this, but you – the good people of Heritage – can greatly help.  Love, support, and pray constantly for your church leaders.  Work for them, with them, and especially next to them.  Never let them believe for a second that the work they do is done alone.  Never let them doubt your support – especially if disagreements occur.  In the vast history of Heritage, sometimes disagreements have led to tragic results.  But those are in the distant past – where often we find it is much easier to forgive and let go.  Praise God in the Highest Heaven when this happens!

The third goal was most covered in part of my previous discussion; it is this: the whole community of Heritageans has the responsibility to live and work in harmony.  Some believe it is only the pastor’s responsibility to maintain this goal, but we know that is folly.  Everyone is responsible for themselves and their own conduct.  The church is responsible for teaching and preaching the Good News, but it is also responsible for showing our greater community how to live that Good News every day.  

Often, we know of other faith communities – good places filled with good and faithful people – who put too much on the pastor and then complain when things go wrong.  When the whole community holds itself responsible for what occurs, how the Good News is spread by the church, and how the church grows and changes, God is praised by more than just our words, songs, and shouts of praise!

This is the ideal…which is often hard to attain and hold to.  Remember that believers of Paul’s day were often tempted by despair and anxiety due to their circumstances, which were often deadly. Paul understood this; and yet how did Paul tell his friends at his various churches to behave?  With “gentleness, moderation, and forbearance” toward everyone – even those who opposed them.  He even encouraged specific leaders to help other leaders who were having problems or who had gone astray.  Paul recognized that every relationship outside the Lord would inevitably be accursed.  Paul rarely gave up on any relationship – which is why he was so often beaten, jailed, or run out of town for his constant teachings!

Finally, I have quoted the Apostle Paul and his various writings to his Christian friends.  Yet in the ancient archives of the Heritageans, if you look in the right book, it is possible to find the writings of your own first Apostle, your founder, Ozzie Lutz.  Ozzie loved to write notes for himself in the margins of the various Biblical commentaries that he used.  One set is still in the church office for anyone to see.

In the margins of the volume that explored Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Ozzie wrote neatly in pen: “I don’t live for faith for the future; it won’t come.”  This message had an arrow that pointed to another comment below that said the following: “Modern man has been trying for 300 years to substitute ‘faith in the future’ for ‘faith in God.’”

We go from hope to despair when we only put our faith in the future without also putting our faith in God.  We are constantly driven by events – instead of worshiping the God who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Ozzie would tell us today that to live for a spoilable tomorrow as the chief end of life is to spend our days fooling ourselves.  That is not life at all.

Life – the joyful life of true believers – is to be lived all the way up; however, that same joyful life contains a heavy responsibility that weak believers will always feel – the responsibility of faith.  Instead, for those of you who still remember Ozzie and his dear wife, Deedee, remember their always present smiles.  Remember their examples of faith.  Remember how much you loved them, how much they both loved you in return; but most of all, remember how they loved their Lord and led others to do the same.

That is a goal worth including in any church, but certainly in one that has been tested throughout the years and has come through as the community of Heritageans has.  Our best learning has always come through strife that created disturbances and upset the equilibrium of those who try in vain to maintain the status quo.  

Jesus was never about the status quo.

Jesus is always about the new thing he is doing next.

So, my dear friends, know that I love you so much, as I have done for many years. 

But also know that God loves you the most.