Comment from Ken: I was invited to preach at First Congregational Church in Hopkinton, New Hampshire by its pastor Gordon Crouch on the Sunday of New Years Eve. This was the sermon’s rough draft that I delivered last Sunday morning. It is a rough draft so there are errors in grammar etc. Also when preaching a sermon this pastor often deletes or adds stories. If you wish to read the sermon please think of it as being spoken rather that written. To all of you who walk with me may you have a Happy New Year 2018. In Christian love – Ken
Sermon December 31, 2017
Tonight at twelve o’clock we begin a new year. As we leave First Church this morning we will undoubtedly wish each other a Happy New Year. That greeting will not end here this morning but will continue tonight and for the next week as we greet people on our weekly journey. In our hearts all of us will wish that this well be a new year of happiness and well being for us and for our families. But the stark realistic truth is that we do not know what this New Year will bring to us and to our neighbors and our loved ones. As well as there being hope in the greeting of a New Year there is also an underlying wonder, maybe even a concern about what we must confront in the New Year.
My mom was never overly happy greeting the New Year. My being one of seven children my parents faced so many challenges with us as we grew up, and parents never feel that their children are not a concern for their total lives. My mother and father would have a quiet dinner together on December 31st perhaps with one of my sisters and her husband, but it was not a night of great celebration. No – in some ways I believe my protective, over loving, mom was somewhat frightened at what the New Year might bring to her family and to her loved ones. And there were years when the New Year brought sickness and struggle and even death. Maybe that is why many in our society party on December 31st to cover the fear of just what the New Year might bring to them.
Some years hold new beginnings and new beginnings can be fearful.
Just look at the scripture lesson this morning. Mary and Joseph we called to face so many new beginnings, one after the other. Just imagine, Mary unmarried has found herself pregnant and unmarried. Now she was engaged to Joseph who under Judaic law meant that they would have to get a divorce if they were to be separated. Joseph took this matter to heart in a dream and decided to stay with Mary and not leave her desolate. His life was going to have a new beginning where people might even laugh at him for marrying a girl not carrying his own child. And Mary, maybe fifteen years old, a new beginning for her. Staying with Elizabeth for a time out of the city where she might have faced scandal and cruel comments. Then going with Joseph to Bethlehem to be registered for taxation. New beginning? No place for them in an inn. Her baby born in a stable, his bed a cows feeding trough. Her son born among strangers, not family. How she must have yearned to return with Joseph to Nazareth their home. We yearn for what we “consider” our home in difficult times. Joseph and his wife Mary were not to return immediately from Bethlehem to Nazareth.
Once more Joseph had a dream where an angel told him to flee from Israel to save the newborn child’s life. Herod the king, tyrant was so threatened by the rumors of the Messiah being born, a challenge to his kingship, he cause what scripture calls the slaughter of the innocents. Every male baby under a certain age was to be put to death. To protect Jesus Joseph and Mary flee to Egypt.
Now just look at all these new beginnings for Mary and Joseph, a new baby, a trip to Bethlehem, not place to stay, a bright star, strange wise men from the east. And now unable to return to Nazareth they travel to Egypt.
How strange to go to Egypt, the place where Israel had been enslaved, the place where Moses had led his people out of bondage, a place of fear, now becomes the place where Jesus is to be rescued from Herod’s hatred. And they will remain there for according to some for seven years; other scholars believe it was for a much shorter time. We do know that they were living in Nazareth when Jesus was twelve and they travelled to the temple in Jerusalem.
Back in those days of Jesus’ birth if you had said happy new year to Mary and Joseph it would have been a prayer that would not come to pass. Happy New Year fleeing to another land, not among your own family. How devastating.
Now wait just a minute, in such an unsettled life guess who was there guarding them and watching over them –who but a loving God. The Bible commentator Matthew Henry even goes so far as to make the statement that the gold and gifts from the wise men gave Mary and Joseph the funds to travel to Egypt. What is so important to a new year, to new beginnings is the recognition that God is with you when you face a great change in your life. When life is turned upside down and inside our Lord is there to strengthen, guide and uphold, but you have to look for Him and see his guiding, quiet hand. What we all to often call a chance happening, or good luck is really the guiding hand of God.
When you live as long as this pastor has lived you see new beginning after new beginning. New beginnings as frightening as they are have within them the loving hand of our Savior. And I want to change how you look upon the happenstances in your life.
Dale and my journey to Hopkinton New Hampshire was not by coincidence it was by the hand of God. I knew my health was changing while serving our Chapel in Attleboro. I knew it was time for us to begin to look for a place where I could retire. We debated going to somewhere near Portland Maine were Dale grew up or near Concord New Hampshire for I loved this area.
Among the many new beginnings there was one some forty and more years ago. I was the pastor of South Congregational Church in Concord. I found that Concord was a wonderful place to live and having daughter and family now living in Pembroke and a daughter and her husband in North Conway that this would be a fine place to find a home for my retirement. Dale just a few years ago earned her Doctorate and wished to continue to teach. So we took all we had saved and we found our cape house here in Hopkinton and purchased it. Now we had two homes and we needed to sell the house in Attleboro. Dale learned there was an opening in the Hopkinton school system, sent in her resume on a Sunday night and had a call on Monday morning for a possible interview. God in our minds had shown us a position for Dale. We moved here a year ago August and I was to continue to minister at Attleboro until June of this year and then I would retire. We did not know how we could commute to Attleboro on the weekends for there was a Saturday evening and Sunday morning service. Somehow we would make it; Dale had strong reservations because of my strength and the distance to Attleboro. The travelling dilemma was decided one morning in October when I awoke and could not breathe.
For the first time of many, I told Dale she could not drive me to the hospital she had to call 911. Concord Hospital kept me for four days and I knew God was stopping me. I had no choice I had to leave the active ministry. I told the Chapel I could not come back and I preached my last sermon there a year ago November on Thanksgiving Sunday.
Now call it coincidence if you wish, but we do not. Finding our home, finding a position for Dale and being hospitalized were events I believe God guided and I believe he guides your lives as well. But I wish you to do something as the New Year comes. I would like to convince you to journal the times in your life that God is there to guide you – those times you might label as a coincidence. To do that is not difficult in our technological age. If you have a smart phone you can easily make a note on your phone of such a happening. I have learned to do so. This pastor tries hard to write down God’s hand in my life and I hope to convince you to do the same.
One day I left my church in Cumberland RI at a very unusual hour in the afternoon. I always left my office earlier than one o’clock but this day I left at after one. As I drove along the highway from Cumberland to Attleboro I passed a wooded area and saw a young woman running along the side of the road in that deserted spot. I was in the passing lane and when I glanced over I saw my daughter Kadie. Turning to the side of the highway and then backing up I arrived by Kadie just as an old Cadillac pulled up beside her. Getting out of my truck I looked at the dashboard of the Cadillac and upon the man and the whole dashboard was covered with crushed out cigarettes – I told the man we did not need him. To this day I believe God sent me to that very spot where my special daughter was running and alone seeking help for her car had broken down. Coincidence I think not.
A wonderful friend David King passed away and they dedicated a conservation preserve in his name. That same week moving from our home I came across two letters that he wrote when he was with his sister and was giving bone marrow for her to live. She is still alive and I sent his letters to her.
I had a call from our treasurer of candleberry Chapel that we were out of funds. Now I am going to sound like one of those scheming pastors on television asking for a thousand dollars for seed money – but that very day there was a check in the mail for six thousand dollars. Happenstance I do not think so.
When I go for a cumadin check or doctor’s appointment I know I am going
to have difficulty finding a parking space. When I am having a difficult day I will breathe the prayer – a terribly mundane prayer – O please God let there be a close space to the door. So many times there is. Just a coincidence. Not for me.
At Boston University School of Theology they taught us that ever sermon should give the members of the church something to do. Journal the times God has helped you in a new beginning. Write down and note how God guides your life in a way that is not circumstance but a divine guidance from our Lord.
The New Year begins tonight – shall it not find us unafraid because God will guide us. What will it bring to me – What God has for me in this New Year I do not know but I am unafraid. Think about my life at the age of 38 I had my first coronary when I was serving South Church in Concord. That I am now 83 is because with all my heart I believe God has guided me and been with me through all my years and I know he is there for you too.
One day I said to one of the members of Candleberry Chapel – with all the issues I have had with my health I guess God has something for me to do here – Or said my Parishioner – He doesn’t want you there.
Thank you for welcoming me to be your pastor for this sermon. You are so blessed to have a man like Gordon for your pastor and I know you appreciate him – for I was here the Sunday you recognized his birthday. I appreciate him as well and hope I have been a pastor who cared for his flock as Gordon cares for you.
I wish you all a happy new year but also the wish that as a new year begins that you feel God’s presence guiding your life every day no matter the journey you and I walk in the year 2018. Amen.