Sarah Aldrich’s relationship with Knox was beautiful. She loved this place. She played bells and sang in the choir and served as the music librarian. She was a Deacon, she served on the Nominating Committee and the Adult Faith Formation Committee and was part of the monthly Book Group. Sarah was a constant fixture in the church office in the daytime and evening chatting with friends, telling stories, trading books; I’m sure I’m forgetting other things. Sarah loved this place and she left her legacy in countless ways.
As a member of the Knox Choir wrote so beautifully in an email this week: “If ever there existed a person immediately welcomed into the Choir of Angels, sans audition, it is our dear, hardworking, cat-earring wearing, announcement-making, smiling, loving, sometimes sad, quirky Sarah. God love her and give her peace. It is so hard to imagine Knox without her.”
Not only did Sarah love the church but the church loved her. When the news of her unexpected death arrived this week, emails and phone calls like that one instantly began to fly telling stories about Sarah.
Sarah lived alone; she had a small family none of whom were local. And members of Knox were her local family. When I opened her address book this week in order to call her brother, it was full of your names. Knox helped Sarah navigate her health care; our youth and young adults took turns feeding her cat when she was away; when the pandemic arrived a member of our staff texted with her daily to be sure she was ok.
Sarah was not a power player who sought great influence in the church; she was not a major donor who led capital campaigns. She was child of God. She gave of herself to her church, and her church gave back. And when people seek to say that big, old, traditional churches are cold or irrelevant or too institutional to care about people, well, they must not be talking about Knox.
I’m saying all of this because I think that from time to time people appreciate a reminder that the church isn’t a social club. We’re not here just in case you’re bored on Sunday morning, we’re not assigning value to our members based on how much they can pledge; when we tell you we’re praying for you, and we ask how we can help, we mean it.
We aren’t a perfect community. Sometimes we aren’t aware of all that you’re facing; sometimes we fail to care for you the way that we should, and when that happens we are genuinely regretful. Because it’s not a social club. It’s a community.
We are the body of Christ.
We’re here for a reason.
In the Book of 1 John, where our Scripture Lesson comes from this morning, members of the early church describe it this way: “‘God is light and there is no darkness in [God] at all.’ …[I]f we live in the light in the same way as [God] is the light, we have fellowship with each other… If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us of everything we have done wrong.”
This is who the church is called to be. A place of encouragement. A place that breeds relationship with God. A place where rich friendships flow from one’s relationship with God. A place that practices forgiveness and helps people to find renewal and begin again. In a world where there is so much darkness, so much strife, so much division, we are called into a different kind of life. We worship our Creator, who is the light of the world. We’re received and loved by God no matter where we have been or what we have done. We are invited to be honest about the ways in which we have failed, and we can be forgiven and made new so that we do not need to remain stuck in the past.
God takes away the darkness, for God is light. This message is for all of us. Has the darkness of life overwhelmed you? Do you wonder if God has forgotten you, or do you think it impossible that God still loves you? God loves you very much. God is not done with you. The regrets and mistakes that may have separated you from your Creator; the fear that God is as cruel and judgmental because that is what you see among people…here we tell a different story. The Good News we share in this place is that you need not be stuck in that darkness any longer, for God is light.
That is the witness of the church, but the reality is that we live in a culture that obscures that story. We are overwhelmed by materialism, divisiveness, and selfishness, and the Christian witness is getting lost. You’ve heard me speak on a number of occasions about the steep declines our culture is seeing around church involvement, especially among younger people and especially among traditional churches like this one. Knox often defies that reality, but the fact is that many people beyond these walls probably do assume that we are cold, or irrelevant or too institutional to care about people.
COVID has made our connections to one another even more tenuous than before. We have no way of knowing, as we continue to open up, how many of our members might not have participated in online worship for many months and may not be planning to come back. And countless are the people who have never crossed our threshold, but who are completing the darkest year of their lives and need now more than ever to be welcomed into God’s arms by the gift of a loving community.
So today, as we ordain and install a new class of Elders and Deacons, I must share with all of you, but especially with our new leaders being ordained today: the call that is before you is real, and the need for your faithful service has never been greater. We must reconnect with the people we have lost, we must reach out to our community in service, friendship and kindness as we never have before, and we must seek out and restore to community the countless people who are lost in the darkness that has been this past year. And the good news is this: you have a joyful story to tell, of a God who longs to be in relationship with them and a church that knows how to love. We must take up this challenge.
Elders and Deacons, and all of you who are a part of this community, God is calling you to this holy task. I know it has been a difficult week for many of you. Let me share with you how I tend to think about difficult weeks in church. In order to survive in ministry, one must develop a certain amount of stamina for sadness, and not only stamina for sadness, but an ability to find meaning and purpose in it. I will admit to you that while I love church for the majestic music and the joyful family activities, and the intellectual rigor of questions about God, it’s really during the weeks of hardship and suffering when we surround one another with God’s love, that I know why I’m in ministry.
This is a community. We are blessed by God in good times and in hard times. As you come this ordination today, either participating in it or bearing witness to it, know that you are in church because you are called to be about the saving, renewing, and upbuilding of the body of Christ for the salvation of the world.
That is why we are here. God bless you all.