Nov 6th, The Joy of Legacy, with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski
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Rev. Dr. Steven Koski
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Nov 6th: The Joy of Legacy, with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski.
Author Stephen Covey suggests we begin every day with the end in mind. Imagine for a moment you’re attending your own memorial service, and you’re listening to people talk about you. Talk about the impact you’ve made in their lives and in the lives of others. What would you most like people to say about you? Imagine your family is talking about you, your friends, your neighbors, your coworkers or employees.
Imagine people from your church are talking about you, or someone from the community and maybe someone from another country whose life you touched because of your generosity.
They’re talking about what they most appreciate about you, and they’re describing what they’re most grateful for about your life. They’re talking about what they most admire about you. They’re talking about the impact you’ve had on their lives and on others.
Now, deep down, what would you most like to hear them say? Not necessarily what they would say today, but what would you love to hear them say? Take a moment.
What do you hear as you imagine this event, as you imagine people talking? What are the three or four words that you would love to hear people say about you?
Now ask yourself, are you living your life today in a way you want to be remembered tomorrow?
How do you want to be remembered? What do you want your legacy to be? You know, our current worship theme is may your deep gladness meet the world’s needs. It comes from a quote by Frederick Beekner that reads, the place God is calling you is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. You know, one of my all time favorite books is called Tuesdays with Mori.
It describes a friendship between Mitch album, a Detroit sports writer, and Professor Maury Schwartz, who was suffering from ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. Now, Mitch would visit Maury every Tuesday, and the book describes those visits and those conversations. Mitch said people would go visit Mori. You know, they would go, and they’re ready to cheer morrie up, but they would be the ones who would leave crying, Mitch wrote. They were crying about their job, their divorce, their issues.
I want to cheer Mori up, they’d say, sniffling. But he started asking me about my life, and he was concerned about my problems, and the next thing I knew, I was bawling. Mitch writes, I watched this happen so many times that finally I said to Maury, I don’t get it. You’re the one dying from ALS, this awful, debilitating disease. If ever anyone has finally earned the right to say, let’s not talk about your problems, let’s talk about my problems, it would be you and more.
He looked at me sadly.
Mitch, he whispered, why would I want to take like that? I don’t want to be a taker. Taking just reminds me that I’m dying. I don’t want to be remembered for what I took from others.
I want to be remembered for what I was willing to give. And Laurie smiled and said, giving giving makes my heart glad. Giving makes me feel like I’m living. People die. Love doesn’t die, Morrie said, and I want to be remembered for the love I left behind.
How do you want to be remembered? What will be the joy of your legacy? You know, I forget sometimes that we who are worshiping together today, whether online, on television, or in person, we are the legacy of the faithfulness and generosity of all of those who have gone before us. I mean, we’ve been preceded by generations of faithful and generous saints who have left their love behind. First Presbyterian Church of Bend was nearly 120 years old.
You know, I had the privilege of being the pastor of this extraordinary community of faith because of the faithfulness and generosity of those who have gone before me.
Honestly, I stand on the shoulders of so many saints whose names I may never know, but whose legacy lives on through me and through you. I’m forever indebted to the communion of saints who have left a legacy of our beautiful campus and facility and the reputation earned over 120 years of faithfulness, of being a church. The community turns to a church that can always be counted on when there is need.
You know, I forget sometimes that faith has history, faith has roots. I mean, we discover our own expression of faith, and we live our faith in our own time, with our own lives, but we don’t invent faith. Faith has history. Today’s Bible reading is from first thessalon I can never say that. First Thessalonians.
There we go. Today’s Bible reading is from first thessalon I did it again. First Thessalonians. Say that three times fast. First Thessalonians, chapter one, verses one to two.
Now, for all of us, for all of us, the faith we hold today honestly traces back to this small, fragile community in Thessalonica, which was located in what is now modernday Greece. I say this because of all the writings in the New Testament, first Thessalonians is actually the earliest. If the books and letters were placed in chronological order, the New Testament would not begin with Matthew. It would begin with first thessalonians this letter is the very first Gospel message. Now, the Apostle Paul, his ministry lasted from about the year 33 Ce to 58 or so, about 25 years.
And the letters he wrote were all written in the last seven or eight years of his ministry. And First Thessalonians was the first letter written about the year 50. And during this time, Christian missionaries like Paul had gone to Rome, and they were sharing the good news of Jesus. And there was a lot of tension and fighting between these missionaries and those who remain committed to the traditional Jewish practice. And the Roman Emperor Claudius would tolerate no unrest, so he expelled all of the Jews, including the Jewish Christians, from Rome.
And it’s likely that those that these refugees seeking to follow the way of Jesus found their way to thessalonica and the Roman government at the time was beginning to look upon the followers of Jesus as a national security threat. And within a few years, Nero would be emperor, and Nero nero would mercilessly persecute Christians for the thessalonians the very act of gathering together, of sharing the sacrament like we’re going to do today, of welcoming men and women, slave and free, Jew and gentile, clean and unclean, welcoming all to the same table. The act of welcoming the stranger, caring for widows and orphans, of trying to just simply live the spacious and radical love of Jesus for this fragile, small community of faith.
This was bold and courageous and was done always at the risk of their own lives, they practiced their faith in the face of extraordinary adversity and challenge.
So this is what Paul wrote to them, and this is regarded as the earliest writing of our faith. Paul wrote, we give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before God our Father, your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
So Paul gives thanks to God for their faith, love and hope. But more than that, he gives thanks to God for their work of faith, their labor of love, for the steadfastness of their hope.
So already in the very, very first writings describing the roots of our faith, there’s a theme.
Faith is work. It’s a labor of love that requires a steadfast hope. Faith is expressed in the choices we make, especially in the face of adversity. Faith is a practice of making choices that will shape who we are today and how we will be remembered tomorrow. You know, there’s much we wouldn’t recognize about that community in Thessalonica, and even more they wouldn’t recognize about us, but we have come from them.
Our faith has roots in that community. The history of our faith traces back to their resilience, their courage, their generosity, their faithfulness in the face of adversity. Now, we certainly today live in different times, but the work of our faith, the labor of our love, the steadfastness of our hope is as important today as it has ever been.
We are in a new season. You know, we’re crawling out of the culvert pandemic, trying to rebuild and renew as a church family.
And I really believe this long, this long what has felt like a long waiting season has raised up in many a sense of evaluation and reevaluation as to what our life is for, what we want to be about, what we wish to fill our days.
What is our deep gladness? And how can our deep gladness meet the world’s immense needs?
How do we want to be remembered? What do we want our legacy to be?
We’re in a season right now where we need to choose the patterns and practices that we will adopt to build a life that matters, a life that really matters. We’re in a season right now calling the church to recommit to the work of faith. The work of faith to recommit to the labor of love and to recommit to a steadfast hope. You know, I’ve always loved the image from the 12th chapter of the Book of Hebrews that says, seeing that we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and let us run with perseverance the race that is marked out for us. What a fantastic image.
A great cloud of witnesses cheering us on as we run our leg of the race called life. Barbara Brown Taylor calls them the balcony people. You know, the people who have gone before us, the people we have loved and lost, they’re there, up there in the balcony, cheering us on, encouraging us to make the choices, the choices to live each day in a way that we would want to be remembered. You know, we each have our own personal cloud of witnesses. We each have our own saints who are in the balcony.
Grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, mentors, teachers, friends, those who believed in us, those who loved us.
Who is that person no longer with us that has impacted your life and your faith the most?
Can you think of that person now? Imagine that person even now, cheering you on. That person up there in the balcony still believing in you, still loving you, still cheering you on. This church this church, First Presbyterian has a cloud of witnesses, has a balcony of people. We have our own saints.
I mean, what a remarkable legacy of blessings they have passed on along to us. Imagine for a moment all who have sat in the pews over the years in this place and in other places that the church existed. Those who served, sacrificed, loved. Take a minute and call to mind all who have taught and loved our children. Can you think of a few?
Those who have mentored our youth, those who have taught and helped us to wrestle with our faith? Men and women who have fed the hungry, cared for the sick, comforted the grieving, built houses, made quilts, knitted, prayer shawls. Men and women who have reached out with Christ’s love to those in need in our community and far beyond.
Think of those people who, without even knowing it, have modeled a Christ like life and the importance of love and kindness and generosity and sacrifice. You know, those through the years who have wrestled with finances, daring to trust in God’s abundance and challenging times. Those who took the risk to relocate and then took another risk to expand our facilities. This church exists today because of them and their legacy. We give thanks to God, and we remember them today for the work of their faith, the labor of their love, the steadfastness of their hope.
You know someone who recently joined the great company of the saints who is now in the balcony cheering us on. This beautiful Gene hall. Jean’s last words to me. Some of her very last words to me. She said, I am so thankful and I am so proud of my church.
And even though she was hours away from passing, she shook her finger at me and said stephen, stay strong. People really need the church today.
I just know Jean is in the balcony cheering us on.
This church has a balcony full of saints who have passed the baton of faith to us, to you, to me. They’re cheering us on. They’re encouraging us encouraging us to renew our commitment to stay strong in the work of faith that is uniquely ours in this moment in time to be bold and generous in the labor of love that is uniquely ours to do and to remain steadfast in the practice of hope when hope today seems to be in such limited supply.
The patan of faith, hope, love is now in our hands.
Who will we pass the baton to?
Will there be a generation of the faithful 20, 5100 years from now remembering and giving thanks on All Saints Day? Telling stories, expressing gratitude for the work of our faith, for the labor of our love and the blessings that we have handed to them?
How will we be remembered?
What will be the joy of our legacy?
I guess that will depend on the choices we make today and tomorrow and the next day.
I don’t know of a time in my life when the work of faith, the labor of love, the steadfastness of hope has been more important.
But I know this there are no people I would rather share the work of faith and the labor of love with than you.
May we live today in a way that we will want to be remembered tomorrow.
May it be so.