[I gave the sermon below at the Saturday evening service at Mt. Washington Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio on Feb. 25, 2012 as part of their 100th anniversary commemoration.  My father, Cal Jackson, served as pastor of this church from 1967 – 1975.  He delivered the sermon at the Sunday morning services the next day.]

I want to thank Dr. Jones for extending to me the privilege of sharing in this worship service as you mark the 100th anniversary of Mt. Washington Presbyterian Church.   It is a joy for me to be here, back in this church, and to share this time with my dad.  My own congregation at Blue Ridge Presbyterian Church in Kansas City sends you warm greetings and celebrates your milestone with you.   We marked 60 years at Blue Ridge last year, so watch out!  We might just catch you!

What does this anniversary mean to you, I wonder?   Are you treating it as a THING, as a milestone that you look at and appreciate, much like you would a plaque or photo album?  Or, are you approaching this anniversary as something that you DO?   In other words, is it more of a noun or more of a verb?

Now I know from looking at your website and speaking with members that this is an action-oriented congregation.  I’ve heard that you’ve already met your Anniversary challenge  to raise $100,000 to feed the hungry.  What a wonderful use of this anniversary.

I’ve had two images of your anniversary in my mind. The first is downhill skiing.    I love to ski, but don’t get to do it very often.   But when I do, one of my favorite things to do is to go to the top of the mountain and then find a side trail that is less travelled.  After I go maybe a quarter of the way down the mountain, I’ll pull up to stop on the side.  I’ll wait as other skiers go whizzing by until I’m alone.  Then I look back up the mountain to where I’ve been;  I look down the hill to where I’m going;  and then I look out across the valley before me.  It’s perfectly silent – all I hear is the trees.  After breathing that in, I start out again.

This anniversary is a time to pull up.  To stop, to look back at where you’ve been, and to breathe in what it that you’ve been doing for a century here, before you move on.

I want to invite you to picture, if you will, Moses in ski gear.  He’s wearing a bright blue parka, a yellow ski cap that drapes down to the middle of his back with a scarlet fuzzy tassle on the end.  He’s wearing cool Ray Ban sunglasses.  He doesn’t use ski poles, but instead, carries his staff.   Picture him slaloming down the hill with the entire people of Israel skiing behind him, the young and the old, the spry and those who are a bit infirmed.  Everyone is traveling together.

Then Moses pulls up on the side of the trail and stops.  And everyone stops behind him on the slope.  He looks back up at the people and the moutain behind him, he looks down the trail.   And then he scans across the valley and into the promised land.

The people have been traveling for 40 years.   They have had many trials.  There were times of hardship and when it seemed they might perish.  And then there was the life giving gifts of manna and water.  They had mountain experiences when they received the law of the Lord, and there have been valleys, when they abandoned God in favor of a golden calf or some other idol.   They have been through much, and now, they were on the doorstep of a new phase in their life as a people.

Our first reading came from the book of Deuteronomy, which means “second law,” or better yet, the giving of the law a second time.   In this book, Moses is seeking to prepare the people as they approach the promised land, as they bring one chapter of their life together to an end and get ready to start a new one.   He repeats the ten commandments that are reported earlier in the book of Exodus.   And then, he offers the people these words, cherished by Jews as “the shema,” in which he says:

                Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.

—  which  is vital because the people who live in the Promised Land and surrounding regions worshipped a whole gallery of gods, with a little “g”.    Don’t be misled, Moses warns them, by the culture around you.

He charges the people, saying,

              You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart,

              and with all your soul, and with all your might.

But then Moses gives the words which made me select this passage for today.  He offers the people some habits of faith, habits which will sustain the people whether they are gathered on the edge of the Promised Land or on Beechmont Avenue .

          Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.

          Recite them to your children,

          Talk about them when you are at home

          Talk about them when you are away,

          Talk about them when you lie down and

          Talk about them when you rise.

I love this image of DOING, of teaching the faith to our children and of witnessing to our faith, proclaiming our faith, living our faith whenever and wherever we are.   Wherever you are in your lives, share the words of the Lord, with your children, with each other, and with those who don’t have the Lord in their life.  Do it in on the edge of evening, and do it when you rise.

Jesus embraced these habits of faith.  In our passage of Mark, after healing many the night before,  he arose early and went to pray.  I don’t get the sense that this was a singular occasion, do you?   After all, the gospels show us time and again Jesus withdrawing to pray.   It was his own habit to draw close to God.

I said I have two images of your anniversary.  Skiing, and stopping on the mountain to see where you’ve been and where you’re going,  was the first.  The second image is the one that actually struck me immediately when I thought of coming here this weekend.   And that is the image of a swing set.

I have many very happy memories of our years here in Cincinnati and here at the church.  From Sunday School rooms, to running around the hallways with Phil Henderson Jr.,  to piano lessons with Mary Esther, to sitting up behind the pulpit with my dad, to watching my mom process in with the choir.  But a special memory that sticks in my mind is from the swing set that was on the edge of the parking lot.  Every Sunday in good weather, my sister Stephanie, my brother Sean, and I would go out to the swings as our mom and dad finished up in the church.

And if you have spent any time swinging on swing sets, you know what happens after you get off the swing set.  You can’t open yourhands!  Your fingers are curled together.   Your hand is shaped by the chains from the swing.   But it doesn’t stay that way for long.

For me, that’s the beauty of 100 years.   For a century, you have been reciting the words of God to the children.  For a century you have been speaking about your faith wherever you go, whether you are at home or away.   Week in and week out, you have been shaping the lives of the people who came here.   And that’s important because we know that life can be tough.  There are experiences that can wear away at a person’s faith.   So in gathering here each week to worship, fellowship and serve God,  decade upon decade, you have shared habits of faith that have been molding and shaping peoples’ lives to devotion to Christ.

You know there are two ways to get off a swingset.  You can drag your feet as you swing back and forth and raise up a tremendous dirt cloud which of course is great fun.  But the second way is my favorite.  You have to slow down your swinging just a bit.  Then, with the momentum you gain from swinging back, you swing forward.  And when you reach the top of your arc, you let go — and you fly.

So picture this.  A loonnnnnnnnnnnng swing set.  Long enough so that everyone in the congregation has a seat.  The young and the old.   You are all swinging back and forth.  And as you move from the century that is behind you toward the century to come, you all swing back, then forward.  And as you reach the top of the arc, you let go.   And you’ll fly into the future that God holds for you.