K. Dean Myers, interim pastor
Sunday, February 5, 2012 Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Holy Communion
Fairmount Presbyterian Church Cleveland Heights, Ohio

Based on Isaiah 40:28-31, Psalm 147:1-11, and Mark 1:29-39

Isaiah 40:28-31 (c/w)

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

Psalm 147:1-11

Praise the Lord!
How good it is to sing praises to our God;
for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.
The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the broken-hearted,
and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names.
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
his understanding is beyond measure.
The Lord lifts up the downtrodden;
he casts the wicked to the ground.
Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God on the lyre.
He covers the heavens with clouds,
prepares rain for the earth,
makes grass grow on the hills.
He gives to the animals their food,
and to the young ravens when they cry.
His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner;
but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.

Mark 1:29-39

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once.31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.33And the whole city was gathered around the door.34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.36And Simon and his companions hunted for him.37When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’38He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

I

Three weeks from today, on February 26, all members and friends of Fairmount Presbyterian Church will gather in our sanctuary at 9:30 am. We will come together to worship God, yes; but in the flow of that worship, we will spend two hours listening to and learning from one another. We trust this time of sharing with one another will help our church listen to and learn from God – to hear what and who God is calling this congregation and its people to be and do the coming years.

When we gather in our main sanctuary we will meet in the place that speaks our heritage like no other. Not because the sanctuary is the oldest part of our present facility, or because it is a part with which all of us are familiar. (8:30 worshippers may hardly ever enter it.) But even if we do not come here often, for many of us it represents what Fairmount is and believes and does more than any other space.

Our English chapel style sanctuary was dedicated in 1942. It was dreamed and planned and paid near the end of the Great Depression…an end that finally came, some say, because of the Second World War, which was just beginning its long course. Who would dare imagine and build a great church in so dark a moment? Cautious folk were no doubt much troubled by the enterprise, thinking those who persisted in it were among God’s most foolish. But here it is, and here we are, 72 years later.

Two of the treasures of our sanctuary are the magnificent carved seals or emblems over the doors on either side of the chancel. We pass through one of them over and over again; the other door is hardly used. I went out that door on Friday to remind myself where it leads. Answer: mostly outside.

Over the door to your left as you face me is the emblem of Fairmount Church itself. Its main image is a clay oil lamp resting on a closed book, perhaps a Bible. It’s the sort of lamp we often associate with Bible stories…or with Aladdin! Such a lamp atop a book symbolizes learning. The inscription carved around the emblem’s perimeter reads, “In Thy Light Shall We See Light.” It is a line from Psalm 36:9.

Over the other door – the one to your right – is the symbol of the Church of Scotland. Dating back to the 1691, it pictures the burning bush that Moses saw on Mt. Sinai – the bush Moses saw that was “burning but not consumed,” and out of which God spoke words commissioning Moses to free the people of Israel from Pharaoh’s service. And in case you didn’t know what the carving pictures, the inscription is clear: “Nec Tamen Consumebatur.” Well, clearer in English: “it [the bush] was not, however, consumed.”

Light is central to both emblems. On the left, the affirmation that God’s light is the illumination by which we ourselves see light. On the right the conviction that the light given by God burns with a fuel that can never be exhausted. The faithful Fairmounters who dared build a magnificent sanctuary during that dark transition from Great Depression and World War trusted God’s light, even though it may have seemed only the spark of a match far down a very long tunnel.

They trusted Jesus Christ, “the light of the world…the true light that enlightens everyone,” no matter what.

II

The God of our Lord Jesus Christ is the source light of Fairmount’s heritage. The God of the Holy Trinity – Creator, Savior, and Holy Spirit – shines upon and illumines our way.

Our Call to Worship this morning, from the book of Isaiah, celebrates God who will never tire of giving power to God’s people; in that strength we fly, we run, or even simply walk our lives in faith.

Psalm 147 sings the praises of a Lord who is gracious toward outcasts, broken-hearted, and wounded people, even though this very same God exercises power to number and to name the very stars of the heavens. A God who rules the night sky’s mighty lights provides for our most basic necessities, food and water, nothings that we are in the presence of the stars.

Mark 1 tells the start-up of the ministry of God-in-flesh among us: First, Jesus heals his main disciple’s mother-in-law. Then, two series of events are told that happen in moments when dark and light meet. “That evening, at sunset” Jesus heals all many who are sick or possessed of demons. Then, “in the morning, when it is still very dark,” Jesus goes to a quiet place and prays before being called back to work. Is Mark foreshadowing the night of Jesus’ burial and the morning of his resurrection? Perhaps; but certainly this Jesus is “the light of the (night) world.”

Christ’s light is our ultimate, sustaining heritage, Fairmount Church! The light of Christ is the heritage of a church that for 95 years has ministered to the bodies and the spirits of a sometimes uneasy intersecting of people in a building sited upon a messy intersecting of streets. Fairmount Presbyterian Church has been a balm to souls, a healer of wounds, a filler of stomachs and minds, and a counterforce to the demons of racism and sexism and homophobia. It has been all that, and more, as it has walked its way by the light of Jesus Christ.

It hasn’t always been an easy journey, because sometimes we’ve lost sight of the light. Like all churches, Fairmount has dark scenes in its story. We have sometimes fought with each other in the least Christian of ways; we have sometimes confused our social status and our issue correctness with the good news of Jesus Christ for all people; we have been less than kind to some leaders and too willing to overlook the shortcomings of others. We have not always been graciously honest with one another, even with ourselves.

That we face a challenging time today should not surprise anyone who knows Fairmount’s heritage and history. I look back and find letters and articles written by former pastors calling Fairmount to increased giving in a time of financial constraint. I hear of people – many people – who used to be one of us, but who disappeared in the dust of disagreement or disappointment. Our first frame building burned to a shell, but within a few months we were worshipping in a new and better sanctuary. We know what it is to be burned but not burned up. We have persisted, and we have prevailed, and we will persist and prevail in the time ahead. We will write the next chapters of the heritage we have received from Fairmount Presbyterian Church.

III

If we are not afraid, that is. If and as we walk in the light of Jesus Christ, in the bright glow of “the light of the world.”

Our two seals over those two doors tell what is really important about Fairmount’s heritage.

Over one is a reminder that the faith practiced here is informed and educated and aware, willing and able to accept all truth, even hard truth, from scripture and from one another. Truth is a gift of God. In God’s true light we shall see light, today, tomorrow, and forever.

And above the other door is powerful testimony that the light never goes out, always burns, always shines, always directs the purposes of the faithful. “Always”, because its source is God, who cannot be consumed. The eternal light of God, in whose light we find light.

Hear the words of Psalm 36:7-9, Fairmount Church! They are our words:

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.”

It’s been that way here for nearly a century; it is our heritage. It’s a light whose faith-fuel can never be exhausted.

Do you believe that? Amen.

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