I appreciate the planning group scheduling lunch for 12:30, so that I can preach for an hour or so. There’s just all sorts of stuff I want to say on this occasion. No, we’re going to be done long before 12:30, as far as I know. I do want to start by saying I picked today to be my last day in part because I wanted to finish on a Sunday, and I took it as a sign from God that the last day of June this year is a Sunday. I do still have a ways to go in cleaning out my office, so I may have to sneak in a little bit in the days to come, but I won’t be working. Just packing books.
Today I want to talk about trees. I’ve always been a fan of the woods. In my growing up years I had a tree house in a big tree in our back yard, and underneath the tree was a favorite place for my friends and me to play. My brother took me on my first backpack trip in the mountains when I was in college. It rained the whole time, and we missed a turn and ended up miles from where we were supposed to be. I loved it and was hooked. Living in Lynchburg has been like taking me to nirvana, with the proximity of the Appalachian Trail, the trails along the Blue Ridge Parkway and the network of trails on Candlers Mountain.
So I was greatly honored when the congregation planted trees in honor of Jack Johnson, Mark Benson, Amanda Hines, and me, in 2008 on the occasion of the church’s fortieth anniversary. The four of us were, at the time, the four ordained ministers who had served TCC. The tree in my honor is a blue Atlas cedar, and it is strategically located behind the lawn mower shed, where it is well hidden unless you happen to be going around back of the building. It is, however a beautiful tree, and it seems to be happy living where it is living. I’ve been checking on it over the past eleven years.
For our purposes today, this tree represents the thirty years I have been here. A lot has happened during that time. Twenty years ago we were enjoying our new addition/renovation. From where we sit today it’s hard to remember how we functioned without our current fellowship hall, kitchen, classrooms, offices, choir room, and storage. Now we have begun to appreciate having an elevator, family bathroom, and projectors and screens in the sanctuary. We have a new roof, which, believe me, was an item I wanted to check off my list before I retired. We’re still work in progress on the new nursery and youth rooms, but I am confident those will be completed in the reasonably near future.
We need to keep in mind that when it comes to facilities upgrades and/or additions, we can never quit. The downstairs bathrooms need help, and the early service needs a new home, as it has since it began. It’s easy for us to get used to the way things are, but when people come who are looking for a church home and it looks like nothing has been improved in decades, or it looks like things are makeshift, that says to them, maybe these people don’t care about their setting for worship, fellowship and learning. We do care, and it needs to show.
We have changed a lot about how we are organized, more than once. We have gone from all committees to a few committees plus family groups to a few committees plus mission teams. What we have now probably won’t be the last word. There may well be a better way to do what we need and want to do lurking out there somewhere. We always need to be flexible when it comes to how we take care of our business and mission efforts. We always need to be on the lookout for more efficient and more Christ-like ways of doing what we do.
I remember long ago asking Ken Rogers, who was minister at Saint Andrew Presbyterian for thirty years, what it was like to be at a congregation for that long. He responded by saying that you get a new group of people every so often. And that’s true. Over the past thirty years we have had lots of new members, people have moved, some have gone to other churches, and we have had our share of funerals. And there’s something – I’m not sure what word fits – about the fact that my last funeral here was Jack Johnson’s.
People coming and going is the way of the world, and it will continue. It has been said that young people entering the work force today will not only have multiple jobs before they retire, but a great many will change careers. Along with that comes mobility. Not so many young people stay put in one place their whole lives. What that means is that we will need to be diligent in our evangelism, probably more so than we have been. We have good things going on here; worship and fellowship and mission that will continue to be attractive to some people in this area. We need to do a better job of getting the word out about who we are.
The most prominent tree on our property is the pin oak behind the mail box. It was planted by Ralph Rosser on the occasion of the church’s twenty-fifth anniversary. For our purposes today, this tree represents the almost fifty-one year history of Timberlake Christian Church.
And the tree itself has a bit of history. I don’t think it occurred to us when it was planted that one day it would get close enough to the overhead power lines such that it would need to be trimmed. But it did indeed reach that point some time ago, and it will need to be trimmed back periodically for the rest of its life. Also, as you know, it took a hit on March 27th of this year, when a car ran off of 460 and gave it a good whack. We asked Richard Jones, one of our resident tree people, what to do, and he said, hope it will heal itself. It seems to be doing just that.
Timberlake Christian Church has had its struggles. There have been tight financial times. We have tackled difficult issues. We have had disagreements and problems related to various topics. Our “tree” has at times been trimmed back and here and there it’s taken a hit. But we’re still here. We’ve found ways to heal when necessary. We’re gearing up to move on. And we’re still growing.
I’ve said more than once that if I have done anything right since I became Senior Minister in 1991, it has been to carry on the legacy of Jack Johnson and the charter members of TCC. That legacy is one of being able to keep going in spite of difficult times. It is a legacy of being able to disagree and still be able to worship and engage in mission together. It is a legacy of all of us having a positive, upbeat attitude toward our life together. It is a legacy of focusing on being the good news of Jesus Christ for people, and putting that first in all that we do. I believe those elements are what make for a strong congregational tree.
The third tree I want to point out is the southern magnolia behind the backstop, below the picnic shelter. Its history is a bit cloudy to me. It was planted on the occasion of Vacation Bible School, or an Easter sunrise service, or some such event. Anybody remember? I’m pretty sure that its history also includes being mowed over, more than once, when it was so little it was hardly noticeable.
But it has survived. And it’s now a pretty little tree. You know that magnolias can be really spectacular trees, with their beautiful white blooms and their amazing seed pods with the bright red seeds. For our purposes today, this tree represents the future of TCC.
Perhaps more than the cedar and the oak, this tree is going to change in the years to come. The cedar and oak are already mature. They’ll get bigger, but the change probably won’t be as dramatic as it will for the magnolia. Starting tomorrow morning, things are going to change at Timberlake Christian Church. It’s important for us to keep in mind that change simply means that things are going to be different, and sometimes different means better. It’s important for us to keep in mind that change is not a four letter word.
Nature teaches us that change is a part of life. If a tree is not growing, by definition it is dead. Trees have to keep growing, keep adapting to their surroundings. We human beings have the advantage that we can sometimes choose what changes we want to make. Or if we cannot choose the changes, we can choose how we will respond to change. We can choose to fight it tooth and nail because it scares us or raises our anxiety for one reason or another. Or we can choose to say, maybe it will be for the best. Let’s give the change a chance.
As the years roll on, the magnolia will get bigger and bigger. It will become more and more noticeable. It’s between two other, larger trees, so its shape may change. But I hope it will get big enough to bloom and have seed pods. I hope it will be a reminder to us that change is not only ok, but necessary for life. It may be the case that because it is younger, it will outlive the trees nearest it, such that it will become the dominant tree in that part of our landscape. We’ll have to see what happens as the years roll on. As is the case with our own lives and our life together in this church, we don’t know what changes lie ahead. But I hope the magnolia will be a reminder that change is a part of life, and that because our hope and trust and faith are in God, we need not fear change.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, for letting me be your associate minister and senior minister for all these years. Amen.