PENTECOST: RECEIVE THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH
Acts 2: 1-6; 14-21
A long time ago, in the Roman Empire far, far, away, a faithful Jew with a special mission to save the world was brought to a cross outside of the Jerusalem walls. He was crucified; likely on April 7, 30 A.D. Three days later by the Jewish counting system, the tomb was found to be empty because he had risen from the dead! His name was Jesus. That would have been on April 9, 30 A.D. Forty days later around May 17th, Jesus went to the Mount of Olives, gave final instructions to his disciples, and ascended into heaven. Ten days after that, the disciples were back in Jerusalem, and the promised Spirit of the Living God—the Holy Spirit—appeared mightily on all who were gathered. They spoke in ways so that people understood each other; people felt empowered, and some, like Peter, even addressed all the gathered people there saying: “This is what the prophets described!” he said. “It is happening right now!” That was the beginning of the Christian church: Christ was gone and the disciples— later called “Christians” –began to tell others about him, heal people, and pray for others. Today, and every Pentecost, we celebrate the birth of the Christian church, an event that actually happened in Jerusalem!
Fast-forward decades; and decades; and decades. In October 1946, a small Sunday School was started in the unincorporated area of Wilbur-By-The-Sea, Florida, about two miles south of our present location. The Spirit of the Living God was—and is—still alive and well in this congregation! This was the humble beginning of Westminster By-The-Sea Presbyterian Church and it was the dream of the Rev. Paul Edris, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church
of Daytona Beach. Paul Edris, along with his Director of Christian Education, Miss Elizabeth McNeill, and with the approval of their Session, conducted the outpost for one year. Then it was decided that more people could be reached with weekly prayer meetings. Those meetings continued yearly until the next stage was reached: In February 1955, 42 people gathered for their first official Sunday worship service. Plans were made weekly until May 22, 1955—63 years ago—when 62 persons signed the charter and a committee of St. John’s Presbytery installed the Rev. Richard Sauerbrun as the first Pastor of Westminster By-The-Sea Presbyterian Church. The church name was chosen this way: “Westminster” to honor the theological grounding found in the Westminster Confession of Faith; and “by-the-Sea” to honor the local roots at the Wilbur-by-the-Sea Boathouse. It is still there today and more beautiful than it ever was, thanks to the work of charter member James Hunt to get it on the National Register of Historic Places. Some Sunday slasses in those days met in the living room of Ernest and Mary Hunt two blocks from the Wilbur Clubhouse; other classes met in Gaylord’s Restaurant, a block away. I has since been been torn down. Two bricks at the beginning of the Wilbur Boathouse sidewalk say: “First meeting place of Westminster By-The-Sea Presbyterian Church.” Indeed it was. The congregation met there from 1955 until 1958, when our current Fellowship Hall, that originally included the new section of our sanctuary, was the first multi-purpose building. The terrazzo floor we still have is original. And as I showed the children today, the storage closet was the original nursery! Jalousie windows allowed humid air to blow through, and tall tilted windows at the top of the hall could be opened with a hooked pole. The choir and pulpit were on this end and parking was on the south end. Today Marianne Sabatka proudly says that her children were baptized in there! And others were too! The church of Jesus Christ was on the move, giving a light to the south peninsula. Church member Fred Gard was the contractor for the Fellowship Hall and again for the Sunday School wing—which includes our existing rooms 8-12B—built in 1959. These words tell the story of the beginning of a congregation whose spiritual roots were not just in the Westminster Standards, but also in the historic and extraordinary day of Pentecost! The Christian Church has its roots in Jerusalem, a fact particularly ironic this week. Three major religions claim Jerusalem as their most significant city. Christians may love Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus; or Nazareth for the home of Jesus, but Jerusalem is where the Christian Church had her birth!
History is important; it molds our identity; it informs the present and guides our future. We must continually remember where we’ve come from to know who we are. The recent popularity of Ancestry.com and other products help us find our roots and our nationalities. Knowing who you have been helps inform who you are now.
Perhaps you’ve read the Richard Adams’ book Watership Down. Episcopal Priest John Westerhoff said this is a book that “illustrates the significance of a common memory and vision for communal life. In his insightful adventure story, the characters (rabbits in this case) become a people only as they acquire a story, a memory, and a vision. They remain a community insofar as they re-tell the story and live the vision. Adams’ depiction of various communities suggests that each is made viable by its ability to sustain a narrative.” [Living in the Faith Community] In other words, telling you what I’m telling you today helps you share in Westminster’s story, and in the story of the Christian Church! Christians are a story-formed community. “The Christian Church was founded upon a story of people’s experiences with Jesus and a vision of God’s reign in human history. Through out the church’s history, this story has formed and transformed, sustained and challenged the community’s faith and life.” [Westerhoff]
Today, on the occasion of our 63rd anniversary, I tell you how important it is for us to have a story and a vision. Children who don’t know who they are, or whose they are, have more trouble deciding who they should be. What is your story? Where have you lived? Who are your mother and your father? Where were their parents from? Where were you baptized? Christian Baptism is an act of the church and of the Christian community. The story of the Holy Spirit appearing on the day of Pentecost is our story too! Yes the Spirit came to those early men and women in Jerusalem, but we celebrate that event even today! We taught our Confirmation Class that if worship were a drama, you-the congregation-are the actors; we-the worship leaders- are the directors, and God is the audience for our worship! My preaching professor at Princeton, Dr. Donald Macleod, wrote this: “The old spiritual song goes ‘Lord I want to be a Christian in my heart.’ Note the phrase, ‘want to be.’ Too many people don’t go to church these days because they say, ‘I don’t get anything out of it.’ You do not come to get; you come in order to be. You come because you want to be somebody, above the average and the ordinary; you come because you want to be a child of God. And you know that it is only here in the fellowship and community of the people of God that you can become what Christ wants you to be.”
Westminster By-The-Sea started from scratch; with a dream, a prayer, and a purpose from our mother church. The church is lovingly referred to as the bride of Christ. Yes the congregation was colonized with a rental building and borrowed belongings. But soon gifts, lovingly given, began to equip this congregation for her lifelong work. Our first hymn today affirmed “the Church’s One Foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord.” Our cornerstone affirms that He is our chief cornerstone. Peter said to Jesus, “You are the Christ; the Son of the Living God!” And Jesus replied: “Blessed are you Simon! And upon this rock I will build my church.” And so Christ is; churches well grounded have in their beliefs: “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” Today, may your presence here today bless your life, may your praise bless your God, and may your gratitude thank your Savior.
Jeffrey A. Sumner May 20, 2018