Pastor Mark Seifried



pastor-mark[1]Not to Be Ministered Unto but to Minister

100th Anniversary of the Second Church  in Newton building @ 60 Highland Street

October 2, 2016,  by Rev. Mark Seifried

There’s a story about a shopkeeper who had lived a life of hard knocks and more than a few disappointments.  He didn’t want his son to live his life like that so he sent him to learn about the secrets of life from the wisest woman in the world.  The boy wandered for more than a month, following the map that his father had given him. Finally he came upon a beautiful castle that was built high on top of a mountain.  That was where the wise woman lived.

Well, rather than finding a discreet saint of a woman, when the boy entered the great hall of the castle, he saw a flurry of activity; workers were coming and going, people were talking in the corners of the room, a small orchestra was playing soft music, and there was a table that was covered with platters of the most delicious food from that part of the world. The wise woman was talking to everyone and carrying on, and the boy had to wait over an hour until he got the wise woman’s attention.

Once he did, the wise woman listened to the boy attentively as he explained why he had come.  But as soon as he explained, the wise woman interrupted the boy and said that she didn’t have time just now to explain the secret of life. She suggested that the boy wander around the castle and return in two hours, saying, “Meanwhile, I want you to do something.”  She handed the boy a teaspoon that held two drops of oil and said, “As you wander around, carry this spoon with you and don’t allow the oil to spill.”

The boy began going up and down the many stairways of the palace, keeping his eyes fixed on the spoon. After two hours he returned to where the wise woman was.

The wise woman asked, “What did you think of the Persian tapestries hanging on my dining hall walls?”  The boy admitted that he didn’t really see them.  “Well then how did you like the gardens out by the terrace?  It took the master gardener 10 years to create that garden terrace!”   Again, the boy said that he didn’t really see them.  “Well surely you noticed the beautiful parchments in my library, didn’t you?”

The boy was embarrassed and confessed that he didn’t see much of anything. His only concern was not to spill the oil that the wise woman entrusted to him.

Calmly, she said, “Then, please, go back and look at all the marvelous things here.  You cannot trust a person if you don’t know her house.”  Relieved, the boy picked up the spoon and went back to exploring the palace.  This time he looked closely at all the works of art on the ceilings and walls.  He saw the gardens and was impressed at the good taste with which everything had been selected.  He even marveled at the mountains all around the palace grounds and the beauty of the flowers.  When he returned to the wise woman, the boy related in detail everything he had seen.

The wise woman looked down at the spoon in the boy’s hand and asked, “But where are the drops of oil I entrusted to you?” Looking down at the spoon, the boy saw that the oil was gone and shrugged with embarrassment.

“Well,” the wise woman said, “There’s really only one piece of advice I think necessary for me to give you.  The secret of life is to experience as many marvels of the world as you are able, and never forget the drops of oil on the spoon.”

I tell you this story, as we celebrate the 100th Anniversary of this glorious church building, to prompt you to remember why we are here. This is a magnificent building with so many fine details and finishes that you can get lost in it. You might even be tempted to worship the architecture, the stone, and woodwork rather than the God who is to be glorified in those things. But here’s the thing: The Church of Jesus Christ was created not to build shrines and museums. No, the church of Jesus Christ was created as healing balm for a wounded world.

For a time such as this, the church was born All you have to do is switch on the TV News or open the newspaper to understand that we are living in a time when fear of or animus toward neighbor seems more common than love of neighbor, a time of great income inequality, a time of simmering racial tensions, a time when more institutions are failing in modern history, except for banks during the Great Depression, a time when more people are preparing to retire than there are young people to support them, a time when our children have never lived to know our country not to be at war. A time when hope seems in short supply. Yes, for a time such as this, the church was born. And for a time such as this, we need to be reminded of why we have this glorious sanctuary.

To quote the late great J. Edgar Park who was the minister here in 1916 when this church building was dedicated: since 1764, Second Church in Newton is a “Community of memory bound by an everlasting covenant.” That is written on the altar: “an everlasting covenant”: An everlasting covenant to faithfully live the gospel of Jesus Christ and thereby being a people who inject hope into the suffering around us.

Therefore it makes sense that, because we are a community who serves those in need, our windows reflect the story of God’s care for people. We are a people called to care for those whom Jesus called the least of these, but also people drawn together to reflect upon the word of God, and so there are infamous pastors carved into the wood on pulpit, pastors whose service to the Church go back to the Protestant Reformation to remind us that the long ways of the past have led us here and that our business of reformation is ongoing. There are musicians’ names in the music windows to remind us of the long line of musical witness to our ancient faith and the Word of God.

For the 50th anniversary of the church, Dr. Park spoke of advances in science and archaeological findings that were changing the way people thought and lived. He said, “We are on the verge of a new world, a world incredible to our fathers.” And then he challenged the church saying, “Our religion is not to be an unchanged element. You will be shocked, delighted and astonished in the new development in religion over the next 50 years.”

We are living into that reality now as the Church of Jesus Christ goes through the greatest upheaval in the last 500 years, a time when we are asking: “What is the relationship between history and Christianity? What do other religions have to teach us? How can Christianity become lived and admired again? How does the teaching of Jesus become more practical than experts in business, economics, science, technology?” How can we help create a faith-based social infrastructure to help support the needs of the community we serve?

We are in a new world in which brute force causes the maximum of terror. The message of Jesus, which is: integrity, love, compassion, redemption, and beauty can overwhelm the anti-terror tactics presently employed that are devastating the world just as surely as the terror tactics.

For a time such as this, the church was born, to double down on finding meaning in community – to address the hard issues of the day, to lament together,

When black men die at the hands of police. When mosques are vandalized. When shooters rampage gay clubs.
 When Native Americans brave dogs and bulldozers to defend their ancestors’ graves. When people of other faiths seek shelter on our shores because they are fleeing war and oppression. When the politics of fear come wrapped in stars and stripes and crosses.

For a time such as this the church was born to praise God together that we have weathered the storms of history and, with the help of God, will weather all the storms to come. And, as the minister counseled the gathered faithful in this space 100 years ago, for a time such as this we are here not to be ministered unto but to minister to the needs of the world.

Despite all the change of the present, the doors of this church must be open to visitors, to our worship, and to Jesus, who is our liberator, so that we can reveal Jesus’ vision from the pulpit and in lives of faithfulness from the people in the pews. Beloved, we are here today to praise God, but also to pray and join the prayers of the great line of eternal witnesses. Let us remember our covenant to live humbly with God, ministering to the needs of a broken world, on the path forged by Jesus, whose ministry of yesteryear we continue today and beyond.