Salt and LightMatthew 5:13-16 (NRSV)
“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
When we look around our Oldtown sanctuary, everywhere we look, we see fingerprints of the past that surround us with sacred stories as we continue to move forward into the future, building strong faith foundations for present and future generations.
The antique glass in the windows lets the light in and sometimes blurs the landscape outside, helping us to imagine what God might be calling us to do out in the world. The shutters that open to the inside can let light in or close to shut out the storm or help hold in the heat reminding us that we are in charge of what we allow into our hearts and minds. The prisms in the windows and on the center chandelier with the grapes and leaves that were hand stamped by an area jeweler bring unexpected rainbows throughout the sanctuary, reminding us to always stay open to the joys in our lives. “The cheap seats,” as they called them up in the balconies, where slaves and servants or any family that didn’t own a pew once sat, now sit empty, by the grace of God!, as all are welcome to gather on the main floor. The little pew doors that held in the heat of the foot warmers and keep out the critters now give us our own safe spaces to sit during worship to pray and sing and ponder. And all of the lights which at one time burned oil, and the organ that was once pumped by hand, have all now been electrified as new technology and advances have made our gatherings easier and more comfortable.
Folks, a lot has changed over the last three hundred and nine years! But there are two things that have stayed the same, and they are LIGHT and GRACE. Now it is not light that comes from the chandelier or the light fixtures, and it doesn’t stream through the windows from outside. But it is a light that would be in our sanctuary even if the electricity was out and there was a raging storm outside. Because it is by the grace of God that the light of Christ fills our sanctuary and our hearts and calls us to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves, no matter what is happening in the world around us.
Well, friends, I would love to stand here on this Founder’s Day and proclaim that the light that was brought here by our early settlers in 1712 has burned brightly for the last three hundred and nine years serving as a beacon for lost and weary travelers. But unfortunately, that is not true. This church has faced an abundance of blessings and an overwhelming number of challenges over the years. There have been moments of utter grace and beauty and there have been ugly moments of fighting and arguments and unrest. Because the truth is, though this church was built on the foundation of Jesus Christ, it was also built by human hearts and hands. And as we know, as human beings we all make mistakes sometimes. We make bad choices, and when our feelings get hurt, we say things that we shouldn’t say. That’s why we can’t just lean on the light that shines here in Oldtown assuming that it will always burn bright. We also need to do our part to reflect the light out into the world, shining it into the darkness, lending a hand where we can, and sharing the love of God with the world. But we also need to remember that the light doesn’t come from us. It comes from our faith in God and the unique gifts of grace that God has given us. Folks, there have been generations in the past, and there will be generations to come!
Over the last three hundred and nine years, there were times of downright darkness here in Oldtown. But no matter how dark it got, the light always found a way to shine through. It may not have always shone brightly, but the light never went completely out.
We know that the light shined brightly in 1742, during the ministry of Habijah Weld when during one year the church membership grew by a hundred and fifty members. And because of the sudden influx, a new congregation, Second Congregational Church in Attleboro, was started, thus sharing the light with more and more people.
There was another rebirth in 1828. Two years prior in 1826, our church’s second sanctuary, which was right down the street, was deemed uninhabitable due to unknown damage and destruction. We believe it may have been damaged due to an earthquake that came through the area at that time. The congregational was forced to worship on the second floor of a nearby factory building. And to top it off, in 1827, their pastor, the Rev. Thomas Williams, quit because of lack of payment. The church had no home and no leader, and yet the people of Oldtown pulled up their bootstraps and worked together to raise money. In 1828, Ezra Walker, a local builder, was hired to break ground for a new sanctuary. As it says in the church records, it is to be a sanctuary to “serve future generations.” Friends, because of the hard work and dedication of the church members of 1827, we now meet in the third meeting house of the Oldtown Church which has been a beacon of light for the past one hundred and ninety-three years!
In the early 1900s under the ministry of Rev John Whitehill, the mutual helpers came together to raise money for the church, to dig out a vestry downstairs, and to bring heat and electric lights to our sanctuary, and through it all, they spread the light of Christ through service to others. Again the light shined brightly.
In 1989, when the beloved Rev Marty Singley took a call at Greendale Peoples Church in Worcester and left Oldtown, the congregation pulled up their bootstraps once again and raised money to build Maxcy Hall and additional classrooms downstairs, to invite in new families, and to carry on the ministry in Oldtown.
And in 2004, under the ministry of Pastor Katrina Clinton, the congregation swung open its doors, opening for same-gender marriage, making true the statement that “whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here!”
Friends, now in 2021, after our doors were closed to in-person worship for seventeen months due to a pandemic, it is up to us to figure out how we will move forward in new and different ways to continue to share the light and the love of Christ with new future generations. Yes, there are fingerprints of the past all around us, but we are constantly making our own new fingerprints as well as we continue to share the love and light of Christ which is only made possible by God’s amazing Grace.
Friends, as we head out into the next three hundred and nine years of ministry here in Oldtown, it is up to us to keep the light shining. And the truth is it will if we focus on what is important to our faith, if we are good examples in our everyday lives, and if we remember that our job is not to pressure people into coming to church, but it’s to love God so much that you live out your faith in all that you do, even when you’re not thinking about it. It is carrying the light of Christ, that special sparkle in your eye, that extra bounce in your step, and the excitement and energy for the gospel that shine out for others to see.
Friends, as we work to keep the light shining brightly here in Oldtown, and as we carry it out into the world to share with others, it is my hope and my prayer for each and every one of you that you might remember the words of Jesus: “You are the light of the world, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to God in heaven.”
Brothers and sisters, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!