Sunday, June 18, 2018
Scripture: Matthew 13:31-32
Rev. Jill VanderWal

Today as we wrap up our series our “Growing our Garden” I want to consider with you our individual and corporate legacy. The idea of legacy speaks to where we have been, what we are committed to, where we are going, and what we will leave behind.

As you can imagine, I learn a lot about people and their lives at their funerals. A couple of weeks ago I was part of a memorial service to celebrate the life of Steve White.  He loved his friends and family, and was a passionate adventurer and surfer. As friends shared stories of his impact on their lives, one story stood out. In 1975 Steve was 22 and was involved in the rescue of three people who were washed off the Grand Haven pier. This was the same night the Edmund Fitzgerald sank. He and a few friends were surfing that evening when they saw the three boys washed off the pier into the 50 degree water. According to Steve’s friend, Steve said, “we have to help them, we’re the only ones that can.” They saved one life and could have lost their own. He was awarded the U.S. Coast Guard Gold Lifesaving Medal for his involvement in the rescue. One moment was a great part of his legacy.  

For others legacy is something they quietly work at over a lifetime. A recent article caught my eye- the title read, “96-Year-Old Secretary Quietly Amasses Fortune, Then Donates $8.2 Million”  (New York Times, May 6, 2018). “A recent $6.24 million donation to the Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side was a whopper — the largest single gift from an individual to the social service group in its 125-year history.  It was not donated by some billionaire benefactor, but by a frugal legal secretary from Brooklyn who toiled for the same law firm for 67 years until she retired at age 96 and died not long afterward in 2016.” Her gift will help disadvantaged students prepare for and complete college. The article went on to talk about many humble people who died with millions to give to charity.

A legacy can be built over a lifetime, or sometimes it is solidified in a defining moment. To dive in or not. The parable of the mustard seed is a Kingdom Parable. It speaks to the nature of the kingdom of God, and reminds me of the invitation to invest, to plant seeds, to trust and hope and believe that God is growing all that we give into a larger legacy…the tiniest of seeds into the greatest of trees for the shelter and provision of all the birds of the air.

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

Here is God’s promise…we see it throughout the Bible, throughout history and for you…“You cannot imagine what I will do…if you give me your life, your passion, your fears, your time, resources…all of YOU!”

This principle of small beginnings is the the heart of our legacy as a church. This church was founded by the Rev. William Ferry in 1836, who settled here after floating down the Grand River on a canoe trip. Inspired by the natural beauty of the area and by the local need for spiritual leadership, he conducted the first worship service on November 2, 1834 in a local trading post.

A window in our current sanctuary depicts the four buildings which have been home to our growing congregation. Rev. Ferry’s first sermon was based on the text, “Do not despise these small beginnings for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (Zechariah 4:10), so the window pictures an acorn and an oak leaf. Great things can come from small beginnings.

William Ferry offered some very specific challenges to his flock as he began his ministry:

  • Do you regularly attend public worship?
  • Are you training your children in the ways of the Lord?
  • Do you regularly worship God in secret, pray fervently, and read the Bible?
  • What are you doing for Christ and the souls of men and women?

This is William Ferry’s legacy, which is also our legacy to which each person has contributed over time. This week I had the opportunity to get coffee with Rev. Dr. Rick Snyder, who was the pastor here for 14 years until 2002.  It was inspiring to hear his stories of so many of you- who were and are the cornerstones of this church and community, through leading projects and supporting ministries like the YMCA, TCM, and the Center for Women in Transition. One of the principle fund-raisers for Grand Valley State University belonged to our church, as was the visionary who conceived of our musical fountain.

We are working on a legacy of planting, tilling, watering, weeding..trusting there will continue to be a great harvest in how we bless this community and West Michigan in the name of Christ. As the Body of Christ, we are invited to continue to live out and build upon our rich spiritual legacy. In God’s grace we will be like tall trees…that started as an acorn. We will be like the mustard tree, providing space and a place of hospitality and nurture, for all the birds of the sky.