Maybe you’ve heard the old one about the guy who owns Paul Bunyan’s original axe. “Of course I’ve had to replace the handle a couple of times. And the head’s new. But it’s still the same axe.”
The philosopher David Hume offers a similar illustration. Suppose you had a sailing ship and replaced the mast. It would still be the same ship, of course. And then you replaced the sails. And the ship’s wheel. And the rudder. No one would think it was anything but the original. Over the years, you might well replace every single piece of the ship you started with. It would still be the same ship. No one would question it. But then he wonders, suppose someone else had kept all of the original pieces as you replaced them. And they had put them all together into a “new” sailing ship, built out of all the old pieces. Hume asks “Which of the two is really the original?”
There’s something like that at work in the life of the church. When we think of Rolling Hills United Methodist Church, we think of the people who first made us welcome here. We remember crossing the patio that Sunday morning, sitting in the sanctuary as the choir filed in. We remember the first sermon we heard, or the smile of someone who was glad to see us.
For some of us, that sanctuary was what we now call Wesley Hall. The preacher of that first sermon has gone to be with God. The friend who smiled moved half way across the country. But it’s still the same church. Sort of.
It’s the same church, and a completely new church. We’re still at the same address on Crenshaw, but our church family grows and changes continually. In a way it’s like a river. If we stand on the bank and look out the river looks much the same. But it’s also true that no one ever steps into the same river twice. It’s always on the move. Or maybe it’s like a parade – a great procession over the years. If we stand on the corner and watch we see new faces coming and going. It’s the same. And it’s completely different.
What is the true identity of a community of faith? Obviously it’s more than our address. We might say that it’s the people that make a church what it is, though we see them come and go. The stories we tell help us to remember who we are. The traditions we develop over the years allow us to pass along that identity to people who weren’t here before.
When I look out on any given Sunday, I see long-time friends who helped make RHUMC what it is before I ever came along. I see people who came along after, and who found their way during my time with you all. I see people just starting out, not knowing where their journeys will take them. I remember friends who are gone, but who left a legacy of love for us to carry on.
The first Sunday of November is the Sunday of All Saints. Please join me in giving thanks for the gifts of all those who have helped to bring us to this place, as well as those who will continue to share the story when we pass it on to them. It’s the same church. And it’s a brand new church. Thanks be to God!
Grace and peace,