Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Recognizing Jesus in Our Midst: Luke 24: 13-35
They decided to call it the Lamb House, not because they like sheep, but because the Lamb family used to live there. Their old house, built in the 1840's, was in pretty good shape. It had six bedrooms, four of which were ready to be used. The folks who bought the place realized that they'd want to turn the current kitchen into a bathroom and utility room and remodel the dining room into a new, more modern kitchen. The structure was sound, and, more importantly, the people bought this house were ready. Cherryfield Congregational Church was ready. The members of this church, all 33 of them, knew that the project was big. But, they knew that the needs were big, too. They had some resources and were ready to put them to good use. They were ready to serve. When a congregant offered to donate the money to buy the property, they jumped on it. At first, they weren't sure exactly what to do with it, but, eventually the greatest need would become very clear.
This church is located in the town of Cherryfield in Washington County. In 2011, the year before the church bought the property, 11 homes burned in their county, displacing 30 people. While house fires are always disruptive to the families who lose their homes, such tragedies are particularly difficult in a town as small as Cherryfield and a county as sparsely populated as Washington. According to Larry Zimmerman, the pastor of Cherryfield Congregational Church, members of the church regularly saw first-hand how difficult it was to recover from such a loss and also stay in the community. He said that residents often had to relocate in order to find somewhere to live, sometimes even leaving the state. Children often had to change schools, adding the lost of friends and familiar teachers to the loss of their homes. Sometimes families would even have to live separately for a while, with the parent with the better job needing to live near work but unable to find a place suitable for the whole family. There was simply no local agency that was able to provide free, temporary housing that would give families time to get back on their feet. The only place that families could find for temporary shelter were the local hotels and motels or by staying with other family members.
Over the years, I have learned that a really good way to offer Christian service is not to decide that you want to do a specific thing and then go find some people to force your charity on. The best way to serve our neighbors is let people know that we want to help, ask if they have any needs, and find out what would help them the most at that time, then work together to make it happen. That seems to be exactly what this church did. They found a need for temporary free shelter and they happened to own a home that could easily converted into such a shelter. They worked together with people from across their community. Accord to Rev. Zimmerman, one of the church trustees who was a local contractor began the work with start-up money and donations. A retired plumber showed up and donated his time. A local building supply company gave a very generous discount on building materials. Volunteers from all over... neighbors from right here in Maine and folks from Pennsylvania who came up to help at the Lamb House while working at the Maine Seacoast Mission. Even inmates from the correctional facility in Machias came over to help renovate the building.
Now, the project hasn't always gone perfectly. This past fall, the boiler in the house finally croaked. In order to be able to house people in the winter, they were going to have to replace it. Fortunately they were able to find a used system to replace it. In addition to the sweat equity they've put into the renovation, they have worked to find grants to fund the project, too. Due to the strength of their plan for how to address the needs in their community and their partnerships within the local community, as well as their ability to explain the positive impact this home will have in their community, they have received some amazing grants. They received a $5,000 grant from the Maine Conference Resourcing the Local Church fund. The Maine Community Foundation, which supports local community programs that build on the strengths and assets in the community, has recently awarded them a $15,000 grant. They also received $1000 from their local fire department and another $1000 worth of donations from a local building supply.
By the middle of last July, about three years after the initial purchase, the house was in good enough shape to host their first tenants. The first people to stay at the Lamb House weren't displaced Washington County citizens, but instead a group of medical volunteers who come Downeast each summer to provide services to the migrant workers who harvest blueberries. Once the church replaced the boiler in the fall, they were able to host a woman named Tammy who's home had been completely destroyed in a fire in late September. They also supported another family, the tenants in the same house, in finding temporary housing. As of December, that family had found a new permanent home in Columbia. Tammy moved into her new home in February. When Tammy was ready to move in to her new place, she wrote on Facebook, "I give many thanks to the good people of the Cherryfield Congregational Church. The Lamb House was a cozy and quaint home for myself, (my pets) Love Bug and Angus while I waited for my new house to come." Thank God for the generosity of Cherryfield Congregational Church and the people of Washington County. It would have been much more difficult for these two families to recover had the church not been so prepared to serve people in need.
Now, I don't know about you, but when I read this story, I see Jesus. When I first heard Darren Morgan, one of our Associate Conference Ministers, share the story of Cherryfield Congregational Church and the Lamb House, I was amazed at what the Holy Spirit helped brew in this small church in a small town in rural Maine. It's not like I didn't expect to see God in such a place. It's more like I was amazed at how this particular iteration of the Divine really seems to be just exactly what this particular community needs at this particular time. So many moving parts have been clicking right into place. The church, town, two counties, the denomination, and even state-wide foundations are all working together. Even though it is early in the life of this ministry, and there will undoubtedly be more bumps in the road, right now, because this church was willing to work with and serve their community, there has been tangible results of Christ's love in action in Washington County. Migrant workers have gotten much needed medical attention and two families have been helped recover from a fire. I see Jesus here, and my, is it good to see yet more evidence of the Resurrection in this struggling world.
When I remember the two disciples walking down the road to the village of Emmaus, I remember how hard the last several days have been. They had watched Jesus be tortured and executed. They had seen him die and be tucked away in a tomb. The women had come forward and shared their certainty that Jesus was indeed alive, but, these guys weren't so sure. They had seen the empty tomb, but they didn't know what it all meant. And, they were just so sad. They sorely needed a reminder that all was not really lost, that God would still move in this world. They needed to be reminded that their call to repentance and service was still worthwhile, even if the mission seemed so different now that Jesus had died. Just as they needed a sign to keep going, a strange man appeared. He listened to them, he taught them, accepted hospitality from them, and then, when he blessed and shared the bread with them, they finally knew who it was. They saw Jesus. When they knew that he lived, they knew that they could go on.
There are people in this town, in this country, in this world, maybe even in this church, having a hard time having any hope. They, like the disciples, have witnessed violence: war, torture, abuse by people in power. Many people have watched every bit of change that they wanted to see in the world shrivel up or be beaten back by those who prefer the oppressive status quo. In a world that seems so broken, people need to be reminded that their effort, repentance, and service are still worthwhile. They need to see Jesus again. They need to know that God is still working in this world. This means that Christians get the chance to tell everyone, and especially tell ourselves, when we see the Resurrection at work in our lives. Remember what the women did when they realized that Jesus was alive? They went and told the men. Remember what these two men did when they realized that Jesus was alive? They told the other disciples. And, they went about their lives following their mission to love God and love neighbor. They crafted their whole movement to be a witness to the Resurrection... to be on-going Resurrection in this newly constituted body of Christ.
We can be like the women at the tomb and the men who met Jesus on the road. We can tell everyone about the Resurrection that we have seen. We can be witnesses, and hopefully people can see a bit of Jesus reflected in our service in our community. Maybe we won't buy a house and refurbish it, but I bet we can show up en masse to help unload food at the food pantry or volunteer our time to drive people to chemo treatment. I know that we can show up to worship, sing, pray, and cook with and for one another. For surely when we gather together and do these things, Christ is present like he was once present there by the roadside. Christ is with us. We are Christ's body in this world. Let's make sure people recognize his love and compassion whenever they see us gathered.
Works Pastor Chrissy consulted when writing this sermon:
The story of Cherryfield- http://files.ctctcdn.com/a2a15f94201/2dbf2563-2b33-43e0-9258-72cca8364b4f.pdf
BDN story: http://bangordailynews.com/2014/09/29/news/down-east/its-sorely-needed-cherryfield-church-seeks-help-to-renovate-home-for-temporary-shelter/
Arland J. Hultgren- https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=54
Sarah Henrich- https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=933
Richard Swanson- https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1992
Marilyn Salmon- https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1671
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.