I had a conversation this week where the person I was talking to very passionately declared, Central is _____________. I have been thinking a lot about that statement. So I thought, during this season of Thanksgiving, and in the face of all of the challenges of the Pandemic and Black Lives Matter it would be a very good idea to think about who Central United Methodist Church is, and how God has worked through our church.
Central Methodist Church was founded in 1902 and moved into our first building in 1913. That building was destroyed by fire in 1915 and rebuilt in 1917. Central moved into this building in 1956, and paid the mortgage on this building just five years later. Since that time this congregation has sent young men off to fight in Vietnam, the Gulf War, Afghanistan, the Iraq War and born the burden of the War on Drugs and the War on Terror. This congregation has seen the civil unrest from the Civil Rights movement to the Black Lives Matter movement. Through it all, God has been there. Through it all God has brought us through. What are the markers which help us to remember just who we are and how we came to be here? (pause) Out on the front corner of our church there is a stone with these dates carved into it.
Central Methodist Church
ORGANIZED 1902 - FIRST BUILDING 1913
DESTROYED BY FIRE 1915 - REBUILT 1917
PRESENT BUILDING - ERECTED 1956
Next to the stairs leading up to the church office there is a stone with this carved into it.
What is it about stones, and why do we use them to help us to remember where we came from and Who brought us through?
This morning’s passage from the Book of Joshua is a pivotal moment in the history of Israel. The 12 tribes of Israel are now encamped at the edge of the Jordan river. It is springtime and the Jordan river is near flood stage because of the snow melt from the mountains. Moses has passed away. Before he died Moses designated Joshua by God’s decree as the next great leader of Israel. Joshua was not a prophet like Moses. Joshua was a military leader more like General Patton. God told Joshua to have the priests take up the Ark of the Covenant, and to walk into the Jordan river. As they did the waters of the Jordan stood up in a heap to one side and a strong wind blew so that the priests stood firmly on dry ground. The Israelite’s moved across the Jordan. From the riverbed they pulled up 12 large stones. They put those stones in the place where the army would camp, only this time on the other side of the Jordan. Joshua explained it this way,
“When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord, When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever’” (Joshua 4:6-7).
This is not the only story in Scripture about setting up a stone to remember a time when God was faithful to God’s promises. When Jacob left his father’s tent to escape his brother Jacob had a dream about a stairway to heaven. Jacob decided it was a holy place because of the dream, and so Jacob set up a stone to remember that place (Genesis 28:18). The Ten Commandments were written by God’s own hand on stone tablets and kept in the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 32:15-16).
These stones are a reminder of just what God has done for God’s chosen people. God brought Jacob safely to his Uncle Laban’s home. God prospered Jacob there. When Jacob returned to Canaan, Jacob wrestled with God and God gave Jacob a new name, Israel. God mended Israel’s broken relationship with his brother Esau. Many years later when Israel was held captive in Egypt, God saved the nation of Israel through Ten Plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. Through the blood of the lamb God prevented the first born of Israel from being destroyed like the first born of Egypt. To remember God’s salvation the Law of Moses was put on stone tablets and the Children of Israel were to remember all that God had done for them. These stones served as reminders of who they were and whose they were. When Jesus was crucified and laid inside a tomb it was another stone that was rolled in front of the door to keep out looters and wild animals. On Easter morning that stone was rolled away. The stone was rolled away and we remember – we remember the price that was paid for our sins, and we remember just Who was victorious over death itself.
As we come close to the Thanksgiving holiday let us remember just what God has done for us. Do y’all remember the story of how the church grew and moved into it’s first building. This congregation originally met in what is now the auditorium at the elementary school just a block away. What helped that congregation to grow was they started an orphanage right here in Denton. The building stood in the parking lot next to the library where the Resource Center used to be. For five years Central Church supported that orphanage and encouraged the community to support the orphanage as well. As a result the congregation grew and in 1913 they were able to build our first building in the field across the street from town hall. Sadly, that building burned and is lost to us. In 1917 a new building was constructed across the street in the parking lot next to John Parker’s house and across from the church. Again it was service in and through the community which caused Central Church to grow. In 1956 Central Church, a Methodist Protestant Church constructed this building. Since that time we have seen fire and we’ve seen rain. And through it all God has put people in this church who have big hearts for the poor and working poor in this community. When other churches closed their doors and waited because of Covid-19, Central ramped up our feeding ministries. We figured out how to have worship outside, and enjoyed a pretty nice summer worshipping under the oak trees around the church. We celebrated five baptisms and two confirmations during the month of August at a time when many churches are loosing members. Since returning to worship inside the building we have averaged 36 in worship, but it has only been two Sundays. That is close to the same number we had outside. God has been blessing us and working through Central all throughout the pandemic.
I know I haven’t been here as long as most of the members, but when I think of Central UMC I do not think of one family. I do not think of one worship service. I do not think of a single ministry, or Sunday School class. When I think of who Central is I think of a congregation passionate about serving the needs of the community. I think of a congregation who is growing in their love for God. Through this congregation God has been bringing hope to the poor and working poor, the fatherless, the orphan, the children at the elementary school, and the hungry in the town of Denton for over a hundred years. Central has learned to overcome and adapt in the face of trial and of crisis. We are a church that does not give up. That is a testament and a testimony to what God has done and is doing in this place and through the people who call Central UMC their church home.
So I ask you Church. I know the pandemic is not yet over, but let us plan today how we will set up a remembrance and thanksgiving for all God has done in this place and through the people who call Central UMC their church home. What shall we leave for those who come after us as a remembrance of the good God has done through this place and through these people? How might we celebration today to inspire the generation of tomorrow?
In the name of Jesus Christ,