Getting in touch with what was meaningful in the lives of our predecessors

The portion of the Psalm that we opened worship with today came from a time period in which the Israelites were reflecting upon the years when they were living in a strange land. When the Babylonian empire marched through their country, they took with them the cream of Israelite society and repopulated them into their own nation.

Life for the Israelites in Babylon was far from difficult. At the time, this was a prosperous people with all the latest, the newest and best. The land was fertile and the economy flourished. The Israelites were not treated like slaves, but rather were allowed to be involved in all aspects of business, live in nice homes and develop their own communities.

What was difficult was that their faith for centuries had been deeply rooted in their promised land and the house in which their God had promised to live with them - the temple in Jerusalem. All the prophets who spoke during this time had reminded them of the oneness of the their past, present, and future in the covenant. So, in the face of all the luxuries that surrounded them, it is a tribute to Israel's enduring solidarity with their homeland that their faith not only survived, but emerged stronger and deepened by their experience.

What Israel discovered during their exile in another land was that they could worship anywhere in confidence that their God would hear their prayers. The concept of synagogues probably came out of this time. It is a Greek word that literally means gathering together. And, it comes from a similar derivation of our word synod which means walking together. They discovered that anytime they gathered together as a people, God would be there.

And, so it was for our ancestors who settled this land. They came out of the Holy Roman Empire in a time in which they had experienced the hardships of the years following the religious and dynastic wars that came out of the Reformation and the development of the European states similar to what we know today. They had forsaken their homeland because of increased taxes, devastating crops caused by drought. Most economic opportunities for them and their children had been closed. So they came, lured on by promises of a better life. Initially they headed for Pennsylvania, but as most of you know the proprietors of Maryland offered huge tracts of land for a penny an acre and the road through Creagerstown was the highway upon which they all traveled.

And, like most Europeans, they came from lands where religious institutions were firmly established by the state, and churches stood like castles in every town and village. But in this new land there was nothing. These people came with a Bible, a hymn book, and Luther's catechism. And, although they were scattered over large distances, they all longed to gather together to meet their spiritual needs, babies needed to be baptized, young people to be married, the dead to be buried. They wanted to worship, they wanted hear a sermon and they wanted receive communion. And so they painstakingly pulled their resources and their time to build the log church known as Monocacy. It is the oldest of the three first recorded in Maryland. Its membership came by wagon and horseback from areas we now know as Taneytown, Emmitsburg, the Glades, Frederick, Mount Pleasant, Liberty, and the Catoctin Mountains.

This phenomenon was happening all over the colonial territories. Over mile after mile of rough roads, the people came to worship. The few pastors that existed in the beginning traveled even greater distances, often enduring great hardships, to meet the needs of many such gatherings.

Of course, the log church is long gone. And as the population grew, its membership area divided and divided forming many more small churches with less distance to travel. But initially it divided into Frederick and Creagerstown. These two gatherings of God's people gave families places of support and community, of faith and worship in stressful times of growth for our nation in its early years. The church building we dream of restoring is a continuing testimony to the faith story of your great, great ancestors who were once strangers in a strange land but now call this home.

So, why restore something that is, on the surface, an empty shell and a ghost of what it once was? We could ask the Israelites the same question. Why did they long to return home when they had more luxuries in this new land? Why did they stream out as one people when they were eventually released? Why did this Psalm sing of restoring their fortunes - when they went home to Jerusalem instead of living in the land of opulence? Why did they rejoice in rebuilding the temple that lay in ruins? For them it was a symbol of God's presence. It was for them a source of life.

There is something very valuable about being able to return to the place of your origins - to your roots - and finding it still alive and vibrant. It keeps dreams flourishing and instills energy when one's personal faith is wavering. It helps many believe in themselves again. The scriptures themselves talk about being part of the vine and what it is like to be separated from the root.

I happened to time my arrival at the church on Friday just right. There was a two-generation family parked in front of the church. They had been wandering around outside the buildings and walking through the cemetery. The younger husband and wife live in Florida but made returning to this church complex one of their vacation stops. The older couple lives in Thurmont, but the gentleman remembers going to church here long, long ago. Is it just sentimentality that brings people home? Why all the genealogical research, tracing family trees that people are doing again? I remember hating all the begets in the books of the Bible. And yet now I know the value of getting in touch with what was meaningful in the lives of my predecessors.

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