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Ancestors - February 28, 2021

by Rev. Joan Kessler

Hebrews 11:1-3; 8-16

Early yesterday, I found a collection of my Dad’s family history. I read the words as if I was finding them for the first time. It was written by extended family some 25 years ago and I suspect much more genealogical information has been found since with the ease of ancestry DNA and other online databases. I won’t share the whole Kessler family history with you but I can tell you that my background is Russian German. I discovered yesterday that my great great grandfather is nameless… he is simply known as Grandfather Kessler. He and his wife were German farmers in the 1860s and were invited to go to the Black Sea to teach the settlers there a variety of farming practices.

Over the course of years that followed, the colonists there became discontented with the country’s internal political changes and uprisings. Forced participation in the army was the final straw for many families and subsequently a great wave of migration to South American, the United States and Canada began with farmers taking advantage of homestead opportunities. In 1891 my great grandfather, just 16, along with his older brother, immigrated to North America, first arriving in New York and then taking the train north to what is now Saskatchewan. The brothers settled into establishing farms and families of their own. And the rest is history so they say. This is what I know of part of my family tree.

Over the course of my childhood, I had two very different experiences of my grandfathers. My Grandpa Kessler spoke little of family history… he was a man of the times, progressive and forward thinking and loved to learn new things. My maternal grandfather on the other hand, had a most vivid memory of his family’s story and loved to tell the tales of those who came before him. So I grew up both grounded in the past of the ancestors and having the confidence to live into the future. Sharing our stories and photo albums with those who come after us is one of the greatest gifts of belonging to a family… it is a means of passing on connection and sharing our beliefs and a faith of what is most important to us.

Churches and faith community are also containers for ancestral history. We celebrate anniversaries and mark milestones of faithful mission and service to a community and we remember the saints who invested of themselves in so many ways so that we might have the opportunity to do the same. Presently we are writing a new chapter in our life as come through COVID and try to envision what we will do and when we can start to do things as we know how to do them in life before the pandemic. It is a time of reckoning and recollecting the past as a means to consider the future. We know we are experiencing a revenue shortfall because of the closure of the building to rentals and the Thrift Store for nearly four months in 2020. We have an identity to name and a mission and mandate to articulate. Because when we can articulate the who and the what of our being, the how and the plans will come naturally to fruition. This past week, I have been doing a great deal of reflection. If I were to be so bold as to name who and what Winfield United is today and the things we values most I would name the Thrift Store as a means of connection and outreach to the community… Music with a variety of participation, ensembles and choir, and an astuteness towards the conditions of loneliness and isolation through small group ministries and pastoral care. I would like you all to consider this list of three things and let me know if you agree or disagree and have perhaps a list of your own. There’s a saying…Money follows mission… it is hard work to ask for money if we don’t know who we are and what we are and provide our community with why they should consider supporting us.

The biblical story is one of people on an endless journey and they never fully arrive at their destination. The writer to the Hebrews is recalling the ancestral story of Abraham and Sarah to a community that is struggling with the hope that it will encourage them to persevere and keep going with a faith that does not provide pat answers or wistful thinking or the perfect lfe. But there is encouragement to tap in to, that wellspring of hope that is within… the God Presence in each one of them that animates and moves forward, constantly changing and reshaping faith. They trusted and had an inner sense of assurance that they were not alone.

The definition of faith is unique to each one of us. We learn from our past and allow it to shape our present and give us hope for the future. But we also know that faith is not perfect science… we question, we doubt, we challenge. We carry on in hope of a God that will continue to lead us to that future we do not fully comprehend but will move forward with hope.

My message today is not intended to come up with an absolute definition of faith. Faith may be assurance for some and it may be questioning for others. Some of believe sight unseen… and some come from the position of reality trusting in those things that have been tested and proven. The Spirit animates all of this and is found in each one of us as a Presence. There is no one-size fits all definition of faith . But I do hope that we have faith in one another….that we can discover those things we share in common and everything works together for good. This is not pie-in-the-sky theology but rather a hope that we as a community will find a common identity and goals that speak to all of us regardless of how we define faith. We share and hear stories of how this congregation came into being… of how the idea came to be to build this building I stand in today… over the past months we have heard stories of people taking turns spending the night in a trailer while the building was in its construction phases, of the volunteer labor that raised a dream into a reality… there was a trust that it would be completed but I am sure there were days when they wondered and their sense of faith was tested… the way forward unclear…but a dream and a hope is a powerful thing… it gave a group of people confidence that they could build a future.

This passage from Hebrews this morning is a favorite of mine... my faith is a precious part of me, like a treasure… it is grounded in my understanding of story and being in relationship with others through this body we call the Church. I trust easily and the Divine is as close as my breath… my whole life revolves around this essence… but the journey is never over, it’s never complete, it changes constantly and sometimes faster than I’d like. It keeps me going on the way. I suspect we have all experienced times in our life when we have felt settled and times when we have felt nomadic… both present challenges and growth opportunities for us. This time of COVID is challenging; it’s a nomadic time for us… we are somewhat scattered… the journey is uncertain yet we have the opportunity to walk with other pilgrims along the way.

As we prepare for our Annual Meeting in a month’s time, I want to take a few moments to hear how you name our identity at this time in our history…? I am just looking for a short description of who you say we are and how you describe us to others… you are invited to unmute your microphone or type your words in the chat box

May we find some time these coming days to consider how faith resonates… how have your ancestors shaped you into being and the story you are telling the world… whatever our individual and collective journey may be, may we always be en route to a better land, a good city, where all are welcome no matter where you’ve been or what you believe. May it be so.


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