First, I’d like to thank Pastor Ann, Zach, and everyone at the Deerpark Reformed Church for inviting me to lead worship this morning. It’s an honor to worship with all of you here today. As some of you may or may not know, I’m the new minister at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church. My wife Patty and I moved here this past September, and last month we welcomed our daughter Lyric into the world.
Before moving here, Patty and I were living in Columbus, Ohio as I finished up seminary, and then we lived and worked at a boys and girls’ camp in the mountains of North Carolina for the summer. We both feel very blessed to move to a place as unique as Port Jervis. I’ve never lived somewhere where I can walk out my front door into the city, and then walk out my back door and hike up a mountain. We live in an extremely diverse area — one that we should be proud to call home.
But in reality, I’ve never lived anywhere that seems to have a more negative self-image. When I visit home bound congregation members I often hear, “If only you could have seen Port then, Pastor.” Or when I teach confirmation, I’m told: “I’m getting out of here as soon as I graduate.” Our negative self-image bleeds into our surrounding communities. When I tell people I live in Port Jervis they say, “You live there?”
Of course we have our problems here in the Tri-state area: high taxes, lack of jobs, welfare… But Paul would tell us that we do not proclaim ourselves or our community; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord. For it is God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness.”
Sure, we may be:
“afflicted in every way, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not driven to despair;
persecuted, but not forsaken;
struck down, but not destroyed.”
You see, we are “always carrying the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible.” That means the most trying parts of our community and the most broken parts must be lifted up and carried, just like the death of Jesus. And that’s where new life in Christ can be made visible.
Think of it this way: Port Jervis is like an over grown garden — one full of all sorts of different plants: the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the tangled old buildings next to new local shops, the wilderness and the city. Looking at it from a distance, you can’t tell what’s what, so the broken stands out.
To a modern farmer who grows everything in rows, a garden like this one sounds like a disaster. How could you ever harvest such a crop? Yet at one time, this was how all gardens were grown in this area.
A writer from Renee’s garden explains: “According to Iroquois legend, corn, beans, and squash are three inseparable sisters who only grow and thrive together. This tradition of inter-planting corn, beans, and squash in the same mounds, widespread among Native American farming societies, is a sophisticated, sustainable system that provided long-term soil fertility and a healthy diet to generations.”
Perhaps from a distance Port Jervis might seem like a disaster, but in reality, it is a sophisticated, sustainable, fertile community ready to feed generations.
Each of us brings something different to this Tri-state garden. Whether it be love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, self-control, or faith, each of us have different fruits to offer one another and these are gifts from God.
In Isaiah, it says:
“Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.”
These gifts that people thirst for – love, peace, patience, joy – they are all things that we can share without money or price. By the grace of God, we are filled with the fruits of the spirit, and we are called to share with one another.
Even I have my doubts about Port Jervis sometimes. But I have met amazing, gifted, talented, dedicated people here in this community, and I have seen new life come about in new businesses, new restaurants, new hiking trails, and new faces.
This is an exciting time to live in Port Jervis — one where we are carrying death so that life may become visible. Perhaps, that is the key. We don’t need to proclaim ourselves or our community. Rather, we need to proclaim Christ through our fruits of the spirit.
Psalm 145 says it best:
“Everyday I bless you, and praise your name forever and ever
People will tell about the amazing things you do,
and I will tell everyone how great you are.”
At the end of Matthew, the disciples experience the risen Christ on top of a mountain in Galilee, and some of the disciples doubt the true presence of Christ. Yet Christ tells them to go and make disciples of all nations, knowing that even in their doubt, his disciples would share His message, to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth.
Each in their own unique way.
As we gather from different churches today, each one of us is unique. We are all part of this community garden. So, after church today, even if we doubt the potential of our community, GO and get to know what is growing here in this stunningly beautiful, diverse, overgrown garden we call home.