How are we to remember?
By two things. First, by musing. Pondering, considering the history you remember. The opposite of muse-ment is ‘amusment.’ It’s the entertainment of ourselves with tv and movies, with endless sport and endless noise which does not allow us to think, quiet our souls and really think. So first thing to do is muse. Psalm 77 shows us King David doing this pondering, meditating:
"Then I said, “It is my grief, that the bright hand of the Most High has changed.” I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; Surely I will remember Thy wonders of old. I will meditate on all Thy work, and muse on Thy deeds. Thy way, O God, is holy; What god is great like our God?" (verses 10-13)
Second, we remember by the telling of tribal stories. Do you realize that the Bible is one long tribal story? It’s the telling of what God did and what we did and how it has all worked out so far. And thus we need to be telling tribal stories. Tribal stories are truths of actual events and actual people that a people tell and re-tell and keep communicating far into the future. It keeps stories as truth (and not fable or fiction [that is, it prevents revisionism]) and reminds us like the Bible teaches us to do, of who God is, what He did, what He told us to do, and what we are by nature. And each song we sing is itself a tribal story. Each hymn and modern song from the Bible is a rehearsing of the stories of the people of God. Last weekend we told the stories of the early days. Following then are many of those early day stories:
I moved from Kansas City in early January 1972, in one way chasing a woman, in another trying to ‘start the church of Lawrence’ and expected to sleep in a crashpad or on the streets, and ended up that first night at the Holiday Inn on 23rd and Iowa at the request and payment by the Ohio House people. They didn’t want to let me stay and infect their evangelical home with charismatic doctrines (back then there was very little overlap in this regard).
During the next week I met with Harold Mallett, the pastor of nearby First Presbyterian Church, and told him I was in Lawrence to start the church of Lawrence. He was gracious beyond measure, and allowed me to start BASIC (Brothers and Sisters in Christ), a weekly Saturday night gathering a la the gathering in Wichita (held at Faith Presbyterian) or the House of Agape on Sunday nights in KC (held at Second Presbyterian). Pastor Hal was ever gracious and let me teach a Sunday school class there.
In February that year I moved into the House of the Fourth Watch, with the music group Ninth Hour (Chuck Lemmon, Bob Lee, and many others) out east of town off K-10. I stayed about a month. We learned a bit more about community, about fellowship and love of the brothers. And how to make Mendo Mess.
In February I prayed regularly with Steve Churchill, who was attending KU, and was one of the people who was to have a key leadership role in the new church. He had joined us at BASIC. We prayed that God would confirm for us His desire to have a house ministry (like House of Agape, Harvest House, and so many other Jesus communes). We asked for “a little bit of money.” The next day Steve received a letter telling him of the sale/transfer of mutual funds into his name, from some relative of no immediate knowledge of anything we were doing. The amount: $20,000. We believed that was ‘a little bit of money’ and thus Steve immediately went to realtors to find a suitable place for us.
After a long bit of searching and a lot of knock-backs, Steve encountered a realtor who was a Christian. I had met the realtor when I prophesied during an evening service at the Free Methodist Church on 22nd Street. He was keen to help the fledgling community become what we wanted, and to sell us a house. The 1538 Tennessee Street house was Steve’s as of the beginning of April. Steve, Chris and I moved in immediately. Others quickly followed.
Steve, Chris Samuelson, Terry Bysinger, Dan Spencer, Dave Payne… so many young people who were keen to serve God and make a difference in the world. That’s the beginnings of the Mustard Seed.
It was Tuesday night, April 10, 1972, when I taught the first Bible study at the house. 5 people attended including Libby Berger and Mary Robinson (later May). I spoke about Matthew 17.20, “if you have faith as a mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it shall move; and nothing shall be impossible to you.”
Three weeks later I went to a rubber stamp company on Massachusetts Street in downtown Lawrence and had a stamp prepared.
The Mustard Seed
Bible study Tuesday 7:30 pm
I began stamping the Gospel tracts we picked up from The Gospel Tract Society of Independence. Steve came home one night and asked, “What’s the Mustard Seed?” I said, “That’s our name!” Not that I did much in collegiality in those days.
In 1974, Derek Prince came to visit at First Presbyterian Church and he came to the Tennessee house for dinner. Hopefully Iris Lannon (later Armstrong) was the cook that night. He spoke that evening at the church about Ezekiel 37, The Valley of Dry Bones. Derek always had a love for Israel. In the sermon, Derek spoke about finding another bone, with whom to be in relationship, and to make sure your bone and you knew what mattered to each other. That night, I met with Nick Willems and we immediately knew that our lives needed to be bone-to-bone and thus we ‘annexed’ the Sunday night group that was happening at the Engel house where Nick and Ineke lived.
Tribal stories abound in the beginnings and in the continuing of the Mustard Seed. Back then we were iconoclasts and knocked back anything that smelled of ‘church.’ We did not want a Sunday morning meeting because that’s what churches did. We even had a group of us who played sport on Sunday morning, in the fall titling our group, “First church of the holy gridiron.’ We disparaged anything historic, to our loss, to be sure. But that’s part of who we were.
Last Saturday night (on the reunion weekend) I told about meeting a pastor who told me he had a doctorate of divinity. (D.D. is a very prestigious academic degree) I disparaged him whispering to myself, “Doctor of Divination, I imagine.” We wouldn’t call ourselves a ‘church’ but rather a fellowship. Our elders and pastors were not such, but initially ‘sheepdogs’ so we didn’t assume a title beyond ourselves.
Tribal stories are not only found in Lawrence, or in the deep dark Africa, but in the Bible. Israel tells its story each year in Passover and all the feasts. How God delivered us and made us into a people for Himself.
And the Church does it with communion each Sunday. We tell the story of the cross and the resurrection. That’s the place where we make sense of it all. Our own shame. Our own failures. All the things that make us angry. God was nailed at the cross. It centers us better than a down dog in yoga. It centers us better than one toke over the line. It centers us to find Y’shua nailed to the roman cross.
Friends, this is not so much a reunion as a homecoming. Like the Jayhawks do or Lawrence High School does each fall. Oldies gather back to celebrate the past and hope for a good future.
But in Christ we know Hebrews 6.10 is true and will ever be true. It is about that future that we are convinced.
”For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love, which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.” (Hebrews 6.10)
In other words, we can spend this weekend looking backwards and dreaming of ‘the good old days.’ That’s not useful. We can spend this weekend saying then was then, but now is now and discount the past. That’s not useful. Or we can look backwards, ponder what God did in the past, use it to strengthen us today to His good work, and ponder what we are to become in the future.
It’s that understanding that gives me the title of this talk, “Then, and now.. and then.” I believe that in the future the Mustard Seed Church will continue and will thrive and be a bold witness for Jesus in Lawrence and beyond. I hope that the few hundred which worship here will continue to grow and the Matthew 17.20 verse will remind us that we have a long way to go until mountains are moved. We are small but “Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds; but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches” (Matthew 13.31-32) We started small, very small, and have grown and ministered to thousands of people over the decades. And we have miles to go before we sleep, amen?
Thanks to Dr Barry Foster and all who helped him for organizing this weekend.
Thanks to Pieter Willems for continuing to lead this church well into the 21st century. Aren’t you looking forward to what God will do tonight and tomorrow? And until He returns? And then His return?