When our oldest child, Jesse, was just a toddler, we began a tradition at birthdays: we would tell “the story.” We would tell the story of the day/night our child was born. Jesse’s begins, “Your Nana was visiting to help Mom with the new baby. That Monday evening, Mom was upstairs, tired from cleaning the kitchen all day....” Meg’s begins, “Dad was at work at the college, and Mom was getting her morning shower when all of the sudden....” And, Andrew’s begins, “We decided to go out for supper because Mom had determined that all the shelves in the kitchen needed to be re-papered...that day! The kitchen was still a mess when we left for Cracker Barrell...” Now, even though our children are all adults, after we’ve had the cake, they will urge us, “Tell the story, tell the story....” And we do.
Joshua and the people of Israel are about to take up permanent residence in the Promised Land. They have come through the wilderness. They have battled hunger, thirst, depression, and armies. God has brought them to where they are, and Joshua reminds them of this. You see, they are about to make it to their goal. They are about to settle in. And, if they don’t remember where they’ve come from, they won’t remember who they are. If they don’t remember how they got to this place, they may not remember who to worship in the future. So, Joshua tells them the story...again. Listen to the story:
They are where they are because God has been with them. They are free from the slavery of Egypt because of what God has done for them. They are in this new land—new to them—and they are taking up residence without having to build, reaping harvest without having to plant...all because of the work of God. Then must remember the story if they are going to live well in this land.
How often do we remember our story—our story as a congregation? Where did we come from? How did we get to where we are today? What and who made possible this congregation, this sanctuary, the ministries of this church? Listen to a story:
1749 – The city of Camargo is established on the southern side of the Rio Grande by Jose de Escandon.
1751 – A flood ravages the town of Camargo, and many residents move to the north side of the River. This new settlement is first called Rancho Carnestolendas, then Rancho Davis...and eventually Rio Grande City.
1848 – The north side of the River becomes territory of the United States after the Mexican-American War.
1859 – Henry Clay Davis, founder of the newly established Rio Grande City, requests a minister from the West Texas Conference, and Rev. Oliver Adams is appointed to the “Brownsville-Rio Grande Circuit.” Methodists meet in homes for prayer, singing and Bible-study.
1875 – The first Methodist pastor is appointed to Rio Grande City—Rev. Clemente Vivero. Methodists continue to meet in homes for services.
1878 – Land is purchased for a sanctuary--$75!
1882 – A sanctuary is built; an identical sanctuary is built for the Mexican Methodists in Camargo.
Doors – Left for the men to enter and right for the women to enter!
Bell – forged in 1856; purchased for the congregation by Mr. J.P. Kelsey
1917 – First parsonage built next to church.
1943 – Two-story annex constructed (during WWII) – educational space.
1947 – First bilingual Methodist service initiated – English-speakers still meeting in homes are invited to join Spanish-speakers.
1950 – Brick parsonage built next to church.
1972 – Dr. M.J. Rodriguez dies and his family (members of the church) sell the Rdz. Mem. Hospital to the church for $8000 – Education Building.
1974 – Third parsonage built (the “old parsonage.”)
1979 – Congregations splits—primarily Anglo members leave to form new congregation in the Southwest Texas Conference. St. John UMC is born.
2007 – Church purchases Palm Circle home—fourth parsonage.
2009 – Congregation celebrates sesquicentennial – 150 years.
2015 – English-language conference (Southwest Texas Conference) and Spanish-language conference (Rio Grande Missionary Conference) unite to form the Rio Texas Conference.
2016 – Administrative Council closes the Methodist Day Care and converts Education Building into the Methodist Community Center
· Wesley Nurse Program – serving the underserved
· Community Counselor – counseling services for individuals, couples, families
· Nuestra Clinica del Valle – health-related services for community
· Driskell Health Care – program for first-time mothers
2019 - ....?
Two things strike me as I look over this history, a history compiled by our beloved Mrs. Olga Saenz. First, our ancestors in the faith did whatever was necessary. They built the Annex during WWII because there was a need for educational space. This was during a time of rationing, a time of scarcity. But, the need was there, so they built it. In 1974, they built the ‘old parsonage’...and do you know how they paid for it? They held a big dinner every November—someone donated a small cow to be slaughtered and cooked; members brought all the veggies from their gardens—and by selling these food-plates, they paid for it.
The second thing I see (or don’t see) are all the years that aren’t mentioned, all those years when nothing ‘notable’ happened. Very important things were happening in those years. On our timeline, we have 14 or 15 years mentioned...of the 159 years of our history! What happened in those other 144 years? I’ll tell you: the people called Methodist gathered, and they prayed, and they worshiped, and they gave, and studied Scripture, and they encouraged one-another, and they invited friends and neighbors to know God and to know this congregation, and they worked, and they painted, and they repaired, and they witnessed, and they loved, and they cared. In short, they were the Church...everyday, everywhere they went. Oh...and they? They is we. This is our story.
Joshua called the people to remember who they were because they were about to dive into the daily business of life. They needed to remember who and Whose they were. Before they got there, they needed to make a conscious decision about their identity. Before the tribes separated and when to their assigned holdings, they needed to remember their common identity.
Before stepping out into any grand endeavor, it would do us well to remember who we are and where we have come from. Before that young person goes off to college, maybe Mom and Dad should sit down and tell them the story. Before that young man or woman goes off to serve in the armed forces, parents should sit down and tell the story. Before that little one gets on the bus for that first day of school, that would be a good time to tell the story. Then evening before that son or daughter makes those wedding vows, that’s a good time to tell the story. And, today, as we stand before 2019, it was a good time to tell the story.
While there is no assigned time in the church calendar for remembering our congregational story, what if we determine that on second Sunday of October every year we will tell the story; we will remember who we are and Whose we are? And then, on this day each year, the minister will read aloud the words of Joshua—those powerful, decisive words:
“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
And all the people will respond:
“Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We, too, will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”
We will honor and remember our story and all of those who have gone before us.
Still, my brothers and sisters, this story—the Joshua story—is only the beginning. We have another story to tell as well—the story of our encounter with Jesus, like the story Paul told that we heard in our New Testament reading this morning (Acts 26:1-18)—but, that story must wait until another day.
Let us remember today what God has brought us through and this moment that God has brought us to. And, let us endeavor to go forward faithfully in this place of promise as God’s people. Someday, years from now, someone will be here telling our story...and it will be their story. Let's give them a good story to tell!