I am contending for you that your hearts will be wrapped in the comfort of heaven and woven together into love's fabric. This will give you access to all the riches of God as you experience the revelation of God's great mystery—Christ. - Colossians 2:2-3
Woven together in love.
God has this incredible way of using people's most severe hardships to transform them into people of incredible faith. And of course, one of the hardest places on this planet to endure is prison.
It is because God has made us to be in a loving community. As we discovered last week, it is one of the four pillars of a fulfilling life, that those endless weeks months and years behind bars can take their toll on your soul. And so, you either go mad or you look more deeply to God than you ever have in your life. People like Joseph of the Bible, Francis Makemie, 17th century apostle of American Presbyterianism, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, leading theologian and martyr to the cause of faith, all experienced prison that wove into them a profound thanksgiving for God's love and incredible courage to ensure God's future.
You remember Joseph. He was sold into slavery by his brothers for taunting them with his dreams that one day they will all bow down before him while wearing this famous coat of many colors, clearly demonstrating that he was their father’s favored child. Eventually he rises as a prominent servant in a prestigious household. But the boss's wife wants to lay with him and he runs as fast as he can but, feeling slighted, her lies land him in prison. Not knowing the fate that will befall him…
…“The celebrated 17th century Apostle (Francis Makemie) was plunk in jail”, the history of Brick church tells us. Apparently, he was licensed to preach in certain colonies but not in New York. He found himself here on the way to Boston and was asked to preach to some locals in our beloved city.
Not only did Makemie receive his license from The Church of Scotland but the Presbyterian churches in New York would also have to rely on that country for their charter; it took many years of failed attempts. As Turner's book tells us on May 16, 1724, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland passed an act in favor of a Presbyterian congregation in this city. Makemie’s imprisonment and preaching had planted seeds of Presbyterianism, which directly led to the founding of Brick Church over 250 years ago. We are stewards of that history and our first pastor, John Rogers, who graces our bulletin this morning has Makemie to thank for paving the way…
…Dietrich Bonhoeffer returned to New York City in 1939 to avoid the coming war in Germany and to reconnect with friends at the Abyssinian Baptist Church and Union Theological Seminary. But after less than two months he felt compelled to return home to be a force of stalwart faith. After being part of an underground seminary, he eventually became part of an assassination attempt of Hitler which landed him in prison. During his time back In Germany he discovered the theme that ties the threads of these stories together and our life today.
The power of Christ to weave us together in love.
He wrote, “The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us. We have one another only through Christ, but through Christ we do have one another, wholly, for eternity.”
On this Kirkin’ of the Tartans Sunday, we see beautiful pageantry and, as the pipers the drums and the tartans flowed into the sanctuary, we are reminded of how people flowed into our doors for centuries.
Their distinct colors woven together create something unique. And it is the power of God to weave together diverse, broken, and frayed threads that I want to talk about today.
Each of us, our unique selves, are woven into this beautiful tapestry of Brick Church; the threads of our lives are imperfect, the wrinkles and the scars – all of it is used to by God so that we will be woven in love, whatever your heritage – Scottish or not.
Look at our diverse fabric.
We are a community of members across several generations who have called this church home. We are a community of young people who are finding their footing in this grand city of New York and have come to discover a home of love and support, of worship, of hope, and of service. We are a community of young children who discover for the first time in their lives that “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so!”
We are a congregation of single adults for whom this place represents their family; represents their place to call home and in which they have found friends to walk through the struggles of life with. We are a congregation of people who were born on different shores – China, Korea, Singapore, Ghana, France, Brazil and more – but all have come with our same deep passion of formal worship, of service for others, and of love for God.
While our individual threads are fragile and stretched, woven together we are as strong as our collective love for God. And it is in a community like this that we discover who we are in relation to another. “We can never achieve this ‘wholeness’ simply by ourselves, but only together with others…” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters Papers from Prison
And in our life together, as God weaves us in worship and fellowship there is a group of people we must never forget if our communion is to remain authentic.
There is another type of confinement besides prison that can severely damage the soul. And in this case, rather than the person finding their internal strength, they need the love of friends.
A few weeks ago, the reformed Brick Congregational Care Committee met, and I learned of their incredibly loving invisible witness.
For those here in person God grants us with inestimable blessings:
scores of children,
familiar loving faces,
the power of prayer,
a sense of purpose,
the gift of service to others.
This is our soul food that gives us strength, and joy each and every week.
But there are others, who have been part of our fellowship for years but are trapped in their homes and no longer able to walk in the park, visit friends, travel the world, or come to church.
And some on this Congregational Care Committee, on your behalf, have visited people like this week after week, year after year, to let them know they are not alone, that the church has not forgotten them, that they are still key threads woven in our community of holy love in God’s name. And I have heard some of these homebound people speak of such visits as if they are visits from God. For they know they are not forgotten.
But perhaps Joseph had this doubt, perhaps God had forgotten him, if God had left him after he wound up in prison, isolated, and afraid.
He must have felt as if he were two inches from the pavement after a thirty-thousand-foot free fall.
But God sent him a vision and once again he rose to prominence this time in the whole kingdom of Egypt. This dream allowed Pharoah to save food for the coming famine and now Joseph has power. Power to exact revenge on his brothers.
But there is still a hole in his heart, an emptiness from his brothers’ betrayal. They come to Egypt not knowing Joseph is alive, not knowing Joseph controls their fate. And finally, the threads of pride have been erased in his heart and all that is left is the yearning to heal the fracture in his family.
And in a moment of incredible tenderness, he reveals himself and tells them, “You meant it for evil but the Lord meant it for good.” God has woven this family back together, for Joseph has forgiven them and they weep and embrace.
Listen to what Bonhoeffer wrote while awaiting his fate in prison:
“In a word, live together in the forgiveness of your sins, for without it no human fellowship, least of all a marriage, can survive. Don’t insist on your rights, don’t blame each other, don’t judge or condemn each other, don’t find fault with each other, but accept each other as you are, and forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts…” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison
God has wrapped us in amazing love and the fabric of community relies on the grace Christ has given us on the cross and our willingness to share all that we are with one another, while never forgetting those alone at home. Amen.