(Author’s note: This is the manuscript for my message on July 15, 2018 at FUMC Winnfield and is the sixth in my “Windows to the Soul” sermon series expounding on the Christian symbolism present in our church buildings and sanctuary windows at FUMC Winnfield. My sources are listed at the end. Much of this information is from “FUMC Winnfield: Christian Symbolism and History” published in 2012. I decided to publish in case some were absent and would like to read my message.)
This morning we will examine window number 5 in memory of A.J. Gwin. His obituary from the Winnfield News-American, February 4, 1927 reads:
The entire community mourns the passing of Andrew Jackson Gwin, for twenty one years one of the foremost enterprising citizens of Winnfield, died on January 31, 1927 at his home on Main Street. Though Mr. Gwin had been suffering with heart trouble for more than a year, he had not been critically ill for more than thirty days and his death Monday morning while not unexpected was a distinct shock to the entire town because of the high esteem in which he is held.
J. Gwin was a native of Tennessee, being born there July 10, 1856. Soon after his birth his parents came to Louisiana and located at Rayville, where Mr. Gwin was reared, receiving his education in the schools of Richland Parish. In 1881, A. J. Gwin was married to Miss Augusta McNeill and to this union four children were born, three of whom are now living. In the year 1885, Mr. Gwin with his family left Richland Parish and located for a short time in Ruston, moving from there to Gibsland where he remained until 1887, he then went to Minden where he was engaged in the contracting business for something like fifteen years. He came to Winnfield in 1903, continuing his business as a contractor until 1905, when he established the Winnfield Brick Factory and began the manufacture and sale of brick. From that time on being the only enterprise of its kind in town and the first after a period of many years.
In March, 1909, Mrs. Augusta Gwin died and in 1911, Mr. Gwin was married to Miss Florence Humble of Mississippi, who with his three children, J. M. Gwin and Mrs. Mack L. Branch, of Winnfield, and D. J. Gwin, of Union Springs, Alabama, survive him.
The deceased was affiliated with the Knights of Pythian Lodge and was one of the most faithful, influential members of the local Methodist Church, being a trustee of this institution for the past fifteen years. His work as a church member was characterized by a simple dignity, profound faith and unswerving loyalty, the same attributes being shown in his work as a citizen. In all his activities, Mr. Gwin was supported and encouraged by his wife, a fine consecrated Christian character.[i]
A.J. Gwin joined FUMC in February of 1912 and was a member until his death in 1927. As far as I could find, none of Mr. Gwin’s relatives remain members of this church or are still left in Winnfield. The Gwin family has left us a fine legacy and a wonderful gift in this beautiful window
The torch refers to youth’s relation to the past and its obligation to bear the light of truth through the current age to the coming age. “The Lord Is My Light and My Salvation, Whom shall 1 fear?” Psalms 27:1. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12.
Most of us when we see a torch we think of the iconic Olympic torch. We had the privilege to see the stadium and venues of the 1992 Olympic games in Barcelona, Spain last summer. The Olympic flame’s origins lie in ancient Greece, where a fire was kept burning throughout the celebration of the ancient Olympics. Today, the Olympic torch is lit in Greece and then relayed by “Torchbearers” to the various designated sites of the games. These torchbearers are usually famous people or celebrities whom the country is proud to show off. Torchbearers are people that others would want to emulate, they are role models. It is a great honour to be chosen to carry the Olympic Torch.
As Christians, we are called to be Torchbearers for Christ! A torchbearer is a person who leads the way with the light that he carries. Jesus is the light of the world and since He dwells in us, we are to carry Him wherever we go. We are to let Him shine so that those who do not know Him may come to know Him. The Bible says “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). “That you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Phil 2:15).
After the resurrection, Jesus met with the eleven disciples and said to them “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). This great commission was not only for the disciples but for all of us who would confess Jesus as Lord and Saviour. We have a mandate to go and preach the Gospel, of Jesus Christ to every nation of the world. We should be proud carriers of the torch.
During the Olympic Games, we make time to attend or watch the games on TV. As Christian torchbearers, we need to make evangelization a part of our lives, because we are also called to pass on the torch. It is imperative that we Christians pass on the torch from generation to generation. It is the duty of parents, Christian teachers, priests, bishops, prayer group members, missionaries and all who call themselves Christians to ensure that the torch is passed on.[ii] The torch reminds us of people who have passed on their faith to us and our call to pass it on to others, just as we sang earlier in the service.
B: Font with Dove
The font is pictured again with the dove of the Holy Spirit lending emphasis to our belief in the two sacraments: Holy Communion and Baptism. Jesus also told his followers to be “innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16).
We have already spoken extensively about the symbolism of the baptismal font and the dove, so this morning I will focus on the Sacraments, which sacraments we observe, what they are, and what they mean.
The United Methodist Church recognizes two sacraments in which Christ himself participated: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism marks the beginning of our lifelong journey as disciples of Jesus Christ. Through baptism, we are joined with the Triune God, the whole of Christ’s church, and our local congregation. The water and the work of the Holy Spirit in baptism convey God’s saving grace, the forgiveness of our sins, and new life in Jesus Christ. Persons of any age may be baptized—infants, children, youth, and adults. United Methodists baptize in a variety of ways—immersion, pouring, or sprinkling, though sprinkling is probably most common. A person receives the sacrament of baptism only once in his or her life.
The Lord’s Supper (also called Holy Communion, Eucharist) nourishes and sustains us in our journey as disciples of Jesus Christ. As we pray together and receive the body and blood of Christ together, we are united with Christ, with one another, and in ministry to all the world. All who love Christ, earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another are invited to join us in offering our prayer of thanksgiving and receive the body and blood of Christ—regardless of age or church membership. Congregations serve the elements of the Lord’s Supper several ways, but always include both bread and cup. The Lord’s Supper is to be celebrated and received regularly—John Wesley said, “as often as [one] can.”[iii] United Methodists observe 2 sacraments. Roman Catholics believe there are nine. Other denominations see them only as ordinances, reminders of what Jesus did and taught.
What is a sacrament? A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. In other words, the sacrament is an outside sign of what God is doing inside our lives. We believe that God acts in our lives through these sacraments. The Rev. Taylor Burton-Edwards, director of worship resources for Discipleship Ministries, said that for John Wesley and for Anglican theologians before him, the sacraments were an instituted means of grace. “In other words, Jesus said, ‘Do these things and the Spirit will be active in these ways in your life,'” Burton-Edwards said. “Jesus left these for us as a means of continuing to abide in him and abide in the grace and the love of God.”
How grace “works” through the sacraments is a subject upon which the Wesleys – John and Charles – chose not to speculate and neither have subsequent United Methodist teachings, an indicator of trust in God’s promises. God in Jesus Christ knew that we needed to touch, feel, taste, see and hear God, and thus, God invites us into an experience through the sacraments. Grace transforms us. How, exactly, is a mystery. [iv] The sacraments remind us of what God has done and is doing in our lives.
C. Lamp with open Bible
The accessibility to the Bible since the days of the Reformation leads to its being shown open. The Lamp of Learning recalls the scripture, “Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalms 119:105). To the ancients a lamp was not merely a light for darkness, but also a symbol of intelligence and learning. Today it means wisdom and knowledge.
That a lamp denotes faith, also the intelligence of truth and wisdom of good, which are from the Lord alone.[v] The lamp is often used in connection with the tabernacle and the temple (Exodus 25:37; 2 Chronicles 4:20), where oil was employed for light (Exodus 35:14; Leviticus 24:2). Lamps were in use for thousands of years. Niches for lamps are found in the tombs of Tell el-Amarna in Egypt. We saw similar niches in the wall when we visited the Roman catacombs. Clay lamps were used in Canaan by the Amorites before the Israelites took possession. The excavations in Palestine have furnished thousands of specimens, and have enabled us to trace the development from about 2000 BC onward.
“Lamp” is used in the sense of a guide in Psalms 119:105; Proverbs 6:23, and for the spirit, which is called the lamp of God in man (Proverbs 20:27), and it of course often signifies the light itself. What does the lamp illuminate? In our window, it illuminates the scripture.
Not that the Bible in our window is open. A closed Bible is only an ornament and is more like a paper weight than the Word of God. An open Bible is one that is read and used on a regular basis. Thankfully, there are millions of Bibles available today.
According to the latest Scripture Language Report produced each year by the American Bible Society, some part of the Bible has been translated and published in 2,527 of the world’s languages (469 of these have a whole Bible, and a further 1,231 have a complete New Testament). If we take the total number of languages in the world to be approximately 6,900– the figure varies in different sources, largely because it is not always clear what constitutes a language as opposed to a dialect – this means that there are roughly 4,400 languages which have no part of the Bible.
From one point of view this is a pretty depressing picture. After more than 2,000 years of translation activity, less than half of the world’s languages have even one book of the Bible available. Looked at from another point of view, though, the picture is by no means so bleak. Speakers of the 469 languages with a whole Bible actually account for well over half of the world’s population, and the 2,527 languages with at least one Bible book take that figure to something over 95 percent. And there are more than 2,000 Bible translation projects currently in progress. Even so, and even after many centuries of concerted effort, there are still millions of people (perhaps as many as 300 million in total) who have no access to a single word of Scripture in their mother tongue.[vi]
According to statistics from Wycliffe International, the Society of Gideons, and the International Bible Society, the number of new Bibles that are sold, given away, or otherwise distributed in the United States is about 168,000 per day.[vii] The light and the open Bible is our guide for life and available across the world.
We love our stained glass windows and we should. But what do people see in us? Does the light of Christ shine through? The torch reminds us of those who passed faith on to us and our call to pass the faith on to others. The baptismal font with the dove reminds us of the sacraments- outward signs of an inward faith- and that God acts in our lives through them. The light with the Bible reminds us that the Bible is our guide for life and is available across the world. The Gwin window reminds us of his faith and generosity. The question is will we allow the light of God to shine through us as brightly as it does these windows?