A. J. Gwin Window (Torch/Baptismal Font with Dove/Open Bible with Lamp of Learning)

IMG_2709(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.)

I. Introduction

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:

gwin 1The 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

II. Body

A: Torch

IMG_2700The 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

img_2702.jpgThe 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

IMG_2706The 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.

III.  Conclusion

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?

[i] https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/54182025/andrew-jackson-gwin

[ii] https://the-beacon.me/2014/04/06/the-bible-speaks-today-torchbearers-for-christ/

[iii] http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/sacraments

[iv] http://www.interpretermagazine.org/topics/gods-grace-presented-re-presented-through-the-sacraments

[v] http://www.biblemeanings.info/Words/Artifact/Lamp.htm

[vi] https://www.biblesociety.org.uk/uploads/content/bible_in_transmission/files/2011_summer/BiT_Summer_2011_Crisp.pdf

[vii] https://amazingbibletimeline.com/blog/q10_bible_facts_statistics/

Telling the Story

Sign welcoming us to Totem Bight State Park

Sign welcoming us to Totem Bight State Park

One of our stops in Alaska was Ketchikan, where we visited the Totem Bight State Park.  At Totem Bight, we had the opportunity to view many replica native totem poles on a rare non-rainy day in Ketchikan.  It was interesting to discover how the totem poles were made (we saw one being carved by a native carver atop Mt. Roberts in Juneau), the kind of wood that was used, and that they would usually last about 100 years, even in that rainy climate.  But the most interesting thing I discovered was that many of the totem poles told a story about the beliefs of the native people.

Thunderbird totem at Totem Bight State Park in Ketchikan

Thunderbird totem at Totem Bight State Park in Ketchikan

Take this totem pole for instance.  “The intent of the carving is to illustrate the mythological conception of thunder. Thunder is created by the beating of the bird’s wings, and lightning by the blink of its eyes. This huge bird lives high on the mountaintop. The whale at the base of the pole symbolizes the mountaintop where the bird rests before devouring his prey. It is said that whale bones may be found on many mountain tops that have been carried there from ages past.”  (source Totem Poles at Totem Bight State Historical Park)  This totem pole describes the native people’s explanation of thunder.  To a people without a written language, this totem pole would be an immediate and constant reminder of how they perceived the world around them.  (By the way, you can find descriptions of all 14 totem poles at Totem Bight State Park in the above website.) 

The sad thing is that some of the stories and totems have been lost over time.  Our guide told us that when missionaries first arrived in Alaska and begin to work among the native people, the missionaries made the native people tear down the totem poles, thinking that they were graven idols.  They didn’t realize that the poles were simply telling the stories of the people.  Many poles and many stories were lost because of misunderstanding.

Viewing the totem poles and the stories that they told, I started thinking about story telling and how we tell our stories of culture, family, and faith.  It was not too many years ago that people would gather around a camp fire or on a porch and tell stories.  Today, much of that culture is gone.  Today, we go inside our own homes, turn on the television and allow the TV to tell us the story.  Or we sit at our computer and write our story on facebook or on a blog (like this one) or maybe “tweet” out a story (as long as it is 240 characters or less.)  It seems that it is becoming more and more rare to sit down together and talk face to face in our modern culture.

Telling the stories of our family is important, too.  In 2010, NBC produced a TV show called “Who Do You Think You Are?” that traced the family history of celebrities, with some very emotional results.  NBC cancelled the show in 2012, but it has been picked up by TLC.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Who_Do_You_Think_You_Are%3F_(U.S._TV_series)  This show reminds us that it is important to know the history of your family.  In my family, we would gather at

Cover of my Grandmother and her sister's memoirs of their move from Georgia to Louisiana

Cover of my Grandmother and her sister’s memoirs of their move from Georgia to Louisiana

the cemetery the Saturday before Easter and grandmother would take us to all the headstones of our deceased family members, tell us about them and how we were related to them.  One of my most treasured family items is a memoir written by my grandmother titled “It’s a Long Way to Georgia”, telling of her family’s move from Georgia to Louisiana when she was a little girl. I never met my mother-in-law, Sharon Kaye Rousseau (she passed away about a month before I met Jana), but I feel as if I know her through the stories that Jana and others have told me of her.  I hope and pray that we never forget to tell these family stories to one another and to our children.

Maybe the most important story to tell is one of faith.  As a pastor, I think I have the greatest job in the world to tell the true story of God’s love, grace, mercy and faithfulness each day.  But isn’t telling God’s story and the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, a job for each and every one of us?  If we don’t tell the story, who will?  It has been said that the church is only one generation away from extinction.  With the decline of many mainline denominations, church attendance, and the cultural influence of the church, that statement may be more true today than it has been since the very beginning of the church.  Maybe the story needs to be told in a new way, but God have mercy on us if we fail to tell the story!  

In the United Methodist Hymnal there is a hymn titled “I Love to Tell the Story”, written  by Katherin Hankey (find the history of this hymn here: http://www.gbod.org/resources/history-of-hymns-i-love-to-tell-the-story).  It is one of my favorite hymns to sing and the chorus says “I love to tell the story, ’twill be my theme in glory, to tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love.”  It is a great hymn, with a great message but sometimes I wonder if we have not told the story of Jesus as well as this hymn challenges us to do.  I hope and pray that you and I will tell the story of family and faith through spoken words, facebook, twitter, even totem poles, but, by whatever means necessary, tell the story!  

Questions to consider:  How do we pass down the stories and histories of previous generations in our modern technological culture?  Who passed down the stories of faith and family to you?  To whom do you need to pass down your story of faith and family?