[In the audio podcast of this service, the sermon begins at 20 min 15 secs.]
HISTORICAL TURNING POINTS: Dr. Doolittle!
I Cor. 15:50-58
How do you get a plaque like this one here? Most of you, like me, don’t need one in a building, but you do pray: LORD, make my life matter! I mean, how does your life matter beyond studying for tests, affording gas, pruning trees, and correcting kids?
LORD, how does my life matter? I Corinthians 15:58 could be the life verse for our next historical honoree, Dr. Doolittle. Read it with me. God tells us two things:
First, expect some trouble—otherwise you wouldn’t need to be steadfast and immoveable. In Dr. Doolittle’s 50 years here (1856-1906) he had his share. Still green in the ministry he held hands around the bedsides of folks dying of a typhoid fever outbreak. On the heels of plague came war—the Civil War. Flag-draped coffins must have broken the hearts of the community. Then on the heels of being steadfast through war, came money problems. By 1874 the new church already had a steeple 5 ft. out of plumb; walls that were sprung by brick filling too heavy for the frame, and decaying main posts. The building wasn’t immoveable. $7,000 later they had their second new church in a dozen years. Paying that off in the post-war Depression forced Doolittle to offer to accept 20% pay cut for the year of 1878. 6 years later when the good Dr. asked consistory, how about restoring that 20%? consistory made the reduction permanent.
We have some trouble wherein God calls us to be steadfast and immoveable, too. I don’t need to remind you of America’s problems with the war and the economy. Though we don’t have plagues of sickness, we do have plagues of indulgence today: obesity, STDs, etc. LORD, help us be steadfast in healthy eating and sexual disciplines!
The second thing that God teaches through our text is keep doing the LORD’S work. This is Dr. Doolittle’s gavel. I assume that he used it to run meetings. But it also symbolizes the core of the Bible’s, and Doolittle’s, teaching: God rules. God governed every first cry and last breath in those 50 years. To that end he pens his life purpose as:
keep[ing] an eye single to the glory of God, in the salvation of mankind.
The supposedly true story is told of a visiting pastor who was brought here by his carriage driver on one very stormy, rainy Sunday night. In the candlelit sanctuary only one person sat way in the back. Yet, amid thunder strikes, the pastor went through the whole service, the whole sermon, for that one. At the end the good Rev. went back to congratulate the lone worshiper for his dedication. The reply? I had to come I drove you.
Maybe we’re not that eccentric in keeping up the LORD’S work, but what keeps you doing good? I’ll tell you what helps me. I’ve changed the way I read the Bible. Instead of reading for what God wants me to do. I am now reading it for what God can do through me. That helps me relax by letting go and letting God save the earth, or save a neighbor, or raise a family, or give generously to a cause. It’s God’s rule, not mine.
So then what happens if we are steadfast…in the work of the LORD? Well, Dr. Doolittle could be renamed Dr. Do A lot. In 5 decades the membership grew 50%. A chapel was added in 1898. And NBRC’s longest serving pastor lead in the Temperance cause so that alcohol became a slave not a slave-driver. Hence, Dr. Do A lot’s plaque.
One day you and I will be just a memory. A plaque at most. Will the Almighty deem our life mattered? I don’t think it will matter whether we’ve wiped runny noses or rubbed elbows with presidents. I hear the Spirit telling me that what will matter to matter will be how we wipe noses and rub elbows. If we do it while being steadfast, im-moveable, always excelling in the work of the LORD, then our labor will not be in vain.
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