Who would have guessed it? The little runt out in the field was the chosen one of God. The least among his brethren. Go figure.
David’s older brothers were bigger, stronger, more experienced. Surely they were more king-material than a kid still wet behind the ears. But God didn’t choose them. God said to Samuel, who was parading all of Jesse’s sons before him, “I don’t pay attention to what’s on the outside. That one is older; that one is bigger; that one is more impressive. But that’s not what I look for. I look to their insides- to their hearts.” And at the end, God chose the littlest brother, the one sent out to the country to take care of the livestock to be the next King of Israel, the Chosen One of God.
Because God doesn’t look on the outward person; God looks inside, to our hearts.
130 years ago, First Congregational in Oconomowoc had already been around for 46 years when they decided they needed to give birth to a little church in Dousman. So Rev. David Jenkins from First Congregational started holding worship services in the Music Hall on alternate Sundays. I like that we were started in a Music Hall; it makes us sound a little edgy, you know? Fun-loving!
And out of that Music Hall, 7 women and 2 men set about forming Union-Immanuel Congregational Church. That was our original name: Union-Emmanuel. 7 months later, in Nov 1887, we were dedicating our first building on Grove Street in the heart of Dousman. When we Emmanuelites want to move, we do it with amazing alacrity!
But we were never very big. We’ve never been an important or impressive church. We started out with student preachers and lay people leading worship. 18 years after we started, we were still sort of hobbling along, and so we joined with Ottawa Presbyterian to share a pastor- a relationship we held for 54 years, until 1961. (That’s when we changed our name to Emmanuel United Church of Christ.) Even with that, our ministers didn’t last more than a couple of years. One pastor, Rev. Duerson, lasted nine years, but he was the exception.
But when God calls a people, God gives a promise: a promise to be with us. That’s what Emmanuel means in Hebrew, you know: God is with us. And the reason that God calls us is that God is in the business of creating a Kingdom of justice and compassion. God is in the business of reaching out to those whom others overlook.
When Ralph Schultz came in 1974, there were only 16 people here on a Sunday. Not much to us. If Ken Pike’s family hadn’t had such a good birth rate, we would have closed the doors! But then something began to stir in us. And within 3 years, we were big enough to call Ralph as our full-time minister- the first full-time minister this little country church had ever known. And we started to grow and flourish, as we turned outward into our community, and started asking, “What is God calling us to be? Who is it that we’re supposed to be reaching out to?”
And Ralph and Betty Igl over at St. Bruno’s put their heads together with the folks over at the Masonic Home, and came up with the idea of Dousman Home Meals, serving hot meals to our shut-in neighbors- people who others tend to overlook because they’re not visible.
It took a lot of calling and convincing to light a fire under other churches to join us. Finally, 30 years ago in 1987, Dousman Home Meals came to life, and we started to truly live into our calling as the servants of those whom others overlook.
Jere & Lorna, Francine & Ron, Donna, Charlotte, Sharon, Auk Kris, Shirlene, Sue & Tom, Kathy and Corrine: I don’t want to embarrass you, but would you please stand up? You are the ones who have chosen to serve your shut-in neighbors, and we are so grateful to you. Because of you, part of God’s will in reaching those whom others overlook is being fulfilled. And if anyone wants to be a driver, Donna would love to hear from you!
And God keeps calling us deeper into faithful life, searching out those whom others have overlooked. Like David, we’re small, just a country church. We’re not an important church, an impressive church. But God doesn’t look on the outside; God looks on the inside, to our hearts. And God has been leading us into becoming what we could never even imagine 30 years ago, with ministries to people whom others have rejected or overlooked.
Ten years ago, in 2007, we had our first gay marriage: Jim and Alex Langreder. It was so beautiful. The wedding was in the Sanctuary, and the reception was in Fellowship Hall. Four years after that, in 2011, we became an Open and Affirming congregation. We were the first Christian church in Waukesha County to openly stand up for and embrace LGBT people. And because of our witness, Open and Affirming churches have been sprouting up all over the place- in Watertown, in Waukesha, in Hartland, in Brookfield, in Hartford and Slinger. We may be small, but we are the cutting edge of this ministry. For God has called us to serve those whom others have overlooked- or rejected.
Out of our Open and Affirming stance, we envisioned the Oconomowoc chapter of PFLAG- Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays- which is still going under the leadership of Bill Welch. Bill- thank-you.
And three years ago, in 2014, we were finally able to marry Jim & Alex, and Jeanne & Terry- legally! We all went to the County Courthouse first thing in the morning on June 9. Terry & Jeanne were the first in the county to get their wedding licenses; Jim and Alex were second. And afterwards, we all went outside under a beautiful tree by the Courthouse steps, and they said their vows, and I signed the marriage licenses. Jim & Alex, and Jeanne & Terry… and then another couple who had just gotten their licenses and saw us standing there, and asked if we could marry them as well! Because God has called us to serve those whom others have overlooked.
In 2011, God called us to open our eyes again- this time to reach out to the homeless. We searched and researched, and discovered a program called Family Promise. And in 2012, we voted to give ourselves over to this ministry, and for the next two years we worked like dogs to bring in another 12 churches to make Family Promise a reality. Dec. 14, 2014, we hosted our first family. Marjorie, Charlotte and Sue- thanks to you for spearheading this ministry. And to those who cook and stay overnight, set up and take down: Tom & Sue, Ron & Francine, Mary & Nancy, Marjorie & Mark, Donna, Kristen, Sharon, Shirlene, Chris- am I missing anyone? Thank-you all. And we’re hosting another set of families starting next week- in case you haven’t signed up to help yet! For God has called us to serve those whom others have overlooked.
2012 was a busy year for us. We started a new church- the Good Earth Church of the Divine, whose vision is ecological sustainability in the name of God. And Jim Langreder, Melanie Laur and the choir and the praise band- Chris and Christie, Ann and Bill, Ryan, Stephen, Bill, Jim and Jan: you had another vision- this time of reaching out to those whom others avoid- reaching out to the Prader-Willi community. Physically and cognitively challenged children of God, who just want to have fun! And fun we have given them for the past 4 years, with choir concerts in the spring and winter, roaring with confetti cannons, sing-alongs, and a joyful, enthusiastic celebration of life! You put a lot of work into each of these concerts, and it shows in the joy in the faces of our Prader-Willi friends. For God has called us to serve those whom others have overlooked. And by the way, the spring concert will be May 10: mark your calendars!
These are not just things we do, dear friends. They are not just ‘ministries of the church.’ They are who we are, who God created and called us to be: searching for those whom others don’t or won’t see. In the Gospel of Luke (19:10), Jesus says, I have come to seek and to save the lost. The overlooked. The neglected. The rejected.
David was the least among the brethren- not important, not impressive. He was the one whom his father never even thought to call out of the countryside. But God called him; and when God calls, the faithful answer. Even when the faithful aren’t very big, or impressive, or influential. For as God says to Samuel, I do not look upon the outward appearance, but I look only to a person’s heart. And it is from the person’s heart that I give My call.
Emmanuel, God is with us. That’s our promise as we become that which God has created us to be: a community that reaches out past itself to those whom others do not see, to those whom others will not embrace. That’s who we are.
We’re not big, and we’re not impressive: But O! Do we have heart. And more than that, we have been called by the Almighty God to bring about the Kingdom of justice and compassion.
In the Name of the One who called us, who loves us, and who will never let us go: even Jesus the Christ. Amen.