The podcast is available here.
I feel certain that most of you know this history better than I: on September 16, 1893, 125 years ago today, a strip of land 225 miles long and 97 miles wide, 8,144,683 acres, broken up into 42,000 parcels came up for grabs, and it all began with a land run. First one to plant his flag could claim the land, that is, if someone wasn’t already there before you. Hence, the big argument over boomers (those who waited for the sound of the canon indicating the beginning of the run) and the sooners (who got there just little bit early), although, it didn’t always work out for the sooners: one sooner bribed a soldier to hide him in a hole until it was legal to be there. Paid the soldier $25. At noon on the day of the run, when it was legal to be there, that particular sooner popped out of his hole to make his claim, only to find four other men had already claimed the land for themselves. Seeing as how I’ve no way of knowing which of you alls families were boomers or sooners… I’m going to avoid dwelling on that topic!
On the day of the run, it is estimated that over 100,000 individuals were primed and ready to cross into the territory and make their claim—there was definitely not enough land to go around. Most made the run on horseback and wagon, but others came on foot, the train, and—I was surprised to learn— on bicycle (I figured these had to be the Episcopalians of the bunch, always the progressives!).
I came across the account of Seth Humphrey who, with his brother, made that mad dash on bicycle, not for the land, but for the show of it all.
“At last the eventful morning broke, a day exactly like all the rest, hot and dry, a south wind rising with the sun dead ahead, and a hard proposition for bicyclists… A quarter to twelve. The line stiffened and became more quiet with the tension of waiting. Out in front a hundred yards and twice as far apart were soldiers, resting easily on their rifles, contemplating the line… Five minutes. Three minutes. The soldiers now stood with rifles pointing upward, waiting for the first sound of firing to come along their line from the east. A cannon at its eastern end was to give the first signal; this the rifles were to take up and carryon as fast as sound could travel the length of the Cherokee Strip…. the rifles snapped and the line broke with a huge, crackling roar. That one thundering moment of horseflesh by the mile quivering in its first leap forward was a gift of the gods, and its like will never come again. The next instant we were in a crash of vehicles whizzing past us like a calamity…
That night, after some of the dust had settled, Seth and his brother heard gunshots and men shouting. The following morning, they had a hearty breakfast and it was then that they encountered another fella who had made the run, made a claim, but was apparently unsuccessful in keeping it. Seth wrote, for the unsuccessful fella “the delicate question [of his claim] had been settled by the gay horsemen in the pitch darkness of the night before. By the time they were through with him he felt assured that he must have arrived about a week late.” With “considerable heat,” the fella said to Seth and his brother, “I wouldn’t live here next to such neighbors, anyway.” (Source)
Question: if it was that bad and that rough—on the exact same day that this fella was getting the heck out of Dodge—why would a bishop in the Episcopal Church stand in the back of a wagon and hold a religious service on a tract of land that had previously been considered a worthless desert amongst a group of individuals who may or may not be suitable neighbors? Part of the answer lies with our Gospel reading this morning.
“Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’”
As St. Peter teaches us, God desires that none should perish (cf. 2 Peter 3:9), but in order for them to have life eternal they must be able to confess with Peter what he declared to Jesus, “You are the Messiah.” You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. St. Paul taught in his letter to the Hebrews: “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Whoever declares Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ has eternal life. But then Paul asked a series of question: “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” Bishop Brooke and the clergy from all the other denominations came in as a part of that great land rush to this dusty land with questionable neighbors so that the Gospel could be proclaimed and the Great Commission could be fulfilled: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” And the work of those men and women continues through us, 125 years later. We are a part of their legacy and a testament to the good seed they planted.
So, the question comes to us: in 125 years (that will be the year 2,143), if the Good Lord has not returned, will the church in this place say the same about us? Will they look back and say that we also planted good seed? Did we take what has been given to us and care for it? Were we good stewards of our founders legacy? For me, if I were there in the year 2,143, I would look back on you and say, “Well done good and faithful servants. Well done.” Why would I say that?
Remember that fella that was headed back north after the land run? He said, “I wouldn’t live here next to such neighbors, anyway.” From my perspective, he couldn’t have been more wrong. You are in fact, some of the finest people I have ever been among, and in big ways and small, you show forth the light of Christ. You are all Bishop Brookes proclaiming the Gospel through your words and deeds and you are planting good seed, just as he did.
We are here today because of what took place on this very spot 125 years ago. I pray that, in another 125 years, they will also be gathered on this very spot remembering the good work that you have done and the good work that you will accomplish in the years to come.
Let us pray: We praise You heavenly Father for the great privilege which is ours this day to humbly come before You, and lovingly praise and thank You as we reflect on the history of our parish which was established 125 years ago.
By Your grace, Lord, this parish has been established and been a place of community, fellowship, worship and preaching. Many people have come and gone from us over the years, and we are thankful for what each one has contributed to our church. We are thankful to the support we have received from our Diocese as well as our community that have allowed us to do the work of furthering God’s Kingdom here in Enid and beyond. We continue to pray for Your gracious Spirit to work through us as we support ministries in our local area as well as those beyond our boundaries.
May we be faithful in heeding the Holy Spirit in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus and being Your light in Enid and the world. Amen
3 Replies to “Sermon: 125th Anniversary of St. Matthew’s”
Good message, John. Wish we could have been there. Congratulations to all of you at St Matthews, Enid, OK. May the God of Heaven watch over you as you proceed to year 126.
I have relatives on my mother’s paternal side of the family that were in the land run, staked a claim, and homesteaded in what is now Helena, OK and that is why my family lives in this area of Oklahoma today. They came to this country to escape religious persecution and for the new opportunities that presented themselves here in this country. As you were giving the sermon from that old wagon I was imagining what it was like for my family all of those years ago, the suffering, hardships, and struggle they faced to get to Oklahoma and set up a new life here from scratch with just about nothing. I am so thankful and grateful to them for all they went through to provide those to come (including me) the opportunities we have had and still have today. Thank you for this wonderful sermon and your thoughtfulness to honor our families who risked so much to begin a new life in our community so we could live prosperous and blessed.
Thank you. I’m new to Oklahoma, but like I said in the sermon, it’s a joy to be a part of it. There are some great people around here. It’s good to look back on our history and give thanks for the sacrifices that others may so that we can enjoy such a good life.