Hope Presentation for 25th Anniversary
John Scott Cotton
I awoke about 2 a.m. this morning from a dream. In my dream I was driving this plush SUV down this big highway with beautiful scenery all around me. It seems I had just pulled over for a quick stop and I was back on the road doing what ever it was I was supposed to be doing. I looked over at the passenger seat and there was man, who looked a little rough around the edges, sleeping. I looked around the inside of the SUV and noticed that maybe he had been digging through some of my things. I figured he must have gotten in the SUV at that last stop. He started this slow peaceful waking up and before long was just sitting there staring at me. I must say, it wasn't the most comfortable feeling for me; it was just kind of awkward. While I knew he was sharing some of the same emotions as me, he looked to me like he was trying to act like he really belonged there in that moment with me. All I could do was ask him; "how you doing?" He looked at me, still a little confused but much more relaxed than he had been just a moment before and said; "It seems this may have been happening to me a lot lately." That's when I woke up and knew what to say to you folks this morning.
I grew up through elementary school and most of middle school just knowing church had something to offer me. Most of that time I lived over in the front section of Balcones subdivision a child of the Balcones Country Club developer. On several Sunday mornings I would ask my mom to take me to a Baptist church either in Jollyville or Round Rock. On one or more occasions someone in one of those churches asked me to give my heart to Christ, it seemed important, so I did. On most Easter and Palm Sunday's Mom would make sure we made it to Saint Luke's out on the lake. But I never had any "real" involvement with any particular church until my Dad announced "we're putting in a church." I latter learned stories about how his grandmother, while she was visiting us here he was impressing her with his work in this community. Great Grandma had one special response that stuck with him, she said something like, "It's nice Sonny, but it really needs a church". Some time shortly there after Dad received a telephone call from Dr. Henry Quinius telling him that some folks from Austin wanted to form a Presbyterian church out in this area. You might of thought Dad had received this call directly from God Himself.
I feel like I didn't see Dad that much before this call. It seemed like Dad had always been working on building this community. He was on the school board and helped us (the west district) get this elementary school. Much like the names of the charter members of Hope Church hang across the street, he is listed on a plaque at the front of this building. But, 25 years ago he was also working to form this church. In 1994, at his eulogy, several charter members of this church spoke, including Bill Thurman, the owner CEO of a downtown title company and also a charter member and elder here at Hope. Bill Thurman told us that Dad was right there, whether he was selling you a house, a lot on which to custom build a house, or just a new membership into the Balcones Country Club, he was signing people up to be members in Hope church.
Because of all that, this church became a huge windfall in my life. My family now got to spend several hours every week with Dad. We would get ready for church together. We would attend church together. We would go as a family to lunch together. And it was at that lunch every week, which about once a month he would invite our pastor and his family, Dad would talk with us about the most current thing we all had in common. You may know what it was because you may do the same thing in your family, if you don't, I recommend it, and I even recommend you invite one of our pastors. Every Sunday we talked about the sermon. I know we also talked about the family and people of Hope, but being kind of an analyst by nature, it was the sermon that I always wanted to try to talk about. What was that Bible lesson again? How did it relate to the sermon lesson? And, how did those lessons relate to me? It was beautiful. No home work. No pressure to talk on the spot. That lunch was just the closest of family trying to discern meaning from something that had to be important. I knew it was important since we would dress up in our "Sunday clothes" and organize the chairs so lots of people could gather to hear it. And even then it was centered in the middle of a prayer and praise and song ritual followed by a giving of our weekly offering.
So I was here in Hope's beginning, voting on the name "Hope", being baptized on that organizational Sunday. Back then I didn't know much about the Session, and about how much has to go on during the week so I could enjoy the privilege of the worship service and lessons of the sermon. I was here for four and a half years before I went to college; back on holidays and during the summers. But I was mostly here in worship service. During those five years of college and three years of working in north central and northeast Texas, I would find myself feeling the need to go to church. The Presbyterian churches were the most comfortable, if church can ever really be comfortable. Their structure and words were mostly the same and I had this connection back home that allowed me to say, "I'm member of Hope Presbyterian Church in Austin" but what I think I might have meant and what they may have heard was, "you don't really have to call on me, I know where my church is". When I got married and moved back to Austin, Austin really just felt like another place to live. It didn't really seem like home. In fact, nothing had felt like home for years. Until I found myself needing to go to church and wound up back here at Hope. To show you how I felt, I wish I could give you a huge computer screen over head with the one big word "Hope" on it. I would have the "p" fading out and changing to the letter "m" then fading out and changing back into the letter "p" and back and forth between the words "Hope" and "Home". And that's the way it was for the next ten years. Hope was a home that not only was the center for celebrations and teaching but was also a home that needed to be kept up with budgets and scheduling and recording. I actively participated in Session and / or with the Christian Education committee and the youth. I was confident I belonged here.
Since the birth of our first child, Makenzi, and her baptism here at this celebration five years ago, I have not been able to give the same amount of time and attention to this home, Hope, home... And I have had some guilt in this regard, maybe even less confidence that I belonged here since I wasn't working so hard to keep this home. But where I am now in my journey is I back where I always land, I know I need to go to worship and hear those sermons and get those lessons and try to figure out what they mean to me. I realize worship service is where I learned my professions, learned my prayers, learned how to sing praise, and learned most of my most important lessons in life. I realize I even use these lessons in my work. I am a manager, through the interviewing, hiring, and management of employees, I use the ethics I learned from sermons on stories out of the Bible. I work to do good work and I work to treat everyone as if they are neighbors that I love as much as I love myself, or, as much as God loves me.
I grew up hearing lessons about dreams that had meaning. While most of mine don't seem to make any since at all, I know this one did. I know Hope Church, the sermons and the pastors are that plush SUV and its contents; a place to find rest that holds something for me if I look, a place that is sometimes puzzling or awkward because of the mystery of grace, a place to take us all on a wonderful journey together amidst beautiful scenery. I know sometimes I am the passenger; a bit rough around the edges, somewhat confused, looking for something, and always trying to act as if I belong. And it is you and the people of Hope Church, with Jesus Christ in your heart, that I am confident are the driver, and that I am guaranteed to find myself with you in moments of self conscious awareness being asked "how you doing?" while I'm asking myself "how am I doing... with all that God has given me"

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