What happens when the walls come down?
It is a question that we have been asking together over these last weeks and months, haven’t we? Once we have to tear out walls and air conditioning and tables and chairs, what happens? What happens to Sunday school? What happens to Family Promise? What happens to (fill in the blank with my favorite program here)?
But this month, I think it is time to ask the question in another way. We are finally back into our space, for the most part. We celebrate our missions and ministries next week with the Ministry Fair. But the question remains: What happens when the walls are gone?
This month, it is a question that we want to ask together in worship. This is the time of the year when we traditionally talk about stewardship, and our money, and our pledge for next year’s ministries. But I want to take a little different angle this year. Instead of just talking about how to give…and how much to give…I want to talk about why to give. And really, more to the point, why we are here in the first place? What is our purpose? What are we here for? Why do we have a building anyway? What is this place and this people and this set of ministries all about?
So this month, we’d like to offer four answers to the question: “What happens when the walls are gone?”
We remember. We transform. We launch. We give.
First, on this All Saints Sunday, I want to talk about ways that we remember. The passage we read a few moments ago from Ephesians is an example of a love letter to a congregation. “Paul of Ephesians” writes glowing praise and clear challenges to the people of the congregation in Ephesus.
- He tells them of their strong and glowing reputation – highlights their strengths, encourages, and thanks them.
- And he gives them a practical perspective about life moving forward – how they can move forward with wisdom.
- He reminds them of their true strength, what he calls their “inheritance.” While we know that word as stuff or money that we get from a generation before us, he is speaking about the power and strength of God.
So, today I invite you to imagine with me. Imagine that we received a letter from the writer of Ephesians, but imagine that he was writing about our church. What would he say? How would he encourage and challenge us? It just so happens that I have just such a document with me today…or at least what I imagine such a document might sound like…
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints in Lawrence, the faithful members of the Baptist tribe of Christ-followers: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I do not cease to give you thanks, and to thank God when I remember you, for I have heard by your reputation many incredible things that are happening among the believers among you.
I know of your strong reputation for mission. You have become known across the city and across the region as a church who hosts both the believers and those in need with incredible love and hospitality.
Your reputation of hospitality precedes you:
- You are known as a church that cares about global missions. I thank you and applaud you for your hosting of Louisene as she trains to spread the Gospel in Haiti. The saints in Cap Haitian send their thanks and greetings – Nzunga and Kihomi and Mano and Mama JoJo greet you in the name of Christ.
- Likewise, you are known as a church that cares about local missions. When you open your doors twice a week and give food to those in need, you are following the call of our Lord and you are blessing those who receive.
- Meanwhile, your reputation of hospitality precedes you as you are known as one of the strongest hosts of Family Promise in the Lawrence network. Family Promise guests routinely say that your church is one of their favorites. Of course, they like the space and the showers, but they also say that they love the people. They are moved by the ways that you seem to care about their lives, not simply give them a room in which to sleep. When your church hosts, guests know that they will be able to build relationships, not just get handouts. The love of Christ is shown by every smile and familiar face they see.
- Also, the ways that you partner with other community organizations is also a blessing. Your nearly-century long partnership with the Boy Scout troop and your more recent partnering with the Head Start program make it clear that you do not believe that the building given to you by God is meant only for internal programs that affect your members. It is a mark of faith and trust in God – as well as good stewardship – that you have chosen to partner with your community in this way, and it shows. The Gospel is proclaimed and hearts and lives have been changed because you have chosen to open your doors.
- Finally, your hospitality and friendliness is not only a matter of institutional partnership, but also personal love and grace. I have received many reports of new believers who have come into your midst and found your arms open and your love deep. From those that greet at the front doors at worship, to those First Friends who help newcomers find their place, to Sunday school classes always making room for a new face, to Senior Friends who remind even those homebound that they still are an important part of your fellowship, you have the fullness of the love and grace of Christ in your hearts, and that is evident.
Yours is a powerful reputation and you will be blessed by Christ because of your faithfulness.
Meanwhile, I write to you today to encourage you in the midst of what has been a difficult blow to your ability to show your hospitality and welcome. I have heard of the work required on your ministry center, and know that it has been a trying time for you. I won’t write you “take heart” or “consider it joy” or anything like that today, because no one wants to hear that message when they are staring frustrating circumstances in the face. When the floors are still concrete and the price tag is growing and more work is yet to be done, you don’t want to hear a message about how “everything is going to be okay.”
But it is my quiet prayer that you will take heart. That you will gain a sense of perspective that yours is not the only church that is facing challenges with your building. While it may feel terrifying to you, know that God has been faithful to many a congregation facing building challenges. I pray that you might take heart and find perspective, for many of our churches of our Lord now face and have faced much larger issues. Yet, they have yet seen the hand of God working to sustain them. I encourage you to look beyond your own walls and remember those with whom you partner in your community and around the world.
In fact, I know that this is not the first time that your church has dealt with such tribulation. Remember that yours is church that has dealt with significant building issues in the past and your reputation for handling them carefully and thoughtfully precedes you as well. I encourage you to remember that when these challenges faced your saints in the past, they turned more fully to prayer and worship and fellowship – the ties that bind and the strength that served as the foundation of your congregation. Remember those saints that made difficult, yet wise decisions. And listen to those saints in your midst who remind you now to turn to the Lord. Your diverse and varied congregation will be a reserve of strength, as long as you continue to strive for unity in Christ. I challenge you to always seek that unity, as you have over the last century and a half.
So, I invite you to remember the inheritance that you have been given by these faithful and wise saints. They have given you an inheritance of faith in God who is the source of all strength. That while we have plans and we have strategies, God has power and strength and the Spirit of God in our midst is already working to continue the Gospel transformation in your church and your community, and in the world through you. May you “know what is the hope to which God has called you, what are the riches of God’s glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.”
Our strength and our ability is nothing compared to the fullness of the power of God. God has always been the one who sustains, who encourages, who creates, and who forgives. Remember that our calling from our Lord is simply to point the world to that strength and that power. Our calling is praise!
I pray that God will give you a spirit of wisdom and clear revelation:
- That God will reveal to you the hope to which God has called you and to live out of that hope.
- That God will reveal to you the riches of God’s inheritance and grace.
- That God will reveal to you the power that the Spirit is willing to bestow upon you, when you humble yourselves and ask God to use you to work in the world.
I pray that you will open the eyes of your heart, to remember and see what God has done through you in the past, to see what good and wondrous and creative thing God is doing now, and to see with hope what Gospel ministry God will do in your future because of your faithfulness. For this is your true inheritance, your legacy, your reputation – from those who came before, and from the very grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. The inheritance of faith. Not work. Not strategy. Not plans. Your true inheritance is the faith that you have been given. The heartbeat that is deep within you that yearns to share the Gospel and its transforming power. And I pray that you will open the eyes of your heart to that inheritance of faith, and respond with grace and thanksgiving.
Peace be to the whole community, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who have an undying love for our Lord. Greet all the saints in the name of Christ.