Sunday, February 19, 2017

Foundations and Futures

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23 (NRSV)

10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.

16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

18 Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written,

“He catches the wise in their craftiness,”
20 and again,

“The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise,  that they are futile.”

21 So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, 23 and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

 Every week Leah and I conspire together on the artwork for the message.  Sometimes we giggle like little girls, sometimes we share that evil geek laugh that means we have come up with something seriously outlandish, and sometimes we have an idea that just seems to come from God.  This week felt more like one of the God weeks - and we didn’t quite get what we were hoping for, but we did pretty well.  I was working toward getting a clear-ish shot of the foundation stone through the rose bush, symbolizing new growth sort of obscuring the beginnings.  When my photography skills weren’t up to the challenge, we asked Jordan to give it a shot.  But I forgot to tell him the concept.  So he went to great lengths to carefully bend the rosebush out of the way, so he could get a clear shot of the stone.  (No musicians were injured in the taking of this photograph.)   

And maybe his concept is better, anyway.  Because here we are, in the now, celebrating our past and looking toward our future.  And right now today the new growth that is the rose bush is sort of covering up the foundation stone, but in a beautiful way.  Not obscuring it, exactly, but enhancing it.   No one looking from the street can see what year we built this building, but everyone can see the beauty that is produced on this land.  And that’s kind of the point of church, don’t you think?

The church in Corinth was having growing pains.  And it was having trouble remembering whose church it was, exactly.  Paul had founded the church, but after he left various other evangelists came and preached for a bit - you know, new pastors, bringing new ideas with them.  As a result, some of them thought they were Paul’s church, and some thought they were Appolos’ church, and some thought they were the church of Cephas.  And Paul says, “All of y’all are wrong.  This is the church of Jesus Christ.  He is the church’s foundation.  I’m just the guy who laid the stones. And they are guys who helped you all build it stronger. But it’s Jesus’ church.  He is the foundation.” 

You know, that still happens sometimes.  Congregations, and even pastors, sometimes forget whose church this is.  Sometimes a cult of personality is built and it seems to be all about the pastor.  You know, like the way people sometimes talk about Joel Osteen’s church, or Rick Warren’s church, or Robert Shuller’s Crystal Cathedral.  As if they are all about the pastor, and the real foundation got lost in translation somehow.  

But if you were here last night, if you were here and heard former pastors Patty Evans and Janet Chapman talk about this church and this congregation, you would know that here, at First Christian Church in Selma, nobody forgets who the church’s one foundation is.  Their stories were about Jesus on the roof, and a congregation caring for its pastor, and about the love that flows out of this place like a river.  If you were here last night, you heard the folks from Visalia Church talk about they love they felt in here, and about the joy with which they made a gift to enable us to move forward.  If you were here last night, you heard us celebrating the building, but even more than that, you heard us celebrating the people whose love for Christ’s church caused this building to be raised, on a foundation of chicken dinners.  And a successful pledge campaign.  You see, I was listening to Alan’s excellent history lesson.  

The church in Corinth was having growing pains.  It wasn’t the same small group of believers that started a house church with Paul as their founding pastor.  It wasn’t even the established church with a Sunday School of over 200 people whose picture normally hangs in the church office.  Or am I getting it confused with the Disciples church in Selma?  Never mind, the church in Corinth did get through their growing pains and changed in ways that no one could have imagined.  They continued to have internal conflicts and theological conversations, some of them a bit heated, and Paul continued to try to help them understand that it really wasn’t just about them.  It was about Jesus.  It was about helping others.  It was about becoming whatever they needed to become to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world.  He said to them, “let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours,  whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.”  The church in Corinth grew and changed and moved and spread the Gospel, and that is all Paul hoped for, that this church he started would spread the Good News across the land.
So here we are, a couple of thousand years later, celebrating our 100 year old building.   And we look at pictures of Sunday School classes of 200 people and wonder why it’s not like that any more.  Sometimes I think we forget - and some of you may not even know this - but once upon a time there weren’t any businesses open on Sunday - in 1916, for example, and 1960 as well.  There weren’t places to go and people to see on Sundays, or children’s sports teams playing, or totally important TV shows, or social networking, or video games, or malls.  Most people didn’t work on Sunday.  There really wasn’t much else to do except go to church.  It was entertainment, of a sort. Today, it’s different.  Today, when we are all expected to multi-task and be involved in everything, and we are bombarded with all kinds of opportunities and ways to spend our time, it can be hard to decide where to put our priorities.  The fact that this many of you show up here on Sunday morning says a lot, not about me or this particular church, but about you and your dedication to God.  

The church is going through growing pains.   It’s not like it was in Paul’s day, or like it was when this building was built.  When they built this building it was cutting edge - the very newest thing!  It was, and is, beautiful, a magnificent testimony to architectural creativity and the gifts of an unknown stained glass artist.   And it would be awesome if we could just stay here and bask in this beauty for another 100 years.   But . . .

“We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.  As part of the one body of Christ we welcome all to the Lord’s Table as God has welcomed us.”

We welcome all to the Lord’s Table….except we don’t.  We can’t.  We are limited by architecture, which, as beautiful and awe inspiring as it is, is not welcoming to all persons.  Our tech guy, Jason, can’t come to this church.  Our older members who have trouble walking, can’t come to this church.  Folks who are in wheelchairs and can’t manage stairs, can’t come to this church.  Oh, they can get in to the sanctuary, but heaven forbid they should need to use the bathroom, because that’s down a couple of sets of stairs.  Engineers have been consulted and long ago the decision was made, with great pain I am sure, to build a new building.  

I take welcoming all persons very seriously.  Sometimes it seems that when we say “All” we have particular sets of persons in mind.  But All means All - everyone!  Including folks with accessibility issues.  My Uncle Frank only had one leg and I saw how hard it was for him to get around.  A dear friend in Florida was paraplegic, and an activist for the Americans with Disabilities Act.  My ex-husband spent the time we were at Chapman caring for a quadriplegic and his service dog, Shadow.  In seminary I was student chaplain in a retirement community, which had been designed with the ADA in mind.  Accessibility is important to me.  Welcoming All persons is important to me.  And I believe it is important to you.

When I was interviewing with the Search Committee they told me about their plans to build a new building.  They were so proud of the concept, and so sad that the economy tanked right at the height of their enthusiasm.  The building was delayed, the ground it was to occupy lay fallow, the building campaign came to a halt.  And, like all search committees have done since the days of that little house church in Corinth, they asked me to grow the church.  But here was a real opportunity to do just that.  A new building, a dream already in place, a place where the entire community can gather, a congregation who is more than willing to take the lead in doing Christ’s work in the world.  I can seriously get behind that.  Or in front of it.  Whichever.  

I know there are still some who aren’t sure we need to go ahead with a new building.  I know there are some who worry how we will come up with the money.    And I want to remind you what our theme for the year is . . . Fear not, for I am with you.   

Fear not.  Have faith.  For God is with us in every circumstance.

If you were here last night, you heard two Disciples from Visalia talk about the future of our church, and how their gift to us of $10,000 for our new building fund is their way of staying alive, in us.  If you were here last night, the Spirit brought you to your feet, applauding and crying out with joy at that sign of love and faith.  If you were here last night, you know that we need not fear the future, that our past makes it clear that we came this far by faith, and that God will take us where ever we need to go in the future.   If you were here last night, you know that this celebration weekend is not just a birthday party, not just a celebration of the past, but a going ahead party.  I believe that those 100 year ago Selma disciples, who had outgrown their beloved wood church over by Berry Park, are standing in heaven cheering us on as we move forward, into the future, into another new building, which hopefully will last through another 100 years of making Disciples.  

The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, our Lord.  But we are the stones and the mortar and workers who will raise that church from its foundation.  We are the hands and feet and voice of Christ, who will continue to carry the Good News to the ends of the earth, and who will make a place where all persons may come and worship God, and be made whole again.  We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness . . .   Let us go forward into our fragmented world, to make it whole.  

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