Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Seeking, Saving, Sending Place

Dedication of Church Building
Bethany Lutheran Church, Nevis, MN
Third Sunday after Pentecost/June 1, 2008
Matthew 7:21-29

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

When Pastor A.J. and I discussed the scripture texts that would be read today, we both thought it only natural to use the appointed lectionary lessons, including this familiar gospel from Matthew 7.

A “house built on a rock,” after all, SOUNDS like something worth pondering as we dedicate a brand, new church building.

But then, as this day grew closer, and as I dug deeper into this text, I wondered if it might also sound like a building committee’s nightmare…..especially that part about the rains falling, the floods coming, the winds blowing and beating against that house…”and it fell—and great was its fall!”

Yeah. That’s just what your building committee wants to think about today! Our brand new church building fell—and great was its fall! Not exactly a happy thought on this banner dedication day.

If you’re on the building committee or the finance committee, or if you’re one of the many, many volunteers who worked on this building, do you want to imagine it in terms of a house built on sand falling flat as a pancake? It’s a little late in the game to be sitting here, trying to listen to this sermon, all the while wondering: “Let’s see now. Did we miss something? Did the geologist bore down far enough, did we pour those footings deep enough, did we build the foundation sturdy enough? Oh—and are all our insurance coverages updated for—you know—things like the rain falling, the floods coming and the winds blowing?”

Uffda! We don’t need this. Today is dedication day, after all—celebration day. Please—let’s not think about multi-peril building collapses.

And so—we won’t. OK?

These verse from Matthew chapter 7, although they use the language of building and construction, are not about bricks and mortar and natural disasters, after all.

This text isn’t really about your church building. It is, rather about your church, Christ’s church, the people who are the church, you and me.

Matthew 7:21-20 is about us, about being put together by God, into a strong and sturdy faith community that will be genuine, that will have integrity and inner strength, so as to withstand any onslaught that might arise against us. This text is about hearing Jesus’ words and acting on them (v. 24)--having faith and life wed together so intimately that they are as one—our believing and our living, totally congruent with one another, together pointing us toward God’s future in Jesus Christ.

What I think Jesus is after here is being genuine, staying true, being strengthened in the faith and life that is built on Christ who is our Rock, our sturdy foundation. This text points us not to this building per se, but to what will by God’s grace happen here, for the sake of God’s mission in the world.

And because I’m a Lutheran preacher who thinks in threes, let me suggest to you three core activities that God intends to do here in your midst, under the shelter of this new roof, all of it for the sake of God’s mission in the world.

God in Jesus Christ intends for this new church building to be a seeking place, a saving place and a sending place. God in Jesus Christ intends for you, his beloved church, to be a seeking, saving, sending people.

And here’s what that might look like.

1. First, God has built here a seeking place. God has called you to be a seeking people.

Seeking is what God loves to do. Before you and I ever decide to go looking for God—God in Jesus Christ has already hunted us down and found us. If we think for one milli-second that we have found God, come to God, given ourselves to God—God has already beaten us to the punch.

Which is to say that God is always, always, always taking the first step toward us. Our seeking God calls us to be a seeking people.

We Lutherans haven’t always seen ourselves that way. We’ve usually thought of church as a “you come to us” enterprise. We’re here, we’re open for business, our doors are unlocked—and visitors are surely welcome to look for us, seek us out, come to us, join us—and who knows?--when they do, we might even be nice to them!

I doubt that approach has ever worked all that well. And I know it isn’t working in today’s world. Our seeking God is calling his Lutheran disciples to grow as a seeking people.

So dear friends, how are you going to turn this gorgeous new building “inside out.” It’s not just enough to make sure the doors are unlocked so others can get in. No. God calls us to match our faith with our actions by continuing God’s seeking work among us.

Just the other day a pastor from another “lake country” congregation south of here told me how he and some lay leaders put together a 1200-piece bulk mailing to all their neighbors, many of whom live on lakeshore property. Lo and behold, six new families have started coming to that congregation which is clearly growing into its identity as a seeking church.

2. God has built here a seeking place which is also a saving place. God calls you and me to be a saving people
That’s because saving is what God does best. It’s God’s specialty. We mess up, we get out of line, we sin—and God is always finagling ways to save us, rescue us, piece our sorry lives back together. God does that chiefly through the work of Jesus Christ—coming to us, living among us, dying for us, rising again for us, and coming back some day to finish his new creation.

And God calls you to continue this good work. Bethany Lutheran Church is a saving people. You’re in the salvation business. What does that look like, though?

Let me suggest this image: when God saves us, God de-fragments our lives. Nowadays we are always becoming “fragmented,” aren’t we? Sin makes us go to pieces. Families seem more ragged, more torn up than ever before. Life itself feels like frantic fragmentation, 24 hours a day.

What if, what if Bethany Lutheran Church got the reputation for being a community where fragmented lives get pieced back together, “saved” and made whole again? What if Bethany specialized in giving families excuses to come together, pray together, play together, work together? What if Bethany was where folks instinctively turned when they wanted God to “de-fragment” their tattered lives?

3. God has built here a seeking place, a saving place and also a sending place. This new church building is a launching pad of sorts. Another way that Jesus calls you to hear his words and act on them is to grow into your identity as a sending people.

Once again, we Lutheran followers of Jesus haven’t always seen ourselves as a sent and sending people. But I believe it’s been in our DNA all along. When God seeks us out, washes us, feeds us, saves us through his Word….God always also propels us, back into the world. God is forever transforming disciples (followers) into apostles (sent ones).

God seeks and saves us, not just so that we’ll go “Whew! That was a close one”….but so that we’ll say “Wow! Come and see what God has done.” God saves us in order to send us.

God calls you, here at Bethany Lutheran Church, to be a sending station, a missionary outpost in this corner of Hubbard County. God calls you and me to learn and practice here how to tell about God’s love out there. We drink in Jesus’ gracious words and we spend ourselves learning how to act out and speak Jesus’ gracious words—“out there.”

My friends, did you really know what you were getting into when you embarked on this fabulous building project? Did you realize that what God was doing in your midst was helping you, giving you the muscles and the energy and the wherewithal to erect, and now to dedicate this seeking, saving, sending place?

What a turning point for you here at Bethany! Here, you may have thought the heavy lifting was over….and lo and behold, God is just getting a good start with you.

On behalf of all your brothers and sisters in Christ across our synod, I am delighted to congratulate you—and to bless your moving into this wondrous new space—a seeking place, a saving place, and a sending place—all for the sake of God’s work in our world.

In the name of Jesus.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for this message, Larry. This sermon is so appropriate for every congregation. Church buildings can be such an asset to ministry provided that the building is a means for God's grace and not an end in itself. Your message proclaims the essences of what it is to be the church with a building in a wonderfully memorable way. I will be passing along this message to a couple of congregation's under-development that are anticipating building programs. Blesings to you, my friend. Keith