“A Spiritual House” May 18, 2014
Genesis 28:10-17 & I Peter 2:4-5 Stephens City UMC
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
I. On this day when we celebrate the 100th anniversary of this sanctuary I find myself agreeing with the patriarch Jacob who after encountering God during a night when Jacob used a rock for a pillow said, “Surely the Lord is in this place” and he named the place Bethel which means ‘House of God.”
A. For 100 years pastors and laity have experienced God in this sanctuary and like Jacob whose life was transformed in a sacred moment, so for 100 years people’s lives have been transformed in this sacred space.
1. Think about the number of people who were baptized into life in Christ in this sanctuary as well as youth confirmed in the faith and commissioned as Christ’s disciples.
2. Think about the number of people who stood at this railing and for the first time publically professed faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.
3. Think about the number of people who found a home here & came forward for their membership to be transferred to this church.
4. Think about the number of people who have prayed in this sanctuary and found an answer to a matter for which they needed guidance or had a burden lifted so that they experienced a peace that passes understanding.
5. Think about the number of people who heard the Word of God proclaimed here so that they repented of their sin, discovered the assurance of forgiveness and received the power to rise up to a new life in Christ.
6. Think about the number of people commissioned at this altar railing to journey from here in response to God’s call to be in mission.
7. Think about the number of people who received spiritual nourishment through the worship liturgy or the pastoral prayer or the music offered by the choir and always through receiving the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
8. Think of the number of people who before God and their assembled family and friends took the vows of marriage and walked out these doors feeling blessed as they left to begin their married life together.
9. Think of the number of people who were experiencing deep grief due to the death of a loved one, but felt the presence of God in the darkest of times as the light of eternity burst into this holy space and found that they could rest themselves in the promises of the resurrection.
10. Think of what this sanctuary has meant for you and your faith and I suspicion that like me you are saying as did Jacob, “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place and this is the house of God, the very gateway of heaven.”
B. That is exactly what our spiritual ancestors meant for us and others to experience when they laid that cornerstone 100 years ago.
1. It was an act of faith on their part that their church would continue to grow and that some day they would pay off the debt as the total cost of the land and the building was $14,500.00.
2. I don’t know what that is like in today’s money but they paid off that debt so we owe them a debt for their foresight and vision and their willingness to take a bit of a risk.
3. Someday we’ll get to meet those saints in heaven and we’ll be able to personally thank them for what they did for us and for others.
4. If we’re honest about where we now stand we’ll admit that we stand on the shoulders of giants.
5. Let us do as much for those who will come as the next generation of Christian believers.
II. On a personal note I am the 24th pastor appointed to have served here since this sanctuary was opened.
A. Bob Gouchenour will become the 25th so the average stay for a pastor has been four years.
1. I’ve been here six years and it has been six of the most wonderful years of my life both as a clergyman and as a Christian.
2. For me this sanctuary but more significantly you as a congregation have been a blessing.
3. The Apostle Peter urged the Christians of his day to be living stones and as far as I’m concerned you have been living stones and have benefited my faith in ways that would take weeks, even months to list.
B. Every morning in intersession and thanksgiving I have prayed for you and I think it would be accurate to say that it was prayer that led me to make myself available to taking a new appointment.
1. During the retreat in which for the past 15 years I have participate the week immediately before the beginning of Lent, I and the other 15 clergy this year focused on the topic “The Will of God.”
2. For five days I read scripture and devotional materials and prayed about what it would mean for me to fulfill the will of God and the ministry to which I had been called and I thought it meant to keep on doing what I’ve been doing here.
C. Then on Monday, March 10, this vital matter came up in a new way.
1. One of you had given us a very nice get away at a Bed and Breakfast that also had a wonderful restaurant.
2. It was “Steak Lovers Night” and we were 10 minutes from our reservation when I got a text from our District Superintendent, Larry Thompson, to contact him ASAP.
3. At the level of salary paid by this church it is not good to get a text from the DS in March because it means that your name has come up at the Cabinet meeting as they wrestle with appointments.
4. When Larry realized our circumstances he apologized but spent the next ten minutes explaining a few of the details regarding a church where there was very serious conflict and would I consider making myself available to be appointed there.
5. Jan and I went to dinner but the mood had changed and after finishing our steaks which were excellent but not as enjoyable, we returned to our room and went to opposite ends.
6. Each of us prayed for 20 minutes, speaking with and listening to only God.
7. We looked at one another, Jan asked me what I heard and I said, “I heard the call to Abram, where God says there’s this place I want you to travel to so take your wife and a few possessions and leave the rest of the family behind” which in Abram’s case meant the family members in Ur and for me meant you.
8. And while my dislike for moving increases the older I get, as much as I dislike it, Jan hates it and she said, “I heard God say we should go.”
9. So I called Larry Thompson back and said, “Boo Hoo Hoo,” “I’ll make myself available,” “Boo Hoo Hoo.”
10. And Larry was so concerned about me that he asked, “You going to be OK,” and I thought he was going to try and come through the telephone to help me.
D. So I need to share that story with you.
1. This isn’t about moving me up or me seeking greener pastures.
2. Financially this will be a wash and it’s not a bigger congregation.
3. They are engaged in effective ministry just like you are engaged in effective ministry so it is not about ministry other than they right now need someone to help bring healing which was the situation here six years ago although their situation as it has been described to me is much worse than what I walked into here when I arrived.
4. And this is where the sanctuary part comes in.
5. I think a lot of our Superintendent, Larry Thompson, but I didn’t say yes to please Larry and he very clearly stated that I could say no.
6. I think a lot of our Bishop, Young Jin Cho, but I didn’t say yes to please the Bishop.
7. I said yes to please God.
8. Whenever I pray about this I get a warm feeling that communicates God’s pleasure plus I get some insight into when Jesus was baptized and Jesus heard the voice from heaven affirm him and tell him that God the Father was well pleased with his offering himself for the Father’s will.
9. I also experience that on Sunday when I have stood before the cross holding up the offering plates which are really a symbol that you and I are offering ourselves up to God.
10. And one other story I experience is the Garden of Gethsemane where it is just killing Jesus to leave the disciples behind and that is part of why the cup is bitter.
11. Yet he drinks from it and it is truly a bitter cup for me to drink from to leave you behind in a few weeks.
E. This is going to be really difficult because there’s a thing called clergy ethics and for Bob Gochenour to become your pastor then I have to allow him to do the weddings, the funerals, and all the stuff that comes with being the pastor and if I’m going to become the pastor where I’m going then they will want to know that I’m not trying to pastor people in two congregations.
1. Friendships continue but the pastoral relationship gets exchanged.
2. Of course, one good thing here is that Waverly Reames will provide continuity. Thank God for Waverly.
3. Bob Gochenour is excited about coming here.
4. I do not know him well but we’ve exchanged emails and he comes across as a very solid guy and the ministry he’s been engaged in is similar to here as he’s been preaching three services and has been very involved in mission.
5. So I hope you will welcome him as you welcomed me.
6. Help him to find sanctuary here.
7. Help him to learn that “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place, that this is the house of God, the very gateway to heaven.”
8. It’s been happening here for 100 years and it needs to continue.
III. If it continues a number of things will occur:
A. First, people will experience the traditional meaning of sanctuary which is that it will be a safe place.
1. For centuries church leaders would grant sanctuary to those being pursued by the authorities and provided shelter and protection from injustice.
2. I very much believe that in the years to come people will enter this sanctuary and find safety from the evil that is tempting and even attacking them, and secure in that experience they will have life.
B. Second, there will be some who like the experience I have described concerning myself, will actually find this a “dangerous” place because when they make themselves open to seeking and fulfilling the will of God will discover that what is asked of them entails more than a little pain whose only salve is believing that they are doing what God is asking of them.
C. And third, it is good to have a physical sanctuary made up of walls and pews and a pulpit and a communion table, BUT if we really are being sanctified by the grace of Christ then each of us must become a sanctuary.
1. A place where God dwells.
2. A holy space inside of us where the presence of God is experienced and acknowledged.
3. A radiant glow that testifies to others that you, through no power of your own, are in essence a Beth-el, a house of God which has permitted you to see the very gateway of heaven.
D. Do that and others will not only come to this sanctuary but come to become sanctuaries themselves and I believe that you will then hear God say to you that as God’s sanctuary He is well pleased with you.