Saturday, October 25, 2014

Father Adam's Opening Believe and Prepare Sermon

Proper 24A 2014
Father Adam Trambley
October 19, 2014

Believe and Prepare.

In the Exodus reading this morning, Moses is on the Mountain talking to the Lord.  Things have been rocky lately.  The Israelites got out of Egypt across the Red Sea.  They’ve seen God act in awesome ways.  Then they’ve grumbled about any number of details, and God come through with manna and quails and water.  Then Moses went up the mountain to get the commandments from God, and while he was up there the people broke pretty much all of them in a golden calf orgy.  After a bit of tough love to clean things up below, Moses has gone back up the mountain to talk with God. 
Moses is laying the people’s future back on God.  If Moses had any thoughts about how far he and the people were going to get on their own, Aaron’s bovine bacchanalia blew them out the window. 

Moses says to God, “Look, if we are your people, if we have found favor with you, than you have to show yourself.”  The Almighty answers, “Don’t worry, I’ll go with you.”  Then Moses really presses God.  “OK,” he says, “but if you don’t with us, we aren’t going anywhere.  If you want us to be your people, to have something special to proclaim to the world, then you have to be with us all the time.  You can’t let us go on our own.  You can’t abandon us.  You can’t leave us to our own devises.  Come with us.”  Then scripture says, “The LORD said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing that you have asked.’”

Moses was asking God for what God clearly wanted to do anyway.  We know that God planned to be with his people.  We know because God said it.  But Moses pushes him for it.  Moses lays his passion, his heart, his soul before the Lord and begs him for it.  Moses plays his role in interceding on behalf of the people to pull an even more forceful and committed answer from God.  The image is almost one of God preparing to walk down the street and Moses coming to him, grabbing his hand and pulling him forward at a sprint.  And as Moses pulls, God runs even faster and ends up lifting him on his shoulders and carrying him where he wants to go at a pace beyond anything Moses asked or imagined.  God nudged him a bit in the right direction, and then God responded to Moses passionate prayers with his own passionate power and love.

This passage isn’t the only time when God and Moses have this type of interactions.  We see it at the burning bush when Moses’ requests prompt God to reveal his divine name.  This sequence is also a model for us in our own prayers and work.  As we pour ourselves out in prayer, we aren’t so much trying to change God’s mind or convince him of something he doesn’t want.  Instead, our prayers and our first slow efforts are really the essential ingredients to get us moving so that God can move us along at his speed to the places where we both want to go.  God is going to get us there.  We just need to get ourselves prepared to cooperate.

Believe and Prepare.

Moses is, I think, our example this morning as we prepare to kick-off our Believe and Prepare Capital Campaign.  As many of you know, our kick-off dinner is tonight at 4:00pm, and you are all invited.  Even if you haven’t RSVPed yet, please know you are welcome.  As the invitation noted, tonight isn’t going to be a push for contributions.  Instead, we are going to spend some time going through the building, which some people may not have done before or very recently.  Then we are going to have a good dinner with an opportunity to spend some time together.  After dinner, we have a short movie and some other details about what we want to accomplish.  We should be done by 6:00, although I’m sure the coffee pot will be on for those who want to linger longer over a second or third dessert.   

I want especially to invite people who are newer to the parish, or even just visiting, to join us.  This dinner would be a good opportunity to find out more about our parish and our facilities, our hopes and dreams, and just generally how we roll.  Obviously, if you haven’t been here as long, you may not yet have the kind of commitment and investment, or have had time to develop the relationships, that would lead you to support a capital campaign.  That’s OK.  I’m glad you’re here to worship with us this morning, and feel free to engage any of our ministries and efforts as God leads you.  Over the next month and a half you will probably hear more about the capital campaign, about our annual stewardship efforts, about money, and about how it all relates to the life of faith.  We talk about this not because we are obsessed with money, but because Jesus talked about money, and how we relate to money matters as we grow in our faith.  But know also that we are not looking for anything in particular from you, even when you are on our mailing list and receive our appeals.  We are grateful you are with us, and hope you continue to find a way to develop your relationship with God alongside of us. So feel free to come tonight and have dinner without any pressure.

Now we could have chosen any number of names for this campaign, and we passed on such descriptive options as “Keep the Water Out of Our Walls” or “Give Your 401(k) to Jesus.”  As the campaign committee met and thought about names, we started to talk about why we would want to give.  Nick Baron spoke pretty powerfully about how he believed that God had a future for St. John’s with important mission and ministry and how we were called to prepare for that future.  Out of that inspiration, Believe and Prepare was born. 

At that meeting, Nick nailed the spiritual motivation for what we are trying to do in our Believe and Prepare Campaign.  First we believe that God has a future for us.  This belief is no small thing at a time when the valley has been shrinking, churches are closing, and the world is changing in ways that do not seem helpful to Christian congregations.  Despair would be easy.  We know there are fewer people showing up on Sunday morning than were here five or ten or twenty years ago.  But we also aren’t done yet.  A whole batch of little ones has started showing up.  We have new people joining us from a wide variety of backgrounds.  Hundreds of people are here over the course of the week for ECS and the Saturday lunches and AA meetings and guitar lessons and Cana’s Corner and Bible studies and any number of other activities, many of which weren’t happening a few years ago.  None of these good things that are happening are the basis of our belief, however.  They are just indications that confirm our belief that God has a future for us.  Our belief is in God and what God is going to do, and, that by the grace of God and our own obedience, we may get to be instruments of God’s work. 

The second part of our campaign is Prepare.  If we believe that God has future for us, than we dare not sit on our hands and do nothing like the guy with one talent who buried it in the ground and twiddled his thumbs hoping it all worked out OK.  Our call is to make ourselves and our congregation ready for the work God is going to do with us.  Much of that work is spiritual, and I’ll talk about prayer and our prayer vigil in a moment.  Some of that work is relational as we reach out to new people.  Some of that work is programmatic, as we develop the ministries to help others experience God’s love and learn about his good news.  But some of the work is the financial and structural stewardship of the facilities we have been given to use and maintain for future generations.  If we believe that God has a future for us, then we want to prepare a church sanctuary and classrooms and kitchens and dining rooms and bathrooms and offices that have walls that don’t leak and have adequate heating and air conditioning and good lighting and safe parking spaces and all the other things that help people feel welcome and able to focus on the work they are called to do.  The facilities we have are actually in better shape than probably any church I have ever worked in.  But we have a lot of space and we need to maintain it lest problems arise and the cost of fixing them skyrockets.  We also want to prepare all of our buildings to be well used, and not just some parts of our buildings.  I believe God has enough work to do in the valley that we’ll need all of our facilities, and maybe someday additional spaces, to undertake it. 

The abbreviated version of what we are preparing falls into four categories.  The first is basic exterior maintenance.  We need to repoint the stone, fix the louvers on the tower over the narthex to keep the birds out, repair the brick that is allowing water to seep into the corner of the lounge, replace the Plexiglas over the stained glass windows and fix the windows in the offices.  Our second area is some minor improvements like sealing the parking lot, fixing three ranks of organ pipes, and air conditioning the upstairs dining room.  Third, we want to air condition the church, because in this day and age people don’t go anywhere that isn’t air conditioned in the summer and having air conditioning is an essential part of welcoming and evangelism.  Then, fourth, we want to begin to prepare the basement for new ministries that could be started there in three to five years.  We don’t know what they will be yet, but we believe God has something in mind like maybe a pre-school or elder day care, and we want to prepare for it.   

Anyone who want to participate will have a variety of ways to do so, ranging from immediate gifts to pledges paid over five years.  Some gifts will be larger and some smaller, but all will be important.  $10,000 will fix the organ pipes, and $10 will buy a needed can of paint.  Those who can join us tonight will hear more details then, and information will come in the mail in the coming weeks for those who can’t.

Believe and Prepare

Remember Moses’ conversation with God in Exodus.  How God had a plan, and Moses had to ask enthusiastically so that Moses and God could work together to get where God wanted them to go.  We are in the same place with this capital campaign.  We believe that God is leading us in a certain direction, both to raise the funds we need to prepare the building for the work he wants done and then to do the actual ministry as it comes.  But we aren’t quite ready yet.  We, like Moses, need to passionately beg God to show up and do the work he wants done.  We need to plead with God to open his hand for the financial resources we need to keep the building up.  We need to implore God for all the right open doors, the almost coincidental connections, and the seemingly serendipitous opportunities to make our campaign successful and the work that comes after it fruitful.

Our parish is undertaking this prayer work in at least two ways.  First, we are in the midst of a twenty-four hour prayer vigil.  People have been praying in the chapel since 4:00 pm yesterday, are praying right now, and will continue until our dinner starts at 4:00 pm today.  If you have time this afternoon, please join us or spend some time praying wherever you are.  Second, we are praying our campaign prayer in place of our offertory sentence during our worship service, and we are encouraging everyone in the parish to pray it daily.  Feel free to rip the prayer out of your bulletin and post on your refrigerator, keep it by your nightstand, use it as a bookmark in your Bible or the John Grishom novel you are reading, or in whatever other way is helpful.  But please join us in passionately praying that God would be with us and use us to do the work he wants to accomplish.

There is an old story about a church that has a capital need.  The pastor gets into the pulpit and says, “I have some good news and some bad news.  The good is that God has given us all the money we need.  The bad news is that it is still in your wallets.”  Now I don’t know if this story would be true in our case or not.  I have no idea what is in anyone’s wallets or bank accounts.  But I know that God owns all the money in the universe.  And I know that this parish has been able to do ministry in the past because of contributions that nobody expected.  And I know that if we are pouring our hearts out in prayer to accomplish God’s work in God’s way, we can expect God to give us the resources we need to accomplish what we have to do.  As we beg God to show up for his work with us and as we begin to run down his path, he is going to pick us up and carry us where we need to go, quite possibly in ways we never expected.  We’ll be blessed with what we need.  If we do our part, we know that

God is more than ready for his part.

Believe and Prepare. 

In closing, I’d ask you again for the following.  Most importantly, please pray for this campaign, for our parish and our ministry.  Second, come to dinner tonight with us if you can, and if you can’t, look for other information about the campaign as it comes out.   Then finally, believe in the future that God has in store for our parish, and in whatever ways that God leads you, help us prepare for it.

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