The Faith of Our Elders
By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: 2 Timothy 1:1-9
This morning we continue our Stewardship series entitled Building, Growing, Connecting: Living God’s Vision for Trinity. Over the past two Sundays and concluding this morning, we’re considering how Trinity’s building and history as a community of faith play a critical role in our living out our vision of “growing in love and service through relationships with God and community.” We are the oldest Christian congregation in Tippecanoe County; we’ve been blessed with a rich heritage of faith and today – in 2017 – we are the stewards of that rich legacy of faith. A steward is one who has been entrusted with managing another’s resources. The Church belongs, ultimately, to Jesus. Jesus calls his followers in all times and places to use the resources he has entrusted to us to accomplish his mission of making disciples. This building and our long heritage of faith are valuable resources we manage or steward on Jesus’ behalf in order to do his work; in order to fulfill Trinity’s mission statement (to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world) and to fulfill Trinity’s vision statement (growing in love and service through relationships with God and community).
At a recent workshop I attended, the facilitator spoke about the distinctions between a mentor, a coach, and a spiritual director or guide. Mentoring, in particular, has been a buzzword in recent years. Likewise, we’ve returned in recent years to seeing the value in apprenticeships… a very old concept back in vogue. And discipleship, as I’ve already mentioned, is at the core of what it means to be followers of Jesus who, during his earthly ministry, was most frequently referred to as rabbi, teacher. Now, all of those terms – apprentice, disciple, mentor, rabbi, coach, spiritual director – all focus around learning that is directly tied to relationship. So living out the heritage of our faith is not something we achieve by simply studying history. As important as scripture is, we cannot mature as followers of Jesus strictly by reading about Jesus. We learn through relationship as our faith and our heritage are passed down from generation to generation. We develop Christian competencies – so to speak – within the context of relationship.
I wonder: who handed faith down to you? If you grew up in the church, perhaps you can recall a special Sunday School teacher whose creativity made the bible come to life. Or perhaps it was a youth pastor or volunteer who, during those tough adolescent years, embodied for you how to follow Jesus when life was hard or confusing. Perhaps it was your parents who would say a prayer as they tucked you into bed at night. Who handed faith down to you? When I was seven years old, my dad – who was a pastor – moved to a little church on the outskirts of Johnstown, PA. My mom loved to sing but, back in those days, there was no such thing as Children’s Worship so my mom could only sing in the choir if someone else looked after me on Sunday morning. Not long after our arrival at that church, a couple named Dot and Bill Miller invited us to their home for dinner. Sometimes going to people’s homes for dinner was dreadfully boring… just sitting around the table, trying not to spill anything, while the adults talked and talked and talked. But when we got to Dot and Bill’s, Dot had purchased a sticker book for me. Now, you should know, my family didn’t have much money and I didn’t get sticker books and I loved stickers. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. At the end of the evening, Dot let me take my sticker book home with me. And that was just the beginning. Dot became my Sunday morning “mom.” Every Sunday she kept me appropriately occupied during morning worship. She always asked about how my week went and listened carefully to everything I said. Sometimes other adults at church laughed or chuckled at silly things I said, but Dot never laughed… except when I told her a joke… and, looking back, I think I messed up the punch lines at least half the time. But Dot somehow knew exactly when to and when not to laugh at something I said. Her purse was like a miniature playroom – stuffed full of coloring books, crayons, stickers, candy. She was amazing! Before I ever got old enough to go on a mission trip or work on a service project, Dot Miller taught me what it meant for Christians to take care of one another. Dot Miller taught me the value of listening to others with respect and compassion – even if what they say is a little silly as my words to Dot no doubt often were. When I am fully attentive to the words and the presence of others, I am living out the heritage of faith Dot handed down to me. Who handed faith down to you?
This morning’s scripture from 2 Timothy is a short passage that packs a big heritage punch, so to speak. Within these few short verses, the apostle makes mention of his own ancestors in the faith; he speaks of Timothy (not a blood relative) as his beloved child; and he reminds Timothy of how faith has been passed down through Timothy’s family of origin. In a culture dominated by men, it is the women in Timothy’s family who are named and praised. The faith that the apostle sees in Timothy is a reflection of what he has seen in Timothy’s mother and in his grandmother. The name “Timothy” in Greek means “one who honors God.” His name clearly expresses the desires of his family that Timothy might grow to live in a way that would bring honor to God. For better or worse, certainly no context or arena exercises a stronger influence over a child than the home in which they’re raised. What we learn, as children in our homes, we will carry with us for the rest of our lives. Children learn to live as people of faith by observing how that faith is lived out in their homes within their families. But that’s not all there is to it because, within the Church, family goes beyond blood relatives or even those who live under the same roof. It’s interesting to note that nothing is said of Timothy’s father in this passage. The apostle speaks of his mother, named Eunice; and of his grandmother, named Lois. Yet there is no mention of dad. But that does not mean Timothy is fatherless for he is addressed by the apostle as his beloved child, his beloved son.
Numerous passages in the New Testament give witness to the close bond between Timothy and the apostle Paul. They were truly like father and son. Paul, from all we can discern historically, never married or had a biological family; yet he did not die without progeny. He had a son, a beloved child in the faith, one whom he taught and mentored, traveled with, loved and encouraged: Timothy. Timothy worked side by side with Paul in carrying out his ministry. He is referred to as Paul’s official representative and as his co-worker. In a letter to the Christians in Thessalonica, Paul writes, “we sent Timothy, our brother and co-worker for God in proclaiming the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you for the sake of your faith…”[i] So closely intertwined were the ministries of Paul and Timothy, that Paul includes him as a “co-author,” so to speak, as he opens his letter to the church in Corinth, saying: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is in Corinth…”[ii] To the Christians in Philippi, Paul writes, “I have no one like [Timothy] who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. All [the rest] are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But Timothy's worth you know, how like a son with a father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.”[iii] It was Paul who had “ordained” Timothy to the ministry. Paul “laid hands” on Timothy; a gesture that symbolized the pouring out of God’s Spirit. He reminds Timothy to be diligent in using the spiritual gifts God has given him and not to be shy, timid or fearful. Paul encourages Timothy, taking him under his wings as both a son and an apprentice in the ministry. Paul passes on to Timothy all that Paul has learned and experienced. He apprentices him.
As a pastor, people sometimes feel compelled to share with me their assessment that one can be a Christian without being part of a church. Now, I don’t doubt that people outside the Church believe in Jesus; many no doubt pray and try to live good, moral lives. But if we truly want to grow and mature as Christians – if we want to develop the spiritual gifts God has given us – we’re going to need a little more help, a little more support beyond our own rugged determination. To mature, you will need a community; you will need a place to grow… a place that is a “depository” for a rich heritage of faith that you can draw out and draw upon for your own spiritual development and maturity. Christians need community. We need one another – from one generation to the next – in order to grow and mature.
Who handed faith down to you? Perhaps you can take some time this week to call them or write them a note and thank them for raising you up as a child of God; for apprenticing you; for helping you get “fired up” about using your gifts and talents to support the ministries of the church. Who has been your “Paul?” Who has been your “Dot Miller?” Who handed faith down to you? Who has helped to grow your faith and your gifts?
Or perhaps, an even more important question is this one: to whom will you hand down the faith? Whose faith and gifts will you water with your words and your wisdom that they might grow and bear fruit? Who will be your “Timothy?”
[i] 1 Thessalonians 3:2
[ii] 2 Corinthians 1:1
[iii] Philippians 2:20-22
Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 11:17-22
I want to start off my sermon this week with a little “audience participation.” I’m going to say a word and I want you to shout out its opposite. OK? Are you ready?
We are living in a time of great pluralism and diversity. But, just in the off chance you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, America’s increased diversity has not yielded an increase in tolerance. In fact, political psychologist Karen Stenner reports that, among those who desire oneness or sameness, such diversity moves them not toward their greatest level of tolerance, but rather, to their most intolerant extremes.[i] And sadly, the Christian Church has not presented a counter-cultural perspective. It was April 17, 1960, when Martin Luther King, Jr., on Meet the Press said: “I think it is one of the tragedies of our nation – one of the shameful tragedies – that 11 o’clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours – if not the most segregated hour – in Christian America.” And more than 57 years later, little has changed.
What is it about our human condition that causes us so often to gravitate toward those most like us and to so often fear those who are different?
Often sermons must bridge a great cultural divide. Often when I preach I point out differences or distinctions between 1st century Mediterranean culture and our post-modern American culture. But today’s scripture from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is remarkably “on target” for post-modern America.
Corinth was a Roman city. In 44 BCE, Julius Caesar re-founded the city as a colony for veterans, slaves, freed persons and entrepreneurs. Location is everything, as any good real estate agent will tell you. And Corinth was an ideal location. So it grew quickly. By the middle of the first century CE, it was a hub for business, trade, manufacturing and tourism. It was a magnet for those who hoped to rise quickly in their financial or social status. It was the cradle of upward mobility; yet, not everyone made it. There were also many who were poor and struggled to eke out an existence. Corinth was a remarkably cosmopolitan city; yet it revealed tremendous social, cultural and economic segregation. Its way of life encouraged competition and comparison.
And there, in the midst of such social, cultural and economic competition, Paul had come to proclaim the gospel of a Jewish messiah who became savior and lord through something as humiliating as crucifixion… capital punishment reserved for the most despicable criminals. There, in Corinth, in the midst of such social, cultural and economic segregation, Paul had come to proclaim a gospel of equality and unity. And let me tell you, it was not an easy sell.
In this morning’s scripture verses, Paul’s attention has turned to the shameful way in which the church in Corinth is celebrating Holy Communion. In the first century, the Lord’s Supper was set within the context of an entire meal. And dining, in the ancient Mediterranean world, was an extremely segregated and biased practice. Generally, those who were wealthy enough to afford meat and high quality wine only served such delicacies to those who could return the favor and were counted as social equals. That’s why Jesus in his own dining protocol and in his parables is so offensive. He eats with sinners and tax collectors and encourages dragging diners in off the street. Bible scholar Robert Karris writes that “Jesus got himself crucified by the way he ate.”[ii] Lucian, an ancient rhetorician known for his satire pokes fun at this practice of culinary belittling, asking of one dinner host: “Since I am asked to dinner… why is not the same dinner served to me as to you? You eat oysters fattened in the Lucrine Lake while I suck a mussel through a hole in the shell. You get mushrooms while I get hog funguses… Golden with fat, a turtledove gorges you with its bloated rump, but a magpie that has died in its cage is set before me…”[iii]
Meals, in the ancient world, were an opportunity to reinforce the social pecking order and that is exactly what the Corinthians are doing. The congregation in Corinth had a few wealthy members and it’s likely those folks didn’t need to work long hours. They would have had nice homes and ample food to eat. But there were others in the congregation who were quite poor, who likely found it necessary to work long hours and couldn’t have afforded a very well-balanced, healthy diet. In those days, there were no church buildings. Christians worshipped in homes and those homes would have, by necessity, belonged to the wealthier members of the church with houses big enough to hold a lot of people. So when the Corinthian Christians came together to celebrate the “Lord’s Supper” within the context of a meal, here’s how it likely played out: the wealthy folks would show up early since they weren’t the kind who needed to punch the time clock. And, right away, they’d start to eat. They’d over-indulge in rich food and meat and a lot of wine. By the time the poorer folks arrived late from work, the best food and drink had already been gobbled up and there wasn’t much left.
But, Paul makes quite clear to these Corinthians, they all belong to the one body of Christ. No one part, no one individual, is more important than any other. All are bound to one another in one body. The more affluent members of the congregation had been seduced by the culture around them to construct a self-affirming, self-centered, affluent version of the gospel; a cultural adaptation that was an aberration, a gross distortion of the good news; one that rejected the lifestyle and teaching of the humble, crucified messiah they claimed to know.[iv] So Paul admonished them to look beyond themselves and their own recognition and honor and to seek the good of others. This Lord’s Supper is the meal recalling Jesus’ sacrificial death, the voluntary pouring out of his life for those whom he loves, and these Corinthians have distorted it into a fancy dinner party designed to draw attention to their social affluence and influence.
But, the Church is never meant to reflect the world’s social groupings and values. If we succumb to such worldly distinctions, we make a mockery of the gospel and disrespect our Lord. The Body of Christ is to be a body of diversity that honors and celebrates and respects our social, ethnic, cultural, educational and economic differences.
In Corinth, in the midst of such segregation, Paul had come to proclaim a gospel of equality and unity. It was not an easy sell and it still isn’t.
Friends; our Centennial neighborhood, the neighborhood in which our church resides, is a diverse community… particularly, revealing economic, social and educational diversity. We have Ph.D. students living in cheap apartments. We have wealthy folks who have purchased historic homes and spent significant amounts of money to restore them to their former glory. We have “urban nomads” who have no permanent housing of their own but sleep on park benches or LUM’s shelter or hunker down with friends. We have women living quietly in the confines of a domestic women’s shelter. We have empty nesters that have moved downtown and purchased expensive, new condos. We have families – a remarkably high percentage of single dads – living in cheap, often sub-standard, apartments or houses – struggling to provide for their children and keep a roof over their heads. We have section 8, government subsidized apartments. We have folks who have selected this location because they go easily back and forth across the river, taking advantage of our abundant cafes, coffee shops, boutiques, community forums and Purdue sporting events. We have folks who have selected this neighborhood because they rely on the public bus, St John’s food pantry, or the 12 step meetings hosted here and at St John’s. If we look around our sanctuary this morning, we have some diversity here; but not enough. We can do better and that’s what our Ready Set Grow plan is trying to address. This summer we started a community garden. If you didn’t have a chance to work in the garden, I hope you will next year. Talk with our garden guy, Mel Shoaf, and he can tell you about some of the conversations he had with folks here in our neighborhood who came to pick fresh, free, healthy produce out of the garden. This summer we had Garden and Grill meals and they brought together on our lawn people who represented different social groupings to sit together around the table and break bread with one another. This month, we’re launching several new small groups and if you think those groups are just about Trinity, that’s a mistake; a misunderstanding. We want you to invite people to those groups, invite them to come with you, to join us. This summer we redesigned our unused chapel to become a conference room and one summer small group already has included people outside our Trinity congregation and that’s how it ought to be. At least once now – sometimes twice – every week, people gather around the table in that conference room to learn, to converse, to plan ministry, to get to know one another; to encounter the image of Christ in one another.
Tomorrow evening at 7 pm, Ruth Smith, our community engagement coach, will offer a community discussion group to learn more about how we can create a stronger, more compassionate community. Starting Sept. 19, Ruth will host once a month dinner groups comprised of folks from our congregation and our community – a diverse group – to talk together about our neighborhood and strengthening and serving our neighborhood. If you want to know more, talk with Ruth or me. Over this next year, Trinity’s primary focus will be on building community; reaching out to new people; finding the courage and learning the skills to strike up dialogue with people we don’t know; walking around our neighborhood and initiating conversations; even hosting training opportunities so folks can learn more about our community’s needs and how to respond to them. Our office is now in the Lily House. Have you sat on the porch there? Do you know how much foot traffic is in the alley between the church and Lily House? Pack a sandwich and come eat lunch on the porch and greet our neighbors.
Friends; we can’t simply say that we will unlock our doors on Sunday morning and warmly greet anyone who crosses our threshold. That’s not enough. That’s not counter-cultural. We have to all – and by all, I mean ALL – begin to gather around the table with people who might not be like us; people whose differences might cause us some anxiety. But that’s OK. Church isn’t supposed to be easy or comfortable; it certainly wasn’t for the Corinthians. Church is supposed to challenge us. Church ought to be as counter-cultural and wildly hospitable as Jesus was. And that’s why this building is here; that’s why we’re here: to be the Church in radical, counter-cultural ways.
And this fall as we talk about stewardship, we want to focus your attention on the opportunities we have over the next year to develop new programs, new outreaches; to redesign the space within our building – spaces like our parlor – to become spaces of radical hospitality and fellowship. And that will cost money; that will require generous giving. It’s not about how well this space and our current programs serve us. It’s about how well this sacred space and our programs serve the people outside our walls who haven’t yet walked through our doors. We want to prepare our hearts, our minds, our programs, and our facilities to welcome them and proclaim the radical good news that Paul proclaimed to the Corinthians: that social, cultural, and economic segregation may very well be the way of the world; but it is not the way of Jesus and it is not the way of the Church. Paul reminded the Corinthians and he reminds us: the gospel of Jesus is one of humility, vulnerability, sacrifice, radical hospitality and unity amidst diversity.
So this morning I want to end my sermon in a very clear way and be perfectly frank: I am asking three things of you for the sake of the gospel. One: your talents. In just a few moments, Bob Lilly will be talking about our building maintenance team. Our building needs to be safe, well-functioning and hospitable and it takes the skills and efforts of many people to accomplish that.
Second: your time. Please pull out the insert in your program that lists this fall’s new groups. I would ask you to pray over that page and to make a commitment to become engaged in a group AND… AND… to invite someone else to come with you. Offer to pick them up and bring them with you.
Third: In a few weeks, we will ask for your estimate of church giving for the 2018 calendar year. Please begin praying about that now. It will take not only time and talents, but also money, for our church to grow in our ability to reach beyond our walls. I hope, I pray, you find that of great value; of so much value that you will be willing to give sacrificially of your time, your talents, and your treasure so that, together, we might live out God’s vision for Trinity of growing in love and service through relationships with God and community.
Finally, this morning, I want to invite you to do one thing to expand your experience of Christian community today. Look around the sanctuary and look for someone you don’t know; maybe someone who seems a little different from you. And when worship ends, invite them to join you for lunch. Now, they might have somewhere to go right after church so, don’t be pushy; just issue a gracious invitation that they have the freedom to accept or decline. Take them somewhere simple (Pete’s Diner, Panera, Fuel, MCL) because if you keep it simple, you can buy their lunch.
[ii] Robert Karris: Luke: Artist and Theologian; New York; Paulist Press; 1985; p. 47.
[iii] Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians; Ben Witherington; Eerdmans Pub; 1995; p. 242.
[iv] For further discussion of this, see The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 1; Abingdon Press; 2006; pp. 743-744.
How Awesome is This Place
By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: Genesis 28:1-22 (see also Genesis 31:1-18; and Genesis 35:1-15)
The early years of the Christian Church were a time of determining what did and didn’t fit theologically. Although today we tend to think of the Church as easily establishing an identity not “of the world,” it wrestled greatly with the culture around it. For example, while the day of Jesus’ resurrection was celebrated from the start, the dating and celebration of Christmas had a great deal to do with pagan religious ceremonies. Worship of the sun – with a “u” – and “sun god” played a role in ancient cultures from the Egyptians through the Celts. Celebration of the winter solstice was quite a pagan party. And Christians wished not to be outdone, especially in their worship of the Son of God who was deemed the Light of the World.
One of the Church’s earliest threats was a heresy known as Gnosticism. Gnosticism saw little value in the physical world; but rather saw the corporeal as an impediment to spiritual enlightenment. Now, if you think the Church struck down this heresy with ease, think again. Even today, many self-identified Christians believe that the after-life is a purely spiritual concept and have little to no familiarity with the Apostle Paul’s teachings of bodily resurrection. Yet scripture – from the Genesis creation accounts to John’s revelation of a New Jerusalem coming down out of the heavens – all affirm the value of the physical realm. In the gospel of John, in Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman, we read his affirmation that those who worship the Father must worship in Spirit and truth. Yet we must also keep in mind that those very words were spoken by the Word made flesh. Jesus, one and the same with God the Father, who took on flesh and came down to reveal God in the physical world.
So, while Christians are clearly NOT to be concerned with acquiring wealth or putting things above people; we are also not to shun encountering God in the physical substance of God’s created world.
This morning’s scripture is a story about worship; it is a story about sacred space; it is a story about the meeting of heaven and earth; it is a story about divine encounter and how that encounter shapes our life’s journey and purpose.
Last Sunday’s scripture was a story about Abraham, the ancestral father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. God enters into a sacred covenant with Abraham and his wife Sarah. Though they are an elderly, childless couple, God promises to gift them with a son and proclaims that through Abraham and his descendents all of the nations of the earth will be blessed. Jacob is the grandson of Abraham; so he is an inheritor of that promise. But he is far from perfect. He is a twin and, though he exits the birth canal in second place, he plots with his mother to steal his twin’s position and inheritance. So angered is Esau, his brother, at Jacob’s duplicitous behavior that he threatens to kill him. So Jacob must go on the run. His mother, seeking her son’s safety, counsels him to return to her hometown where he can live with his uncle, her brother.
And that brings us to this morning’s story. Along the journey, Jacob stops to sleep for the night and has this remarkable encounter with God Almighty. Jacob’s divine encounter takes place in a city named Luz. But, when he awakens from his dream, recognizing the sacredness of this place, Jacob renames the city Beth-El, house of God. It is a surprise to him that this is a sacred place. He confesses, “Surely the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it.”[i] This re-named city, Beth-El, house of God, will become a sort of spiritual “home” for Jacob. His time with his Uncle Laban is a mixed bag. He prospers there at his uncle’s expense (an uncle who shares Jacob’s shyster tendencies). Yet God continues to work within the life of Jacob and, eventually, calls him to his birthplace. Chapter 31 of Genesis presents an interesting dialogue between Jacob and his wives, Rachel and Leah. Jacob informs them that he has had another dream; a dream in which God has called him to return to his hometown by reminding him of his encounter with God in that first nocturnal visitation at Beth-El. According to Jacob, God spoke in this most recent dream, saying, “I am the God of Beth-el, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now leave this place at once and return to the land of your birth.” And so it seems that God Almighty himself chooses to appeal to the sacredness of this place, Beth-El, and the critical role it plays in the journey of Jacob’s life as he fulfills his part in God’s eternal and universal plan for salvation. That dream was the moment and Beth-El was the place where God first choose to make himself and his purposes known to Jacob and the unique encounter in that time and place will render it forever sacred space. In fact, once Jacob returns home (making peace with his brother Esau), God instructs Jacob to settle in the city of Beth-El. He is to build an altar there to commemorate that moment when God first appeared to him; when God first spoke the promise over his life; when God first laid claim to him. When Jacob returns to Beth-el, once again he sets up a stone pillar, he lays out an offering on it, he anoints it with oil, and he worships God. So the long journey of Jacob is book-ended by times of worship, moments of divine encounter, at this sacred place Beth-El, this earthly house of God.
As Jacob’s dream of the ladder reveals, this is a place where heaven and earth meet. The “ladder” is likely an ancient ziggurat, like the Egyptian pyramids. In the ancient world, holy people would climb the stairs of these ziggurats in order to reach the heavens and to commune with the gods. These ziggurats were considered connecting points between heaven and earth. So this city of Beth-El becomes a sacred place where the connection between heaven and earth, God and humanity, has been revealed in this image of the ladder coming down out of the heavens. As bible scholar Walter Bruggemann writes, “Earth is not left to its own resources and heaven is not a remote self-contained realm for the gods. Heaven has to do with earth. And earth finally may count on the resources of heaven.”[ii] There is such a thing as sacred space; places where we are reminded, through the acts of divine encounter and worship, that earth and heaven have everything to do with one another.
Brothers and sisters, Trinity is such a sacred place. Last Sunday, we celebrated our heritage. Tommy Kleckner, Director of Indiana Landmarks Western Regional Office, spoke with us during our Celebration Luncheon about the value of our church building. Historically, it is a priceless piece of architecture. But it is also priceless because it is sacred space. Since 1869, our ancestors in the faith have been gathering in this awesome place to worship the God who laid claim over their lives; the God who promised them that theirs was not merely an aimless wandering through life, but that God had a plan and purpose for them that would bring blessing not only to them but to others… including us. As Jacob gave an offering and poured out oil to consecrate the sacred pillar, we have been giving our offerings and engaging in rituals to keep us mindful of God’s faithfulness to us and his presence among us. Each time we celebrate a baptism, all of us reaffirm our commitment to Christ and to the Christian Church and to this church, Trinity United Methodist. From time to time, when we gather in this place, God reveals himself to us in ways we may not have previously understood or known and we too, like Jacob, must confess “Surely the Lord is in this place…” We encounter God here and begin to understand, through God’s interruption of our lives, that it is God who defines who we are and how we are called to live. Finally, the roles we fill outside this place do not name and define us – teacher, businessperson, healthcare worker, factory worker, student. We are named and claimed and defined by our identity as children of God, inheritors of the divine promise given to us through Abraham and, ultimately, through Jesus.
Today we live in a world that sees very little value to corporate weekly worship. Worship attendance in North America is at an all-time low and many factors influence those statistics. In some ways, it is an economic issue, a vocational issue, a scheduling issue. Yet, perhaps it is also – to some degree – that old heresy of Gnosticism rearing its ugly head; whispering into our ears that there is no sacred space or time; that “embodiment” is meaningless; that the physical and ritual are worthless. Yet we confess faith in a God who took on flesh; who chose to enter into time and space. We confess faith in a God who instructed Jacob to establish a monument to give witness to his encounter with God. In this morning’s scripture, over the course of nine verses, the word “place” is used six times. Friends, place does matter. Matter matters. We are not disembodied souls. We live out God’s call over our lives in time and space. Along our life’s journey, we return to this space space on a regular basis to worship, to remember, and to renew our covenant with God. Otherwise, we risk drifting aimlessly; we risk a state of spiritual amnesia in which we no longer know who we are and whose we are, what day it is or where we are going; we no longer remember the purpose of our lives or the relationships that define us. Knowing who and whose we are, knowing how we have been called to live as inheritors of God’s covenant and promises, changes how we live. And even when we stumble, even when we act in selfish or reckless ways as Jacob did, God calls us to return to the place where, in our baptisms, God first spoke to us saying, “I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you… Know that I am with you…”[iii]
Friends, over these next several weeks, we will discuss stewardship here at Trinity. Stewardship reveals the way in which we exercise care over that which we value, that which has been entrusted to us. This building, this sanctuary, is a sacred and awesome place, a place of divine encounter. Our ancestors exercised stewardship over this place because it was of value to them in their sacred journey. And the baton has now been passed to us. When we give to the church, even when our money is used to pay something as mundane as the gas bill, it is not ultimately about a utility bill. Ultimately, we are acting as stewards over this sacred place; a place of divine encounter; a place to which God calls us to return week after week, month after month, year after year to pour out our offerings, to offer up our worship, to remember and renew our commitments, and to hear again God’s call upon our lives so that, through us, all the people of the earth might be blessed.
[i] Genesis 28:16
[ii] New Interpreter’s Bible: a Commentary in Twelve Volumes. Abingdon Press. 1994. Vol. 1, p. 541.
[iii] Genesis 28:15
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