I Am the Church, You Are the Church
By Rev. Robyn-Axel Adams
Scripture: Acts 2:1-15, 42-47
It is so good to be with you all today. It has been a long time since I have been here. On this homecoming Sunday, when we are here to celebrate this building, it is good to think about how this church has shaped me and think about what it means to continue to shape people.
So while it has been a while since I’ve been here, my parents and I worshiped here and were active in the 80s.
My family moved to Lafayette in 1984, just before my 6th grade year, in order that My parents could go back to school at Purdue. We started worshipping here, because at the time Linda Dolby was the associate pastor, and we had been members of Linda’s previous church outside of Ft. Wayne. And so this church provided me with a place to grow and explore my faith. At first attending Sunday School across the way, building upon the foundation I had. But then as I turned from a tween into a teen-ager, my faith matured and blossomed, this place giving me the space for that to happen. We had Sunday school up there – and always sat as youth up there.
We had a variety of youth leaders in those 7 years – I remember BJ Reike and Jim and Marte. There might have been others. And I’m not sure who always taught the Sunday School classes. If I’m honest, I don’t remember the names of too terribly many people.
Let me take a brief moment to take a tangent. while, as people, we like to be remembered. It can sometimes be hard to realize we don’t remember names… or that people don’t remember our name. We like to know that me – Robyn, or Tracy, or Lisa – will be remembered… I think of all the nameless people in the Bible… the woman at the well, the beggar by the pool, the good Samaritan, the woman who touched Jesus cloak…. Who taught us so many lessons of faith ….. that I take comfort in realizing that it’s not my name that needs to be remembered… or even anything about me …. But that something I did made a difference in the life of another. This church stands in the shadows of towering buildings on Purdue’s campus which are etched with people’s names. And yet, as people of faith, our names may not be etched in people’s minds, but what our lives are about are etches in other people’s lives.
I may not remember names, but I do remember the best lesson this place taught me. It taught me that it’s OK to ask questions of my faith. That being a question asker was not being a heretic but a faithful follower. I remember asking in Sunday School – how do I know if when I ask a question in prayer, the answers I get back are God answering me or just my own self answering me. I don’t remember the answer – but I do remember that whatever the answer was… I felt it was ok that I was even asking that question. I remember asking John Wimmer, who because the associate pastor after Linda was moved, if we could go out and talk about some questions I had. I don’t remember any of that conversations, but I do remember that he took me seriously and didn’t make me feel bad for asking the questions, instead, encouraging the asking of questions. I remember talking with Marshall Chambers, a retired clergy working here, about my call to ministry – which we will get to in a minute – and my saying to him… Marshall, how can I be a pastor when I still have so many questions about the Bible – and, I know, you’re catching on… I don’t remember exactly what he said… but he encouraged me that questions were good and to keep asking the questions.
Over and over and over again – my wrestling with my faith, my asking the questions – was encouraged. As a teen-ager, may faith development was encouraged and never squelched. We could spend an entire other sermon talking about why I think it’s important to question your faith – but that’s not the point I want those stories to take…. Even though I find it a great topic.
The point I want to make is that this church shaped me, not by forcing me into a particular shape that it thought I should be - I was molded and formed by the experiences, the people, the space, so that I could be formed in the shape was God intended me to be…. And isn’t that the best shape to be?!
And so while questioning my faith – I felt God calling me to ministry in the midst of this. I had a couple of people say to me they thought I should become a pastor. And so I turned to my trusted advisor at the time, Marshall Chambers. That conversation I said we had - it was on the bus to a Chicago cub’s game that the church was sponsoring. I shared with him what others had said – and my reservations. He encouraged me to keep listening and affirmed what others had said. I went to a national UM youth event about God’s calling – and pondered more and more. I was already headed to the University of Evansville and ready to be a history major so that I could teach history in a high school setting. I figured I could be a history major and a youth director on the side. And yet, it was while I was in college – attending a regional United Methodist college event – that I felt the call to full time ministry – realizing the power that I had as a middle class, white, heterosexual woman. Hoping that I could be the voice for those that society had said were voiceless. I figured I would go to seminary and then work for or run some not for profit…. For missions was a passion of mine…. Again, watching how this church helping its neighbors – going to Redbird missions with Marshall, and Brazil South America with my parents through the Lafayette district.
And so I went to college, took a couple of years off, then attended seminary.
Before I go to much further, I need to take a few steps back and share that while God was working on my calling, my heart working on falling in love. Our youth group was pretty active, and pretty wonderful. And so, Matt Billings, invited his friend Darin Axel to attend our youth group. I wasn’t thrilled about this – which is a story you can hear later if you want… but I discovered he was a pretty wonderful guy…. But I discovered that towards the end of our senior year… and we were already going to different places for college. And so we did. Long story short – Darin ended up transferring to UE. And we were married – here – a week after we graduated from college. Another thing to note about Darin – is that he is Marshall Chamber’s grandson. Marshall gave me so much.
So after getting married – Darin and I spent 2 years in South Georgia with Habitat for Humanity – at their International Headquarters. Then I went to seminary at Emory, in Atlanta. While there, I had the privilege to go to India with the Methodist Evangelism Institute – and you all provided financial support to make that happen. I graduated and came back to Indiana… we always knew we would come back to be closer to home. In the United Methodist church, in order to be ordinated, you needed to be a parish pastor for 3 years. I still wanted to work at a not for profit, but I felt it was imperative to be ordained – the power of a title. I was appointed to a church in Hobart IN, as an associate pastor. I was surprised, but I fell in love with being a pastor. I was ordained 3 years later and moved to a church in Gas City – close to Marion – and fell out of love with being a pastor. During my time there, I wrestled, again, with my call. In the midst of the wrestling, I felt God encourage me to try hospital Chaplaincy. So I took one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education, while still pastoring – and discovered a place where I could help people give voice to their own questions and worries, helping connect them to whatever it was that gives them strength. I wanted to explore it more… so I left Parish ministry to do full time Chaplaincy training. Darin and I settled in Pendleton (which is close to Anderson). After that year long training process, I worked part time as a Chaplin at Ball Memorial Hospital. We had our first child while I was at Gas City and had our second child early on when I was at Ball. A couple of year later, I did a medical Ethics Fellowship at Methodist hospital, downtown Indianapolis. A couple of years later, I became the manager of the Center which runs the fellowship program – and that’s where I am today. The United Methodist church calls what I have been doing since leaving the local church, extension ministry.
So I may not be at the exact destination that I thought I would be… but that’s ok… and who know where life will take me next. It’s been about the journey. And the people and places that have shaped that journey. And this place, this building, and the people in the building shaped me. It gave me a place to explore my faith. It gave me a safe place to be vulnerable. It gave me a place to sit and say I’m important. This pulpit gave me a place to preach my first sermon on a youth Sunday. This place gave me an isle to talk down and place to have a worship service while getting married (I know I drove Rev. Emerson crazy). My parents left Lafayette once they graduated. And so this place, this building, was no longer my home for worship. But I kept my ears open and talked with the various pastors who have served here. But this place, this building, provided me with a safe sanctuary to be who God called me to be.
And isn’t that always our hope. To be who God calls us to be. And how do we have a building that allows us to do that. We come today to celebrate this space. This space that has touched and shaped thousands of people. I know we stand here today standing on the shoulders of all those that have come before us.
And the challenge is to know where to go next.
The text we read today is usually read at Pentecost, the birthday of the church…. I thought it appropriate since we are here to celebrate the birthday of this building.
And after Peter preached that amazing sermon, the people formed community to help each other in the community….
This glimpse of the early church reminds us that is the church’s call, the church’s mission – is be a resource for the community. This church has a legacy of being a resource. I know that sometimes it has struggled with how to be a resource for the community. I know that sometimes it has thrived and done well serving the community. Being a downtown church with a massive building has his advantages and disadvantage. I’m confident It’s hard to maintain this building. And yet, here you are, so perfectly located in a place where you can be a resource to this community.
This building holds special memories for us. I mean, some of the most important things happen in individual’s lives in this building. It holds baptism and confirmation. We are married here and have funerals here. We had youth group over nighters, 50th wedding anniversary parties. We have felt God’s love, forgiveness, and abidance presence here. This place has brought us peace like no other. We have cried here and laughed here. We have wrestled with our faith here. This space, this building holds our deepest pains and our highest highs.
So as we come together to celebrate it – it also gives us the opportunity to be intentional to think about what is next for this building.
You all don’t know what is next – and the hard part – probably the hardest part – is that whatever is next might not look like the last 150 years. There might have to be changes made to the building… I’ve already noticed some wonderful changes that have been made.
Change- that’s so hard. I know that when something, some place, is so meaningful, we don’t want it to change. Especially in a world where so much is changing, it’s secure to have something that doesn’t change. And this building which has been a sacred place for us – it feels secure to keep is the same.
And yet – sometimes in order to follow what God wants us to do, we have to continue to be remolded, even if that means change.
It’s not about the four walls of the church, it’s about serving the least and the lost in our community. Peter didn’t preach his sermon in a building. Peter and the early church are showing us that being a faithful follower is more than four walls. You remember the children’s song – I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together. It is the people – you – that are the church, not these pews, carpet, or walls – but you.
We celebrate this building for all the people that is shaped. For all the sacred moments it has housed. Ahh, the stories it could tell. And now, it is the challenge to hear how God is calling you – to use this building – as a resource for building community. Not just it’s internal community – but the downtown Lafayette community.
Listen closely, listen well, and take courage. Some may tell you you’re crazy for trying something – and that’s ok… they assumed people were drunk at Pentecost.
But continue to shape. May you be shaped by this place and may you find ways to continue to shape others that walk through these doors. And may all of you always be shaped by the master’s hands.
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