Risk and Reward

•September 5, 2017 • Leave a Comment

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Matthew 16:21-28

During the news cycle of recent weeks, filled with stories of disaster related to hurricane and flood, and potential disasters related to North Korean aggression, perhaps you saw the story of the latest Powerball lottery winner,

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a health-care worker who says she will never return to work after winning 759-million dollars. I’m always a spoilsport when the topic of the lottery comes up. Personally, I look at all the money people are concentrating in the hands of a few people, and wonder what might happen if, instead, they used the money to do something positive for their family, community, or church. But I think I understand some of the reasons they do, and why it feels good to pay $2 for a chance for a chance that your wildest dreams might come true.

There’s a true story about what happened when someone’s wildest dream did come true, a story that started about 17 years ago. Sometime in June 2000, a ticket was purchased at a New Jersey convenience store that turned out to be the only winning ticket for a 46-million dollar lottery prize. No one came forward to collect the prize. People began to imagine that the winner had lost the ticket, or thrown it away without checking the numbers.

One Tuesday morning nearly a year later, a lottery official opened a rather plain envelope and found the winning ticket, accompanied by a claim form. The envelope was postmarked just two days before deadline for collecting the prize. The winner was simply following instructions, as the standard claim form says that all tickets worth more than $600 should be sent to state lottery headquarters.[1]

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Can you imagine the winner standing at the corner mailbox? He has in his hand an envelope that, if delivered to the right person in a timely manner, is worth a fortune. But if that envelope is lost or mishandled, it is worth nothing. He puts it in the box, and walks away. With all due respect to the U.S. Postal Service, the winner’s decision to mail the envelope, rather than hand deliver it, entails more risk than most of us would be comfortable bearing.

When we step back from our lives, and reflect upon our daily activities, we will realize that we are constantly making decisions that involve risk. I drive to the grocery store because the potential reward of eating supper exceeds the potential risk that my car will be wrecked. I walk the Nickel plate trail because the potential reward of exercise and fresh air outweighs the risk of being run down by a bicycle. Each day, there are many simple actions we take that require at least some minimal level of risk taking.

When it comes to big decisions, we more actively consider risk. It can be painstakingly difficult to weigh the potential risks and rewards of choices that affect our career, home, marriage, children, health, or retirement. We wonder, “What risks are worth taking?”

I believe that if we study the sixteenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel long enough, eventually we will find ourselves asking questions about risk.

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When we first encounter these very challenging words of Jesus, we may be tempted to think that they apply only to the apostles, or to saints like Mother Teresa, or to missionary martyrs like Jim Elliott who, before his death, penned the brave words, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” But Jesus won’t let us off the hook: “If any” – not just Peter, or Mother Teresa, or Jim Elliott – “if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

You and I may have difficulty finding time for one more assignment at work, or gathering energy for one more chore at home. We would like to save a bit of time for ourselves. Then along comes Jesus who says, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

We may wonder where the money is coming from to pay for all the gasoline we’re burning driving to work or taking children to activities. We would like to save a little money for a rainy day. Then along comes Jesus who says, “For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?”

If we take Jesus’ words seriously, we will wonder about the risks to our physical and financial health that we will encounter by following his advice.

Perhaps that’s what happens to Peter. Peter was the first to articulate what the other disciples were thinking. He was the first one who dared to say that Jesus was the Messiah. And now, when Jesus tells about the way his mission will lead to Jerusalem, suffering, and death, again Peter is the first to speak his mind: “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” Peter listens to Jesus describe the dangerous path ahead, and responds as if he’s watching Jesus put a 46-million dollar lottery ticket in the mail – “God forbid it, Lord!” Why are you taking such a risk? What if something happens to you, and what if something happens to us? You can feel the fear in Peter’s response.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “The deep secret of Jesus’ hard words to us in this passage is that our fear of suffering and death robs us of life, because fear of death always turns into fear of life, into a stingy, cautious way of living that is not really living at all. The deep secret of Jesus’ hard words is that the way to have abundant life is not to save it but to spend it, to give it away . . . .

Slide5Life cannot be shut up and saved anymore than fresh spring water can be put in a mason jar and kept in a kitchen cupboard. It will remain water . . . but will have lost its essence, its life, which is to be poured out, to be moving, living water, rushing downstream to share its wealth without ever looking back.”[2]

The good news for this congregation is that those of you who have chosen to be with us through this moving process already know something about this secret, and are modeling it in ways that some other congregations have not been able.

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Something has been happening to our Presbyterian congregations, something so uncomfortable that we don’t like to talk about it. Here is a partial list of the congregations in our regional presbytery that have closed during the fifteen years I’ve been part of the presbytery. I don’t want to oversimplify the complex cultural and demographic forces that have contributed to this phenomenon. But I will say that in every case in which I have been involved in, church buildings that were in declining condition or unfavorable locations occupied major portions of the congregation’s energy. While I was on the leadership team, we were managing at any one time up to seven buildings abandoned by congregations. For years, they had resisted change, thinking perhaps that if they were just loyal enough to the memories of their ancestors, and faithful enough through decades of adversity, the Lord would turn around their trend, and place them on an upward path. And so, instead of time spent on supporting vital congregations and dynamic leaders, we talked about contracts to restore broken boilers, sweep birds’ nests out of HVA/C systems, and repair leaking roofs to slow the declining value of buildings emptied of people and value for ministry.

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As this Fall season begins, I am unashamedly proud of this congregation, and the faith of its people. Yes, we have challenges: the challenge to provide faithful and relevant programming and services, the challenge to staff them with employees and volunteers, the challenge to develop financial resources to support the mission and ministries to which God has called us. But we also have a hopeful future.

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We have a year ahead of milestones that some of our brothers and sisters in other places can only imagine. That hopeful future is a gift of God’s grace, and it is the result, in some measure, of your choice to follow God’s point down a road less traveled, a road that entails more uncertainty and more risk.

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Christ’s call to a life of meaning and purpose will continue to place us in a position of evaluating potential risk and reward. How much better it is to step out in faith, and give ourselves to something that matters, than to waste our lives frozen in place with worry. How much better to die living for something we love than to merely exist governed by fear. Jesus, says, “For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life.” In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

NOTES

 

[1] Daniel J. Wakin, “Ticket Worth $46 Million Was in the Mail. Honest.” New York Times on the Web, 15 June 2001.

[2] Barbara Brown Taylor, “Risking Life,” The Seeds of Heaven: Sermons on the Gospel of Matthew, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004, p. 79.

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The Pulpit

•August 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Wide Topa brief reflection on furnishing worship space …

“To the rest I say—I and not the Lord ….” -1 Corinthians 7:12a

Many pulpits seem to have raised “reading stand” in the center, perhaps modeled from older, cathedral style pulpits. I find such pulpits awkward to navigate. I’m usually concerned something will fall off the stand. Perhaps in an age where preachers used small handwritten notes, it was ok.  But today, with all manner of printed and electronic presentation devices, I prefer a pulpit as broad on top as possible. I suppose it has to be angled a bit to provide good view of materials, but needs to have some flat areas around the edges for placing props or other items. The composite photo above offers examples.

Some preachers and congregations prefer a more “open” base so that preacher’s body movement can be seen. Others prefer more storage underneath, and a little shielding and even support to lean on for those who are tired or not feeling particularly energetic on any given day.  I don’t have a strong feeling about this aspect, though think the pulpit should somehow fit and match the Lord’s Table and Font. Personally, I’d make the top at least as wide as any element of the base, and imagine a wide top offers the most versatility for preaching styles now and in the future.

Bell Lap

•August 20, 2017 • Leave a Comment

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Some of you say that you like it when I share stories about my personal life. If you feel that way, then today you’re in luck. Others among you may wish that I’d keep my personal life to myself, and preach only what’s in the Bible. If you feel that way, then I ask for your patience while I get to the Bible today.

Thinking back on 55 years of life, it’s clear that on my best days, I was only an average athlete. At one stage or another, I’ve been involved in organized team sports like baseball, basketball, and football. I was in a golf league for three years, a bowling league for one year, involved in a couple bike trips around Michigan, participated in camp activities like archery, target and skeet shooting, and canoeing, rowing, boating, and fishing. Of all the sports I’ve ever tried, I believe that running was the most satisfying, because I could compete on a regular basis against myself, as well as others.

I ran the one-mile race just long enough to appreciate the unique psychology of that event.   The starter’s gun means adrenaline flowing into fresh legs, so the challenge in the first quarter-mile lap is to rein in the impulse to go too fast. In the second lap, the pre-race tension is gone, you’re flowing smoothly, and the goal becomes maintaining pace, keeping within a reasonable striking distance of the leader. By the third lap, muscle fatigue and labored breathing make the start seem like a distant memory. No matter how hard I tried to keep an even pace, the third lap was almost always the slowest one for me. As the bell rings indicating the fourth and final lap, new thoughts emerge. If you’ve made it this far, then certainly you can persevere to the end. If you have any energy left, now is the time to use it. You focus more on your stride, rhythm, and form, because you want to have a good finish.

Have you seen the film “Chariots of Fire”? It’s the story of several British track stars who competed in the 1924 Olympics. The film came out during the time in life when I charted my running miles, lap times, and heart rate like I recorded in journals my Bible reading, prayers, and scripture memory work. Today’s first scripture reading (1 Corinthians 9:24-27) was among my favorites. It was the time when I was encouraged to listen for God’s call and pursue a career in full-time Christian ministry, a calling that the Apostle Paul encouraged me to think of as a running race.

Now that you know something about my young-adult psychology, and the connections I made between spirituality and physical activity, you may be in a better position to understand why I’ve felt especially introspective this summer. You see, on August 9, 1987, I heard the starter’s gun when, as the “young” 25-year-old pastor with newly minted M.Div. degree, I preached my first sermon to the Eastwood Church of Kalamazoo.

I knew then that in a typical career, if one is blessed with good health and opportunity, a pastor might expect to retire at age 65 (as social security would have it for those of us born in 1962, it’s now age 67). So this month, while nations rage, and crowds riot, and leaders tweet, I’ve been hearing a more subtle sound. At first, I thought it was just the growing tinnitus I hear in my ears. But now, as I stride past a milestone on my vocational journey, I believe that what I’ve been hearing is a sound marking the final circle around the track, my personal “bell lap.”

On the whole, I think my pensive mood has been healthy. I’ve reflected on the best wishes I’m received this year in many warm and friendly forms. Friends say things like, “Happy 33rd wedding anniversary! May you have 33 more!” or “Happy 55th Birthday! Here’s to 55 more!” But I’ve been engaged in pastoral ministry long enough to see that it rarely works out that way. Fiftieth and 60th anniversaries often are spent mourning the loss of one of the partners. The onset of a terminal disease short-circuit plans for a milestone birthday. Life is limited; careers are limited. I think we should live them in light of the fact that each day brings us 24 hours closer to their end (or at least their transformation!).

As you may recall from classes or sermons, the Letter to the Hebrews, from which our second reading is drawn, is unusual among New Testament documents in the respect that its author is unidentified and forgotten relatively early in the Church’s existence. We do know that the author presumed an audience well acquainted with Jewish scripture and temple worship. They were likely Jews living in Jerusalem, probably not personal witnesses to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, but perhaps among those who gathered in the city during the months and years after these events.[1] As time passed, the Christians began to experience greater pressure to conform to the expectations of the Roman Empire, which valued religion only to the extent that it supported social order and political allegiance to Rome. Such pressure contributed to the widening gap between Jews who viewed Jesus as Messiah, and Jews who felt Jesus was a vexing fraud and troublemaker. The growing sense of isolation raised questions like, “If we really are doing God’s will, then why are we faced with these difficulties?” “If we really are following God’s call through Jesus Christ his son, then why does it seem like we’re on the edge of death and destruction?”

Responding to such concerns, the author of the letter to the Hebrews invites his audience to adopt a long-term perspective. If God’s promises were always so close that we could see them, then no faith would be required. Rather, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” In support of this thesis, the author introduces members of faith’s “hall of fame,” Abraham, Sarah, and others, each of whom encountered difficulty and faced challenge. Each looked forward to a home where they would no longer be treated as unwelcome strangers and persecuted exiles, and to a time when God’s promises of abundant life would be fully realized.

As I re-read the 12th chapter of Hebrews, I felt like it was written for me. After thirty years, I, too, am accumulating a personal “great cloud of witnesses”: mentors, Christian friends, the 300 saints whose funeral and memorial services I’ve officiated. In the author of this letter, I feel a kindred soul who reminds me that life’s journey isn’t just about where we are in any given moment, like when my office is thundering and shaking while, next door, foundations are shattered and scooped into a truck. Life isn’t just about the challenges I encounter when, in a busy week of ministry, there are also contacts about insurance changes, lien waivers, easement agreements, or affidavits to be notarized. The good news of this scripture text is that life’s journey is also about where I am going in the future, the finish line that lies ahead around the bends in the track, and the One who is with me along the way.

I believe there’s much more to say:

  • about God’s call to you and me,
  • about the amazing journey this congregation is on from one campus to another,
  • about the unique opportunities that will be ours for mission and ministry in the larger community,
  • about the role that Presbyterian Christians can play in providing a safe place for understanding and addressing the complex issues that face our society.

But, after three times around the mile-long track of serving as a pastor, I know something about pace: I can’t say it all, you can’t hear it all, in any one sermon, class, or meeting; we have to go at it regularly and consistently. So come with me, and “let us run with perseverance the race that set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith …. so that you may not grow weary or lose heart …. Lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet.”

Finally, hear the preacher pray for himself: “God, make me an instrument of your grace, and a channel of your peace, in what may remain of my personal ‘bell lap.’ Grant to me a good finish, that the race I am running may honor you, and serve your people. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

NOTE

[1] Among those who argue the plausibility of early dating is George Wesley Buchanan, To the Hebrews, second edition, vol. 36 in The Anchor Bible, Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co, Inc., 1976, p. 256 ff.

 

The Table

•August 16, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Communion Opena brief reflection on furnishing worship space …

“To the rest I say—I and not the Lord ….” -1 Corinthians 7:12a

Like the font, the Lord’s Table has a tendency to become a display stand rather than function as the everpresent reminder of being nourished by the Lord. There’s also the historical contrast in theology/practice between the Protestant and other traditions.  So, to try to keep it simple, the Lord’s table should always look like a DINNER TABLE at which you could gather the disciples for a meal.

Some tables are closed at the base, appearing more like “altars” on which something is sacrificed, or “stands” for holding objects, rather than “tables” at which disciples eat together.  Other tables are more “open” at the base, like those in the composite photo above. Such tables give much more visual support to the notion that you could actually pull up a chair to that table, as some congregations actually do in special services from time to time.  I imagine a practical reason why some tables are more “closed” at the base is that it gives structural support to what may be a heavy furnishing, but often at the cost of an important aspect of the symbolism that the Lord’s Table should convey.

Another matter perhaps worthy of consideration is the inscription on the Lord’s (Communion) Table.  In confirmation class, or somewhere along the way, many Presbyterians learn about different theological perspectives on the Lord’s Supper.  One common perspective is summarized with the label “Memorialist,” in which it is believed that the bread and wine are symbolic (merely symbolic?) of the body and blood of Christ.  Another perspective is summarized with the label “Reformed,” and associated with John Calvin, who said something like the spiritual benefits of the risen, ascended Christ are present in the experience of the Lord’s Supper through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

Many communion tables reflect/reinforce a Memorialist perspective by using the inscription “(Do this) in remembrance of me” (Luke 22, 1 Corinthians 11). In contrast, a verse that would better reflect and reinforce Calvin’s theology would be:  “(When he was a table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.) Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him ….”  (Luke 24:30-31) Such an inscription would be a more unique and powerful reminder that in worship we do not simply “remember” Jesus from long ago, but are nourished by the risen Christ who is present in worship through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, who opens our eyes to see.

The Font

•August 9, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Font Composite

a brief reflection on furnishing worship space … 

“To the rest I say—I and not the Lord ….” -1 Corinthians 7:12a

Of the three major pieces associated with the ministry of Word and sacrament, I start with the font, mainly because it is the most neglected in our tradition. Let me try to draw a contrast by saying that instead of conveying associations between fresh water and spiritual renewal, too many fonts look like a flowerstand.  As you probably have observed, many fonts sometimes ARE used in that way. This experience is one reason I like fonts in which the bowl section is dramatically enlarged and/or raised, like those in the composite photo above. The most dramatic bowl I remember was so large you could easily give the baby a bath in it.  There are many possible materials and dimensions that might be pleasing, but am I most interested in certain proportions.  I prefer a bowl that is at least as wide as the base in which it rests, so that it’s not easy to try to place a vase on the rim, and avoids “creeping flower-stand tendencies.” Overall, the ideal font should be so inviting that it makes worshippers smile at the prospect of gathering around it to celebrate the baptism of the newest member of their family and faith community.

Games People Play

•May 24, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Slide2Sermon for the sixth Sunday in Easter, Acts of the Apostles 17:22-31 ….

Some of you know that I was in Springfield on Friday. I offered the invocation for the day’s session of the Illinois House of Representatives. I was the guest of my state representative, the Honorable Katie S., who just happens to be the daughter-in-law of Bob and Sandy S.

Given our system of government, a representative of the Church offering a prayer in the context of a State assembly naturally prompts questions about proper content. So in the formal invitation letter, the clerk of the House provides some guidance.

 As you might expect, there is advice about prayers being respectful to other traditions, not demeaning another faith, not proselytizing. But there is also this sentence: “Further, prayers should not make reference to religious figures that are unique to any one religion, or make any other denominational appeal.”

Some of you saw my Facebook post about this letter. I’d rather hear a rabbi, imam, or other religious leader pray authentically than listen to a generic prayer that “should not make reference to religious figures that are unique to any one religion.” We would learn so much more about one another!

The letter reminded me of Yale law professor Steven Carter’s book  “The Culture of Disbelief,” in which he argues that contemporary law and politics tends to trivialize religious devotion. Often it is assumed that religious particularity, like praying to Jesus, is unimportant and easily discarded, a facet of human personality with which public-minded citizens would not bother.

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As I prepared for the prayer, I saw three choices. I could disregard the instructions (but I’d rather build good relationships). I could try humor (which probably doesn’t work well in this context). Or, I could try to be creative and faithfulat the same time. I ended up framing a prayer to the God of the universe, addressed by many names, but never limited by any one name, the “Great Resister Of All Labels.”

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The prayer went something like this:

God of the universe, addressed by many names, but never limited by any one name, you are the Great Resistor Of All Labels. The breadth and depth of your being are beyond the comprehension of any one individual. Limited is our understanding of your design and purposes.

Great Resistor Of All Labels, to call for your aid in a room like this always is a risky undertaking. A prayer for freedom and change may be heard as a call to anarchy; A prayer for order and stability may be heard a call to oppression. Demands for resources may seem unlimited, and the supply of resources scarce. But since the challenges we face seem overwhelming, and remembering that you have a reputation for solutions, we dare to ask for your help.  

May your Spirit inspire the members of this house so that in today’s work they may prove themselves faithful servants of Illinois and its people. During moments of discouragement, remind them of the power in simply showing up, and working with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love. As Desmond Tutu once observed, the forces that want to frustrate the ends toward which you are drawing history already have lost. Therefore, in the roles we all play for the public good, may we accept daily your invitation to join the winning side. So let it be. Amen.

For better or worse, there was a kind of gamesmanship in this prayer. In this context, to pray in both a faithful and relevant way required some attention to the perspective of those who framed the instructions, and attention to what needed to be said in that context. Conversation about God in a seat of government can feel a little like a game of hide-and-seek.

In the 17th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, we get of glimpse of the Apostle Paul in a public place every bit as impressive and diverse as the Illinois House of Representatives. When Paul arrives in the city of Athens, he encounters a great and complex culture in which it is possible for people to hide from spiritual truth behind the competing claims of hundreds of small gods and teachers of philosophy. Referring to a statue dedicated to an unknown deity, he finds a way of explaining the way in which God has been hidden from the eyes of the Athenians, but now can be found in Jesus Christ.

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In the context of this sermon, Paul is not reluctant to say that the God of the universe, the great Resistor Of All Labels, has been revealed in the particular person of Jesus. But many Athenians remain skeptical. Granted, they didn’t have much time to warm up to Paul’s preaching. But over time, many probably continued on in the belief that God has been hidden, and always will remain hidden. In some sense, they act like the people my college philosophy professor described, by saying, “Always interested in talking about the truth, but never interested in actually finding it.”

From my perspective as a pastor, there are occasional conversational threads like that. People approach the church with requests for help of one kind or another – financial, emotional, relational, or spiritual. We listen to the need. We try to match the need to the best available resource. But sometimes a seeker of help is stuck in a very unhealthy cycle. He or she ignores or rejects advice. Some time passes by, and a request comes for additional advice. The advice is ignored or rejected a second time. Some time passes, and again the person phones or appears at the office.

After two or three cycles, I begin to feel like I’m a player in another person’s game of hide-and-seek. Sometimes, we are so confused that we think God never will be found. Or we’re so hurt, we can’t believe that we are worthy of being found. Sometimes, we’re more interested in talking about solutions than actually experiencing them, more interested in hiding than in actually being found.

In these moments, I sometimes remember another game, a game my children liked to play when they were very young. I remember a night long ago when I arrived home after a meeting. As I walked into the house, I found only a kitchen light on. Everything had an air of quietness that rarely existed in a house with preschoolers.

It suddenly dawned on me that no one seemed to be at home. I walked from room to room looking for a clue as to the whereabouts of my family. I wondered if an evening trip had been taken to visit the grocery store or to see the doctor at the urgent care clinic.

When I walked by one of the bedrooms, I saw a strange lump under the bedcovers. As I turned on the light, and reached for the covers, a huge laugh erupted. It took just a split second to move from surprise to a smile. Under the covers were my wife and kids, who had patiently outwaited me to unleash a joke.

 

Slide7

You might remember that there’s a game like this called “sardines.”[1] One person hides, and each time another person finds him or her, they all hide together.  Like me, sometimes we may not even know we are playing it. We may not even have considered the possibility  that when this life ends, we will find the hidden God, the One we thought would never be found, in a game of sardines. Along with Robert Fulghum, the author who gave me this idea, I like to think He will be waiting there with all those we love, welcoming us home with joy and laughter.

[1] Robert Fulghum uses the game of “sardines” as an analogy for heaven in All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, New York: Villard Books, 1988, p. 58.

 

Groundbreaking Remarks

•May 9, 2017 • Leave a Comment

GroundbreakingAt the groundbreaking, representatives of the larger Church and community: pictured with me are the Rev. Craig Howard, Presbytery Leader, Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy; and the Honorable Hal Patton, Mayor of Edwardsville …. Gospel of Mark 4:30-32; Hebrews 11:8-10, Joshua 1:2, 9 ….

During the past few months, FPCE made a special effort to remember our heritage and honor our spiritual ancestors. As we prepared to leave a campus after 133 years, we remembered the story that God has been telling through Presbyterian Christians up to the present day. It’s a story of courageous sacrifice and compassionate generosity demonstrated by our mothers and fathers, (many of whom we remember, not with us today physically, but with us in spirit) to preach the good news of Christ, to further freedom for peoples long oppressed, to seek God in worship, and proclaim God’s amazing grace, to educate children and youth, to create not one but four homes for the advancement of Christian mission and ministry, always building: programs, services, staff, and facilities through additional renovations and expansions, all the way to the edge of breaking ground for a new building in this year of 2017.

In the story God is telling through us, an important chapter begins today; It’s a chapter that circles back to pick up a thread of the church’s story from the year 1998, when a Facilities Task Force recommended the purchase of new land, and continued in 1999 when a Land Search Committee recommended purchase of 30 acres here at Ridgeview Rd. At that stage, the dream of a new home for mission and ministry was something like the mustard seed of which Jesus spoke, very small, but once sown, grew and grew. The thread continued through staff changes, a 2004 study of mission, program, staff, and facility, a 2005 Ministry Plan and Feasibility Study, years of patient perseverance for many members of the long-range planning task force, and construction readiness committee. For nearly 20 years, some of you have trudged on through the work with the faith of Abraham, convinced of God’s call, but not always knowing where you were going, or whether you would see the promise.

Today, the pages of the story turn to a new prospect. Like the ancient Hebrews who were in the wilderness a long time, we have to be encouraged that what we see here isn’t an optical illusion. The Lord says that it’s time to cross over into the new land: “Be strong and courageous, do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”