WASHINGTON CITY CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN
January 26, 2014
THE STRONGHOLD OF MY LIFE
Psalm 27:1, 4-9 Matthew 4:12-23
I may have told this story before, but when has that ever stopped me? Once upon a time Julia and I bought a little TV stand. It wasn’t anything fancy; I think we got it at K-Mart or Ames. It was one of those pre-cut ones with all the holes pre-drilled and it came with screws and everything – like IKEA but not nearly as nice.
I followed the directions and I put it all together. I’m not normally great at this kind of thing but I got it together without too much heartache. Julia and I are looking at it, and it doesn’t look quite right somehow. It’s not sitting quite square or something. Julia says, Honey, that doesn’t look like it’ll hold both the TV and the VCR.” I walk over to it, and I touch the corner to see if it’s solid, and BOOM!! The whole thing collapses in a heap.
I’m really not very good at building things, even easy things like a do-it-yourself TV cart. And when something like that comes along that I have to build, I am very nervous going into the project. There are some people who know that they are good at this sort of thing. Those folks can eyeball the parts and maybe glance at the directions and whip the whole thing out in ten minutes, solid as a rock. We got one of those people to come help us put the cart back together again.
That’s not me, though. I keep the directions next to me the whole time, and I check them about every thirty seconds. Every screw and every bolt I hold up next to the picture to be sure it’s the right part. I need the security and the guidance that the directions bring me when I am putting that kind of stuff together, because I don’t feel like I can do it by myself.
Having something to refer to really helps a lot sometimes. Maybe it’s directions, like with the TV set. Maybe it’s directions like you get from Google or MapQuest. We don’t have a GPS so whenever we go anywhere new I make sure to print the directions and take them along. Maybe it’s some sort of safety device. If you’re a tightrope walker I suspect it really helps to have a net underneath you to rely on in case something goes wrong.
Maybe it’s people. I still remember when I was a little kid, before kindergarten even, climbing up on our swing set in the back yard and being unable to get down. I know looking back that I had climbed up, but for some reason I was too scared to climb down. From the top of the swing set to the ground seemed like a long way to jump, and I didn’t know what to do, but I knew that Mom was in the house, so I yelled for my Mommy. And she came out of the house and rescued me from the top of the swing set. That made it easier to explore the next time, because I knew that if I got into someplace that I couldn’t figure out how to get out of, I could rely on my mother to come and help me.
It’s not just things we don’t know how to do or things we aren’t good at where some directions are helpful, where a safety net can matter. What kind of a contractor, no matter how many houses they’d built, would start to build a house without some sort of a blueprint to rely on?
The last several years have been a time of some transition, some change for us here at Washington City. We’ve had interim pastors and a permanent pastor who was here for only a year or so. We’ve had some conflict and turmoil among people in the congregation, and as a result of that some people have left. We’ve had turnover and change among our paid staff, through Terry’s illness and Gwen’s retirement from her work as church secretary. It’s been a challenging time in a lot of ways and it’s taken a toll on a lot of people.
In the last year or two, though, we have started to stabilize and turn things around. We have a new team approach to pastoral ministry. We have new paid staff, in Jenn and Don. Sally and June Mark and others are helping with our music ministry. We’re back with BVSers, first Kayla and now Debbie. The Soup Kitchen has re-opened, and there’s a lot of new equipment and new food suppliers and new interest. Jenn and Nate lead a young adult book group that reaches a number of people. Church finances are more stable, and the building itself is receiving more use and generating more income.
In a lot of ways the last couple of years have been a time for building, or in some cases re-building. Any time the body of Christ is involved in doing something like that, there’s always a temptation to stop, a temptation to say, “OK, here we are and we’re worshipping together and we’re praising God and we’re holding one other up in love and prayer and we’ve got meetings and things and the church ministries are looking better and we’re reaching out. The church is built. The body of Christ is already here.”
That’s true, as far as it goes. But that doesn’t mean we can stop. If you think back to learning how to ride a bike, what’s one of the first things that you learn? You’ve got to keep pedaling. You can rest for a little while from time to time, but if you stop pedaling a bicycle eventually you’ll lose your balance and fall over. Maybe some of you had to push your car out of some snow in the last few weeks. Once you’ve started pushing, can you stop? Can you trust the initial momentum of that first push to keep the car going? Usually not. Usually if you stop pushing the car stops moving forward in the snow and it’s twice as hard to get it going the next time.
As we work toward building up the body of Christ here at Washington City, we’ve got to keep pushing. We’ve got to keep building. We’ve got to think about what it is God wants this congregation to look like, not just today or tomorrow, but down the road a few years, and we’ve got to build towards that vision. We’ve got to build toward that call of God.
I mentioned earlier how building things does not always come easily for me. What is true for TV carts can be true for a church. It’s a little frightening for us to think about. We’re not worthy, we might say. We’re not good enough, we’re too sinful, we’re too weak to build Christ’s church. I’m sure that there are some of us saying that from time to time.
You know what? In some ways that’s right. On our own, we are too weak to build Christ’s church. On our own, we are too sinful, we are unworthy. We can’t do it by ourselves.
A few months back I was looking at one of the plates from out front in the lobby area. The founding date for the congregation caught my eye. 1894. If I am doing my math correctly, that makes this the 120th anniversary of this congregation. I think that’s fascinating. I think that’s exciting.
Obviously we can’t talk to anyone who was around back then, but I have talked to people who founded a congregation. I was the pastor at Woodbridge in 1996. That was their 40th anniversary. The Woodbridge congregation, along with Arlington and Good Shepherd, was founded by members of the Washington City congregation. Back in 1956 Washington City sent their associate pastor, Harold Moyer, and a number of their families to Woodbridge to begin a congregation. The folks here at Washington City at that time recognized that things were changing, that people were moving to the suburbs, and they wanted to make sure that the Church of the Brethren was there to greet them when they got there.
I got to talk to some of the people who started the Woodbridge congregation. They all talked about how it was kind of scary. It was exciting, but at the same time there was a sense of facing the unknown and not knowing how things would turn out. Every time I talked to one of the founding members of that congregation, the conversation came back to one word. I suspect it is the same word that the conversation would come back to if I could talk to the folks who founded this congregation back in 1894. Faith.
Faith in God. Seeking God’s will through prayer and planning. Believing that they were doing what God wanted them to do. Trusting that God would provide what they needed.
You see that kind of faith and trust in our Gospel reading from Matthew. Jesus approaches four fishermen, and says “Follow me.” And what happens? They follow him! They lay aside their nets and their catch and in one case their father and they follow Jesus into the unknown. That takes faith – faith that this guy who walked up to them and told them to come along knows what he is talking about.
You see that faith throughout the history of Israel. It’s not always the leaders of Israel who are proclaiming the faith. As often as not it’s the rich and the powerful who have turned away from God. But there is always a remnant, always a group faithful to God, relying on the Lord as their stronghold.
The Lord was the stronghold of the founders of this congregation. The Lord is our stronghold as we face the future. The Lord is our stronghold as we work at how to go about building the church for the years to come. The Lord is our stronghold.
Because we know we have that stronghold, we can try things that maybe we wouldn’t try otherwise. When I knew my mom was there I wasn’t afraid to climb the swing set. When I have the directions with me I’m not afraid to try and build whatever is in front of me.
And when I remember, when we remember that God is with us, we can live by faith. We can dare to do things that we’d never even think about doing on our own. We can leave our unworthiness behind. We can leave our weakness behind. We can seek God’s vision for our lives as individuals and as a body and work toward it. The Lord is our stronghold – of whom shall we be afraid?
I think this is going to be an exciting year. I think that through us God is going to build this congregation in a lot of different ways, and I am glad to be here to see it. I invite you to join me on the journey. In just two weeks Nate and Jenn will be licensed, and we will be formally installed as a ministry team by the district. I’m excited about that, and I hope you are too. I hope you’ll be here, and that you’ll share the invitation to join us for worship with other friends, both your friends and friends of the congregation.
Together let us seek God’s will. Together let us do God’s work. Together let us build what God wants us to build. It may be scary sometimes. We may be afraid we’re in over our heads. We may feel like we’re working without a net. But we will walk by faith, and with God’s help we will make it.
Put your hope in God. Be strong. Let your heart be bold. The Lord is the stronghold of our life. Amen.