“A House Built on
Rock: The State of
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Matthew 7: 24-29
“Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house, but it did not fall because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell – great was its fall.” – Matthew 7: 24-27
It is tempting when I am doing a State of the Church report to look at the numbers. How is our attendance? How is our financial giving? How many people are joining the church?
those standards we are, I guess, doing okay. Average worship attendance as of
last Sunday is up 19 people a Sunday compared to the year before. Financial giving to support the
ministry and mission of
But Jesus offers another standard of measurement in Matthew 7, at the conclusion of his Sermon on the Mount. He suggests that we are doing okay if we listen to his words and act on them, but we are in trouble if we don’t act on them.
So the real question is – are we listening to the words of Jesus and acting on them? This is a much harder question to answer.
I will mention just a few ways that I believe we are listening to the words of Jesus and acting on them, and then name a couple of ways I think we can act even more faithfully on the words of Jesus.
1. I am amazed at the spirit and vitality of our missions of compassion and social justice. We have faithful long-term members who have been working year in and year out for decades on issues of hunger, peace, homelessness and justice. Their commitment and persistence is a constant inspiration.
And others with amazing talent, passion and commitment are stepping up to make new ministries of compassion and justice happen…ministries that five years ago I would have never anticipated but that are making a real and concrete impact in the lives of people and our city and our world.
result of the work of some of our mission leaders in the area of
homelessness, a group of us who are pastors and church leaders have met with
our mayor four times in recent months to discuss supportive housing for the
homeless and affordable housing for working people in the District. The mayor is going to report on the progress
we are making on November 13 at
This promising development has grown, as much as anything, out of Foundry’s Walk-In Mission and all those in our congregation who have cared, throughout the years, about homeless and hungry men and women.
2. I am touched by our commitment to ministry to children and youth. One of the most powerful and poignant stories in the New Testament is found in Matthew 19.
“Then little children were being brought to [Jesus] in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’ And he laid his hands on them…”
For me, the most basic criteria for evaluating a church are whether we are a place where children want to be and whether we are prioritizing the ministry of bringing children into the presence of Jesus so that he might touch them.
One of the things I say every time we baptize a child in this church is that every child we baptize belongs to all of us. He or she becomes all of our responsibility. Whether we are ourselves parents or grandparents of children biologically or by adoption or another relationship, we are all responsible for the nurture of the children God sends to us. Every single one of us has a spiritual need to invest ourselves in those who will carry on the faith and witness after we are gone.
At the house meetings Dee and I attended in September and October, one of the things I heard parents say was that they went through the hassle of getting their children here to 16th and P Streets on Sunday mornings because they want to raise their children in a church that is inclusive and diverse where they will learn a Christianity that is as broad and beautiful as God’s love.
Among the bottom line questions I ask myself every time I need to make a pastoral decision is the question:. How will this affect the children? What will the children learn from this? Will the children know themselves to be loved by God if we do this?
Being a reconciling congregation is part of our ministry to children and youth. I still hear the assumption sometimes that these are competing interests. They are one and the same thing. Unless we are a reconciling congregation, our children will not know the love of God.
We need more Sunday school teachers; we need more nursery volunteers; we need more education committee members; we need people to take graham crackers and milk to the classroom. There will always be such needs, but I have no doubt in my mind that this congregation is committed to our children and youth. We are listening to Jesus’ words about welcoming the children. We are doing what Jesus said.
3. The other word of Jesus that I want to lift up is Jesus’ call to take up our crosses and follow him. (Matthew 16:24) I want to say a word of admiration and appreciation for Foundry’s leaders.
leaders and I don’t always agree on everything, and this is the way it should
be. Foundry’s leaders don’t always agree with each other, and this is
absolutely the way it should be. But the leaders God has given
One of the greatest failings of mainline Protestantism in our time is a lack of courageous leadership. I asked a retired bishop not long ago how many United Methodist bishops, if they were acting on their own beliefs, would want to change the United Methodist Book of Discipline to be fully inclusive of gay and lesbian persons. He said that, in his opinion, it would be a clear majority of the bishops.
What is keeping them from speaking out more boldly? I asked. “They are afraid of the upset and anger it would cause in the churches in their areas,” the bishop said.
Local congregations are declining because those elected to positions of leadership at every level of our denominations from bishops to local church officers are hesitant to lead.
Our leaders at Foundry usually make outstanding decisions and sometimes they may make mistakes, but they have always been willing to lead. It is better to risk making mistakes than to be paralyzed. You can always correct mistakes but fear and inaction leads to slow death.
I want to say a special thank you to a key leader for these past three years who is completing his third term of office as chair of our Council – Charlie Berardesco. Charlie has been a wise, thoughtful, courageous leader, and I am thankful for his service and sacrifice these past three years.
I also want to express my appreciation for the work of our Calling and Vision Planning Team – 10 people representing different ages and experiences and perspectives who have spent countless hours together – reading, studying, praying, reconciling differences, writing – to help us as a congregation ask the questions – Who are we? Who is our neighbor? And what is God calling us to do? They are doing amazing work and will be sharing their thinking with us in the year ahead.
I want to say a word of thanks to all our leaders who are ending terms of offices and those who have agreed to serve in 2008. I am thankful for all of our leaders who have taken the risk of courageous leadership. Thank you. This is a rock on which our house is built.
4. I want to say just a word about an area of our life together where our foundation may be a little sandy…an area where we can grow.
Jesus took a disparate group of people, invited them to be his disciples, and built them into a community of love, respect and shared commitment.
the disciples there was Matthew, a tax collector for the
But Jesus’ goal was to build them into a community of love and respect so that they could be a witness to the world of the love of God. In other words, it wasn’t good enough that they were all gathered around Jesus. They had to become a community because Jesus wasn’t going to be there forever.
One of the messages I heard in some of the house meetings Dee and I participated in during September and October was a longing for deeper community. For some of our congregation, relationships and friendships with our staff have been their deepest experience of community here at Foundry.
But your primary sense of connection and community should not be us. We are here to help you care for one another, and to help you grow as followers of Jesus. The worst thing that we could do as ministers and staff is to steal from you your opportunity to love and care for one another.
I think we need to ask the question of how we can build deeper, more authentic, more caring, more supportive, more honest relationships with one another throughout this congregation. Over the next year, it is my hope that anyone who has attended this church more than six times would have gotten to know and care about at least three other people who, in turn, know and care about you. And it is my hope that everyone would have at least one person who is a prayer partner…someone with whom you can share your deepest needs and be confident that you are praying for one another.
5. Last year in my state of the church report, I raised the topic of commitments by persons in same-sex relationships. I asked the Church Council to lead us in a process of addressing the question of what to do to support same-sex commitments. I said that while I did not want to move without a sense of your support as a congregation, my conscience would not allow me to participate in denying this congregation’s blessing, and my blessing, of committed relationships between gay men and between lesbian women.
I am grateful to everyone who has participated in formal discussions and deliberations and in informal conversations. I have now prepared a pastoral letter addressing this question and stating what I intend as a pastor to do. This is finally a pastoral decision but your support is critical. I hope you will discuss it with me on December 16th and at other gatherings in December and January.
In Christ there is no longer either Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, gay or straight. (Galatians 3: 28) To the degree we fail to fully include people, we are not hearing the words of Jesus nor are we doing them. The letter I have prepared is inadequate, I know. It is not yet fully of Christ but it is a next step. I will be eager to hear your thoughts and feelings.
We are far from a perfect church, but I do believe our foundation is built on the words of Jesus. When the rains and winds come, as they will, if our foundation is the words of Jesus, we will stand. If our foundation is anything or anyone else, we will not stand.
Our mission to those who suffer injustice and oppression – the life of service taught and exemplified by Jesus – is a rock. Our ministry with children and youth taught and exemplified by Jesus is a rock. Taking up our crosses and following Jesus in the way of courageous leadership is a rock. Loving one another the way Jesus loves us is a rock. Including everyone and honoring and blessing the love and commitment between all people, children of God, in the spirit of Jesus is a rock.
May our house be built on rock.