“State of the Church Address: God's Timing”
God has led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt through the Red Sea, 40 years through the wilderness. The old generation who had been slaves had died, a new generation had been born in the desert. They are about to enter the Promised Land.
God tells the Israelites that when they get to the Promised Land God’s fear and pestilence will drive out the current inhabitants of the Promised Land. Because of a sense of uneasiness and dread – the Hebrew word is “eymah” – and because of pestilence – the Hebrew word is “Tsir`ah,” which literally means hornets – the current inhabitants of the land will voluntarily move away and the land will become available to the Israelites.
The people currently living in the Promised Land will just start feeling uncomfortable and uneasy in their homes and on their land and they will be bugged by hornets until they decide to move somewhere else. And without the Israelites having to buy the land and without having to fight for it, the Promised Land will just open up in front of them.
Here’s the really interesting part of the story: God says to the Israelites, I will open up the land for you, but I’m not going to do it instantly.
Exodus 23:29-30: “I will not drive them out from before you in one year, or the land would become desolate [Shamamah, literally wasteland] and the wild animals would multiply against you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you until you have increased and possess the land.”
Here’s a very important spiritual principle: God opens the Promised Land little by little as we increase enough to occupy it. God is ready to give us the Promised Land just as quickly as we can increase to occupy it.
This is a spiritual principle, a life principle, even a political principle, even a business principle.
God can fulfill God’s promises to us only as fast as we can grow into them.
We can apply this principle to whatever we are praying for. You can apply this principle to whatever you are hoping and longing for in life – whether it is a life partner, a fulfilling vocation, parenthood, a happy retirement, justice in the world, or your party in the majority in Congress and the White House.
God will move as fast as we are willing and able to grow. No faster.
If you are hoping for a life partner, pray that God does not give you a life partner before you have grown enough to live mutually...to be self-aware...or your Promised Land may turn out to be Egypt.
If you are hoping for a fulfilling vocation, pray God doesn’t give you that job before you have learned self-care and life balance, or the job you’ve always wanted will eat you alive.
If you are hoping for children, pray that God does not give them to you before you have learned how to sacrifice and love unconditionally, or else your life will be full of disappointment.
The principle is that God will open the Promised Land as fast as we can increase in order to occupy it. No faster.
This is our annual state of Foundry sermon. Most Sundays we talk about God, Christ, the Bible, the world outside our doors. One Sunday a year we take an inward look at our organizational life as a congregation.
This is the end of the first year of our Foundry Five-Year Goals. Our goals were developed by our councils with the leadership of our Congregational Council. If you serve this year on a Foundry council please raise your hand. These goals emerged from our councils and belong to our councils. We have copies of the goals at various locations around the church.
We who are Foundry’s staff – our job is to support you, the congregation, to pursue our goals.
I want to say a word about our staff. We have two kinds of staff. One kind of staff is our operations staff which is led by the Rev. Al Hammer. The operations staff keeps the organizational, practical, day-by-day life of the church functioning. They type bulletins, answer the phones, clean the building, make sure the boiler works, get your offerings to the bank safely, and make sure the bills are paid. This place falls apart without our operations staff. We are grateful for all the hard work they do.
The other kind of staff, just as important, are the program staff led by Rev. Dee Lowman. This staff organizes worship, education, fellowship, mission, and evangelism. All their work is guided by our goals. They are organizers. Their work is to help you do your ministry.
We have wonderful and dedicated staff. Not all of our staff is at this service today, of course, but their names are on the back of the bulletin. We have 10 full-time staff, 11 part-time staff and, of course, Thomas Daniels who is assigned to us by our custodial service.
I’d like to ask for volunteers to send a note or email of appreciation to one staff member this week. You make ministry happen here but the work of our staff is essential to keep the organization going and to organize your ministry.
Because we have a committed and competent and caring staff, I am able to focus my time and attention on four five-year leadership goals. We are one year into these goals, and I want to celebrate today some of what has happened because of your ministry as a congregation.
One of our goals is to end homelessness in Washington, DC, by 2014, by leading a movement to create 2,500 units of permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless people. So far, our city has created more than 1,000 units, and we’ve asked one of our members, Earnestine Ballesteros, to say a word about the difference permanent supportive housing is making.
Ernestine is one of our walk-in mission volunteers. She greets the folk who come here and makes sure they get a cup of coffee when they get here. She greets me every Friday morning when I get here and it is a highlight of my week.
Ernestine, your son received permanent supportive housing through Housing First. Can you tell us what Keith’s situation was before and after he received housing?
He lived on the streets and was drinking. I used to visit him at Dupont Circle. I thought he was on his way to die.
Pathways reached out to him through the Housing First program. They got him an apartment in SE. It was a basement apartment which made him feel more secure like he was in a dugout. They also helped him get VA benefits.
He had health problems, poisoned blood from the drinking and heart problems. Pathways was with him through everything. They were able to build trust with him.
Now he has stopped drinking because he says he likes living, and that he knew all the time that God was breathing down his back.
When he got housing, he was able to talk about his experiences. Pathways knew what to do. He saved money to get his own computer. He’s coming over for Thanksgiving and he is cooking the turkey. He is doing wonderful and I am so grateful.
Alicia, what has FoundryPM been like for you?
I feel very blessed to be part of this new faith community and I am committed to helping it grow. I have attended a couple of small, dwindling congregations that are all too common nowadays, and it’s really exciting that Foundry is investing its time and resources to expanding its ministry.
The third goal I am focusing on is transforming the United Methodist Church to be inclusive of everybody. Getting rid of the things in the United Methodist Book of Discipline that condemn and exclude LGBT people.
One of the big steps we took during the last year was to decide ourselves as a congregation to practice marriage equality. This was a really big deal. I will never be able to express enough appreciation to our Congregational Council, our Summer of Great Discernment Ministry Team, and our Inclusion Advocacy Team for the leadership they provided.
We’ve asked one of our couples to say a word about this part of our church’s life together.
Rachel and Sally, can you tell me how long have the two of you been together?
Tell us about your experience of Church?
Obviously there are legal reasons to support gay marriage. How would marriage provide more legal protection and piece of mind for the two of you?
Why have you chosen Foundry as your church?
How has the Summer of Great Discernment and the Vote for Marriage Equality here at Foundry changed things for you?
The fourth focus is our building, which I love because of what happens here seven days a week, because of what has happened here in years past, and what will happen here for decades to come. We need to attend to the needs of our building. Paul Hazen, chair of our Resources Council has agreed to say a word about this.
In preparing, I remembered the first time I entered this sanctuary. It was 23 years ago and I had moved to DC from Wisconsin to come out of the closet and start a new life. I had a low opinion of myself. I did not believe that God loved me. I went to church out of habit and a sense of duty. I walked into this church building and sanctuary and over time my life was saved. It was not one thing but it was hundreds of sermons from this pulpit that challenged me; hundreds of prayers from this altar rail that comforted me; and hundreds of inspiring songs from our wonderful musicians that moved my spirit. I feel God in this sanctuary. This is a safe place.
I remember that first Sunday in this sanctuary during the passing of the peace, a woman grabbed me, hugged me, and hundreds of other hugs. It was these hugs in this sanctuary that really changed my thinking about things.
Now I know God loves me and God’s grace flows freely and abundantly. My faith has been restored. I love this sanctuary and when you love someone or something you take good care of it. I feel God here; I feel safe here.
This congregation is a family and every family needs a home and this is our home. And we need to make sure that it is here for our mission and ministry. The ramp was a perfect example. It’s not good enough just to have a ramp; we have to have a building that allows us to carry out our ministry and mission and put that into action every day.
Because of three bequests we received recently, we have been able to repair two of our stained glass windows that we were in danger of losing. One of them is the beautiful angel window up in Fellowship Hall. The other is the wonderful “Come Unto Me” window above our balcony. I love this window. I believe it has shaped our character as a congregation. I believe that when some folk were trying to say to some other folk, don’t come here, the Jesus in the “Come Unto Me” window overruled them.
This window was donated in 1904 by Foundry youth group at the time. And three Foundry members left us bequests that allowed us to preserve and restore them. If you are sitting in the balcony and are able, please reach over and touch the window. Let the rest of us turn so we can see the window and lift up our hands toward the window and rededicate it. Let us pray.
Bless, O God, this window. May we live up to its message. We pray, O God, for the healing of this old building. We pray for the resources and the will to care for it better so that it might continue to serve your people. Amen.
These are the four goals I am focusing much of my time and energy on. Ending homelessness. Opening our doors wider. Helping the United Methodist church become inclusive. And repairing our building.
This is what I believe: that God will open the Promised Land as fast as I can increase to occupy it...as fast as we as a congregation can increase to occupy it.
We have had a very active year. Lots has happened in and through our congregation in this year. In the year ahead I believe that God is ready to open the Promised Land for us as we are able to occupy it.
I feel that in the year ahead we can move farther into the Promised Land if we spiritually increase.
So I want to talk about spiritual increase. I think there are three parts of spiritual increase.
I think we can grow spiritually if we renew our commitment to worship...to make worship an every Sunday commitment and discipline. We actually shape our lives by very practical decisions we make and the decision to spend an hour a week in community with others worshipping God, singing hymns, listening to spiritual music, praying, and paying attention to the Bible. Every Sunday in worship. We have three services now.
Second, we can grow spiritually if we give. My friend Andy Lunt is going to be here next Sunday to talk about the spirituality of giving for our Consecration Sunday. Jane and I have been giving a tithe for us $351 a week. We are talking this week about what our commitment should be for next year. While lots of people have had it rough, we’ve been able to go on a great vacation, seen some baseball games, and we have got a subscription to Arena Stage. So we are thinking this week about what we should commit to the mission and ministry of Foundry Church for next year.
Third, we can increase spiritually by growing in one of the four ways of engaging in mission and ministry: learn, love, serve, and transform the world. Education, fellowship, service, and mission. Which one of those four can you increase in the year ahead?
God will open the promised land as we are spiritually prepared to occupy it.