Construction Equipment

January 28, 2018

Series: January 2018

Category: Faith

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Mark 1:21-28

21They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.

27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching — with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD. THANKS BE TO GOD.

Construction Equipment

          One of my delights since turning in my dissertation has been the chance to again read fiction in my spare time.  My wife Sherri recently shared with me a charming book she was reading by Alexander McCall Smith.  There is a particularly funny and heartwarming scene about a third of the way into the story.  The protagonist, Paul, is a food-writer whose girlfriend of four years Becky has left him for her personal trainer.  Paul, working on a book on Italian cuisine, travels on assignment to finish his work.  When he arrives, he learns there has been a mix-up and he is without a rental car.  Through a strange turn of events, he ends up calling in a favor to someone he met on the plane.  Paul and his benefactor end up in another rental lot where there is one vehicle left.  I say “vehicle,” because all Paul can rent on this busy holiday weekend is a bulldozer.

          Today, we will commission our capital campaign team, charged with helping us raise money to support a much-needed renovation to our main building.  I suppose this conjures up images of bulldozers and other construction equipment.  More important is to picture the ministries that happen in this space, and the ministries that will be sustained and grown with the help of a sensible and inspired renovation.  Let’s say a word about how we got here.  A number of years ago, we recognized mounting deferred maintenance on the main building, the older portion of our facility that preceded the construction of this sanctuary.  An assessment revealed we likely have between $500,000 and $700,000 worth of such repairs to make.  In addition to simply maintaining what we have, there are important safety upgrades to be made.  You are sitting in the portion of the building with up to date earthquake protection.  The children of the church right now are not.  That’s got to be addressed.

          And, there are additional questions.  Does the current facility meet our ministry needs?  The answer to that is an unequivocal “no.”  Weekly, we are held back by the limitations of our building, because we simply don’t have room.  Because of the way our space is apportioned one gathering of 25 can shut down use of the building for any other group of that size, so it’s not about a massive expansion so much as more efficient use of what we have and a little additional space.  You all love to serve meals to those in need; we’d like to do meals for one another, but if you’ve been in our kitchen, you know it is woefully inadequate.  Our offices, where we conduct confidential counseling are totally inaccessible to those with mobility issues, and the list goes on.  Here we’ve spoken only about our current needs; imagine the needs of this congregation as it grows.

The time is now for a clear vision and foresight for who God is calling us to be and what we need in order to support this calling. Thus, today we are commissioning a team to lead us on a campaign we’re calling Westminster 2020: Forward in Faith.  You will hear a lot about this campaign in the coming weeks and months.  Open the letters and communications you get from the team.  Most of them will not be asking you for money.  They will be informing you, involving you, and inviting you into this process together.  They will involve more than architectural plans; they will involve Bible study and prayer.  You’ll hear plenty about the plans in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, I like to think about project as accomplishing three simple goals:  increased safety, utility, and ministry capacity.  We’re fulfilling our responsibility to maintain what has been generously given to us and improve upon it.

I know building projects in churches evoke strong feelings. Many are very excited.  Last year’s feasibility study made that loud and clear.  Some have questions.  Good!  This is why we take our time with this process.  Some may feel unsure about the church putting money into a building.  I get it.  I remember a time when I was younger in which our home congregation was looking at a renovation to address similar much-needed maintenance and capacity issues.  I said to my mother, “I don’t know why we need to raise all this money for a building.  We could meet in a barn.  It doesn’t matter.”  My mother, far wiser than I, lovingly, but sternly, shook me from my naivete.  It’s just not that simple she explained.  She was right. 

All the things we care about – feeding the hungry, organizing to make a difference in the community, enjoying our community right here through small groups and classes, worshiping together, caring for one another – all of that goes away if we don’t tend our space, our facility, a gift we’ve been given by those who came before. This is not about spending money on ourselves.  It’s about investing in what we do here which blesses every circle in which every one of us moves in our daily lives not to mention the community directly impacted by our ministries.  We can choose not to invest in it, but that would be to simply kicking the problem down the road for someone else to deal with, and that’s not you.  You are better than that, more forward-thinking than that, more responsible than that, more faithful than that.  We can be afraid of this, but as Peter Gomes reminds us, our fear is simply a sign of the limits of our imagination, and you all are an imaginative people.

Let’s not think so much of buildings right now. Let’s think of why we’re here, Jesus.  Where do we meet him in as he begins his ministry in Mark?  He’s in the synagogue teaching.  We love to talk about Jesus as an iconoclast, out on the road, a rebel against corrupt institutions.  To be sure, Jesus was unafraid to critique what was broken about institutions, but Jesus loved his tradition, his “church.”  He wanted to preserve what was good and improve upon what wasn’t living up to the best of the tradition’s ideals.  It’s no coincidence that his ministry begins in the synagogue, for it signals a recognition that that space was a vessel which carried the sacred stories of God down from generation to generation.  The synagogue gathered the faithful together for mutual support, spiritual practice, the preserving of shared values and identity.  Our church is that vessel for us.  It is not the end of our work.  It is the beginning.  It is what holds us and makes a place for our work to happen.  Think of it not as a destination, but as a hub, an epicenter, a place where people flow through, encounter something vital and carry it out into the world. 

Two things strike me about Jesus’ moment in the synagogue. First, he teaches, “as one having authority” (Mk 1:22).  The gift of the church is that it is the one institution, the one gathering of people, the one movement, that holds Jesus unequivocally as the authority.  Is there anything more important?  In a world filled with greed, Jesus offers us sharing.  In a world that favors bullying, Jesus offers compassion.  In a world that favors idolatry and the worship of money and material things, Jesus offers us faith in what is actually sacred, and models for us servant leadership, humility, and the crossing of all boundaries to remind us that we are one.  In a world of twisted values, Jesus shows us how God values us, how God values others, and how God values this incredible world.  Is that not worth our investment?

Secondly, something important happens when Jesus is interrupted by someone in the synagogue with an unclean spirit. In our Wednesday class we have just finished a series on prophets, and one of the characteristics we’ve identified is that while being vessels for Spirit, prophets are tapped in to the world, and they respond to it faithfully.  Jesus’s ministry isn’t only about ideas; it’s about action.  When Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue is interrupted by one who cries out with unclean spirits, Jesus hears his cries and Jesus responds.  Jesus sends those spirits away so that the man can have his own voice back.  Amazing, that in just a few lines of the gospel Jesus is described as teaching with authority and restoring voice to the voiceless.  Where does it happen?  It happens in the synagogue.  It happens here too.  These buildings matter.

The crying in particular stays with me. To offer an obvious statement, there’s a lot to cry about in life, but it seems to me there are fewer and fewer places to cry.  Appearances must be upheld.  A certain image of strength must be exerted.  In Alexander McCall Smith’s book, which is incidentally called My Italian Bulldozer, a heartwarming scene exemplifies both this resistance to tears and our need for them.  Paul has rolled into a small village for lunch.  His approach has caused quite a scene, more excitement than this forgotten village has probably had for some time.  He enjoys his meal and the conversation with the curious villagers at this odd celebrity.  As he leaves, the woman who owns the restaurant starts to follow him out and presses a small cake wrapped in cloth into Paul’s hand, “For your journey, in case you should feel hungry.”[1]

“You’ve been so kind to me,” he said, and then he begins to weep. The passage reads:

He felt the tears welling up and knew that he could not stop them. There was no reason for him to cry—but often our tears have no particular justification; they are tears for something larger about the world than any private sorrow.  So now he wept for the whole notion that there should be a tiny village that nobody visited, and that there should be people there who would be kind to a stranger.  He wept for the bigger, louder world that shouted such places down; for the loss of the small and the particular, the local and the familiar.  He wept for people who had restaurants in which few people ate their lunch, for people who grew olive trees that failed to give a crop, for people who thought that Rome did not really care about them.  He wept too because he had not really wept over the loss of Becky to the personal trainer, and now at last he could do that.”[2]

One of the great privileges of my job is that I get to sit where I can see you cry. There is nothing more sacred than to be trusted with your tears.  It is safe to cry here.  Here, we remember that Jesus attended to the cries of the world and hear we practice doing so too.

In the course of his journey, Paul changes, grows, opens his heart, and the vehicle for his change, literally and figuratively is the bulldozer. Because of the bulldozer, he has to move more slowly.  Because of the bulldozer he sees things from a higher vantage point, allowing him to catch glimpses over the fences of the village homes and over the horizon.  Because of the bulldozer he experiences the strength to move obstacles in the way, and let his own heart be moved in the process. 

In the bigger louder world, this place, this church is the small and the particular, this is our local and familiar. This is the church of Jesus Christ, and there are a lot of people speeding by who need it desperately.  So, let’s get some construction equipment in here and see what, with God’s help, we can build together.  Amen. 

[1] Alexander McCall Smith, My Italian Bulldozer, 62-63.

[2] Ibid.