Sunday, February 14, 2010

Building the Temple for the Next Generation

Below is the sermon I delivered today for Brooklyn Memorial UMC:

1 Chronicles 29:1-19

King David was a remarkable figure in the Hebrew Bible. He defeated the giant Goliath…Went from a shepherd boy to King…Firmly established Israel’s kingdom by defeating those enemies who had harassed Israel for years…Established Jerusalem as the capital city for the Holy nation of Israel, God’s chosen people living on The Promised Land…Now that, is a life of accomplishment!

But as King David came to the end of his reign, he knew he had more to do. Because he was so grateful to God for the many blessing that had been brought upon Israel, and because he wanted his nation to remain faithful to God, he wanted to build a permanent Temple in Jerusalem so that all of God’s people in Israel would be able to come, make sacrifices, and worship God.

However, being that it was toward the end of David’s life, he knew that he could not do this alone. In fact, God had already told him he wouldn’t live to see the process through. So he went and gathered the community leaders around his admittedly young and inexperienced son. He said, “I have poured into this project everything I can. I give it freely because I love God. Who will join me in this offering? Who believes so strongly in the Lord’s work that they will give of everything they have and everything they are to establish his Holy Temple?”

Today, in many ways, we find ourselves in a similar situation as David. Like David, we as a church family experienced great joys and great victories over our lives as Brooklyn Memorial. Like David, as we know from our financial situation, we are at a point where we are contemplating our own mortality. Unlike David, however, the life of this church is not limited by a single human lifespan. Instead, our life span as a church is measure by our ability to adapt to changing circumstances, our commitment to pursuing God’s will over all our lives, and by our desires to reach out in ministry to our communities.

David knew that no one individual could build God’s temple. Instead, if God’s house were to be built, all of God’s people would have to come together to do so. This would be the work of a community, not the work of some distant king. Facing such a challenge, the people responded. The amounts listed in scripture demonstrate that people gave varying amounts. Some likely could give more then others. But all strove to give what they could- it even says that people who had precious stones, likely handed down from parent to child, gave them for use in building the temple.

So too must our church come together as a community. If we are to see lasting ministry at Brooklyn Memorial, ministry that will take us into the reign of our children and grandchildren, then we must as a community dedicate ourselves to the task of discerning God’s will. We will need to pray for guidance as we reduce and reorient the budget to maximize our ministry potential. And we will need God’s guidance as we determine how we can support the church with our time and our treasure.

The Hebrew people gave both. They worked long hours and gave generously so that they might build a place of worship for generations to come. They gave with their whole hearts- not begrudging the need to support the temple but giving freely of the things they had received. When David saw their generosity and willing spirits, he cried out praises to God for what God was able to accomplish amongst his chosen people. He gave thanks for what God had accomplished so far, and ask for God’s blessing and wisdom on the ministry that would come when the transformation from tent to temple was complete.

I know that we too have seen God do many great things through us at Brooklyn Memorial. Just as David celebrated the accomplishments of God, let us do so also. Since I have been here such a short time, I asked Janis and Curt if they might share a few memories.

And so, as we celebrate our history and our accomplishments, we will also have the opportunity in the next few weeks to invest in the future works of God amongst this community. It will begin next week as we bring forth our pledges of our time and our financial support. I’d like to emphasize the importance of both. Obviously, your financial support is necessary to offer ministry opportunities. I don’t pretend to know your individual financial situations, I just ask that you prayerfully consider how much you can devote toward continued ministry at this church. Based on the pledges that are made, the finance team will then proceed to see if we can reduce our budget in a way that will bring us in line with our offerings and rent. We will need your help in that process also, so again we invite you to stay after church the next two weeks as we wrestle with these weighty matters.

However, perhaps even more important than the financial gifts that you give is your commitment to dedicate time and thought to the future ministries here at Brooklyn Memorial. After all, saving this building, saving this congregation, is just a means to an end. We aren’t about saving this church just for the sake of having it; we want to save this church because we believe that God’s will can be done through our collective ministries here.

Amos 5:21-24

The second text, from the prophet Amos, shows us a community that has lost sight of this crucial fact. The text comes several generations later after the temple has already been built. However, now the prophet is saying that God is objecting to the festivals, the solemn assemblies, the offerings, and the music that is being lifted up. Why the objection? These are all things God commanded!!!

The problem is not with the type or manner of worship. The real problem is that all of these things have not been matched up with following God’s will. You see, going to the temple, going to church, is not an end in itself. It is a beginning; it is designed to help you get started on following the will of God.

In the years after the temple was built, the leaders and the people began to forget its original purpose. They began to worship foreign Gods, and they began to exploit their own people.

Elsewhere, Amos describes the people:

Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory,
and lounge on their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock,
and calves from the stall;


Hear this word, you cows of Bashan
who are on Mount Samaria,
who oppress the poor, who crush the needy,
who say to their husbands, ‘Bring something to drink!’

Harsh words. We certainly haven’t as a church been guilty of these exact same offences. I would argue we’ve probably done a better job than the people Amos is condemning. But, but….we must listen to, and heed Amos’ warning. The potential always exists for loosing sight of the idea that all we do, in our worship, in our budget, in our outreach, and in our hearts, must be because we want to do God’s will. If we solve our financial problem, but lose sight of the tasks to which God calls us, all will be for naught. Thus, we must approach this process with humility and prayer. We must seek to go beyond our own individual desires and seek as a community the wisdom to know where God is calling us to today and in the future.

Finally, my friends, I want to acknowledge that talking about the financial crisis we face as a church is a difficult thing. It is scary to know that we as a church are going to have to make drastic changes. And so, I’d like to remind you of the words of Paul. You see, his church was also going through some major upheaval. Those who had converted to Christianity were beginning to be disconnected with their Jewish brothers and sisters. The synagogues to which they had gone their entire lives; the rabbi’s they had come to admire; the community that they had developed- all were falling apart for them. They began to feel distant from their heritage, distant from their community, distant even from God. Paul’s letter up to this point has wrestled with some weighty things- worship and prayer, gifts and offerings, cries, sighs, and tears. To those who were upset by all of the change, Paul offers these words:

Hebrews 10:19-25

“Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

God sent Jesus to be with us. If we have nothing else, we have the confidence that the Son of God came down to earth, to live and to die with us, was resurrected and so continues to walk with us. We must not forget that we are not alone in this process. We have a great comforter, a wise teacher, a loving shepherd who will guide us on our way. And we have each other. (Now that might be scary!) But look, it takes each and every one of us to encourage each other to continue to always act out of love and kindness. To remind each other to show up at the community meal to demonstrate God’s love. To help each other notice the new visitor, the sick friend, or the grieving daughter. We as Methodists believe it is our obligation to work together as a community to continue to strive to conform ourselves to God’s will.

If we work together, we can see this church continue in ministry beyond our own generation. It will be scary work, and I can’t promise you I know what the next stage of our process looks like. But I can tell you we follow an awesome God. If we are willing to follow, if we encourage one another, if we commit ourselves with our whole hearts, we too will shout praises with David about the wonders God has done.

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