A sermon for the 10th anniversary of our Family Life Center!
Today we have a lot to celebrate.
Over ten years ago, many of you took a leap of faith. You wrestled in prayer, listened hard to God… and decided that God was calling you to build a Family Life Center.
You said a prayer… and went for it.
(You probably said a thousand prayers, right?)
Today, we celebrate the answering of those prayers.
We celebrate a two-story facility with a full basketball court, top-notch commercial kitchen, climate-controlled walking track, furnished exercise room, and spacious nursery… not to mention six classrooms, four bathrooms, and a shower.
And… a new, integrated sound system, with echo-dampening panels on the way.
That’s a lot to celebrate! But it’s not what we’re really here for. If the building sat empty, it’d be no accomplishment at all. What we’re really here to celebrate is what happens inside that facility.
We’re celebrating the work of Donna Adams and Margie Carpenter and Rebecca Richard Guzman – and countless others who worked with them – who have encouraged the community to come into our Family Life Center. We’re celebrating a building that’s full of Welcome Table meals, birthday parties, exercise classes, Fifth Quarters, volleyball games, Wonderful Wednesdays, Boy Scout meetings, Chamber of Commerce dinners, Vacation Bible School, community fundraisers, health and nutrition classes, AA meetings, home school groups, basketball leagues…
And I could keep going. On average, there’s one or two days a month our facilities aren’t used by some group for some purpose. That is a lot to celebrate.
But that’s not why we’re here, is it?
Because if all that was going on and we still carried that debt… that looming debt… we’d worry about the next turn the economy might take. And we’d be held back from chasing our next big dream.
We don’t have to worry anymore, do we?
Today, we are celebrating not just a building… and not just a building full of activity… but a debt free building full of activity.
And now… after all that prayer and worry and hard work and investment… we can just sit back and celebrate how great our church is.
No, that’s not right.
It’s not right because our church doesn’t exist to serve itself. Our church exists because…
God is good – all the time!
All the time – God is good!
We believe that God is good because we are followers of the Way of Jesus Christ. Over the past few weeks we’ve talked about how, as Jesus’ followers, we must forgive as Jesus forgave, sacrifice as Jesus sacrificed, and care for the poor and vulnerable as Jesus cared for them.
Today we celebrate – and deservedly so. But that celebration puts us in danger of stepping off the Way of Christ. We might be tempted to wander onto another way:
The Way of Keeping it All to Yourself.
Jesus told a story about someone on that way. Once, he said, there was a rich man. His fields produced so many crops, his barns couldn’t hold it all. So do you know what he did?
He built bigger barns, so that he could retire early and keep it all to himself.
“You fool!” God says to the man. “You don’t know it, but your life is ending tonight. What good is that stockpile to you now?” (see Luke 12:13-21).
That’s the Way of Keeping it All to Yourself.
Is that our way?
No – no, it most definitely is not.
Let me tell you about our Way.
Ours is the Way of Abraham. When God told Abraham he would become rich in family and land and reputation, God explained the purpose of it: “I will bless you, and make your name great… so that you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2). Abraham was blessed not so that he could keep it all to himself, but so that others would be blessed.
Ours is also the Way of Jesus Christ. When Jesus said his final goodbye to his disciples, his parting instructions were not: “Well, you’ve heard and seen all my good news. So now go home, put your feet up, and keep it to yourselves.” No! Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations; baptize them and teach them all I’ve taught you” (see Matthew 28:19-20).
Ours is not the Way of Keeping it all to Yourself. Ours is the Way of Passing it On.
Which means today we don’t celebrate the completion of our work… we recognize that we, who have been blessed with a debt-free building full of activity, are called to pass on that blessing to others.
But you know this already, don’t you?
I know you do, because I have been blessed by you.
Pastors hope that the church they serve is blessed by their work. And many churches assume that this is a one-way street, with the pastor giving and the congregation receiving. But you give the blessing back. When my mom died, you showered me with cards and meals and extra time to be away and be with my family. You did not hesitate. Whatever blessing I might give you is tiny in comparison to the grace and love you showed me in a moment I needed it most. You passed it on to me.
And I’m not alone.
Donald Davis served our church in the 1970s. When I asked him how Andrews UMC had blessed him, this is what he had to say:
When I grew up in Waynesville and went off to college, I, like most 18 year olds, had not really acquired an appreciation for the place of my own raising. When, thanks to the appointive system, I was sent to Andrews (at that time without consultation) I had no idea that I was simply returning to my childhood.
Everything that has happened to me since then has been thanks to that unasked for and undeserved move.
I met again the mountains where I grew up, but, this time with appreciation. The gentle people of Andrews embraced me like my childhood family had and showed me that there is nothing more important than loving the place from which we came. Andrews was the most important place I ever lived and I constantly name in my heart lists of the people who lived and still live there.
Or how about this, from Steve James who served our congregation in the 1990s:
While we were there, we started a lovely tradition of outreach to the Navajo Nation. There were many adults and youth who shared a couple of very long van journeys across our great nation and who represented Andrews UMC alongside our Methodist sisters and brothers on the Black Mesa. I was so proud of adults and teenagers who went door to door to invite children to the Methodist Church in Kitseelee for Vacation Bible School. That blessing continued when we went to Central UMC in Concord and was passed on to Crossroads UMC where it continues to this day. There are more than 250 mission team members across these last 22 years who became engaged in hands on mission because of the blessing Andrews UMC passed on to us.
There are so many people who loved us and who we love to this day, some of whom are singing praises in heaven. I remember our time in Andrews with deep fondness as one of the best times in my life.
Then there’s Benny Clodfelter, who was your pastor at the turn of the 21st century. Benny had so much to say about how he was blessed, I need to offer a list of highlights or else we’ll miss our lunch…
Keith Francis and others – sometimes even the children – praying with him before worship.
Philip Rogers giving a monologue as “Simon the Zealot” during a Last Supper play.
Bill Seal being one of the first people to visit him at home… and almost never missing church, even in snow or ice.
Sandy Reich standing up to volunteer to teach children’s Sunday School… even as she battled cancer.
And Benny said he could go on with more if I wanted…
Kelley Jones was here for a brief six months after Paul Hacklander’s ministry was so unfortunately cut short. He came out of retirement to be your pastor. He’s here to tell stories for himself, but I got his permission to share this with you: At at time when you could have felt defeated and quit, you didn’t lose hope. When a church’s members are deeply generous and committed – like you are – a pastor like Kelley just has to get out in front of where you are going.
And that is a joy for a pastor. I know, because that is how I feel too.
For all those reasons and more, you are a church that doesn’t just keep a blessing to themselves. You pass those blessings on to your pastors… and to anyone who needs it.
Because that is our Way. The Way of Passing it On.
Like Abraham, we have been blessed with much – a building paid free-and-clear that is full of community activities. And like Abraham, we are called to use what we’ve been given to be a blessing to others. As Christ commanded, we are to take our faith and share it with others… until everyone from one end of the earth to the other has experienced the blessing of eternal life through Christ.
So today – celebrate! But don’t celebrate the conclusion, as though we’ve built a bigger barn so we rest on our accomplishments. Celebrate how God has blessed us, and how God will continue to use us and our facilities to bless many, many others.