This is the message that I gave on the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, 27 August 2000, at Walker Valley United Methodist Church, Walker Valley, NY. The Scriptures for that Sunday were 1 Kings 8: 22 – 30, 41 – 43; Ephesians 6: 10 – 20; and John 6: 56 – 69.
It is rather appropriate that as we began the repair work on our own church building and we begin the process of preparing for Charge Conference with the first meeting of the Nominations & Personnel committee, we read about the building of the Temple under the direction of Solomon.
One of Solomon’s first tasks was to build the Temple in which to house the Ark of the Covenant. Up until this time, the Ark of the Covenant, the box built to hold the Ten Commandments had been stored in a tent. David had developed the plans for the Temple but it was left to Solomon to build. And to say he simply built a building was an understatement. It has been estimated that what Solomon built in 968 b.c..e. would be worth approximately $5 billion dollars today. When you first read the Old Testament reading for today, you might think that Solomon is telling the people of Israel that “if we build the Temple, people will come.” Of course, that isn’t what he was saying because that line wouldn’t be used for another 2000 years.
Solomon began his reign with a conscious dependence on God. Verses 22 through 53 of 1 Kings 8, which we read part of this morning in the Old Testament reading, reflect that continuing need in Solomon’s life and the lives of the Israelites. In this prayer Solomon stressed God’s faithfulness to His people and the need for a similar faithfulness on the part of Israel, rulers and people alike, if God’s full blessings were to be realized.
But Solomon also realized that the temple that he built could never be big enough to be the true house of God. The God of Scripture is infinite; all that He has made, vast as the whole of creation may be, has it limits. No building, no matter how beautiful or ornate it might be, can ever be though of as God’s dwelling place.
I think that is why Solomon included foreigners, those who would come to the temple, in his prayer. Those who would come to the new temple would come not because it was a magnificent place but because of those who worshipped there.
Don’t get me wrong. Having a nice building makes it easier to have church services and develop other programs. But if the people don’t come, it is very difficult to have programs or even the simplest of buildings. In a workshop I attended while living in Kentucky, a model was presented for the development of churches there. It was a good model for metropolitan areas from which you could draw 1000 or more people but not one that would work in areas such as eastern Kentucky where the population base was small.
And while I may have disagreed with this model for church development as it applied to the small rural churches of eastern Kentucky (and I wasn’t the only pastor or leader to tell our District Superintendent that it wouldn’t work), one aspect of the model did make sense. Churches using this model developed programs around the needs of the congregation and the area before putting money into buildings. Some of these churches met in shopping mall meeting rooms or school auditoriums before ever thinking about building a sanctuary and church home. To paraphrase that line from the movie “Field of Dreams”, “we can build it after the people come.”
Building a program may be the hardest part of being a Christian. Granted, being a Christian is not an easy thing to do either. As the Gospel reading for today shows, many of those who heard the words of Jesus decided that what He was asking was too great and that the path that He wanted them to follow was to rough a road.
So you can imagine how the disciples must have felt when they began to understand that it was going to be up to them to carry out the mission after Christ’s death. It was hard enough to understand that Christ was going to die; now they were going to have to carry on without him.
But Jesus never intended for His program to fail. That is why His mission was to show by example what God’s plan was all about. With the constant emphasis on teaching and sharing and demonstrating, Jesus made it possible for His disciples to continue the program, even to this day and time.
Too many programs, whether they are a part of a church or the secular world, fail because they are the vision and efforts of one person. When a person has an idea or develops a plan but does not include others in it or makes it impossible for others to join, that plan is not going to last beyond the interest of the starting individual. Similarly, when someone is asked to take on a project but given no support, sooner or later that person runs out of energy to complete the project and it may not get done.
One task facing the Nominations & Personnel committee as it begins its task of picking the leaders for the coming year is to also identify people willing to help. It is one thing to say that such-and-such is a good idea but if no one is willing to help, nothing happens. As of this morning, we have some thirty-five children and youth on the church roster. Sunday school could be a very good this year but only if we also have enough people to help with the program. Not all of the kids on the list are going to come, that is true; but it is also true that many will not come if it is not worth the effort. Sunday school is not solely the work of Kim as Sunday school Superintendent. She has to have the support and help of others.
It is not easy to develop and support programs. The parable of the sower and the seeds applies as well to church programs as it does to people. You know the parable — the sower put the seeds out; some fell on rocky ground and died, some fell in the weeds and were choked out by the undergrowth. But others fell on fertile ground and grew. A program without workers will die; a program without support will quickly wither.
The purpose today is not to berate or embarrass people but rather to get our focus on what it will take to make next year and the years afterward successful. Consider the words of Paul as we read them this morning. Paul knew that sometimes it was tough going; that following Christ was a difficult task. But he encouraged the Ephesians to hold fast, to let God protect them. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, there wasn’t anything that the Ephesians could not do. In times of strife and turmoil, it has always been best to let God be your protector and your guide.
It is definitely not an easy task to be a Christian today. Too much around us encourages us to forget our faith. But as difficult it is for us, think how difficult it must be for those who do not have a Christian home. One reason that John Wesley began the Methodist movement was because he saw a need for the church’s presence in society. Our church, along with countless other churches in cities and towns in this country, stands as a testament to that idea. It offers hope to those seeking hope for they know they can find solace and comfort within.
As members of the United Methodist Church, we have pledged to give our prayers, our presence, our gifts and our service. The challenge this day is a simple one. Now that we have built this place, what do we do? How shall we serve?