11/18/12 Come, Build a Church: Consecration Sunday

I just finished reading the biography of Steve Jobs, the founder and CEO of Apple. It sounds like he was a real SOB, provoking people in the company with harsh and vulgar insults. He said that’s just who he was, and that he was just provoking people to make beautiful products.

When I was a community organizer I learned that you sometimes have to provoke people, pressure them to do the right thing. We raised $4 million dollars, and identified a contractor and we still had to provoke and pressure Mayor Rendell to let us build 126 new low and moderate income houses in West Philadelphia. Hebrews says there is a time for provoking people to good deeds.  Listen.


Hebrews 10:11-14, (15-18), 19-25  11-18Every priest goes to work at the altar each day, offers the same old sacrifices year in, year out, and never makes a dent in the sin problem. As a priest, Christ made a single sacrifice for sins, and that was it! Then he sat down right beside God and waited for his enemies to cave in. It was a perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some very imperfect people. By that single offering, he did everything that needed to be done for everyone who takes part in the purifying process. The Holy Spirit confirms this: This new plan I’m making with Israel isn’t going to be written on paper, isn’t going to be chiseled in stone; This time “I’m writing out the plan in them, carving it on the lining of their hearts.” He concludes, I’ll forever wipe the slate clean of their sins. Once sins are taken care of for good, there’s no longer any need to offer sacrifices for them.  19-21So, friends, we can now—without hesitation—walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place.” Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our priest before God. The “curtain” into God’s presence is his body.

22-25So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.

November 18, 2012

Come, Build a Church: Consecration Sunday


It’s amazing to think of the changes this church has been through in the last 136 years. No one could have predicted what St. Luke looks like now just 10 years ago, let alone one hundred years ago! We have been through so many changes. And we seem to be going into another period of transition in the next few years – a period that will require some significant adjustments as we find ways to reach new generations of potential Christians.

It was so affirming at the Charge Conference at the beginning of this month to hear Dr. Powell tell us that we are ahead of many churches in figuring out a way to make the changes that need to be made, to reach out to new people, and to have our worship be meaningful to new generations of Christians. She could see how our partnership with PlumbLine Fellowship gives us a golden opportunity to develop our own ministries for this exciting future. The kind of worship they are developing gives us clues about the ways we can also develop worship that works for these upcoming generations.

She helped me become aware of a pitfall we may face as we take on this interesting journey – the temptation to blame PlumbLine for changes we make that do or do not work or that we don’t like. PlumbLine will be worshipping in Lurwick Hall every Sunday at 11:30 during December as they begin the process of moving here from Narberth. They plan to be here fulltime starting in February. We are taking some risks by inviting PlumbLine to worship in our space. We are risking that some of our younger members will want to worship in their style rather than ours. We are risking that visitors will gravitate to their service rather than ours. They are taking a similar risk of course, and we need to have a good working relationship so that we keep clear boundaries and open hearts.

I do not make a proposal to renovate our sanctuary just to accommodate the PlumbLine style of worship in the same space with us. I make the proposal because I want our youth to be able to worship in the same space with us in a style that works for them, and in a style that works for the future of this church. PlumbLine is going to be renting space from us. We can’t make changes for them. They might not be here in 5 years. Whatever changes we make have to work for us.

[I wish this was an easy process, one that would not require painful decisions or adjustments, but I’m afraid that’s not the way it works. We have an opportunity to grow and to embrace the next stage of our life as a church, but only if we are brave in our decisions and our risk taking. I am impressed with this community’s willingness so far.  The next steps are going to be some of the most critical and controversial, but I really think we have it in us. I really do.]

Last week I spoke about building a church where authentic worship happens, not simulated worship – not worship in which we just go through the motions, but worship in which community grows, in which faith deepens, in which lives are transformed. Our readings from the Book of Hebrews continue with the same themes this week as last week.

The passage begins, similarly to last week, with the assertion that Christ’s death was a once and for all sacrifice which changes everything. If people no longer have to continually make sacrifices to try to win favor from the gods, to show they are good, to regain their worthiness, they can put their time and attention to other things. Christians know that from Jesus’ death on, we start from God’s acceptance rather than God’s rejection, with God’s forgiveness rather than God’s judgment. That changes the way we live our lives.

Hebrews goes on to notice that some people think that because people no longer need to sacrifice or make sacrificial offerings to the gods, they no longer need to come together in community and worship. The passage ends with these words: “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for God 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.”

Why bother with church if you don’t have to win favor from God? Why build and support a church if you don’t need to prove you are good by personal piety and showing off your righteousness? Hebrews says even though Christ loves and forgives us before we even ask, we still need community to “provoke one another to love and good deeds.” In community we find out who we really are as God’s forgiven and loved people, and we provoke each other to respond to God’s Spirit with love instead of judgment, with acceptance rather than rejection, with forgiveness rather than fear.

Today we celebrate the promises and the gifts that build God’s church. We dedicate the pledges and tithes that enable us to provoke each other to love and good deeds in response to God’s endless love. For 136 years, that’s what this church has been doing: helping people to know who they really are and provoking them to live out God’s purpose in every part of their lives.

We are blessed to receive this legacy.  We are so blessed to be able to carry it on, to be part of a community in Christ that grabs that good news and makes it part of our lives. Rejoice and be glad, right here right now, we get to participate in authentic worship; we get to be part of the new reign of God.


Responsive Hymn: 2155  Blest Are They