In Stages to Our promised Land- One Accord, One Mind, One Sustainable Building
- sermon by Don Portwood September 25, 2005
Based on Exodus 17:1-7 and Philippians 2:1-13
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In the story Vicki read from the book of Exodus, you heard how the Congregation of the Israelites, now free from the slavery and oppression they had experienced in Egypt, left the wilderness of Sin and headed into the desert, journeying by stages, on their way to the promised land.
In a way, we, the Lyndale congregation, are journeying by stages toward, not a promised land, but at least a building that doesn't enslave, oppress and drain us. And We've been journeying by stages. Starting with a circle forum 4 years ago to talk about how this building is helping us in our mission. We then formed a discernment taskforce that helped us discern what our options might be. They brought the congregation to the point of imagining tearing this beautiful sanctuary and building down and replacing it with a smaller sustainable church and housing on this site.
The next stage has been the 4th Foundation Committee, named because if we build another building, it will be the 4th structural foundation this congregation has had, starting in 1884 with a small chapel at Lake and Lyndale, our 2nd building at Lake and Aldrich, and our present 82 year old building at Aldrich and 31st Street.
Over the past two years the 4th foundation task force has met with 4 developers, listened, learned, waited, looked at numbers and had conversations with other churches, moving the congregation at our Annual Meeting last year to include partnering with another church as an option to consider.
Especially over the last few months, the task force has shared much of the data we've gathered in the newsletter. There will be another update in the October newsletter.
September 15th, the Stewardship Council voted to begin a feasibility study with two non-profit developers, Augustana and Common Bond. They proposed a 3 month feasibility study that would look at neighborhood demographics, retail and housing needs, city zoning and financial issues in order to determine the feasibility of:
1) a multi-use building on our 31st and Aldrich site with a church space solely for Lyndale UCC; or
2) combining resources with other church clients of these same developers (primarily Salem) to create a housing/retail/church center project that would be constructed on not one but two nearby neighborhood locations.
If they find that nothing is feasible, we incur no costs. If at the end of the study it's feasible to move ahead with the developers, and we decide to do that, the cost of the study, will be absorbed in the project. If we choose not to go with them, we then incur a $5,000 - $7,500 cost for the study. Because the Stewardship Council can only authorize the spending of up to $5,000 without congregational approval, it is necessary for the congregation to vote on the possibility of spending the remaining $2,500 if needed, at a congregational meeting coming up on October 9th.
For the Congregation of the Israelites, getting out of Egypt was only the beginning of a difficult journey. Entering the wilderness of Shur they found only bitter water they could not drink, and in the wilderness of Sin they found no food until God provided quail and manna. In today's scripture, at Reph'idim, an oasis in the Negev or Sinai desert, there is no water at all; the well has run dry. It's tough going and the people quarrel and find fault with Moses, saying, "Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst."
We are about to enter a new stage in our journey. One that I expect will be much more difficult than our previous stages. In the next weeks and month, discernment and conversation about our future, moves out of the 4th foundation and Stewardship Council, and into the congregation. We have hard discussions ahead of us. To date, we've had near unanimity in decisions we've made. Things have been pretty clear.
I know many of you have questions about possible options. Can we grow the congregation, stay in this building and re-use it in a new way? Can we build something on this site that will be more sustainable? Do we want to partner with another church in our neighborhood? The stage we're entering will be more difficult because how we answer those questions and make those decisions lie at the core of our being, our values and dreams, who we are and who we want to be. As one of the developers said, "In your upcoming discussions, you will be balancing money, desires and mission". Those are emotion laden, passionate topics that we care all care about, what this may cost us financially, what we really want in our hearts, how this fits with the mission of Lyndale, can any housing be affordable?
So my word this morning is a word to prepare us for what may be coming. And in my role as Pastor I offer some suggestions as we head into this next stage.
1) Recognize we don't and we won't start off agreeing (this is a hard time for conflict avoiders or recovering conflict avoiders like myself)
2) Have your voice, get everything out on the table. Say what you're thinking so it can be heard and reacted to. No one is a mind reader, it's ok to find and have your voice.
3) Practice generosity with one another. Think the best first with another person. Often times when we disagree with someone, we think they may be attacking us personally, when they are simply stating their point. So practice generosity, don't jump to conclusions, check things out with people.
4) Remember that we can love one another and disagree. Push back on one another, feel the others strength and still clasp hands in prayer together at the end of the conversation or meeting. The opposite of love isn't hate, it's apathy. Be glad people care enough to have their voice, encourage people to have their voice. I'm worried more about people who disappear saying, "Lyndale church is having some disagreements, I'll find another place". My friends this is what church is, a community living out the cost and joy of discipleship, struggling together to discern God's will for us. This is an exciting time for Lyndale Church.
5) And listen to how God is still speaking to us today, from Phillipians, Paul writes, "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others." We may disagree on what that may look like, but it is a call to act with humility toward one another, in fact, as Paul say, let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. May that be our intention.
To show what that looks like Paul adds an early Christian hymn to portray Christ's humility, "who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of deathóeven death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Sovereign, to the glory of God the Creator.
With the mind of Christ, Paul says, in that humility and faithfulness, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.
I am preparing us to expect some fear and trembling as we work out our building salvation, but I also know we'll work and play and pray our way through this next stage in our journey. There may even be times you find yourself asking, like the Israelites in the desert, "Is God among us or not?" Having served this congregation for 25 years in December, I know and trust that what looks hard, as a rock, can bring forth with living water, and live giving grace.
I know and trust that if there is any encouragement in Christ, consolation from love, sharing in the Spirit, compassion and sympathy, we'll find it among ourselves at Lyndale as we work and pray and play through this.
I know and trust that it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and intend to find your voice and speak with humility and love and work for God's good pleasure.
I know and trust that we are on a journey which will bring this community not only to a sustainable building, but in getting there, to a place of being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
When I looked up the word "accord" in the dictionary, I found it meant ìTo conform or agree; bring into harmony, to be in agreement unity or harmony.î It's not easy, but we can do it, especially, if in on struggle, we rely on the key of C (Christ).
I close with the prayer the discernment task force said before each meeting, that I hope will become our prayer as a congregation:
As a member of Christ's body, we are willing to:
Earnest seek God's intention for the Church,
Humbly recognize our limitations and sinfulness,
Pray patiently about the issue at hand,
Genuinely care for each person's words, feelings and non-verbal expressions,
Recognize and release preconceived perceptions,
Be open to new insights, feelings, and points of view.
Be responsible for my feelings, words, and actions.
May it be so. Amen