Scripture: 1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43
Tomorrow will be another momentous day in our family. We’re helping our daughter, Rachel, move to Huntington, Indiana, where she and her college roommate will be renting a house together and starting their post-college lives. For those of us familiar with this scene, it’s a significant life transition.
Life is full of transitions. High school to college is a significant transition, when students learn how to live and survive apart from mom and dad. When I started college I remember being struck by the fact that I could stay up as late as I wanted, and no one would tell me to go to bed! Of course, the flip side was that neither was someone going to wake me up at the last minute if I accidentally slept through my alarm and missed class.
And the transition from college life into “the real world” involves finding a job, paying for rent, paying for your own gasoline, maybe undertaking your first significant car payment, etc. And Unless you become a public school teacher, graduating from college pretty much means the end having the whole summer off!
There’s the transition from being single to married life; from being a couple to having a child…and for me, multiple children; the slow transition of watching your children grow up, go off to college, graduate, get married, have children, and the next thing you know you’re a grandparent! There’s the transition from working full-time to retirement, and so on. Finally, there’s the ultimate transition from living in this world to living in the world to come. From the day we’re born to the day we die, we’re transitioning from one thing to another.
Here’s the thing: even though life is chock full of transitions, that doesn’t necessarily make them easy. Sure, they can be exciting and adventuresome. But even then they’re often challenging. Going from the known to the unknown, even when we welcome the unknown, can be difficult.
Take marriage, for example. Most of us look forward to getting married. But just looking forward to it doesn’t automatically make it easy. This is why most clergy these days insist on couples doing pre-marriage counseling. Pre-marriage counseling is intended to help bullet-proof a marriage. A couple who goes into their marriage with a healthy view of the challenges and blessings of marriage stand a better chance of surviving the inevitable hard-times than those who go into it still seeing their relationship through “rose-colored glasses.”
Because transitions can be challenging, even when they’re welcomed, to me it makes sense to do what we can to go into them A) fully aware of the realities of the current situation, and B) equipped to effectively lean into whatever transition is before us.
Last week we heard the story of the transition from King David’s leadership of the Israelites to that of his son, Solomon. Being the son of King David, no doubt he was fully aware of all the challenges and hardships associated with the position. The reality: he was inexperienced and lack know-how. Solomon was fully aware of this reality. So he asked God to equip him . He requested wisdom in order to lead his the people well. And last week’s story ended with God being pleased to grant this request.
Jump ahead 11 years to today’s reading from 1 Kings 8. Since being crowned King of the Israelites, he’s been busy building the Temple in Jerusalem. Many years earlier, when David was still king, David had went to God with the thought of building the Temple. God responded be informing him that he had too much blood on his hands; he’d done too much killing and waring to build the LORD’s holy dwelling place. That honor, God said, would go to his offspring.
And so after his coronation, that’s exactly what Solomon got to work doing. Today’s reading is the dedication of the Temple, which culminates with the priests carrying in the Ark of the Covenant and placing it in the inner sanctuary, sometimes called the “most holy place,” where only the high priest could enter, and that only once a year, where he sought God’s forgiveness on behalf of the entire nation for their sins of the previous year. Today’s reading includes the report that as soon as the Ark of the Covenant was in place, God’s holy glory filled the entire Temple in the form of smoke, so thick that the priests got the day off because the air was too thick with smoke to make sacrifices.
What’s the significance of this dedication? For one, it marks the full transition from David’s leadership to Solomon’s leadership; what David wanted to do but couldn’t, Solomon completes. But more importantly, the dedication of the Temple marks the full transition from being a people who worshipped God in a mobile tent to a people who worshipped God in a permanent Temple. After leaving Egypt, they wandered the desert for forty years. And whenever they stopped for a period of time, they would assemble the Tent of Meeting and put the Ark of the Covenant in its most holy place. And when God said it was time to move on, they’d disassemble it and carry it to the next place where they’d do it all over again. The tent-sanctuary symbolized their wandering years, the years prior to the fulfillment of God’s promise to make a great nation of them. The Temple, on the other hand, represented their establishment. They were no longer a wandering people who worshipped God in a tent. Under Solomon, they were an established people who worshipped God in a permanent building. A very significant transition to say the least.
Now, jump ahead about 2500 years to the year 2018. Specifically, September 9, 2018—two weeks from today. In two weeks we will launch our Open Doors worship service, which is the fulfillment of one of our VCI prescriptions. It’s been three years in coming–longer than some people hoped for, even to the point that some people have left our church because it seemed to them that we were moving too slow. Regardless, though, it’s finally happening. And I want to go on record to say that I’m very happy about the fact that we’re doing this, because I feel very strongly that it’s an crucial part of our strategy to develop new and maturing followers of Jesus Christ.
I want to be very clear that the Open Doors worship is not more important than our traditional worship service. But if we’re serious about living into our mission of developing new and maturing followers of Jesus Christ, offering this new worship experience is absolutely necessary.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, would tell people that you can’t be saved by good works, but neither can you be saved without them. That is, though they don’t in-and-of-themselves bring about salvation, they are nonetheless required of anyone who’s in relationship with Jesus Christ.
I see a parallel when it comes to our church’s future relevance and fruitfulness in this community. Simply offering a new and fresh worship experience won’t automatically result in those outside of our church seeing us as relevant to the well-being of our community. At the same time, if we want to be relevant, and we want those outside the church to see us as relevant to them, then we need to offer a worship experience that bridges us to them in a way that our traditional service can’t. Simply put, offering a non-traditional style of worship doesn’t make us relevant and fruitful in our community, but we can’t be seen as relevant, and therefore we probably won’t be very fruitful, without offering another form of worship.
Whether you realize it or not, we are in a period of transition. We’re transitioning from what we’ve been for decades to something that’s…not the same. Yes, we’re still First United Methodist Church. We’re still deeply rooted in Wesleyan theology and perspectives of life. But the fact is, simply because of the view and role of the local church in American popular culture today, we’re being forced to adapt in ways we haven’t had to for a long as you and I have been a part of the church. For most of our lives, it’s been relatively safe to assume that as long as our doors are open, people will come. But that’s no longer the case. And wishing it were still so won’t make it so.
Here’s a sobering reality which makes this point. Since I came here four years ago, over fifty church members have passed away. At the close of this year, that number will be higher. Here’s the question: over that same period of time, have 50+ people showed up here on their own? No, they haven’t. The fact is, we’re no longer living in a day when we can assume that our future will take of itself simply because we’re here. This is why I believe we’re in a time of significant transition.
Not only have the rules changed, but the entire game has changed. How we need to “do church” today is different than how we “did church” yesterday. My guess is that for many of us here—especially those who’ve been a part of this church for a long time—our current mission statement feels strange and foreign. Our stated mission is to develop new and maturing followers of Jesus Christ. In more churchy language, to make disciples of Jesus Christ. That’s what we’ve said we’re going to be all about.
Our stated mission is to develop new and maturing followers of Jesus Christ.
But I know for a fact—because I’m a life-long product of the modern day United Methodist Church—that for many of us this is a new focus. Many of us probably say to ourselves, United Methodist’s don’t ‘make disciples.’ We go to church… offer Sunday School and VBS… have potluck dinners… serve at food kitchens and homeless shelters… sing in the choir… welcome new people who show up… raise money for missions… and so on. But making disciples of Jesus Christ? Proactively and intentionally developing followers of Jesus Christ? I know that for lots and lots of modern Methodists, this mission doesn’t fit with the way we’ve done things for a long time. This is why I believe we’re in a time of significant transition.
However, despite how it may feel about our stated mission, these two fact remain: 1) being intentional about developing new and maturing followers of Christ IS the mission Jesus gave us; and 2) if we don’t develop new followers of Jesus Christ, then it’s only be a matter of time before we close our doors and become truly irrelevant in Adrian.
But here’s the good news: Adrian First United Methodist Church is not headed in the direction of irrelevancy. There are people in our congregation who’ve bought into our mission and have caught the vision of where God is leading us and what he wants to do through us. We’re moving in a good direction. This is good news we can celebrate.
But remember, by nature transitions are not easy. What lies before us is still going to be challenging. Going in a new directions, adopting different ways of doing things, all while still honoring our history and those who remember how things have been, is challenging work. But it’s something we have to embrace and something we have to do.
And because it’s going to be challenging – that’s the reality of the situation – it’s important that we equip ourselves to face these challenges head-on. The only wat to effectively lean into our future is by doing so equipped with the full armor of God.
To the church of every age Paul writes, “Put on God’s armor so that you can make a stand against the devil. We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens. Therefore, pick up the full armor of God so that you can stand your ground….So stand with the belt of truth around your waist, justice as your breastplate, and put shoes on your feet so that you are ready to spread the good news of peace. Above all, carry the shield of faith so that you can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word. Offer prayers and petitions in the Spirit all the time. Stay alert by hanging in there and praying for all believers” (Eph. 6:11-18).
I don’t doubt for one second that every single person here, and every person in our congregation wants to please God, and wants our church to be a real difference-maker in the lives of people in Adrian. Having said that, what I sometimes ask myself is, As a congregation, have we fully embraced the transition in which we find ourselves? Or are we resisting it?
Because the process of transitioning can be uncomfortable, it’s easy to unintentionally and unknowingly sabotage what God’s trying to do. Maybe not in overt, purposeful ways, but in passive ways. Such as adopting the attitude, well, that’s fine for them, but it’s not my thing; so I’ll let them make it happen. I’ll do my thing; you do yours. I’ll support what I’m interested in, and if you want something else, you can support that. It’s subtle, but unconsciously approaching this time of transition with an us vs. them or me vs. you way of thinking can wreak slow havoc on a church’s ability to effectively make disciples of Jesus Christ.
I sometimes ask myself is, As a congregation, have we fully embraced the transition in which we find ourselves?
The only way we will move forward and effectively live into our mission is by making an armor-plated transition. It’s imperative that we consciously put on the armor of God every day. Why? Because Satan will do everything he possibly can to keep us from fulfilling our mission. And Paul reminds us that ultimately we’re not battling each other (which is how it often feels). Rather, we’re at battle with the spiritual forces of darkness; it’s a spiritual battle. And when the battle is spiritual in nature, the only defense is the armor of God.
But a successful team doesn’t just play defense. You have to score points as well. So in this spiritual battle, our only offense is prayer. Eph. 6:18 says it all: Offer prayers and petitions in the Spirit all the time. Stay alert by hanging in there and praying for all believers. “All believers” includes both current believers and all future believers. And many future believers will come to faith in Christ through our Open Doors worship.
Friends, even if you prefer a more traditional style of worship, your participation in our new worship service is vital, even if all you can do is pray for us who are pulling it together. At the very least, you can pray. As one who’s a part of trying to get it up and running, I’m earnestly requesting your fervent prayers.
I believe that if you will pray daily for the leaders of Open Doors, for the music team, for the tech team, and for the people yet to come, then God will increase your own passion for our mission of developing new and maturing followers of Jesus Christ. This time of transition we’re in may challenge some of us.
But through daily prayer and putting on God’s armor of truth, justice, pace, faith, salvation, and the life-giving Word of God, not only will be overcome the challenges ahead, but we will discover a passion for ministry that we didn’t know we could have.