The state of our union

Passage: I Corinthians 13
Date: January 28, 2007
Preacher: Dr Jim Moiso
Guest Preacher:

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So, do you feel like you should be at a wedding instead of in Sunday morning worship? My experience is that what we just heard appears in more wedding ceremonies than any other biblical reading. It is not inappropriate there. However, to confine these verses to that romantic and highly charged occasion is to truncate, even to twist their meaning to fit a time and situation for which they were not intended at all. That is, Paul was not thinking of a 21st century American wedding when he wrote these verses. Your response? "Duh. Of course not." Let's take a quick look at part of his purpose.

The tiny congregation in the Mediterranean seaport of Corinth was torn by divisions as it sought to define its own identity. Remember, these early Christian communities had no traditions, no historic roots, no book of order, no clergy or seminaries. They borrowed from Jewish customs and invented their own. Likewise, they were an amalgam of people, Jew and Gentile, mostly but not entirely from the peasant class. They struggled with what it meant to be a community in Christ. Paul sought to instruct them. Their conflicts and divisions threatened to tear the little community asunder and to betray their calling. Previous chapters had addressed communion meals, and gifts of the Spirit. It is important to know that people in the first century were extremely group oriented. To know oneself meant to know one's group. Introspection as we know it did not exist. One's group of belonging provided direction, conscience, identity and worth. So, Paul wrestled with them about the meaning of their identity in Christ, being part of his beloved community. Dick Rohrbaugh notes that "love" in this context meant attachment. It had nothing to do with romance. Thus, for Paul, the greatest of these was not speaking in tongues, not prophecy, not public self-sacrifice, but attachment to the group, to the others professing loyalty to Christ. It is this attachment, this "love," which is the highest gift of all, because it builds Christ's community, contributes to its well-being. When the community's well-being is enhanced, so also is the well-being and identity of its members. (Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, p. 380)

This day, this Annual Meeting morning, I invite you to reflect with me on the well-being of this community of faith, and your attachment to it, your love for it. As I thought about what I would say, it dawned on me that you are the ones who should be making this report. You, not I, know how 2006 was for you, for us. You experienced challenge and growth, or not; significant encounter with the Holy, or not; sustenance in difficulty and companionship in joy, or not; Christian perspectives on life's issues, or not; communal assistance in parenting or spousing, or in living singly, or not; opportunities to share deeply in faith and life, or not. I can tell you that we began the year with a deficit "faith" budget, and ended in the black, thanks to prudent spending, some staff vacancy, and generous giving. And, that with two services, our summer worship attendance increased by 9.5% over a year ago. And, that three new small groups for study, sharing, and prayer began. And, that a new team of Stephen Ministers is being trained to walk with people in life transitions. And, that we hosted for the larger community a weekend with former Moderator and seminary professor Jack Rogers, continuing our dialogue about how to become a more inclusive community in Christ. And, that increasing numbers of us are feasting on Adult Education opportunities, especially Sunday mornings. And, that last Nov. 1, we began the seventh year of our monthly Taize healing and wholeness service, in which people from the community and congregation find rich worship and healing and empowerment. And, that we made such significant contributions to a new Habitat for Humanity home that we were asked to give the keys to the new owners last Sunday. And, that we experienced and enjoyed the first-ever Westminster Art Fair. And, that we are enriched by a new pictorial directory. And, that we received nearly $400 to purchase phone cards to be used by the military. And, that for the first time, Westminster has a room set aside for prayer and meditation, the prayer room in the tower. And, that we ended the year with a net gain in membership. But, all of these do not tell your story, your experience of Jesus Christ in this community. What is the state of our union together, for you?

Surely the context of our ministry has changed in the last decade. In an age of You-tube and blogs and professional webpages, we are stretched to do more, to be more, even as our lives have less time, even as their pace picks up speed. Our metropolitan area is increasingly rich with people for whom spirituality is vitally important but traditional religious institutions are not; many who are environmentally sensitive beyond tree hugging and sitting by campfires; who ache for Dafur; who cannot tolerate institutional walls which exclude and divide and isolate. We are surrounded by people who feel deep alienation from anything Christian because of some of its most vocal public proponents. The metro area is a magnet for artists and film makers, singles and families of all shapes. Increasingly multi-ethnic, we are deeply enriched. We also know the brokenness that so many experience, the silent burdens carried, the tragedies and traumas which abound in modern condominiums and stately older homes, in apartments and convalescent centers.

Friends, I believe we are called by Jesus Christ. We are called to be his community of healing in a broken world. We are called to be his community of deep connection in a world of isolation. We are called to be his community of hope in a culture of hollow optimism. We are called to be his community of faith in a society seeking authentic spiritual experience. We are called to be his community of compassion in an economy of consumption. We are called to be a community of generations in time when we desperately need each other, together. We are called to be his community where people can simply explore faith.

In response to this call, last Tuesday, our elected governing body, the Session, made two decisions which will profoundly shape 2007 and dramatically change our future. First, these men and women prayerfully and unanimously authorized the formation of a Building Committee. When its work is completed, for the first time in more than 50 years, Westminster will have a comprehensive building plan. While maintaining the integrity of this sacred space, it calls for a facility to accommodate 1,000 active members and their families, a 33% increase. It will create a significant, open, and inviting entrance, so that outsiders and insiders will know how to get in, how to find their way around. It will include attractive gathering space. It will be easily accessible, including adequate restrooms. It will be a building equipped for the 21st century, both for the congregation and for the community it serves. Imagine!

In order to accomplish this, the session unanimously authorized the formation of a Capital Campaign Committee. Its goal is to launch a 3-year multi-million dollar campaign on October 26, which will be Westminster's 115th anniversary. It will be the largest campaign in all of our history. Yet, our elected leadership believes now is the time, now we are being called by Christ to move forward.

The consequences of these decisions? As the largest Presbyterian church on the east side of the river, we are a congregation pointed toward the future. While maintaining sure continuity with our past, we are committed to change, to growth as part of our very being. While we deeply value who we have been and are, we know that staying the same is not an option, as attractive as that might be. God's future is open, and we seek to move into it as faithfully as we can.

That really is our question, a very similar one to that of the Christians in Corinth. How is God calling us to be Christ's faithful community together, today, and into the future? What a fabulous challenge is before us! What a privilege, to be Christ's community! This is part of the state of our union. May God give us courage and grace sufficient for the days ahead. Amen.