I admit that I am an HGTV junkie. Designed to Sell, Myles of Style, Divine Design, My House is Worth What?, Property Virgins, Hidden Potential…you name the home improvement show and I watch it. I take great joy in watching other people engage in hard labor to renovate their homes so that they can either sell them at a profit, or turn their dump into a show place. Now do you think I would have the courage to do that myself? Forget about it! I spent about a week repainting my bedroom and bathroom a few years ago…and was so exhausted by the process, that I swore I’d never do it again.
Well, that was until we moved into this place. If you’ve seen the before and after pictures of our church I’m sure you’ve also wondered just how this transformation was possible. Well, it wasn’t easy, by any means. It took about nine months from the first day we began demolition of this old, moldy and dusty building until we finally finished everything and received our current occupancy permit. It was a joyous day to be sure. Most of you weren’t even here then. The majority of you came into relationship with Journey because, I thought, we were such a radically different model of church that it would attract folks like you who just didn’t want to go to church anymore, for whatever reason. And what you see now as a beautiful building doesn’t begin to tell the story of the labor of love we invested to make this our new church home. I really thought that this was the place God intended for us to stay for a long, long time.
Well, I was wrong. Sometimes it’s just best to tell the truth and not mince words, right? Now I’m not saying we were wrong to invest our time, energy and resources in turning this building into a church, coffee shop, concert venue and youth center. I still believe that the original vision for this place is still compelling. That church is about welcoming and inviting people into a relationship with God in ways that are culturally relevant. What I think I was wrong about was assuming that God’s church is defined by what it looks like. That paint and plaster and high end technology and an awesome sound system, and a cool coffee house environment would help people feel closer to God. That the place out of which God wants us to do ministry has to look and feel different. That people won’t want to know God unless God looks hip, and relevant, and different from the rest of the churches in this town. That the way to God is out of the box!
This past week has changed my perspective radically. Although I won’t get into the specifics right now, but the short story is; we have to make a decision as a church about where we are going. And to be quite honest, the chances are pretty good that it won’t be here anymore. Issues with our landlord and our financial ability to stay in this building may force us to relocate. But before we can make an informed decision about whether or when that happens, and where our journey will take us next, we have to reevaluate who we are now, and who we want to become.
I look around this room and I am so proud to pastor a congregation where everyone is involved in the ministry of this church in some way. Yeah we are small in numbers, but do you realize just how much we have accomplished in this community? The facts are clear, people know who we are…not just in this city, but all the way to New York and throughout much of the Midwest. It’s exciting to know that we have dozens of bands requesting to play in our concert venue. That there are folks wanting to use our building for special events and meetings. That our coffee shop is a cozy place for people to relax and gather together. But I am motivated now to ask the question…do any of these folks really want to know more about God after coming here? Have we created a place that has secularized the Good News of Jesus so much that most don’t even know we are a church?
Our Gospel message today is one of those comforting texts that is used at almost every funeral service I’ve officiated or attended. Jesus is again addressing with his disciples that he has to leave them, that his time is coming soon where he would be arrested, ridiculed, punished and eventually executed for his actions over the past three years. The disciples are visibally troubled emotionally, physically, and spiritually. They are confused and terrified by the thought that Jesus was leaving. What would happen to them? Where would they go? Without their fearless leader they had nothing to stand behind. It would be their heads on the chopping block next. Jesus said that he would be preparing a place for his disciples. They would be taken care of, even in the midst of the trouble ahead. That even in the shadow of death, God would not abandon them. Jesus encouraged them to always focus on what was coming next, and death was not the end of the story.
Biblical scholars, archeologists and language experts suggest that this conversation between Jesus and his disciples was first recorded at least 70 years after his Jesus’ death. The author of the Gospel of John is in fact writing the story down from oral history to a specific group of people who were also in desperate times. This early community of believers was being persecuted by the Roman Empire, being fed to the lions and offered as sacrifice to pagen Gods. These particular scriptures are not found in any of the other Gospels, and define what was distinctive about John’s church. These early Christians had to also find security in the abiding presence of Christ within it. They found their religious certainty in the vision of God it saw in Jesus Christ. They saw their mission as being one to the greater community that surrounded it.
It was about 8 years ago when I really first envisioned the model of church we are now engaged in. I knew that inviting people into this inclusive community would not be a simple task. What I did not expect was the difficulty in finding others who felt that same passion. I know why. It is really hard, disappointing at times, and to be quite honest, pretty exhausting. I’m reminded of this conversation between Jesus and his disciples about what he wanted them to do, and how they must have stood there listening to him with glazed eyes! The exchange between Thomas and Jesus in our text today was, and is pretty telling when we are faced with the decision to move into uncharted territory for the sake of the Gospel.
1 "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.
2 In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going."
5 Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" 6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him."
I think Jesus was saying simply, you won't always know where you are headed. But keeping your eyes on the One who shows us the way, is the way. That the obstacles, challenges, tough decisions will be easier to overcome when we keep our hearts set on being the Christ. That is our journey! These challenging times are just the opportunity for us to be Christ to each other. In what we say, in how we judge, in response to our own anxiety and angst, in the midst of discouragement, disappointment, and frustration. Now is the time to practice what we preach. That is our lesson!
Now, you have all brought so many gifts and passion for ministry to the table that we call Journey Church. There is a reason for you being here. It's okay to be frustrated, discouraged, angry, etc...but the lesson for us is how we plan to respond to this experience. Does it really matter what happens to us in the end...or where we end up and when we get there? The WAY to God’s place for us tomorrow is by building it today...within each of our hearts and minds.
The first step in that journey is by banding together as disciples, unified in one purpose. Do we know what that purpose is? I mean really know? Sure we say we want to spread the Gospel, but have we decided what that is for us at Journey Church? Perhaps that's where we should begin the conversation. I really think that once we share that vision...once the sure foundation is laid...the building of that vision will come naturally.
Most of you weren't around when I started this ministry. You may not know or understand that initial mission and vision that brought this place into being. All I know is that you are here, because you were drawn to Journey Church for some reason...and I believe that reason is for you to become the disciple that God intended for you to be. YES, it comes with challenge, sacrifice and disillusionment...but Jesus said, "If you know me, you will know my Father also." And isn't that what we really want in this life...to know God our Father, Mother, Spirit, and Creator?
Let's start over...and begin the conversation anew. Yes we still have to deal with the hard decisions and the tough calls...but if you let me be your pastor, I will seek to identify the spiritual learning in this journey...and I hope you will be my pastor for the same reason. I want to follow the WAY...and we need each other to see the Christ leading us. And if we can do that for each other, then you can do that for yourself.
What is the troubling thing in your own heart and life that needs the Christ within to overcome it? Doing great things for God begins by overcoming whatever keeps you in that same old place you are now. Jesus has prepared a new place for you. Let’s take the journey to that new place together! AMEN!