May 1, 2016
Acts 16:9-15, Psalm 67, Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5, John 14:23-29
In the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams”, Kevin Costner plays Ray Kinsella, a novice Iowa farmer who keeps hearing a voice telling him, “If you build it, they will come.” So finally in faithfulness to the voice, Ray plows under his corn and builds a baseball field, putting his family in financial jeopardy since they now can’t pay the mortgage on the farm. But it turns out this is no ordinary field, because from out of the corn beyond the outfield come baseball players from the 1920s to play ball. This field is a link between heaven and earth, a link that brings healing to Ray and others.
It reminds me of N. T. Wright’s statement, that heaven is God’s dimension of the created order, and instead of being billions of miles away, heaven overlaps and interlocks with earth.For me this field of dreams is an image of the church—the church as that earthly community in which the Risen Christ dwells in order to heal the sickness that is fracturing humanity.
Throughout time God’s people have built both modest and magnificent structures to be places where the community week by week is encountered by Triune God. In Exodus, the second book of the Bible, God says to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to take for me an offering; from all whose hearts prompt them to give you shall receive the offering for me. 3 This is the offering that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, 4 blue, purple, and crimson yarns and fine linen, goats’ hair, 5 tanned rams’ skins, fine leather,[a] acacia wood….8 And have them make me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell among them.”
In 1867, through the vision and faithfulness of Anna Eliza Hunt, wrote the Rev. Theodore Edson, rector of Saint Anne’, Lowell about the “enfeebled state of religion” in Chelmsford and began a Sunday school here that became All Saints, which was was formed to be a living witness to Jesus Christ and his sacrificial love. She believed that if you build it people will come, and so they did. In 1960 we built this lovely worship structure as a space where heaven could continue to overlap and interlock with our lives, so that we could be empowered to embody the love of Christ.
Now if we believed in the bad theology of some today that envisions Christians being sucked out of their cars and raptured up into heaven, there would be no real point in taking care of this building, since it is going to be destroyed sooner rather than later. But if, as the Bible teaches, heaven is coming down to earth, as it already has in Jesus Christ, then it is important for us to maintain our buildings so we can continue to be encountered by Jesus, the Word made flesh who pitched his tent among us and then one day this old building will be clothed with New Creation, which The Revelation of John says comes down from heaven to earth.
In the New Jerusalem there will be no temple, for its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. And there will be no gates to lock and there will be no lights to turn on, because Triune God will be all the light we need. But until that time when the mortal is swallowed up by immortality, we must take care of the structures we’ve been given.
This worship space is a beautiful mid-century modern that has stood the test of time. The bathrooms downstairs, however, have not stood the test of time. Here’s a painful scenario I encounter at every funeral at All Saints: the altar guild transforms the altar area into a space of beauty, so suffering strangers can rest in that healing beauty. But, then, these same folks visit the bathrooms downstairs and are shocked at what they find. If they were to continue along the church school hall they’d also find dingy classrooms with non-functioning windows and poor lighting.
Of course, our buildings offer other challenges as well. At night our parking lots are in almost total darkness and the pavement uneven. One of our choir members tripped and fell hard after practice one night this past winter. What a difference exterior lighting and repaving would make to member and visitor alike.
During the day, there is also the challenge of an almost universal lack of signage. I was hosting our weekly local clergy group a month ago, and one of the Methodist ministers ended up walking completely around our complex trying to find either a door that was unlocked or a sign showing the way to the office. This is not radical welcome.
Already, because of Living Stones and a Green Grant from the diocese we have started addressing our issues. We now have a new high-efficiency furnace and smart thermostats and we’ve been able to fix a few leaks in the roof. Today our campaign enters the Capstone phase in which everyone will be called on in May by fellow members to support Living Stones with a pledge over three to five years. We are asking everyone to participate in restoring the beauty and safety of our buildings.
“If you build it, they will come,” the voice said. The voice could also have said, “if you stop listening to my voice and stop taking care of it, they will stop coming.” When I stop listening to the voice of Christ I stop caring about my neighbor and only care about myself. I stop seeing myself as an integral member of the Body of Christ and become willing to let someone else pay for bathroom repairs and new lighting, even though I will benefit from them every week.
For the past 50 years some voices have been predicting the death of the institutional church. This led some church members to act like hospice workers whose only job is to keep the patient comfortable until she dies. I’ve seen churches that stop caring about signage, because they all know the way in, they stop caring about school rooms because their kids left decades ago. They stop caring about creating a beautiful, safe place for the stranger, because they no longer talk to strangers at coffee hour.
At All Saints, on the other hand, next year will be our 150th year of listening to the voice of Christ and acting, not as hospice workers, but as midwives of Christ’s Kingdom.
I hope for 100% participation in Living Stones, because in my two previous capital campaigns in North Carolina I saw the great joy it gives people to see others benefit from the project they helped create.
I think of ancient Lalla Bragaw, who lived two doors from the church in Washington, North Carolina. The famous movie maker Cecil B. DeMille was her cousin, but Lalla was a spinster with very little income. She drove a 1963 Ford Fairlane, looking under the steering wheel, cigarette dangling from her blood red lips. Yet, every Tuesday when Lalla came to volunteer to answer the phone, she would bring the staff those little 6.5 ounce bottles of Coke and a box of crackers. Lalla also cared deeply about building new rooms for the day school even though she never had children and she cared deeply about building a new kitchen, even though she was not much of a cook and not going to live long enough to get much use out of it. Lalla was going to make a pledge because she was a member of the Body of Christ and she took St. Paul at his word when he said each member of the Body of Christ is essential to the whole.
We are “like living stones, built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
We are the Body of Christ.
We are—All Saints.