(In his last days before he was killed, Jesus and the community of people he brought with him from Galilee spent most of their time in the Temple in Jerusalem. Some who came with him were awestruck at the Temple’s size and grandeur. But not Jesus. What he saw was how wasteful and unfaithful to God the Temple was, and he was convinced that when the kingdom of God would come, that kind of Temple and tradition would have no place in it. And, of course, he was not shy about saying so ... and the reading is one of the stories he told to make his point.)
Earlier this year – back in mid-February, we almost lost our church. The building, anyway.
During worship there was a short or overheating of some kind in the cable feeding power to the blower motor for the organ, which heated the plywood casing to the point of burning, so that by the end of the worship service, just as the last people left were beginning to get ready to go home the smoke alarm went off, the fire was discovered, a call was put in to the fire department, and before they arrived Dave Durfey and Elgin McEneny had the fire extinguished.
Fortunate timing? Quick action? The providence of God watching out for us? We came that close to losing a lot -- if not all, of the building.
Now, nine months later – yes, it’s nine months, a normal gestation period – we are opening the building up in a way it’s never been opened before, with a lift to make all three levels accessible. Now everyone can get into, and all around the building to activities anywhere in it, regardless of physical ability.
Nine months after almost becoming the former Fifty Church, is this the birth of a new day for us, and a new way of being who we are?
Thinking of almost losing what we have had for a long time as a church, and now having something more … according to the Gospel reading and the story Jesus tells about the kingdom of God, it seems God does not mind redistributing the gifts of his kingdom among his servants from time to time, depending on how they are used.
Some of God’s servants, Jesus says, are given lots to work with – all kinds of resources to do good things with, in the world. Others have less, but still quite a bit. Others yet have only a little. Sometimes fearfully little.
For each one, though – for each servant, each Christian, each church, each community of faith, whatever they have is enough. Because the standard for all is the same. It’s to use whatever you have for growing the kingdom of God wherever you are in the world, or run the risk of losing it. Of having it taken from you, and given to someone who will use it more faithfully than you.
We know churches go through cycles – natural life cycles of birth, growth, maturity and decline, and then either renewal and new birth, or death. Within these cycles there are ebbs and flows, natural rhythms of expanding and contracting, of things going up and things going down. The story of this congregation is over 200 years old; we know about natural rhythms and cycles.
But there is also something more – not just natural, but supernatural or spiritual growth and decline. Not just natural, but also spiritual ebb and flow, that has nothing to do with numbers and size, is not dependent on being big, is not deterred by being small.
It has to do with knowing, doing and sharing in what God wants done, in what God is doing in the world around us, and in what God is happy to bless and to prosper.
There’s a really interesting phrase in the story Jesus tells about being a servant of the King. It doesn’t appear in the translation we used this morning (The Message), but maybe you remember it from the more traditional translations we normally read. It’s the phrase, “enter into the joy of your master.”
It’s part of what the master says upon his return and his settling of accounts with the first two servants – the ones who did well with what was given to them. “Well done, good and faithful servant!” he says to each of them. “You have been faithful in a few things; I will put you in charge of many. Enter into the joy of your master.”
In The Message that last sentence is translated, “From now on be my partner.” So maybe it’s something like, “Be my partner; share in what makes me happy.”
And isn’t this why we’ve done what we’ve done?
Was it the law, and the need to comply with provincial standards around accessibility? Was it other churches becoming accessible, and the need to keep up? Was it our own members, and the need to help ourselves get around in our building more easily?
Or was it also – and maybe most of all, our love of God and the deep happiness that comes of being part of what God is doing in our time to make all the world a good place to be?
“Be my partner,” God says. “Share in what makes me happy.”
I know how happy I feel when I come here on a Thursday morning because that’s the morning I’m not here alone. The Quilt Club arrives for 9:30 and all through the morning they’re in the Upper Room just outside my office door. It makes this building a happy place to be.
I imagine the Upper Room is a happy place Wednesday evenings as well, with both the Joy and senior choirs practicing for Sunday mornings. And with the NOW group there every fourth (or it every last?) Monday.
And the Lower Hall? Last night it was a pretty happy place with church members and other people from all around sharing the noise and nourishment of a Spaghetti Supper. In a few weeks it will be happy again when we come in on a Saturday morning to prepare the dinner for the Wesley Centre the next afternoon – with Fingers-n-Toes drawing people in the week before, and the Scout’s Breakfast With Santa a week later.
A few weeks ago it was fun to spend a Saturday morning and afternoon all around the building and inside and out with a group of confirmands and one of their friends that we’d never met before. As much fun as opening all the doors in the summer for summer day camp.
Good things happen here – things that make the rest of life good for us and for others.
And can it be God’s desire that it be just us, and just those who can navigate barriers and inaccessibilities who can get in on things here?
Or is God happy with nothing less than that the good things of life be opened to all?
So … when the master returns and starts the accounting of what we’ve done with what we have, what will he see? And what will he say?
Maybe … I love what you’ve done with the place. Well done, good and faithful servants! You make me happy.
And now tell me, what do you have in mind for what we’re gonna do here together for the good of the community around us?