given on Sunday, February 15, 2015
[This sermon was given after a series on “Building Ones Christian Foundation” and focused on hymns we sing and are now beginning to add to our services. At the end of the sermon is a list of the hymns we used during the service.]
Driving through any community, one notices how the houses in one area seem to match those around it. Go a few more blocks away, and the designs of the houses and the yards tend to tell their own age. We can even look at our personal house history and realize how the style of our homes seem to reflect the different times in our own lives. And we all seem to reach a time when we are so comfortable that we do not think it is necessary to do any more on our homes. They are the way we like it and we are too tired to do anything about it anyway.
Sometimes remodeling becomes necessary because a problem develops that must be addressed. Possibly the foundation has developed cracks that water seeps into the basement. Maybe the window frames are rotting out. A major appliance breaks down and with a deep sign we resign ourselves to replacing it. A good home must be maintained and a home that retains value must show that it is being maintained despite the age it is.
Our churches, too, say the same thing not only to those attending, but to those who are not attending. We are commissioned to share the message and to make new Christians. Naturally the best way is a one-on-one conversation with another individual when you can see that lost look in the eyes and the droop of the shoulders as life beats a person down.
Serving as God’s arms and legs does mean serving as God’s ears, too. Meeting someone who struggles with life and/or has no purpose in life should trigger an immediate trigger to act in God’s behalf. Stepping up to that person and offering them a shoulder or some other form of grace is the first step, but the next step is to invite them to join you in church.
Today’s culture is filled with warnings about reaching out to strangers and inviting them to join you in one fashion or another. As parents we start telling the kids of “stranger danger” tactics and model it by not picking up hitchhikers or bringing strangers into our homes for a meal. The culture has made it very difficult to find ways to invite others into our lives and that is one reason the church is struggling, too.
The culture in which Jesus was born and in which Paul began his missionary work was filled with dangers, too. Yet, the people of faith did attend synagogue, they did invite visitors into their homes for a meal, they were able to share the message of how God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son so that we may have eternal life (John 3:16 from memory).
Why, then, are churches and its members having so much trouble inviting others to join them? Look at the culture:
- How do our students learn any more?
- How do we decide which restaurant to go to?
- How do we select the houses we want to purchase?
- How do we choose our cars?
- How do we determine which outfit to put on each morning?
The answers are probably closely related to the images we see on the televisions, in the store windows, and in the magazines we read. Businesses spend big dollars (bucks) on how to catch the buyers’ attention, and they are successful.
When an appeal begins to fail, what happens? A new approach is created, a new look, and a new set of campaigns are created and the market begins to move once again. Another words, even businesses know when it is time to remodel. Are we, as Christian disciples, able to remodel, too?
Today’s churches are changing. The newest church structures may not look anything like the traditional church that began being built even in the ancient days. The Jewish tabernacle no longer needed to have the Holy of Holy placed behind a screen/curtain to which only the high priest could have access. As the Roman Catholic Church began building cathedrals, the structures turned into dramatic art works still worthy of preservation.
During the Reformation, the Protestant Churches began stepping away from the majestic cathedral structures. John Wesley, brought up in the Church of England’s style of cathedral, soon felt a building was not even necessary meeting with people even at the coal mines. He established classes or societies that focused on the works of piety and mercy. The church design met the needs of those meetings. The church is the people, not the structure.
After weeks looking at our Christian foundations, the next step is to determine if this church or The Church needs to remodel. Certainly, there are two or three different ways to consider that question. First, is the building’s condition safe and functional; then does the church have eye appeal or does it turn others away in one method or another?
Jesus took the church to the people. He walked along the paths and met them where they were. Do we do that? He used the side of the mountain or hill to talk with the followers? Do we go outside of the church’s door? Paul certainly stepped out of the temple, he traveled hundreds of miles even crossing the boundaries from one culture to the next. Do we?
There are ways to answer those questions affirmatively, but in many cases the negative answers have filled conversations for well over 50 years. The shifting in the culture has not created a shift in most churches since World War II. The churches, whether inside or outside, are in need of remodeling.
Today, we have shared the hymns found in our copies of the United Methodist Hymnal, (copyrighted 1989). But even in my lifetime, now 60 years, I have seen the updates in the hymnal three times before these being used here in this sanctuary. The hymns we have sung today show three different ‘remodels:’
- The earliest, written in 1826, is “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and echoes our communion liturgy.
- “They Word Is a Lamp” was written by Amy Grant in 1984. This is one of the most contemporary hymns that were selected for the 1989 hymnal we currently use. Most of my generation learned this from the radio broadcasts.
- Another hymn now included in this hymnal is “Lord, I Want to be a Christian.” My first recollection of this was through UMPYF, the youth group I attended when we would sing it on camp outs and at meetings. I was surprised to learn that it is adapted from an Afro-American spiritual but adapted to the music now printed in the hymnal in 1986—well after my high school youth group.
- The gospel hymn, “Climbing Jacob’s Ladder,” shows a shift in the culture along history’s timeline. It developed from the slaves’ gospel as they secretly worshiped and even sang their hymns working in the fields. The music for the current version was adapted in 1986, but I know that I was singing this long before then and it has been included in at least three United Methodist Hymnals I have used.
John and Charles Wesley are credited with creating a remodeled church during their lifetimes over 400 years ago. The United Methodist Church has continued revising how it uses music.
The appeal of music is evident in our culture, but we also have to acknowledge that the style of music changes constantly. Those brought up in the church hear comfort in the music they heard as kids. But the music for those who are just learning about God has incorporated the types of music the contemporary generations hear on their radios—excuse me, electronic devises.
Music is only one method of sharing God’s word. We have been listening to new hymns today, and we have heard different translations of the Bible over these past several years. The remodeling is just beginning; but if we can continue to remodel successfully, we will share the message with new generations. We will see how strong, Christian foundations can be remodeled to meet the dangers in today’s culture and the years to come.
Dear God of All Ages,
Thank you for all the talents of Christians
Who have shared the message in so many ways.
Thank you for the durability of your message
To love one another as we want to be loved.
Thank you for the freedom to find ways
To reach all your children any way possible.
Guide us to make the best choices to share your Word.
Guide us to allow for change even if we make mistakes.
Guide us to work together despite our differences.
May our efforts to remodel for today
Take your word to all those outside our walls
So they may experience your love and grace. –Amen
Hymns & scripture:
Reading the hymn’s scripture:
8 Each of these living beings had six wings, and their wings were covered all over with eyes, inside and out. Day after day and night after night they keep on saying,
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty—
the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come.”
9 Whenever the living beings give glory and honor and thanks to the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever), 10 the twenty-four elders fall down and worship the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever). And they lay their crowns before the throne and say,
11 “You are worthy, O Lord our God,
to receive glory and honor and power.
For you created all things,
and they exist because you created what you pleased.”
*Hymn 64: Holy, Holy, Holy (Rev. 48-11)
Today’s new hymn: Because He Lives (Amen)” (performed by Matt Maher)
Hymn 402: Lord, I Want to be a Christian (no scriptural reference)
*Hymn 601: Thy Word Is a Lamp (Ps. 119:105)
Reading the hymn’s scripture:
Your word is a lamp to guide my feet
and a light for my path.
Today’s new hymn: Here I Am to Worship (performed by Craig & Dean Phillips)
Reading the hymn’s scripture:
Jacob’s Dream at Bethel
10 Meanwhile, Jacob left Beersheba and traveled toward Haran. 11 At sundown he arrived at a good place to set up camp and stopped there for the night. Jacob found a stone to rest his head against and lay down to sleep. 12 As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway.
13 At the top of the stairway stood the Lord, and he said, “I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. 14 Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. 15 What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.”
16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!” 17 But he was also afraid and said, “What an awesome place this is! It is none other than the house of God, the very gateway to heaven!”
*Hymn 418: We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder (Gen. 28:10-17)