For my devotional practice this year, I’m reading through the Bible. Having done this when I was a teenager, I remembered there being large portions that were deadly dull—like, genealogies and allll those chapters offering detailed descriptions of building projects. When I started this venture in January, I generously gave myself permission to skim those parts.
I’m still skimming the genealogies. All those begats! A funny thing happened, though, with the passages about building projects… Maybe it was because I was reading about building the ark, Tabernacle, and Temple at the same time we were addressing our space needs, but it wasn’t long before my skimming slowed down to actual reading.
Then it hit me: All these words about construction, furniture, and building use…They’re part of Scripture…Which means our ancestors in faith saw all of it–down to the last wooden peg and silver shekel–as holy. It’s not just the sanctuary that’s holy, but the whole process of imagining, making preparations for, making decisions about, and building that are holy.
Reflecting on the sacredness of the discernment process we’re currently in, I ended this month’s newsletter article with these words: “As we continue discerning the best way to address our space needs, I encourage us, too, to see every step as holy. I pray every decision, every conversation, every disagreement, every dream be imbued with prayer. I pray every meticulous detail might teach us something about who God is to us, who we are to each other, and how we will share God’s love with the world.”
When I re-read that part a couple weeks ago, I realized we haven’t created much space in worship for holy-seeking or prayer-imbuing. Hence, this September sermon series: “Acting the World into Wellbeing through Our Facility.”
So, how do we act the world into wellbeing through our facility? To answer the question, I invite us to recall the words that guide everything we do here: our mission statement. Say it with me again. “We seek to grow in worship, learning, and service, as a faithful people of God, bringing hope, comfort, and friendship to all, welcoming everyone in Christ.”
Most of our reflecting during Divine Redesign focused on “growing in worship.” The character of our worship changed when we reoriented the sanctuary. Now that we can see each other, the space–even though it seats more people–feels more intimate. The colors from the stained glass windows also have helped to deepen our worship experiences. One person recently told me they’d like to die in this room when it’s bathed in color. Then they thought about it and said, “But I guess that would be a little awkward for everyone else, wouldn’t it?” Um, yeah. But I get what they meant. Since the installation of our windows, many of us do meet God in color.
If Divine Redesign helped us reflect on growing in worship, the current process invites us to reflect on how we use our space to grow in learning and service. This week, we’ll look at service. Next week, learning. The week after that, we’ll look at fellowship. Fellowship isn’t mentioned in our mission statement, but it is a big part of our community’s life.
So….how do we act the world into wellbeing through our facility in terms of service?
If I were to sum up our mission statement in a single word, it would be hospitality. Everything leads up to that last phrase: “welcoming everyone in Christ.” If I’m not mistaken, that phrase was added around the time the congregation voted to become Open and Affirming. Though I wasn’t here at the time, I think this community got clear about its primary mission during the ONA process: We are here to welcome everyone in Christ.
Because hospitality is so fundamental to semitic cultures, it’s a focal theme throughout Scripture. Today’s story from Genesis might be its best illustration.
The story begins with Sarah and Abraham at their tent somewhere in the wilderness. A few chapters before, God tells them to leave home and follow God “to a land I will show you.” Just for fun, I plugged “a land I will show you” into my GPS. “No results found.” This journey to “no results found,” as you can imagine, was a tad stressful. Several times along the way, God reassures Abraham that God will always be with him. God also promises Abraham and Sarah myriad descendants. Did I mention the couple already were well into their 90s? When God tells him he’s going to be a dad, old Abe falls on the ground laughing.
So, Abe and Sare are chillin’ at their tent when three guests show up. Abraham immediately kicks into high-gear hospitality mode. He sees the guests, runs to meet them, honors, invites, refreshes, prepares, serves, bows to, gives the best he has (a calf!), makes and serves food, is attentive to their welfare, and when they depart, he accompanies them on their way. It is clear that Abraham understands himself to be the servant of his guests.
(Family Promise van and trailer, ready to be unloaded. Photo credit: Carson!)
Just for fun, I sent Abraham’s hospitality protocol list to our folks who work with Family Promise hosting and asked how the list jibes with what happens during a host week. I was deeply moved by their responses. Among those who work with Family Promise hosting there is a profound concern for the humanity of our guests. The Benedictines—whose main focus is hospitality—suggest that we are to welcome every person as Christ. It’s clear that’s what happens when we host Family Promise.
Here’s what one person wrote: These people are stressed. They are most likely humiliated by having to live at the mercy of others. Making them feel as valued by us as they are by God is our top priority. Another wrote: It’s hard on these folks. I feel for them and I will do all I can to make them feel at home while they are with us.
Another more directly compared what happens during a Family Promise host week to Abraham’s hospitality protocol. Seeing – We recognize our guests not as “homeless people” but as members of our kindom, the image of God sent to us, as to Abraham. Running to meet – being available according to their schedules, showing our pleasure to see them. Honoring – respecting individual needs, privacy, letting them know they are every bit as important as we are, if not moreso, while we serve them. Inviting – sharing the meal and conversation, welcoming them to attend our service but not pushing. Refreshing – providing a respite from their stressful days where they can relax and feel that their needs are taken care of.
Preparing – with the intent of pleasing them, for their wellbeing, not just our own. That their rooms and meals are prepared with love. Serving – there is a Hassidic saying: “Another person’s physical needs are my spiritual duties.” We aren’t doing our guests a favor by hosting them. We don’t do it to be good people. Jesus wants us to put others above ourselves, to “bow” to them in our own humility, to sacrifice our precious time and money, our “best,” however humble that may be. Like, we’re not going to do this every day, but at least we can manage 4 weeks in a year.”
Hosting Family Promise is one of the primary ways we live our mission to grow in service as we welcome others in Christ. Our facility plays a large role in hosting weeks. So, here’s your homework for this week. It’s a two-parter.
Part, the first. As we get things ready to host—that’s right after the worship service—and throughout the week, reflect on how our facility facilitates serving others, bringing them hope, comfort, and friendship, welcoming them in Christ. In what ways does our facility help us fulfill our mission? In what ways does it get in the way of fulfilling our mission? How does our facility help us act our Family Promise guests into wellbeing? There won’t be a test next week, but I’m sure the Growth Task Force and Council would love to hear your responses. Me, too.
For the second part of the assignment, I invite us to look briefly at the second half of today’s story from Genesis. As the guests are enjoying the meal Abraham has prepared, one of them says: “I will return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” It’s understandable that Sarah, who is well beyond child-bearing years, laughs at the news. Hearing her laughter, the guest says to Abraham: “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for God?”
The guest’s words are an invitation to imagine. Based on the facts, the prospect of Sarah conceiving and bearing a child was laughable. And yet, just a couple chapters later, that’s exactly what happens. Appropriately, she names her little boy “Isaac,” which means “laughter.”
So, the second part of your assignment is to imagine. As we discern how to address our space needs, does anything seem laughable to you? If it does, imagine—just imagine—that it might be possible. If adding square footage seems impossible to you, imagine it happening. If NOT adding square footage seems impossible to you, imagine that happening. It’s too soon to know precisely where this discernment process will lead. We’re on our way to a “land God is showing us.” That’s why we’re taking such great care with it.
Here’s what I do know—figuring out the best solution to our space needs will require us—all of us—to engage our imaginations. The good news is that imagining costs nothing. There will be time to deal with costs later on. For now, let us give ourselves the gift of imagining, of dreaming. If we do, who knows what wonderful thing God might reveal to us?
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2016