October 22, 2017
This past week, my colleague Jeff Krehbiel would have turned 58 years old. He was born just a few months ahead of me. Yena and I became friends with him when he served the Church of the Pilgrims in Washington, DC.
Jeff became known to some of you when he acted as the interpreter for our CAT Scan. That was the Church Assessment Tool that we used almost two years ago to evaluate our congregation, and to understand where we are feeling high energy and high satisfaction.
The good news is that the CAT Scan revealed that we are a healthy church! In our congregation, we feel particularly good about:
- Worship with glorious music and powerful preaching.
- Christian community that includes the warm, reinforcing bonds of lasting friendship.
- Serving others through hypothermia prevention and caring for the elderly.
- Our identity as “a house of prayer for all peoples” and our growing diversity.
- Christian formation and service opportunities for children, youths and adults.
- Opportunities for personal growth, questioning, and speaking the truth to power.
We are in a good place now, but we cannot remain here. We have to look to the future. In particular, we need to answer the question, “What kind of church do we want to be in the year 2020?”
After receiving the results of the CAT Scan, our elders realized that we have to make some improvements in order to maintain our high energy and satisfaction. They decided to embark on a capital campaign to raise funds for the renovation and revitalization of our church building and grounds. These will be needed if we are going to have a well-equipped and well-maintained place in which to worship, fellowship, serve, learn and grow.
Coincidentally, my friend Jeff left his church at the same time to embark on a new career, advising churches on capital campaigns. He moved with his wife to Chicago, and within a month he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. A few months later, he was dead.
Yena and I admired Jeff, along with many of our colleagues, and we miss him. One of his really impressive skills was an ability to memorize long passages of Scripture, and then recite them dramatically. His favorite passage was today’s story from the Gospel of Mark. At his funeral in Washington, his daughter stood up and recited this passage from memory. As I listened to her, I thought I was listening to Jeff one more time.
So what does this passage say to us as we try to answer the question, “What kind of church do we want to be in the year 2020?” How can it help us to clarify our “2020 VISION”?
The passage begins with Jesus receiving a report from his followers about all that they have done and taught. Knowing that they have been working very hard, Jesus says to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” They are happy to hear this, and eagerly jump into a boat to go across the Sea of Galilee to a deserted place (Mark 6:30-32).
Unfortunately, the people who have benefited from their teachings are not willing to give them any time off. They are like the customers or colleagues who call you at home on a Sunday afternoon, unwilling to wait until Monday to get their issues addressed. Don’t you hate that? Mark tells us that the people hurry along the shore of the sea and actually arrive ahead of Jesus and the disciples. Bummer! The disciples thought they were going to a deserted place, and what they find is a “great crowd” (vv. 33-34).
You might think that Jesus would be frustrated. I know that’s how I would feel. But instead, Jesus has compassion for them, because they are like sheep without a shepherd, and he begins to teach them many things (v. 34). And this is where we begin to clarify our 2020 VISION: Our church needs to be a place where people can feel the compassion of Jesus, and listen for what he wants to teach them. People today are just like the people who stood by the shore of the Sea of Galilee: They are like sheep without a shepherd, in need of guidance and protection.
So what improvements should we make in order to shelter people in this place? It is only when people feel safe and comfortable that they’ll be able to experience the compassion and the teachings of Jesus. I think we should:
- Repair and replace our heating and air-conditioning equipment. No one wants to come to a church that is burning hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter.
- Make our church more energy efficient. We are losing a lot of money through our leaky windows and doors and caulking, money that could go into ministry and mission.
- Install technology to enhance communication and Christian education. Children don’t learn about Jesus they way they did when I was a child. We need to install modern teaching tools in our classrooms and improve the audio-visual experience in our Sanctuary and Fellowship Hall.
- Resurface our parking lot and repair our exterior stairs and walkways. No one wants to come to a church that has a parking lot with dangerous potholes and crumbling stairways.
- Retire our debt. By paying off our mortgage and refilling our restricted accounts, we will free up money for our Christian formation program, where people experience the compassion and teachings of Jesus.
- Create housing solutions for people in need. Affordable housing is one of the biggest needs of our low-income neighbors. In collaboration with three leading local affordable housing solutions organizations, we are exploring how we could create a combination of permanent and transitional housing on our church property. And if this approach is not feasible, we will make a significant contribution to a local organization that helps families with their housing needs.
The Gospel of Mark tells us that Jesus teaches the people well into the evening. When it grows late, the disciples come to him and say, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may … buy something for themselves to eat.” This seems like a reasonable request. But Jesus answers them, “You give them something to eat” (v. 35-37).
That is probably the most important verse in this entire passage: “You give them something to eat.” Jesus is the Son of Almighty God, with the power to heal or help anyone. And yet he says to his disciples, “You give them something to eat.” He knows that it is important for their spiritual growth to do what they can to meet the needs of the people around them.
In our capital campaign, we are taking this line of Scripture seriously. We will play a role in feeding the hungry in the world around us when we:
- Upgrade our kitchen. We cook meals for our youths in the church kitchen, and hot meals for the poor of our community as well.
- Expand the strengths of our music program. People are fed spiritually by the beautiful music that we make here every Sunday.
- Improve the preschool’s environment. Children have been nourished in our preschool for almost 60 years, receiving quality care and education.
- Develop a program of outreach to new families, couples, and individuals. Our church has so much to offer our community, but we have often failed to reach out effectively.
- Increase opportunities for spiritual growth, ministry, and fellowship in small groups. We are best fed in body and spirit when we gather around tables together.
- Strengthen our support of current ministries, from the Lamb Center in Fairfax to the Manos Amigos medical clinic in Honduras. There are people with hungry hearts around the world, craving the nourishment that our church can provide.
“You give them something to eat,” says Jesus. He knows that it is important for our own spiritual growth to do what we can to meet the needs of the people around us. Our capital campaign is not designed simply to make our church building a more comfortable place for ourselves. It is intended to help us to feed a hungry world, both physically and spiritually.
In the story from Mark, you know what happens next. The disciples find five loaves of bread and two fish. They divide the people into small groups on the green grass — like the grass of our beautiful Glebe. Then Jesus blesses and breaks the loaves, and gives the bread and the fish to the disciples to give to the people. The result is that all of them eat and are filled, and there are twelve baskets full of leftovers. Mark tells us that five thousand men eat that miraculous meal, along with their families (vv. 37-44).
I’m not sure exactly how this miracle happens. But I do know that it requires the effort of the disciples and the effort of Jesus. It is both a human miracle and a divine miracle. Jesus could have done it all on his own, but he does not. He turns to his disciples and says, “You give them something to eat.” And then he amplifies their giving and feeds over 5000 hungry people.
This is the promise of our 2020 VISION Capital Campaign: Through the power of Jesus, our human efforts will achieve miraculous results. With divine help, we can become a church that shelters people so that they can experience the compassion and teachings of Jesus. We can also become a church that feeds the world around us, both physically and spiritually. This is something that my friend Jeff Krehbiel would have wanted, and his death reminds me that none of us has unlimited time to do the right thing. Over the next three years, I believe we can do a great deal to shelter and feed the people of God.
This is our 2020 VISION: Sheltering and feeding. I hope you will become part of it by attending the lunch which will begin in Fellowship Hall, right after the 11:15 service of worship. The lunch will be followed by a video, a PowerPoint presentation, and a time for questions and answers. It will be an informative and inspirational time, and there will be a fun activity for children and youths after the lunch.
If you cannot attend today’s event, pick up a campaign packet in the church office, and attend one of the discussion sessions that we’ll have over the next four Sundays. We need the support of everyone in our church for this campaign to be a success.
Sheltering and feeding. That is our 2020 VISION. We’ll achieve it, when our giving is amplified by the power of Jesus. Amen.