“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” (NRSV)
Grace to you and peace from God our creator, from Jesus Christ, our redeemer and friend, and from the Holy Spirit, our sustainer and guide.
Remodeling a house is different than new construction. If a house has good bones, it can be remodeled and all will be well. If the house isn’t sound in the first place, if it has a cracked foundation or if termites have gotten to its timbers, it should be knocked down and rebuilt from the ground up. New construction is easier , in a way, because you don’t have to be careful in the destruction phase. Everything goes because you are starting over. In remodeling however, you have to be careful not to damage the infrastructure of the house. That has to remain intact and solid before moving forward with the reconstruction. When Ed and I were remodeling our house, we knocked down one wall and built up some other ones. We replaced the windows, moved a door, added insulation and replaced some insulation that was ruined by mice. We reran electrical wiring, replaced the furnace and the hot water heater and put in a LOT of sheetrock, all before any of the finishing touches… the stuff that you see… could be added.
We were so eager to get started. We had the vision of what the house could be like. But once started… it seemed to TAKE FOREVER. We thought it would never be finished. And frankly, it isn’t. There are still things we recognize need to be done. But we will live with it this way for awhile. Like a congregation, a house is never really “done.” There is always something more that needs to be done.
And God is doing a new thing here. A remodeling job is in the works at Carlton Hills Lutheran. You might not have recognized it, but change is happening. The Spirit is working, but the architect has not shown us the final plans. What it will look like is not yet revealed. The deconstruction phase started on April 23 when Pastor Rick retired. It is a little harder to see in the congregation than in an actual house, but some of the things Pastor Rick did haven’t been done because only he could do them that way. Some of the things Pastor Rick did, I do now, but I do them my way. Some of the things he did have been picked up by some of you. That is all part of the remodeling.
We have changed things back and forth in the worship service. Today you see some more changes. None of this is drastic. But it does remind us that nothing stays the same and we are to maintain our flexibility; our ability to adapt. We’ll elect a new council today and they will come into office in January, joining our council members that remain. We’ll be selecting a call committee sometime in the spring and the search for the new pastor will begin. But we cannot wait until then to start the new construction. We have to have some new things in place for the new pastor to step into.
First and foremost, we each need to attend to renewing our faith. Yes, it is true, only the Holy Spirit grows our faith, but it is also true that nothing much grows in untilled soil. To get back to our remodeling metaphor, the new appliances cannot be installed until the old ones have been carted away. Where any of you has been content to drift along with faith that is “good enough,” now is the time to say “Not anymore. I need to get rid of some bad habits of a lazy faith life. Not only that, I need to look at how I spend my time. Do I do what is helpful in the kingdom of God? Or do I spend my time doing frivolous things?” I have to confess I spend too much time on my daily puzzle, my Words With Friends and a couple other games I play on my computer. I have deleted two of them so I can attend to things that are more worthwhile. That’s just one small example. Are their television shows that you have gotten into the habit of watching that don’t add to your life? What might you do instead? If it isn’t either of those, what is it for you?
Everyone should have two little pieces of blank paper in your bulletin. Take them out now. On the first one, write down something that distracts you from God. Something that takes your time and energy away from what you are called to do with your life. Let’s talk about that for a moment. Maybe you have a job you love, that makes your life meaningful. You are lucky. That is easy to see how it draws you closer to God and is a holy presence in your life. But maybe it is a job you hate. Maybe you know it is a “just for now” job. Maybe it is time to let go of hating your job. Do that job as if the kingdom of God depends on it. How would God want you to treat your work or the people with whom you work? Can you make the world a little bit better by dedicating yourself to work in a godly way in every part of your profession? Maybe you are a parent. Everyone knows parenting is mostly a round of feeding, and cleaning up after and correcting your kids. Parenting your kids well (no matter how old they are) is part of what you are to do to the glory of God. Maybe you need to let go of nagging them and figure out how to take a more positive approach. Maybe you need to let go of worry and pray more. Maybe there is something in your diet or lifestyle that doesn’t glorify God. Taking care of your body, getting enough rest, recycling, shutting off lights when not using them, preserving water… do it all for the glory of God.
Maybe there is more than one thing that needs letting go of, but start one step at a time. Choose one. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. Little things add up. Anything that doesn’t move you toward God can become a barrier keeping you from God. When that is gone and you have one less barrier between you and complete faith in God, then you can choose another barrier to eliminate. For now, start with one thing you might eliminate from your life so that you would have more time with God.
Now for your second piece of paper. On Sunday, January 7, we are going to have a “Come Back To Church” Sunday. I invite you to write on your paper someone you would like to invite back to church. You can write up to four names. You ARE NOT going to approach them yet. You are going to pray for them. In the time that you are not doing whatever you wrote on your first piece of paper… spend some of that time praying for these people. Pray for their wellbeing. Pray for God to be real in their lives. Pray for the Holy Spirit to work in them to open their hearts to returning to church. PUT THE PAPER WITH THE NAMES AND THE PAPER WITH WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO ELIMINATE, SOMEWHERE YOU WILL SEE THEM THROUGHOUT THE WEEK. THEN BRING THEM BOTH BACK NEXT WEEK. Like I said, You are NOT going to approach these people yet. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but when you do approach them, you are not going to guilt them. You are not going to ask them where they have been. Don’t tell them you are praying for them yet. That day will come. Just pray for them for now.
It is Advent. God is doing a new thing with Jesus’ birth. And God is doing a new thing here too, but remember, new things often require that the old has to go, so we just have to first get out of the way and then help a bit…
Please join me in prayer.
Holy God, come into our hearts and increase our faith. Inspire us in serving your people and being the church for the good of the world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.