Credible Witnesses

The word is out on Grace Episcopal Church. We have died and gone out of business. Bulldozers are tearing down the building and the parking lots are full of rubble. If you don’t believe me, then talk to the woman (not a member) who lives in the western part of Muskogee, the spouse of a prominent citizen, who was told these words by a neighbor who saw bulldozers tearing the front wall off the parish hall and dead bushes and weeds in the courtyard. There were no signs, so what else could one conclude?

That is what at least part of the community believes about this church. So I ask you, are we a credible witness to the love of Jesus Christ in this community, or do we verge on the edge of existence as a painful reminder to some that literal Bible interpretations are not necessarily what Jesus really meant?

Now there are concrete (no pun intended) things we can do to dispel the community buzz that we are out of business. Last week, the bishop suggested that we erect some temporary signs proclaiming “Grace is growing. Join us for worship on Sunday” He also suggested that we clean up the weeds and derelict appearance of the property so that people who drive by understand that we are very much in business.

Since some community buzz has already begun in a negative way, we might also consider some advertisements to help make our case. We need to make a positive buzz.

A construction project offers both peril and opportunity. Buddhists call this yin and yang. I call it common sense. Peril because if we ignore all the opportunities, we will simply pay for an expensive expansion of facilities for a small group of people. Opportunity because we can extend our best welcoming mat to the wider community and say “Come on in. We are renovating our campus to serve this community better. Join us and you will grow too.”

I want you to raise your hand to vote for one of two options: 1. We are renovating this campus for the existing members. 2. Come on in. Join us and you will grow too. Vote.

So the question emerges from here, why are we doing this? Are we giving our money to the building project and pinning our hopes on something that basically enables us to maintain our traditions? Or are we opening ourselves up to something totally new, to the Holy Spirit, so that not only are the buildings renovated, but WE are renovated? Are we re-novating ourselves in this project? Are we literally making ourselves new again?

Maintenance of existing traditions and structures versus mission to the wider community is what we are addressing today. When we change our buildings and church campus, what do we need to change about our worship, our Sunday education, and ourselves in order to do the work God has given us to do?

Because of the bishop’s visit last week, we have moved our monthly healing service to today. There are some here who claim that our healing has helped them battle cancer. There are some who have buried loved ones in the full dignity and blessing of the church. If one aspect of our mission is to go out like those first disciples, two by two, healing and casting out demons, then can we or should we expand this particular service as part of our mission here in Muskogee?

The world out there is watching us, whether we like it or not. Some folks out there want us to go out of business. For them our failure to thrive might be proof of the validity of their particular beliefs or proof that there is no God at all. But for all those who are out there spreading false rumors, there are a hundred more who need the work and the love we do at Grace – a hundred more.

Mission and ministry happen right where we are planted. We don’t have to go to a far-away place. When we bring the love of God, the compassion of Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit to others, something happens that you may not have considered before. In the same way, when Jesus sent the disciples out two by two, they returned transformed. They were changed and you will be transformed too. Ministry is a two way street.

The question of whether we are renovating the facilities for ourselves or for the community around us is a red herring. The answer is both.

So in the midst of major construction, can we clean up our parking lots and property to tell the world that we are very much in business? Can we put up signs inviting those hundreds to join us?

When they begin to show up, you will be amazed at what happens next.