A Haven of Blessing and Peace: Sermon for Sunday, February 12


Today marks the first time we have been able to worship in this sanctuary since like a million years ago. OK, I’m exaggerating, it’s only been 22 weeks ago…but still. That’s a long time.

Thank you for your patience over these past several months. You have suffered through construction dust, sweated through several workdays, put up with limited access to the building, faithfully prayed for the construction workers and our building implementation team, and last but not least, you have been financially supporting our three year building campaign to make all of these wonderful and needed improvements a reality.

And I know what you’re wondering right now. You’re wondering if we are still receiving new pledges for the remaining two years of the campaign. And the answer is yes. If you want to join in the fun, we always have plenty of offering envelopes, and we also offer the convenience of online giving. Thanks to God’s faithfulness and the generosity of so many, we are able to celebrate today!

OK, where was I? O yeah. I can’t thank all of you enough for being incredibly gracious, patient, and generous through this entire process. I am so blessed to be part of this exciting time here at Athens First!

We talk a lot about “Thin Place” moments here at our church. You know, those moments when heaven and earth overlap in wonderful and mysterious ways.

The fact that we are having this special Sunday today is really a “Thin Place” moment because this is the Sunday closest to the 1958 anniversary of the very first worship service in this building.  On Sunday, February 9, 1958, our congregation worshipped for the first time in what was then their brand new building.

That was 59 years ago. The 1955 fire had destroyed the previous building and our congregation had to worship in the OU auditorium during those three years while this church was being built.

I have another interesting parallel between February, 1958 and February, 2017 that I find amazing. After the fire in 1955, the congregation had to raise $648,000 to build this church. $648,000. That’s about the same amount of money that we are raising for our new building improvements.

The big difference between then and now is that it took them 23 years to pay off that amount, whereas our campaign is for just three years. I think inflation over the years might have something to do with that! And of course, back then, they didn’t have the convenience of online giving which might have made their campaign shorter. I did mention that we offer online giving, right?

Another reason I bring up these parallels is to remind us that we all stand on the shoulders of previous generations. I stand on the shoulders of previous pastors who have faithfully lived and served here at Athens First.

Rev. James Quinn, 1775 to 1847, founding pastor of Athens First UMC

We all stand on the shoulders of Methodist Circuit Rider, James Quinn who started our church in 1800, which by the way, predates the founding of Ohio University by a few years. We owe James Quinn a lot of gratitude because he had to ride a horse to get from place to place. I get to drive in a Honda Civic.

You know what?  It would be really, really awesome if our founding Methodist Circuit Rider preacher, James Quinn could be here today to see how far we have come since those small group of Methodists met in someone’s modest cabin to share their faith with each other.

That would be a dream come true for me if he could be here today. If for some crazy reason he does come today, please go up and thank him because we wouldn’t be having this service today if it wasn’t for him.

When we decided to have today be the dedication Sunday, I looked at the scripture readings appointed for today and one of them really stood out to me, the Old Testament reading from the Book of Deuteronomy.

This is a scripture reading where the Israelites are getting ready to finally enter into the Promised Land. They have been wandering in the wilderness for a really long time, even longer than twenty-two weeks, and they didn’t even have a Fellowship Hall like we have.

But like them, we are on the edge of entering the Promised Land of sorts, a land flowing with a cool looking glass entrance, an elevator, and a state of the art sanctuary WITH air conditioning!

Friends, this July, when it’s 99 degrees with high humidity, that’s when we will know that we have finally made it to the Promised Land!

This past summer, I was at one of the hospitals in Columbus and ran into one of our former pastors, Tom Hanover. Tom is now serving a church in the Columbus area. So, we were chatting there in the hospital lobby and he asked me how things were going at Athens First.

And I said to him, “Oh, Tom. Things are going really great! We’re going to do a lot of building improvements including air conditioning for the sanctuary!”

You should have been there to see this, because when I mentioned air-conditioning in the sanctuary, his eyes lit up and he literally jumped up and down for joy. You would have thought that I told him that 500 people just gave their lives to Christ and joined the church! He was that happy for us!

And I know why, because as we all know, it gets really uncomfortably hot here in the summer. I’m sure that Tom preached his share of hot Sunday sermons in this place and officiated at many unbearably hot weddings here.

All of this is to say, that all of our building improvements, from the front entrance expansion including our front sidewalk that is now handicap accesible, to the sanctuary improvements, to the elevator are all meant to help us be a more welcoming and accommodating church for our community. That’s why this campaign is called, “Putting Athens First” because we want these improvements to be a blessing to our community as well as to our own congregation.

Rev. Dan Kiger who served here in the 80’s and early 90’s said it best when he preached here a little over a year ago during the launch of our campaign when he said to us, “God is calling our church to be a haven of blessing and peace.”

“A haven of blessing and peace”

     That phrase has stuck with me all of this time during our campaign. It’s a phrase that Dan borrowed from the wedding liturgy where the pastor prays for the new couple’s home to be “a haven of blessing and peace.”

That’s such a beautiful expression. “A haven of blessing and peace.” Dan’s right. That’s exactly what God is calling us our church to be in this unique location so close to the university with students walking by day after day.

When I was still serving the church up in Lancaster and it was announced that I would become the pastor at this church, I can’t tell you the number of people in that congregation who said to me things like,

“That’s the church I attended when I was an OU student.”

     “That’s the church that helped me grow in my faith when I was living there.”

     “I sang in the choir there.”

     “My husband and I were married in that church.”

Friends, this church is truly meant to be a haven of blessing and peace for all who come here.

You know, I looked up the definition of the word, “haven” and it said, “A place of safety, a place of favorable opportunities, and a place for weary travelers.”

I love that! God is calling our church to be just that, for the people who come here. A haven of blessing and peace, especially for weary travelers.

The good news is that we have been that place over our two hundred year history. We have been that place even over these past twenty-two weeks of construction. And God is calling us to continue to be that place like never before.

One of the ways that can help us to continue to be that place is through the expansion of our hospitality ministry. Just imagine what a difference it will make for us to become even more intentional in being that place where people, especially new people feel welcomed and included in our church family.

We will be hosting a hospitality training event that will help us to expand our hospitality in several new ways. The training will be led by a professional hospitality instructor and will include a biblical view of hospitality, some practical ways that we can all become more welcoming, and then opportunities to serve in our new hospitality ministry. The training will take place on Saturday morning, March 11 from 8:30 to 11:30 at the OU Inn.

You can sign up online or by calling into our church office. Thanks to a generous donation from a family in our church, there’s no cost for those who sign up to attend. Hospitality will be our main focus as we settle into our newly remodeled building.

It’s an exciting time to be part of Athens First United Methodist Church as we join those ancient Israelites from in moving closer and closer into the Promised Land.

What I really love about today is that there are so many people here on this special day who have played a part in the building up of our church.

Christian author, Tom Wright has a great analogy to help us appreciate how we are all part of the building of God’s kingdom.

 

He talks about some stone masons who were building a cathedral during medieval times. If we had the opportunity to say to one of the individual masons, “What are you doing?” they might each say that they are building a cathedral.

But what’s actually happening is that they are each doing their small, but very important and crucial part in carving their stones in a certain way and a particular angle that will be needed for the completion of the building.  And at the time, you don’t know how it will eventually all fit together until later when the Master Builder fits all the stones together in such a way that you end up with a beautiful cathedral.

 

In a similar way, each one of us has important tasks and roles in the building up of the church. One of us may be a worship leader on Sundays. Another might sing in the choir. Someone else provides refreshments for Sunday Connect Time.  A construction worker builds a wooden frame. A pastor preaches an above average sermon.  A greeter helps a first time worship guest find the nursery. A church member sets a church sign in front of our building telling people about an event. Someone mops the floor. A small group facilitator leads a small group.

All of these stones are being cut and shaped by many, many people over several decades and even centuries. And over the course of time, God, our master builder  who is overseeing the entire project, takes all of our contributions, big and small, puts them together, and transforms them into a haven of blessing and peace.

So, thank you James Quinn. Thank you former pastors. Thank you construction workers. Thank you church workday volunteer. Thank you cookie baker. Thank you Tuesday morning prayer person. Thank you bereavement team refreshment provider. Thank you staff team. Thank you Leadership Board. Thank you church members. Thank each one of you for carving your particular stones.

We couldn’t have done it without you.

 

And most importantly, thanks be to God for being our Master Builder. To God be all the glory, majesty, power and authority through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen!

For small group questions, scroll to the bottom of this page.