This is Stewardship Sunday. There was a time many years ago when this day was spent wringing hands about trying to pay the bills. In the words of that great Byrds song, “My Back Pages, Highlands was so much older then, we’re younger than that now>” Highlands is so much more generous, and so much more engaged in the works of Jesus that we can use this time to talk about the once and future church.
This week you received in the mail a letter from the Session and me with an estimate of giving card. This is not a pledge but an estimate of what you think you can give in 2019.
I hope that this church has earned your generosity. I would not want you to give a dime to a church that does not meet your needs and give you a place to feel God’s love and to live out God’s call in your life. For me, that is Highlands. I hope the same for you.
Highlands has grown so much in the last five years. There is an increase in attendance but more important, we have experienced growth in our relationship with God. Highlands has come so far in the last few years, far enough that it is prepared and spiritually equipped to think seriously about the next generation.
What I am about to say may surprise some, startle others. I hope it will open hearts and minds to a bold, even radical thought process about the course we’d like to chart for this little church. I need to say that this building at this place will not allow Highlands to become all that it can be and all that God is calling this faith community to be in the future.
Besides that, this church was built on stolen land. Now, to be clear, it is impossible to locate a church on ground anywhere in this entire country that was not stolen. No matter where you build in this country, if you trace the title back far enough, you will find the place in time where the land was stolen from its rightful owners. So, the best we can do is decide that if we’re going to worship on stolen land, we ought to make real certain that we are doing it in a way that answers God’s call.
I have preached about this before. It troubles my heart that we worship on stolen land. Let’s become the first faith community in the US to give it back to the Native peoples from whom it was stolen. Perhaps we could deed it back to the appropriate tribe and keep a lease, long enough for us to find a different place to worship and serve.
Besides, this building is a stumbling block for who Highlands can become. In Matthew 22, Jesus tells the story about the wedding feast; all the best people were invited but they all begged off. The Sagebrush Gospel tells it like this, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a church board that decided to build a new church in the middle of a planned subdivision. It sent its members to call those who bought homes in the surrounding neighborhood to the attend, but for the most part, they would not come.”
And so, the king went out into the streets to invite the homeless and hungry, the addicted, the elderly, single parents, the marginalized and the rejected; a rainbow of color, white, black, brown, Native Americans, immigrants documented and undocumented, straight or gay, bisexual and Transgender and those who were just plain lonely so that the pews were filled with guests. They came and a great banquet was enjoyed by all. Let’s do it!
Now, to be clear, I say these things not to impose my vison on you but as a way of kick starting some thinking about what we see as we look down on from wherever we spend the afterlife and see what became of that which we started here. So, it is a sort of “What if…”
First, Highlands should never get caught up in the numbers game. Sure, we’d all like these pews to be filled but what matters to God is our mission work and that we, like Jesus, preach the Good News to the poor, justice for the oppressed, freedom for the prisoner. Highlands should be known always as it is now in this community for its radical vision and not the size of the congregation.
Robin Meyers wrote a book we studied during the Highlands Book Club. In “The Underground Church,” Robin laments what we have lost since the 1st century. Listen. “Gone, he says, “is the sign of the fish on the door post to mark the subversive gathering of Jesus people. Gone is the common meal that was intended to feed the poor.
“Gone is the idea that to be baptized is to become a pacifist. Gone is the idea that a Christian should hang on to more than he or she needs in a world where so many have less than they need. Gone is the radical hospitality that made the first Christians a smelly, chaotic, unruly, ship of fools.”
In every generation, Highlands should double down on its commitment to Jesus and the least of these our brothers and sisters and being always what Meyers calls “a test tube for God’s grace.”
Listen. When that day comes, I would consider my time here a success if my successor in this pulpit is an undocumented transgender person of color who grew up dirt poor and is wise enough to be driven by a strong sense of the historical Jesus leading them to hear God’s call for who to be and what to do in the world, sending a message with the leadership choices you make that Highlands is committed to being the church and not a theological museum.
Move into the future by reclaiming our past. What if, like the early Christians, instead of celebrating communion by ourselves and in the pews, we invited the hungry, homeless, and hurting to a heavenly banquet. Eventually, our worship services could be devoted entirely to sharing a meal, feeding those in need and sharing our time with them.
What if we worshipped in a place where the hungry, homeless, lonely could just drop in. Maybe in a different part of town; maybe in this neighborhood if we look hard enough and become inviting enough.
OR what if instead of having a community garden, we had a farm. Instead of growing a couple hundred pounds of fresh produce for those who are hungry, we could farm hundreds of bushels of food in an environmentally responsible manner as we provide sanctuary for documented and undocumented people alike, those looking for a different way to be not just a different thing to believe…
…a place where undocumented people could live in safety and security; maybe even a place where we could provide sanctuary for lost and abandoned animals as well as lost and abandoned people.
We wouldn’t be the first to serve God this way. Google Koinonia Farms or go to koinoniafarm.org and learn how they live out Jesus’s call for radical love and hospitality. “
Like the once and former Egyptian slaves who spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness, we have time to think about where we are headed. Like Moses, many of us may not get there with the rest of the tribe but we can chart the course.
Take the words Cathy read from Deuteronomy, words intended for an evolving Hebrew community.
Apply them to us: Hear, O Highlands: The Lord is our God. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep the words you have chosen to describe your Vision, Mission, and Values in your heart. Recite them to your children, talk about them when you are at home and when you’re away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
On this Stewardship Sunday, as we pray about how our generosity can help bring God’s kingdom to our community, let us recommit ourselves. Never rest. Never settle. Strive always to be like the first Christians; “a smelly, chaotic, unruly, ship of fools.” AMEN