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Pope,G - The House That Love is Building

Pope,G - The House That Love is Building

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Published by: ObltSB on Jan 16, 2010
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Crescent Hill Baptist ChurchLouisville, Kentucky
Pentecost 23October 26, 2008W. Gregory Pope
SERIES: The New Monasticism
Deuteronomy 34:1-12; Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46In a recently published parable of the church, [1] the chairperson of a church council received a letterwhich read:Dear Tim,I have been observing you and your season of leadership at [the church] for many years and thought itimportant to write to you at this time. I’ve watched your hard work in guiding [the church] out of a periodof turmoil and challenge. You have endured a great deal and persevered with energy in creating a level of excitement and activity within the church. For all this I commend you and the other leaders who haveworked with you.I’m writing you to bring something important to your attention. You have lost your first love. You and [thechurch] have drifted away from the love of God and one another as your first priority . . . If this serioussituation is not turned around, it will destroy the church’s credibility.Fear not, Tim. All is not lost. I am writing to encourage you to lead a change that, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, can be accomplished. If you accept the challenge to restore love into the life of the churchby reviving . . . passion and humility . . . you and [the church] will receive blessings beyond yourimagination. The way back must start with you.This letter is sent in love as always, with faith that what is required can be done.(Signed) Your Truest FriendImmediately, Tim thought it sounded just like the letter Jesus had written to the church at Ephesus in theBook of Revelation telling them that they too had lost their first love. But he also didn’t think too highlyof anonymous letters, and so he tossed it in the wastebasket.The letter was followed by a phone call by a fairly new member of the congregation, informing Tim thatshe had decided to look for another church. When he asked why she said it was several things really. Shewas known in the community for possessing incredible gifts that seem to be ignored at the church. She feltas if she had fallen through the cracks and did not sense the warm inclusion she did with the initialwelcome to the congregation. She said, “I really want my church to feel like a place where I’m welcomeand where people are genuinely glad to see me.” She said, “The bottom line is that this church isn’texactly the most loving place in town. It doesn’t make me feel closer to God. Sometimes I go away feelingfarther away from God than I did before I arrived.”Tim apologized on behalf of the church and promised he would look very carefully into what she had saidand would do everything he could to create a church where she would feel more welcome. He invited herto give them another chance. She said she would think about it and thanked him for how kind he had beento her.
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As they hung up, Tim went to the wastebasket and retrieved the letter. He sat back in his chair. Wow! Inone day, to read that his church had drifted away from the love of God and one another, and to hear thathis church was not exactly the most loving place in town stabbed him right in the heart. Because he knewin his gut it was true. That amidst all the good things about his church they had lost the love that unitesand defines them.That letter could be sent and that phone call could be made to churches all over the world.At the heart of the letter and phone call is the church’s failure to focus on the heart of the matter, whatJesus called the greatest commandment: to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and tolove our neighbor as ourselves.As I read that story I wondered how true it is of us. Have we lost our first love? Have we drifted awayfrom the love of God and neighbor as the heart of our life together? Amidst all the changes thiscongregation has endured, what is it that holds us together?I truly cannot think of another congregation that has been faced with the number of changes and thesignificant scope of such changes as has this congregation. It is truly astounding. The whole identity of thechurch rooted in its relationship to the seminary, then watching the seminary change so drastically, andover 40 families with connection to the seminary moving on from this congregation to other places, not tomention the hundreds of students each year who found a church home here. Then a period of significanttransition where we have been seeking to live into a new way of doing ministry. And then in February2007, the gift of over 150 Karen Christians from the other side of the world come and seek to make theirhome with us. All of these things and more, the impact of which is hard to actually put into words - it’senough to spin your head around a few times.And yet, we’re still here. What is it that is holding us together? I’m not sure exactly, but I think there issomething to be learned from that modern parable of the church with which I began. For within thatparable lies the truth about every church including our own. Whether in a time of struggle or greatsuccess, the integrity of a congregation, what holds it together, is compromised if the uniting cord is notwoven together by the love of God and the love of neighbor. The great commandment of Jesus mustalways and forever be the center of our life together.And you know, there’s freedom and joy in that truth. Because it means you don’t have to be the biggestand the best at everything to be a successful congregation. The most important thing is to do everythingpossible to be the most loving place in town.As all baseball fans know, this year brought to a close baseball’s most hallowed sanctuary, YankeeStadium. As a beloved Red Sox fan, I cannot but acknowledge that Yankee Stadium (even more thanFenway Park and Wrigley Field) has been home to more baseball greats than any other place in thehistory of the game: Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Reggie Jackson, and the list could go on. Butone player stands out above them all. Thanks to the unforgivable stupidity of Red Sox ownership in 1918,for $100,000 the Sox traded Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees, and did not win another World Seriesfor 86 years. In those 86 years, the Yankees won 26 World Series, and Yankee Stadium became known as“The House That Ruth Built.”In fact, until Boston won the World Series in 2004, it was believed they lived under “The Curse” forhaving traded the Babe to the Yankees. But “The House That Ruth Built” is closed now, and the Yankeesare moving into the 1.3 billion dollar “House That Steinbrenner (the longtime Yankee owner) Built.”The church is always “The House That Love is Building.” If anybody or anything else tries to build achurch, it will never be what it was meant to be.
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In First Corinthians chapter 13 we are told that without love all noble efforts are basically pointless anduseless. However, with love, even the smallest of things can be great and profoundly useful. The point isthat love must guide the lives and relationships of the church community. It must be love that unifies thechurch, love on the inside as members love one another, love on the outside as we make the love of Jesusknown to the world, all of which is bound together by our love for God and God’s love for us.How is love building this house?I thought about you yesterday as my family and I paid a visit to a llama farm owned by the doctor whodiagnosed my son Ryan’s heart condition when he was less than an hour old, and quite literally saved hislife, riding in the ambulance with him from Baptist East to Kosair Hospital. To see her again, along withtwo other doctors who kept him alive through his first weeks of life, was yet another reminder to me of how you kept us (my family and I) alive during those days - feeding us, praying for us, loving us. And theway you continue to do so, rejoicing with us in his wonderful health and hyperactivity and high decibelvocal cords. Love was and is building a house for our life together.And stories like that of how you have loved and cared for one another in times of crisis could be toldcountless times over.There are the stories lived weekly of Bob Hieb and Tom Scott Jr. here at the church almost everySaturday repairing and renovating and building this house with great love.And then every Sunday morning and afternoon, Allen Bartlett and Andy Bates and Glen Bellou and DavidGraves and Lewis Miller and Brent Williams picking up and taking home those who want to come tochurch with us but are in need of transportation. They are laying bricks of love.And every week, Judy Johnson is sending a card or baking a cake to someone who is celebrating orsomeone is need of a helping hand. Bricks of love.And Karen Scott organizing our exploding nursery every week, making sure children, from the first weeksof life, know that there is place for them in this House of Love.And Nar K’Paw, spending almost every waking hour translating English and Karen for somebody all overthis city, seeking to make life better for his people, and showing us all what it means to love. Brick bybrick.And Moneai Schnur who writes 5-10 notes every Wednesday night to those who are sick and grieving.Laying bricks of love.And Steve Clark and Annette Ellard who inspire me every week with their tireless brick laying on behalf of refugees, pushing landlords to do the right thing, working with school boards, accompanying people tothe hospital and sitting them through the middle of the night.And like the hundreds of people who helped Ruth build Yankee Stadium, there are many others aroundhere who go unnoticed, but who, brick by brick, are building this house of love.In the giving of yourself and your resources, you provide space and opportunity for loving God throughworship and spiritual formation. You provide space and opportunity to love our neighbors through agrowing ESL ministry on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And for tutoring young people in the youthroom on Wednesday afternoons (work that local school teachers and administrators have noticed).In your giving you help build Habitat houses throughout this city.In your giving you support mission work all over the world and in our own community, feeding the
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