I changed what I was planning to preach about today. This past week I was so excited about our anniversary weekend I wanted to do a follow up message. For a couple of reasons. First, during last Sunday’s worship service, very early in Coretha’s sermon, her microphone went out, such that some people weren’t able to hear the rest of what she said, which was very much worth hearing. I’m not going to mention the fact that there were plenty of seats closer to the front and people could have sat farther down to begin with, but I do want to repeat and expand on what she said. After all, we have to get started on our next fifty years.
Coretha said that as we make our way into the future as a congregation, we can’t dwell on our failures. We’ve haven’t always had overwhelming success with everything we’ve tried over the years. At one point, for example, we experimented with an alternative worship service. For a time we designed a different service for every week. One week we set up a labyrinth in the fellowship hall. I think we had one on the ball field one week. We tried to get creative. But after not so long we just ran out of steam. We never really got a critical mass of people to attend.
I don’t know if you count it as a failure, but we used to have a softball team and a basketball team. Last weekend Mark Benson was remembering that Pedro and Alan Maddox were out designated home run hitters. But after so many years we gradually ran out of players, much to Joe Lindsoe’s disappointment. I suspect Joe would still be playing if we still had a team.
There have been times when we could not do what we wanted to do financially. There have been special services and events where attendance has been extremely sparse. Sometimes we have understood why something flopped, and other times we have just scratched our heads and said, maybe we’ll have better luck next time.
The danger of dwelling on failures is that it can lead to a “we can’t do it” attitude. It can lead to “remember when we tried so and so and it didn’t work, so this new idea won’t work.” If we dwell on our failures we can develop a defeatist culture. We can start to believe that we can’t do anything new or different so we shouldn’t even try. It can lead us to believe that all we can do is stick with the status quo and hope for the best.
But Coretha also said we can’t dwell on our successes. That sounds strange on first hearing, doesn’t it? We do want to celebrate our successes, like last weekend. If nothing else, the food was worth being here. We really ate well on Friday night and Sunday afternoon. We should be glad that we succeeded in building a church in 1973 and adding onto it in 1998. We should appreciate the success of our early service, that it has attracted a steady core group. And we’ve had many, many other successful ministries over the past fifty years.
The danger of dwelling on success is that we can begin to believe that we have arrived, that we don’t need to do anything new or different. We can fall into the trap of thinking that our facilities are fine the way they are, forever and ever. We can fall into the trap of thinking that we never need to change anything in either of our worship services. We can fall into the trap of thinking, we’re doing pretty well, especially compared to a lot of other churches, so let’s just keep doing what we’re doing.
You see where I’m headed, don’t you? And it’s where Coretha was headed last Sunday. The reason we had such a great anniversary weekend, the reason we have far more successes than failures in our history, is that we have not been afraid to change. That is one of the great strengths of this congregation. Right off the bat, there was the change from property on Timberlake Road to these wonderful five acres we have here. We have made changes to the pulpit/lectern/choir loft area of the sanctuary several times over the years. When we put on the addition we also reworked most of the downstairs of the original building. We have now changed the time of the early service at least twice, and I may have forgotten another schedule or two. Incidentally, with our new Sunday morning schedule, I had thought about asking the Friendship Class if they might want to start a little earlier so that they would have more time for our new 10:30 fellowship event. They decided to make the change before I said a word to them.
Why do we constantly need to be looking at changes we need to try? Because the world is changing so fast. In times past, why could the church get by with doing things the same, sometimes generation after generation? Because there have been times in the past two thousand years when there was very little change, sometimes for decades and even centuries. During the middle ages in Europe, cathedrals in the big cities and village churches elsewhere hummed along just fine for a very long time using the same format.
Nowadays, we can’t get by with same old, same old for very long. Remember when church was the only game in town on Sundays? Now we compete with youth sports and shopping and just about every other activity that goes on the other six days of the week. Remember when the good old hymns were the good old hymns? That one’s actually a little tricky, because the good old hymns tend to be whatever hymns we grew up with, and that varies according to several different factors, like what generation we are in and what kind of church was the church of our younger days.
Yes, some things do stay the same. For example, people still ask questions like why and how. People still tend to believe that there is or can be more to life than what we see, touch, smell, taste and hear; in other words that there is a spiritual dimension to life; or at least that there should be a spiritual dimension to life.
But how people, especially unchurched people, go about looking for answers to those questions and how they act on their belief in the spiritual life are often very different from what they used to be. It used to be that the answer and the action was – go to church. All you had to do was decide which one.
Today, however, people look in all sorts of directions. To find meaning and purpose in life and a spiritual connection to something they look to other religions and self-improvement books and just about anything you can think of online. They look to many and various organizations and clubs and lots of times to pretty much nothing at all. The church of Jesus Christ is simply one option among many.
Having lots of options is one of the characteristics of our world today. Remember there was Coke and Pepsi and Dr. Pepper? Now there’s Diet Coke and Cherry Coke and Coke Zero. Remember when tv was just ABC, CBS and NBC? Not only are there lots of options for just about everything, but nobody thinks twice if you choose something different compared to what they choose. Our next door neighbor is Muslim? Hindu? Zoroastrian? A Sunday morning golfer? No big deal.
That’s the reality we in the church face today. That’s why we Disciples of Christ say that our mission is “from our doorsteps to the ends of the earth.” At any given time, the person who most needs what we have to offer here at TCC may be our next door neighbor.
But we may have to change what we do or how we do it in order to help them, in order to carry on the mission Jesus has entrusted to us. We will certainly have to put our failures and our successes behind us and continually ask ourselves, how do we spread and live out God’s good news today. How do we plan for the next year and the next two or three years and the next fifty years so that we can grow and share our relationship with God through Christ?
It’s so much easier to say, we’re doing ok. We’re fine the way we are. We can be on cruise control for a while. That’s always going to be the temptation, as we face an always uncertain future. Change can be uncomfortable. It can be inconvenient for us. It may not always work to our advantage. But we have to keep our eye on the ball. We have to continually ask ourselves, what is best for the mission and ministry of Timberlake Christian Church, not, what is easiest and most comfortable for me?
I changed my topic for today, but I didn’t change the scripture reading. I stuck with the passage from Mark. It includes Jesus saying, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up the cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” Losing some part of our lives may not be appealing to us. Giving up the comfortable and the familiar is often hard. The good news is, Jesus promises us that when we do, we will gain life, we will save it. Amen.