But I want to ask you all a different question: Have you thought about our church building as a place of God’s mission work? Maybe you have, maybe you haven’t. For a long time I took for granted that churches just exist in America and there was not much that is very special about this fact. I am seeing now more than ever, though, that I was wrong. Our church building, the property that Faith Lutheran Church owns, is a place for God’s mission on earth. It is space in which the mission of God is found. Weekly we preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ here. Weekly we pray for each other here. Weekly we come here to lay our sins before God and receive Christ’s forgiveness. So, when we work to keep up our building we are furthering the mission of God in our world by keeping up a place in which the mission of God is active. Put differently, work to keep up a place of worship is mission work. When we preserve and provide a place of worship, we are missionaries to the wider world in which we live.
Unfortunately, some see church buildings as a barrier – walls to keep members in and non-members out. I am not sure of all the places from which this perception has its source, but I have encountered it first hand from many people, including people here in the Mission Valley. One thing that helps us overcome this sense of our church walls being barriers between those inside and those outside of the church is the work we do to make our church building a place of welcome rather than a place of exclusion. When we carry out this work, we counter the perception that the church building is a barrier by turning our building into a place that welcomes people to encounter the Gospel, instead of being a club for members only.
If we view our church building as God’s house, then we can think about welcoming guests to it like we would into our own houses. I have been to most of your homes and know that the people of Faith Lutheran take pride in having well-kept houses (at least when the pastor is coming over). You understand that it is good to clean house when you invite a guest to visit, and do a good job of taking care of things, too. Over the past couple of months we have been doing the same in God’s house at Faith Lutheran Church. We have started cleaning out closets that have been neglected for a while. Thanks to Dorre Webster, Maxine Hanson, and Chris Noel, we now have newly painted Sunday School rooms and a newly painted nursery. We also have opened up more space in the Narthex to welcome guests as they come in, and fellowship with them after service around coffee and treats (many thanks to Lute Thingelstad, and Gordon, Gary, and Adam Granley for their help with that project). We also have a brand new baptismal font by which we welcome the faithful into the kingdom of God for all eternity, thanks to the help of Dana Thingelstad in memory of his parents. All of these things support and help further the mission of God by helping guests who worship among us get a firm sense that our church is a place which we value and consider important enough to work to take care of.
Lastly, I will say that ours is an inherited space in which the kingdom of God dwells. None of us are left who built the original sanctuary and fellowship space over seventy years ago, so the space in which we worship is one that we have been given. Being an inherited space, it is important for us to recognize and wrestle with how best to steward the history of our building while allowing present and future generations to leave their marks, as well. I have seen it all too often, especially in Lutheran churches, that some people only desire to keep things as they once were and try to force future generations of Christian church goers to become curators of a mission space that once was. Perhaps without even intending to, they turn their congregations into de facto museums because they do not permit any changes to be made and are surprised when their children do not desire to come to church anymore to curate the museum-like structures that were once thriving worshipping communities. It is important to honor the past and worship with the saints who have gone before us as we worship the living God in the present. Yet, the mission of God in our current time and place should always allow for present and future generations to engage our worship spaces in new and creative ways. For instance, I am equally excited to think about the church our charter members envisioned out of nothing as I am to think about how the entry to our choir loft is being re-purposed as a space for the increasing number of youth in our church to call their own. In the dynamic history of our church, we are called to perpetually steward our places of worship in ways that preserve the memories of the faithful who have gone before us while welcoming future generations to add their own memories to the same space. I am grateful that we are doing this here at Faith Lutheran Church!