How can people call on the One they have not believed in?
And how can people believe in the One of whom they have not heard?
And how can people hear without someone preaching to them?
And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?
As it is written [in the prophet Isaiah]: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
– Romans 10:14-15
Good morning, Friends!
It’s been about a year since my wife and I arrived here to be with you at Springfield. During that year, we’ve accomplished a lot of things together.
- We put a whole new roof on the meetinghouse, on the office, the chapel and the Sunday School wing. That was a big project!
- We cleaned out tons of stuff that was cluttering up our lives. I mean that literally. We filled up dumpster loads and trailer loads of stuff that was filling up whole rooms, to no purpose whatsoever. Every now and then we’ve got to get the junk out of our lives!
- We raised the money to get new hymnals, which we’re enjoying every week. We installed new windows on half the Sunday School floor.
- On work days, we’ve hauled trailer loads of brush and limbs off into the woods. We’ve got a brand new sign out front, sharing a new message every week to the community.
- We tore up pews in the chapel and rearranged them. We’ve got the chapel functional again.
- We replaced hundreds of burned out light bulbs and repaired and replaced fixtures. Do you know how depressing it is to walk through a building where a third of the lights are burned out?
- We put new tile and paint in the hallway outside the fellowship room. We’ve painted and done repairs all over the place.
- We completely converted two of the buildings the meeting owns from oil to gas heat, and we got started on converting furnaces here in the meetinghouse. We can look forward to major savings in the years to come.
- Over next door, we’re almost finished with renovating the parsonage, which had been badly neglected for many years. We hope to move in this coming week.
It’s all good! We needed to do that stuff. It was essential. Visitors were turning away from coming back here, because our rest rooms were disgusting. You can’t have that kind of stuff and survive. It was all “must do” stuff.
It’s been a huge year, and I appreciate every one of you who contributed to all of the work and made it happen. I think this past year ought to go down in the history books as a miracle year, as a transformation year for Springfield.
But at the same time, a lot of what we’ve done this past year has been maintenance. It’s essential maintenance. It’s long-overdue. It’s stuff that had to be done. People were enthusiastic about it, and supported it. I can’t over-emphasize that all that work was essential, and I want to celebrate it.
But there’s a difference, and we all know it, between maintenance, and mission. We needed to do the maintenance. And I want us to stay caught up on it.
But maintenance can’t be what a church is basically about. That’s not why we’re here.
We want to have a beautiful, attractive, convenient place to worship and learn and have fellowship in. But the purpose is the worship and the learning and the fellowship, right? That’s why we have this place!
Mission means, “What are we doing to spread the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ to everyone we meet?”
Mission means going into all the world, into the whole creation, with good news. It means serving our neighbor. It means being healers, teachers, peacemakers, reconcilers, in all kinds of places. Mission means feeding the hungry. It means clothing people who need it.
Mission means finding people who have a particular need, who are crying to God for help with their particular problem, and seeing if there’s anything we can do to reach out to them.
Mission means listening to God. God is always telling us, showing us needs to be met, help to be shared, people who are lonely, people who need both food for the body and food for the soul.
I like to do maintenance. I’m pretty good at it. I like to put on a class act. I don’t want us to look shabby, and I hate neglect and clutter.
But I am passionate about mission. That’s what I think God is calling us to do.
The shoeboxes this morning are just an example of a simple, doable mission project. We tried to learn about a basic need – children who don’t have anything, when we all have so much by comparison. We found out what’s needed. We patiently collected things for a whole year. We reminded each other of the need, and kept the vision alive.
A small group of people in the meeting coordinated the work. I’m sure that they prayed over it. I know that their work was a prayer.
We assembled the boxes, and we laughed and joked and had a good time while we did it. Joy is one of the benefits of giving, and joy should accompany all mission work.
We brought the boxes into our worship. We gathered them up, and we held them in our hands, and we prayed as a church community. Mission is supposed to be like that!
And then we send them out, with our prayers. We don’t know where each gift will land. We don’t know where each box will go. In a way, the boxes are like seeds being scattered. We hope and pray that children will benefit from these things.
I hope that God will bless the children, and I hope that God will bless us, because we are doing this in the name of Jesus Christ, who said that children belong to the kingdom of Heaven, whoever they are and wherever they happen to be.
I think that Springfield needs to engage in more missions like this. They can be local. They can cross borders. I think a mix of missions is healthy for a congregation.
I’d like to continue with some of the other missions our meeting has. I’d like to increase their visibility and promote them.
I think it would be a good idea if, instead of just putting cans and boxes in the COAT barrel, if once in a while we brought the barrel down front and prayed before sending our gifts out. Or maybe we could all get out of our seats, like we did this morning, and prayed over our gifts and then helped to load them into the van together. I think it would be good for us!
You may think that I stirred things up with maintenance this past year. But I am passionate about mission!
I spent 12 years in two different yearly meetings as the clerk of the yearly meeting missions committee. I helped raise and administer hundreds of thousands of dollars for mission work, and recruited and prayed with and blessed at least 10 Quaker missionaries.
I also spent close to 15 years serving on the General Board of Friends United Meeting, which is our international Quaker mission board. I’ve been on mission trips to Africa and to the Quaker center for Choctaw people in Alabama. Joyce and I have hosted many missionaries in our own home.
In the last meeting I served before I came here to Springfield, I helped to build a multi-church mission very similar to COAT. We were starting from nothing, and we had to work and pray and overcome resistance and hostility. When I left, there were 16 congregations involved.
I really care about this stuff, and if you think you’ve seen me get excited about maintenance, you haven’t seen me get excited about missions!
In today’s Scripture, the apostle Paul asks some rhetorical questions. The church he was writing to at Rome was small and struggling. They had all kinds of practical problems. But he encouraged them to reach out.
He said, “How can people call on One they haven’t believed in?
And how can people believe in One whom they haven’t even heard about?
And how can people hear without someone preaching to them?
And how can anyone preach unless they are sent by God?”
Those are all pretty good questions. If people are going to believe, someone has to talk with them. Someone has to show them. Someone has to speak to their hearts and minds.
We know that this is something which needs to happen today, in our generation. We can’t depend on people coming to Christ just because their grandparents were Christians. We can’t depend on the church’s reputation from the past – the new generation needs to hear things fresh, for themselves.
I don’t think that faith is declining. I think people are still hungry. I think the needs are always with us. God is still calling.
But people need to hear the Word in a fresh way, in every generation. It’s the thing Jesus talked about – how we need new wineskins to hold the new wine. Missions are always new.
We can build on our past, but we can’t assume that people know a single thing – about the Bible, about Jesus Christ, about anything. Someone needs to tell them afresh.
You know that old joke, about what happens when everybody says, “Let George do it? Or, “let’s leave it for somebody else to do it?”
It doesn’t get done. Or it gets done in a way that none of us like. Maybe even God doesn’t like it, when we leave things to somebody else.
No. Every church – including Springfield – needs to listen to God calling us. “How can anyone go unless they are sent?”
We need to be listening to God. We need to be trying new things. We need to ask, “God, what do you want me to do? What do you want our church to do? How can we help?”
The maintenance we have done is essential. We still have a lot of things we can do. But we need to shift and put our weight more into mission again, into things that can help the needs we have here in our own generation, the needs which surround us, in the community and in the world.
Today we did something good. Let’s pray and ask God to show us other things we can do, to be His friends, to be His hands and feet, His eyes and ears and voice, in the world.