A living community

Good morning, Friends!

Since the beginning of January, we’ve been talking about what it means to be a spiritual community. Some it’s probably been a review for you, maybe you’ve picked up some fresh ideas.

We’ve talked about what it means to be a praying community, a united community, a community of hope, a community that’s growing. Our Scripture this morning says something really important, about what it means to be a living community.

Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by human beings, but in God’s sight chosen and precious; like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual gifts acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

– 1 Peter 2:4-5

We’re all creatures of habit. We keep on saying things, even when we know better. I’m sure you’ve all heard it said a hundred times, that the church isn’t a building. The church is people.

The church is not a building. If this building was empty, it wouldn’t be a church. It would just be an empty place.

That’s why Quakers always refer to our building as the meeting house. It’s a physical place, where we meet together. Hopefully, in our times of prayer and fellowship, it’s also a place where we meet God.

But the church can be anywhere! It can be any place where people gather, in Jesus’ name.

We can gather in a home. We can gather round a supper table. It can be outdoors, or at a camp. Many times, in the early days for Quakers, the church was in a prison. It can be a hospital bed side. It can be anywhere.

Our Scripture today says that Jesus is the cornerstone, the foundation stone, the stone that everything else is built on. But Jesus isn’t dead and buried in the ground, like some old piece of rock or cement.

Jesus is alive! And he never intended for his church to be a pile of dusty old rocks and bricks. Jesus is alive, and his church is a living place built with living stones. That’s you and me.

We love this place – this physical place, which has so many memories and so many connections in it. We keep it up, the best we can. We remember the love and devotion and fun that an earlier generation had. I’m not saying we should ever give this place up. I love it, too! But the real church, the living church, is the people.

Sometimes during the week I take a break, and walk around different parts of the building. I think about the folks who built this place. The teachers. You remember some of them. The leaders. The families. The young people.

I walk into a classroom, and I try to imagine the years that some of these people spent together, coming faithfully, every Sunday. I think about the friendships they made, as they grew older together. I think about the laughter, the love they had for God, and the love people had for each other.

This place is a living church. It’s always been built by living people, with living love and living faith. It’s always grown and been different over the years, as different people came here.

For a long time – close to a hundred years – there was a school out there on the front lawn. Did you know that? First it was a log building, then a brick one.

Did you know that at the turn of the last century, there was a two-story brick school house out front with a bell – a big cast-iron bell that used to call children, every day, to school, for years and years. It’s still there, right by the office as you walk in.

Times changed, schools needed to get bigger, they closed the school out front. I’m sure it was hard for anyone to imagine being Springfield without a school.

For a lot of years, right after the Civil War, the life of the meeting was deeply involved with something they called the Model Farm. Over yonder, where the woods are now, was open farm land. Thousands of people came, every year, to learn about how to farm, and how to restore the land, which had been worn out by generations of taking away from the land without putting anything back.

That was a huge ministry, part of this church. It was a living ministry, and living people built it, and shared it.

I’m also 100% sure sure that when someone first suggested the Model Farm, people thought it was crazy. A church running a farm? What are you thinking of? But it really helped a lot of people.

Years went by, the economy stabilized, the Model Farm wasn’t needed any more. They sold the farm, sold the land, and used the money to help start a school for the children of former slaves. The school’s still there – Penn-Griffin School.

We have been home to so many different ministries over the years. The ministries keep changing, as living people change. The ministries grow, as people bring new and different gifts.

We have been blessed, to able to stay here, in this same location, for so long. We’ve done a lot of different things along the way.

In one of the gospels, Jesus says, “My father’s house has many rooms to live in. . .I’m going on ahead of you, to prepare a place, just for you. I’m going to come back, and be with you, so that wherever I am, you will be, too. . .” (John 14:2-3)

That’s what I think the church is. It’s a place with a lot of rooms, and there’s room for everybody.

It’s kind of like an old country farm house, that was originally just built for a small family. As the family grew, they had to add on. When times were good, they built bigger barns, and added more fields. They tacked on sheds, and built porches for people to sit and rest on. The kitchens got changed, from a fireplace and a smokehouse, to an iron range, to a modern kitchen with an open concept so all the grandkids could roll around on the floor and draw and play there.

You still love it. It’s still the home place, but it’s been added on to by each generation. Because it’s not a monument. It’s not a museum. It’s a home, and living people live here.

That’s the way the church is. I don’t have any changes that I’m pushing this morning. I think those changes come from you. You get to decide how you want to live – even though Springfield has been the “home place” for love and worship and ministry for so many years.

All the people who built this place, who loved this place, were living stones. My point is, that we are, too. We are the living stones of Jesus’ church today.

We have things we’re doing here now, that we didn’t do a few years ago. A drama ministry. A new youth group – I’m so glad that’s going again! A new class for people who weren’t coming to the old ones. A web site which gets hundreds of visits every year. A generation ago, people literally couldn’t imagine some of the things we do.

Everything here, every part of this living church, was new once upon a time. Absolutely everything! That’s because we’re not a museum. We’re not a monument. We’re a living church.

There are some things which people used to do, which mattered a lot to them, that I’m just as glad we don’t do any more. We don’t all wear Quaker gray. We don’t all say thee and thou. Men and women don’t sit on opposite sides of the worship room – they used to do that, over next door, at the museum, 160 years ago.

It mattered then, because they wanted to be sure that everyone knew that women and men were created equal in the image of God. They wanted to be sure that both women and men could be ministers. That point’s been made. We don’t need to worship separately any more.

We don’t need to let go of any of the history, any of the memories. We can learn a lot from our past, and we can benefit greatly from it. But it’s our job to be friends and ministers of Jesus today, using whatever time and energy and gifts and experience we have.

We can’t be our grandparents. But we can try to be faithful and exciting people today. We can share Jesus’ love in our way. We don’t have to tear the walls down, but we can try a few new things. These walls weren’t here a hundred years ago. This place was built by living people, who had new ideas, and wanted to be a living church, here in this place.

Let’s encourage each other, and listen to each other, and pray with each other, and build and be a living church today, a people who are gathered in Jesus’ name.

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