Blueprint for a congregation

Good morning, Friends! Happy birthday! Why, it seems like just yesterday that you were a little bitty Friends meeting, starting out in a log cabin in the woods, way out in the wilderness. My, how you’ve grown! You don’t look like 246 years old at all! I bet you’ve got some stories to tell!

Seriously, what do you get as a birthday present for someone who’s been around for almost two and a half centuries?

Springfield has been here for a long, long time. One way we could go this morning, would be to talk about our history. It’s a long history, and we’ve got a lot to be proud of. If we were giving out T-shirts to celebrate Birthday Sunday, the T-shirts would probably say, “Springfield Friends Meeting. Been there, done that.”

We’ve been here since before the Declaration of Independence. We saw North Carolina join the new Union, and every one of the states, ever since. We survived the Civil War, and we helped the whole area to rebuild.

We have always been deeply involved in education. We started the first school in the community here, in a log cabin – there’s an old picture of it on the front of your bulletin this morning. And we’ve helped lots of other schools in the community ever since. We even helped to start Guilford College.

Our founding members came here from Pennsylvania, looking for a new home, after many of them had left the Old World.

The first recorded burial at Springfield was a woman named Mary Hoggatt. She was born in Edinborough, Scotland. She was 82 years old, and knowing that her end was near she said to her husband, who was 93, she said,

“Philip, our sons and daughters have moved on into a newer territory than the limits of Deep River Meeting. They have found homes near the field of Springs, and there their children and their descendants for many generations to come will live and worship.”

“I have never been afraid of the wilderness,” she said. “I have followed thee from Scotland to Pennsylvania, thence to Virginia and North Carolina. I have never known fear in life and I certainly shall not [be afraid] in death. When my body is put away, I should like for it to be carried to Springfield and buried in the forest there, so that I may be near the Meeting House and the homes which our children have established. If I am buried there others will soon follow, so even as in life, let me in death be a pioneer.”

(from Springfield 1773-1940 by Sarah Richardson Haworth, p. 10)

They were pioneers, the people who started our meeting. The original group was just a handful of families. The whole group in that starter generation was no larger than we are today.

They bought the land where we are worshiping this morning for five shillings, which was worth a little more than a dollar at the time. It was roughly the price of a new axe head. Don’t you wish you could get in on that kind of a deal today?

Many of the old families who founded Springfield have passed on or moved away from the area. But we are their spiritual heirs. We are the ones who have inherited the fruits of their labor, their prayers, their hopes and dreams.

There is no way that the pioneers of Springfield could ever have imagined the city which grew up around the original site that they picked out. When they started our meeting, it was scattered families in the wilderness. Even now, many people here at Springfield can remember farms in the neighborhood, along what are now busy streets.

They never dreamed of the industry, the community, the social problems, the inventions and technical progress their descendants have made. But we are their heirs nonetheless.

And we are still, in many ways, the kind of people that they were. People don’t change all that much. They were inventive. They adapted. They were hungry for a genuine experience of God in worship. They wanted the best for their families, and they were willing to build and sacrifice in order to achieve it. We’re not so different from them.

I’m sure that if we were going to start a new Friends meeting today, it would be different in many ways from the one they started then. But we would still be a similar people – similar in spirit, similar in faith, similar in hope.

They chose the place where we were worshiping because it was on a hill. They probably had in mind what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount when he said, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill can’t be hidden. No one lights a lamp and hides it under a basket. They put it on a stand where it gives light to the whole house. Let your light shine, so that everyone may see your good works and give glory to your Father in Heaven. . .” (Matthew 5:14-16)

They started, probably, with no more people than we have in our meeting today. Maybe fewer. They were family-based, as we tend to be.

They did a lot of the work themselves – the first two meetinghouses, our first 85 years, were built with logs they cut right here on the property. The third meetinghouse, the one we now use as a museum, was used for almost 70 years for worship. The bricks were made right here on the property, from red North Carolina clay.

They were self-sufficient. They didn’t look to anybody for a handout. They were hard-working, and they were deeply spiritual.

If we were starting a new meeting here at Springfield today – if this was our first birthday, instead of our 246th birthday – I expect we might do a few things differently. We might not build the same building. If the land was that cheap, we might buy a bit more of it.
But the spiritual challenges would be very much the same.

I want to read a section from a letter that Paul wrote, to a brand-new Christian church, even longer ago than the time between now and the founding of Springfield. Paul’s advice is just as relevant to us, today, as it was back then. Here’s what Paul says.

I am a prisoner because of the Lord. So I am asking you to live a life worthy of what God chose you for. Don’t be stuck up or arrogant. Be completely gentle. Be patient. Put up with one another in love.

The Holy Spirit makes you one in every way. So try your best to remain as one. Let peace keep you together. There is one body and one Spirit. You were appointed to one hope when you were chosen. There is one Lord, one faith and one baptism. There is one God and Father of all. He is over everything. He is through everything. He is in everything.

Each one of us has received a gift of grace. These gifts are given to us by Christ. That is why one of the Psalms says,
“When he went up to his place on high,
he took many prisoners.
He gave gifts to his people.” (Psalm 68:18)

What does “he went up” mean? It can only mean that he also came down to the lower, earthly places. The one who came down is the same one who went up. He went up higher than all the heavens. He did it in order to fill all creation.

So Christ himself gave the gift of the apostles to the church. He gave us the prophets and those who preach the good news. And he also gave the pastors and teachers as a gift to the church. He gave all these people so that they might prepare God’s people to serve. Then the body of Christ will be built up.

That will continue until we all become one in the faith. We will also become one in the knowledge of God’s Son. Then we will be grown up in the faith. We will receive everything that Christ has for us.

We will no longer be like new-born babies in the faith. We won’t be like ships tossed around by the waves. We won’t be blown here and there by every new teaching. We won’t be blown around by cleverness and tricks. Certain people use them to hide their evil plans.

Instead, we will speak the truth in love. We will grow up in every way to become the body of Christ. Christ is the head of the body. He makes the whole body grow and build itself up in love. Under the control of Christ, each part of the body does its work. It supports the other parts. In that way, the body is joined and held together.

Ephesians 4:1-16

When people talk about a blueprint, we usually mean a plan on paper for how to put up a building. When people talk about a map, we mean a piece of paper that shows a bunch of streets and roads where people already live.

But there is no blueprint for a church in the Bible. There isn’t! There isn’t a plan with God’s stamp on it, that says we have to have a building that’s this many feet by that many feet, or how many seats there have to be, or how many rooms are in the building.

A lot of the early Christian churches were in homes. When the church was illegal, they met in caves. When it became legal to be a Christian, when churches grew and needed more space, they took over warehouses and market places.

The early Quaker meetings met in houses, too. We also met in prisons. One famous Quaker meeting, in London, met in a former tavern. I’ve been to Quaker meetings in all kinds of places, including some meetings in Africa that can’t afford any kind of a building, so they meet outdoors, under a big tree.

It’s not a building – it’s the people.

The letter Paul wrote, that we heard just a minute ago, is a blueprint for a congregation, not a building. Paul assumed that people would meet wherever they had to. What he cared about, was the kind of people they became.

You want to be Christians? You want to be a church? You want to be a Quaker meeting? This is your road map. It’s not a road map with streets and houses that are already built. This is a road map through the wildnerness. This is a road map for pioneers.

Paul is writing from prison, remember. He’s waiting to go on trial for his life, and he’s not at all convinced that he’s going to come out of it alive. Give’s you a different perspective.
Paul says, “God called you. God called you the same way I was called, the way all the disciples were called. God put a hand on you, and said, ‘Walk with me!’”

That’s a different way of understanding what it means to be a Christian. God called you. People get called in all kinds of ways. It’s different for everyone. But we’re people who God has invited to get up, on our feet, and walk the way Jesus walked.

Paul says, “Try to be worthy of that calling. Don’t be stuck up or arrogant. Be completely gentle. Be patient. Put up with one another in love.”

Paul spends a lot of time, both here and in his other letters, on that same theme of getting along with each other. Must be because people back then are a lot the same way Christians are now. We get all worked up about things. We lose our cool. We say things we shouldn’t. We forget that Jesus calls us to be like him. That’s the whole plan, right there. Be like Jesus, the best way you can.

Then Paul talks about unity. Remember, this is the blueprint for a church. Our goal is to be united. Not to have everybody think alike, or act alike. Not uniformity. Everyone’s different. But unity.

One of the miracles that really shows that the Holy Spirit is truly present, is when people who don’t agree with each other still get along. We may not agree about the best way to do things. We may not agree about what things we want to spend money on. We can disagree about politics, or education, or our favorite sports teams, or a hundred different things.

But unity means, I know that Jesus called me, and I’m going to do my best to live that life and walk that walk. And I know that Jesus called you, too, and that you are doing your best, every day, to live that life and walk that walk.

When we pray, we are both know that we are praying to the same Lord. When we’re hurt, we come to each other’s help, and that’s all that matters.

We know that beneath the surface, however our lives have been different, we are all God’s children together. We are all sisters and brothers in Christ. We’re family.

“Try your best to remain as one. Let peace keep you together. There is one body and one Spirit. You were appointed to one hope when you were chosen. There is one Lord, one faith and one baptism. There is one God and Father of all. He is over everything. He is through everything. He is in everything.”

That is the blueprint for a church. Any time you see people trying to rip each other apart, tear each other down, the Holy Spirit is not behind them. You’ve heard me say before that we are here to love each other, and to show the world what love is all about.

Then Paul talks about gifts, and this is one of the really exciting things about the blueprint for a church.

Paul never really talks, in any of his letters, about how many people you need to be a congregation. He knew that many churches are quite small – enough to fit in a kitchen, or a living room. Some churches are medium-size – a few dozen families. There were probably only a handful of really big churches during Paul’s lifetime.

What really mattered, in Paul’s thinking, was this: “Do we have people with all the right gifts here in our group? Do we have people who have been praying, and listening to God, and who are faithful? Do we have people who are willing to take who they are, and dedicate themselves, to gather a group of Christians here in this place, and be a church?” That’s the only thing that matters.

Paul had a list in his mind, of the different kinds of people a church needs. He mentions apostles – an apostle is someone who is one of God’s messengers, who brings the good news of Jesus wherever they go.

Originally, an apostle was someone who had met Jesus, in person, and who could describe what Jesus did, and tell what Jesus said. “You need someone like that,” Paul said, “in every church.” In Paul’s day, people didn’t have a Bible. The apostle’s job was to be a living Bible, wherever they went.

He also mentions prophets – people who look out and see the world the way God sees it. He mentions evangelists – people who can explain, in careful detail, what the good news is all about. He mentions pastors and teachers. He talks about leaders who prepare people to serve.

In his letters to other churches, Paul mentions people who pray, and help people to see God’s power at work. He talks about people who pray for healing, and he talks about people with the gift of interpreting what other Christians are saying. He talks about wise elders, and he talks about young ministers. He talks about song writers, and people who serve meals.

One of my favorite gifts that Paul describes is usually translated as administrators. He literally calls them, “people who steer the boat.” They look out for the rocks, and they keep the boat from flipping over. Their goal is to bring everyone safely back to shore.

Do you see what I’m saying? A church needs people, not just nice people, but people who are willing to live up to the calling that God gives them.

If we were going to start over at Springfield, and make today be our first birthday, I wouldn’t ask about the budget. We’ll use whatever resources we’ve got. I wouldn’t ask about the building. We’ll meet some place. Here is pretty good.

What I would ask about is the prayers, and the spirit, and the people. And I would especially ask about whether we have people who are longing for God to use them, to use their gifts.

Can we be people who want to walk with God?

Can we be people who are longing to reach out, and share the love and the good news of Jesus?
Can we be people who are excited about being a congregation together?

If we have the people, there’ll be no stopping us. There’ll be no holding us back. We may have setbacks, but our way will always be moving forward. Because that’s how God works. All roads to God lead forward, even if the map looks a little squiggly.

If we were starting today, with all the resources God has given us, with a beautiful location and all of these advantages, would we decide to go ahead?

That’s what Birthday Sunday is really about.

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