Sunday, February 3, 2008

Open House

Membership Sunday 2008
Ephesians 2:19-22

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What a gift we’ve been given this morning!
17 persons have stood before us,
and told us, in personal terms,
what it means for them to become part of our family.
Wish we all had the opportunity (or felt the obligation)
to put into words every once in a while,
why we want to be part of this household,
what it means for us to name Jesus Lord,
and to count ourselves as part of Christ’s body.
I’m open for volunteers. Talk to me.

The apostle Paul, in the words we just heard from Ephesians,
uses a house as a metaphor for the church.
I think it’s a wonderful image.
Most of have had the experience of living in a house
that almost literally wraps its arms around us,
and invites us to settle down, settle in,
and rest in the security and comfort that house offers us.
There may be some of us who don’t have that experience right now.
Maybe we are between houses, or in a less than ideal house.
Soon, Park View Mennonite will be opening its doors
to those who have no house at all,
and for one week of nights,
we will try to provide for them
a warm and welcoming and safe house.
I hope many of us get involved in that work of hospitality.

But Paul thinks the church should be for us
like a big, warm, welcoming house
that invites in the foreigner and stranger,
and opens the way for them to become family.
He was saying this to the Gentile Christians,
who were just beginning to find a place of belonging
in a primarily Jewish household.
He said, this church is a different kind of family.
The household of God is built not from a common genealogy,
or shared bloodlines,
or even uniformity of doctrine.
It is a building, not even constructed by us,
but by Jesus Christ, who fills multiple roles in this house.
Jesus is builder, head of house, host, and cornerstone.

And those who accept the invitation of Jesus to come into this house,
to settle down, and settle in,
even though they entered as foreigners and strangers,
now are fellow citizens, members of the household.
This is their house.
What a wonderful gift for the Gentiles,
who had known only exclusion and rejection
from their Jewish neighbors.

So as we come from many places, and accept Jesus’ invitation,
we are built together into a wonderful house,
a warm, welcoming, and nurturing house.
And an open house.
A house whose doors are open to the world,
to all seekers,
all who desire a place of refuge,
all who need a home and are willing to receive
the warm embrace of our host, Jesus.

So here we are, a household seeking to live openly in the world,
who gather regularly at this particular place
between College Avenue and Park Road.
We come to this physical space, this open house,
to meet together,
to worship,
to pray,
to sing,
to sit in silence,
to spend time together talking, learning and laughing,
eating and drinking.
But this building is not the house of God.
According to Ephesians 2, we are God’s house,
God’s open house in the world wherever we live,
and wherever we gather.
But we do need a place to meet,
and this is the place we have chosen,
have built, and developed, for almost 40 years now.
In some ways, this place is almost nothing.
It has no eternal value, whatsoever.
But in other ways, it is crucial to who we are,
because it becomes part of our mission,
a tool to use to become the open house God wants us to be.
Like it will be next week when we host the HARTS program,
and shelter the homeless.
This building is a wonderful resource that is a gift of God,
and thus, is our responsibility to manage well.

It’s a matter of stewardship,
and stewardship is not just one of many things we believe.
It is THE central concern in our relationship with God.
All that we have, and all that we are, belongs to God.
God is the owner, of our lives, our finances, our talents,
our property, our houses.
God owns this place, no matter what the deed says.
And it is our privilege to care for it
in a way that honors and pleases the owner.

I believe, and so do many of us,
that the owner of this house is not terribly pleased,
that we spend between 30 and 40 thousand dollars a year,
in interest on a debt,
when those funds might be used to invest in God’s mission,
and to be God’s open house to the world.

This debt happened because we made certain decisions in the past
about this building—how large it should be,
how it should be built, how it should be furnished.
Not everyone agreed 100% on every one of these decisions—
surprise, surprise!!
But this is now our house to meet in, God’s gift on loan to us,
God’s property for us to manage, to care for,
in a way that pleases God.

Today, we all have an opportunity,
no matter how we felt, or how we voted, on decisions in the past,
to participate in a bold step of faith that can free us from a debt,
that limits our ability to be God’s open house.
Your participation is not just a personal decision of stewardship,
although it is that.
It is also a decision to join with others of God’s household,
in a group effort to embrace our mission & be God’s open house.
This is a combined effort of this community to “Climb the Peak,”
and be free of this burden of debt.
May God bless this effort, and each of our contributions,
as we become free to serve God and God’s people
without restraint,
without hesitation,
welcoming the foreigner, the stranger, the pilgrim.

—Phil Kniss, February 3, 2008

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