Today is July 1st—I have officially been your pastor for one year.
And oh what a year it has been! While this year has held some
challenges for me personally, this year has also been one of
tremendous joy and that is largely because of all of you. This year
has been so very rich and joy-filled learning your stories—and I’m
certainly still learning.
It has been a privilege to walk with many of you through sacred
moments in life—the joys of baptisms, the grief of loss, and so many
sacred moments in between. I give thanks for the ways you have
been church for me and my girls who love this church as much as I
do—although admittedly for different reasons—pretty sure snack
time after worship and craft packs rank higher on their list than
mine, but that’s OK!
When I first arrived, I was so excited to be in a community of faith
that values the same things I do. God’s all-inclusive love. Christ’s
open invitation to the table. The Spirit’s calling to advocate on
behalf of all those who are oppressed, discriminated against or
marginalized. Our commitment as a church to reach out in love and
service to and with our neighbors. All our neighbors. No
exceptions.

Jacey, our seminary intern at the time, gave me a hard time about
how much fun I was having preaching about these very issues that
matter to me, that matter to you as a church, and that matter to God
but that, quite frankly, are not welcome in many pulpits across our
connection. And I was guilty as charged—I was having fun!
But along the year as I’ve gotten to know our community and both
our individual and collective stories, I have also realized just how
unique of a place this truly is. And as I realized this, I realized more
and more how much I was preaching to the choir so to speak.
While preaching about social justice matters as issues of faith or
asking the church to look outside its own walls would be a growing
edge, a challenging message, a prophetic stance in many places, it’s
not necessarily that here. And that’s OK.
It is good, especially on weeks like this one, to remember that we’re
not alone. That together we stand committed to God’s love and
justice as a community. I will continue to preach these truths of
God’s all-inclusive, radical love.
But I also began to ask the question—so, what
are our growing
edges at SSUMC? Where is it that the Spirit is nudging
us to grow as
a congregation?
So I kept listening.

And amid the genuine passion for our food ministry, I also heard of
volunteers being spread too thin.
Amid the faithful commitment to our mission, I also heard genuine
concern that we don’t know one another as a congregation as well as
we maybe should.
Amid the strength of our lay leadership, I heard important questions
about our financial sustainability.
Amid the dedication of our gifted staff, I heard a desire for more
time to deepen our faith, grow our congregation, and extend our
impact in our community.
So what are our growing edges? Where is the Spirit nudging us as a
church?
After listening to you all, after praying, after discerning, I hear the
Spirit calling us into a time to focus on building up our community.
That is the name of this sermon series I’m starting today—Building
Up Our Community—but this theme goes beyond this month of
July’s sermon series. As supported by the Council on Ministries, this
will be our theme for our next year of ministry and life together—
Building Up Our Community.

Now, I want to be clear, this does not mean we stop serving our
community. It does not mean we stop advocating for justice. It does
not mean we stop being who God has called us to be.
But it does mean there’s a bit of a shift in focus. Because balance is
needed.
Yes, we need to serve others, but in order to do that well, we also
need to care for ourselves—not just as individuals but as a
community.
Isn’t that what we tell those who are caring long term for a loved
one who is ill? Take care of yourself! You can’t help your loved one
if you are run down. You matter too.
Well, SSUMC, you matter too.
Reaching out is important but if we keep reaching out, reaching out,
reaching out we start to stretch out…and stretch ourselves thin. In
order to continue to be the vibrant community who reaches out and
serves our community, we must also balance that reaching out with
our reaching up to God and our reaching down to root ourselves, to
ground ourselves, in this community we hold dear.

I saw a tweet by a Rabbi this week that caught my attention. She
was referring to the anxiety expressed by many at our national news
cycle this week, but her point applies to us as a church too.
She tweeted: Remember how the airline safety videos tell you to put
on your own oxygen mask first and then assist others? If you’re too
busy having a panic attack to plan your next move for justice, get
yourself calm and cared for. And then, when you’ve had a moment,
schedule for the fight.
So often in Christian churches we teach that we should put others
first and there IS SO much value in that statement.
And yet, like most lessons, taken to the extreme deforms its original
purpose. God doesn’t ask us to stretch ‘til we break. God definitely
asks us to stretch—in our serving, in our giving, in stepping out of
our comfort zone—but not to the point of depletion.
So in this year we will seek that balance. Seek to care for
ourselves—feed our own bodies, minds and spirits—even as we
continue to serve our neighbors through the ministries of this
church we love.

Throughout the year there will be a number of opportunities for you
to join a small group—small groups have always been important in
our Methodist tradition as a place:
where we can be in more intimate community,
where we can hold one another accountable and build one
another up,
where we can dig in deep to our call to discipleship,
where we can share what God is doing in our lives,
where we can discern together the nudging of the Spirit.
These will be opportunities in which we are invited to grow deeper
roots, to ground ourselves in the sure foundation of our faith and in
the mutual support of our faith family.
There will be times of intentional fellowship where you are invited
to get to know some of your siblings in Christ in this church who you
don’t yet know well.
Like good Methodists, there will be times to eat together, times to
pray together, times to sing together, and all the time to love
together.
This is a time to grow deeper and grow stronger for the work that
lies ahead.

As we feel the gusts of the storms raging in our national and
denominational life, this self-care is more important, and perhaps
even more radical, than ever.
And as we begin this time of intentional focus on building up our
community, the author of 1 Peter reminds us where to start.
You’ve had a taste of God, the author reminds us. Today we get
that taste once more as we come to the table to be fed.
Now, like infants at the breast, drink deep of God’s pure kindness.
Then you’ll grow up mature and whole in God.
What a beautiful and vivid depiction of our life in the Spirit! I don’t
know about you, but I want to drink deep of God’s pure kindness. I
want to continue growing, continue maturing, continue becoming
whole in God.
Welcome to the living Stone, the source of life. The letter goes on
to describe Christ as our cornerstone, a fulfillment of the prophet’s
promise.
Christ is our living stone, our cornerstone.

Now I don’t know much about building and I admit that I too easily
assume that cornerstone and foundation are the same thing. Christ
may be described as both but they are not actually the same thing.
Foundation is easier for us to grasp—we know we need something
strong and steady, level and supportive underneath our feet. But
what is a cornerstone?
A cornerstone is the first stone laid in a building. But it’s not just
important for its sentimental value. It’s important because all other
stones are set in reference to it. The cornerstone determines not
just the strength but the position, the very shape of the whole
building.
So if Christ is our cornerstone, we align our stones—our lives, our
resources, our schedules, our churches—with the shape of his life.
And that’s exactly what 1 Peter asks us to do:
Present yourselves as building stones for the construction of a
sanctuary vibrant with life.
What life-giving work we are invited into! We are called to build
one another up, to build this community up, to build Christ’s church
and God’s Kin-dom up! And we are not called to do this work in
isolation but together—recognizing that each of our stones has a
place, has irreplaceable value and also has its limits.

We don’t have to be the whole structure! We can’t be the whole
structure. But let’s also never neglect to offer what we have for the
building up of our community.
This building up of our community may use this image of a stone
building, but we know that the church is more than that. Even as we
have important conversations about our physical buildings that are
in need of some building up themselves, we know that our calling to
build up our church is first and foremost a building up of the Body of
Christ—the people.
How can we build one another up to be the very PEOPLE God calls
us to be. Not just people—as in a collection of individuals who
happen to occupy the same space—but we are called to be God’s
people, a family, a holy people, chosen by God, chosen for a high
calling, 1 Peter tells us.
A people called to tell our story—
to tell of the night and day
difference
Christ has made in our own lives—and so to invite
others into this joy-filled life together.
Once we were no people, but now we are God’s people.
This is our joy. This is our calling.
May we build up our community together.
Amen.