Sermon for Forever Faithful Capital Campaign Kick-Off
Sunday, June 3, 2018
Pastor Nathan Pipho + Trinity, Worcester

Lectionary 9B:  Deuteronomy 5:12-15; 2 Corinthians 4:5-12; Mark 2:23 – 3:6

Watch Here (Minute 20:30).

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

On Tuesday of this past week, 8,000 Starbucks across the country closed, as 175,000 Starbucks workers underwent implicit racial bias training. In the spirit of full disclosure, many of my days begin with a Venti Dark Roast Coffee, no room for dairy, from Starbucks. So, I have taken a personal interest in this story.

As you most likely know, the story began with an incident in which a Starbucks barista called the police, because two black men, who were simply in the store waiting for a friend, refused to make a purchase or leave the store. The ensuing arrests of the men were recorded on a cell phone camera, and that recording went viral sparking a wave of protests.

In my lead article in the June Trinity News, the article an echo of my Pentecost Sunday sermon, I suggested that on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit used wind, flames, and tongues, to cause a holy commotion that drew a crowd representing all the nations under heaven to see what all the commotion was about.

I suggested in my article, which I also posted on my blog, that this is a way in which the Holy Spirit forms human community and builds the church of Jesus Christ.  First, there is a holy commotion, and it is that holy commotion that brings the people together.

The original Starbucks incident was certainly a commotion.  It was a painful assault on two innocent men, and it was an embarrassment Starbucks didn’t want and they took immediate action to try to remedy the situation.  But I wonder, if in fact it didn’t become a holy commotion of the Holy Spirit for the sake of building and restoring community?

The holy commotion at the one Starbucks location in Philadelphia, lead to 8,000 Starbucks locations, and 175,000 Starbucks employees, and countless more customers looking for an afternoon latte only to find their local store closed, and countless more who heard about all of this through the news, to engage in a conversation about implicit racial bias.

A local commotion, becoming a holy commotion drawing worldwide attention and conversation to the issue of race.  The response to this incident, important ongoing work of the Holy Spirit building a just and fair society where all are truly judged by the content of their character, and not the color of their skin.

Holy commotion for the sake of building holy community …

Today, at Trinity, we kick of our “Forever Faithful” Debt Reduction Campaign.  I suspect those three words “Debt Reduction Campaign” are not typically words that draw a crowd, let alone inspire a crowd.  But I do invite you to consider today, the way in which the Holy Spirit is working a commotion in us for the building Christ’s church and for the sake of building the community of Worcester.

The truth is, there is a temptation that congregations like Trinity face, congregations blessed to worship in big, beautiful buildings such as this one, to turn the building itself into an idol served and worshiped.  Another reality we face was expressed during our recent Transition Team conversations.  That reality is the fear that the building itself takes up more and more of our time and resources, that maintaining and obtaining this building overwhelms ministry objectives and priorities.

While Trinity is alone in having a unique building among the congregations of the New England Synod, Trinity is not alone in experiencing a building as a potential barrier to ministry. A former Mission Director of the New England Synod, Pastor Jane Shields, once commented that in her opinion it was the buildings of our Synod congregations, their maintenance and preservation, that was the biggest threat to mission in New England.

But, friends in Christ, I propose this today … that the Holy Spirit is working a holy commotion, precisely in this Forever Faithful Debt Reduction Campaign!  I believe the Holy Spirit is about to make a holy commotion for the sake of building holy community.

The holy commotion starts with putting us into right relationship with this building.  We are in right relationship with this building when we acknowledge that we are not the owners of this building. This building, this complex, and this location in the middle of Worcester, does not belong to us!  We are stewards, caretakers, because all of this belongs to God and to God’s mission in the world.

The teachings on the Sabbath recorded in our scriptures read today, also apply to our understanding of how we are in relationship with this building.  Jesus taught that the Sabbath was not an institution imposed upon humans with a whole set of rules and regulations which must be observed.  But instead, the Sabbath rest, a deep and holy rest, was a gift of God for the sake of relationship – our relationship with God, and our relationships with one another.

So, too, we might understand this building not as an imposition upon us imposing rules and regulations of right order that we must observe for the sake of its correct and perfect preservation.  Rather, this building is a gift of God that God uses to form relationships and build community!

What we know, is that in this building, our relationship with God is formed as Jesus Christ shows up 156 times every single year in the three weekly Eucharists celebrated in this place every week, 52 weeks in the year. Add another 20 Eucharists celebrated at funerals and at holy week and Christmas services, at least 175 times in the year Jesus Christ shows up for us, here in this place, in the word and in the bread and wine!

Christ shows up in our singing … Christ shows up in the Music at Trinity Program. The Passion of Christ was announced to a packed house here on the eve of Palm Sunday as the Trinity Choir presented Bach’s St. Mark Passion to rave reviews.  Christ shows up in bible studies, adult forum, Sunday School and Confirmation classes.  Christ shows up in the fellowship we extend to one another and the service we extend to our neighbors.  In circle meetings, in Coffee Hours, in Wednesday Night Fellowship, in groups of people of all ages meeting together in faith, for the sake of faith, to grow deeper in relationship with Jesus Christ.  All of that happens here in this place where Christ shows up!

And, friends in Christ, just as importantly, God uses this building for the sake of building relationships and forming community here in Worcester!  God uses this building as an instrument to restore and renew society.

Think of the variety of events held in Jeppson Hall …

  • In 2017, in two meal packing events, over 30,000 meals were assembled, thousands of those meals for residents right here in Worcester.
  • Dozens of English as Second Language service providers in Worcester have used Jeppson Hall for meetings in which to coordinate their services to better deliver  English classes to immigrants in the city.
  • The Central Massachusetts Housing Authority has met here with legislative leaders to coordinate services and efforts to ensure access to housing for citizens of our city and of Worcester County.
  • Just this week Narcotics Anonymous in Worcester booked Jeppson Hall for a Children’s Fashion Show Fundraiser in September to support and promote their work with people attempting to overcome addiction.
  • An organization that helps the unemployed network with companies looking for employees has recently contacted us about using Jeppson Hall
  • Ascentria was here this week for a Town Hall Meeting – Ascentria frequently uses the space as a resource for their work helping immigrants and refugees.

That’s just Jeppson Hall, our gym is also an important outreach to the community.  Dozens of children have played basketball as part of our Saturday morning basketball and breakfast program in the winter. The program was so popular, that it led to a Wednesday Night basketball program that has continued into the summer.  Adults use the gym for basketball and volleyball and two schools use the gym –  the Preschool for recess and the TEC School for Physical Fitness class.  In these ways, this building promotes health and fitness in the community.

Other groups who meet in Trinity on an ongoing basis include a dependency support group and weight loss group … Clemente Childcare provided to the children of adults taking college level courses in the humanities at Worcester Art Museum …The Women’s League of Worcester … AIDS Project Worcester celebrated their 30th Anniversary of providing services to Worcester residents afflicted with HIV and AIDS … the Worcester Interfaith Strategic Planning Committee recently met here.

This is all a sampling of what goes on in this place. In these ways, in a very real sense, God is using this building as an active participant in God’s work in the world.

Here in this place, people are responding to the needs of the hungry, the stranger, the homeless, the addicted, the unemployed, the sick. This isn’t just rhetoric, this is real life and death ministry happening here in this building for the sake of relationships and community!

When we understand that this building not only exists in Worcester, but that this building exists for the sake of Worcester … when we understand that this building both belongs to God for this faith community, and belongs to God for the Worcester multicultural and multi-ethnic Worcester community … then we get the relationship right!  This building is not served and worshiped as an idol, nor is it a drain on resources, but this building is used by God for the sake of relationship and community.

Friends in Christ, I believe the Holy Spirit is indeed preparing in us a Holy Commotion! The Holy Commotion?  The courageous, sacrificial, generous, abundant pledge amounts in support of reducing and retiring the debt incurred in restoring and renewing this building, as it restores and renews us, and as it renews and restores this community.

Imagine it this way … imagine that if every dollar pledged to bring down the debt, was converted into a silver dollar, and then those silver dollars put into a large can and were shaken around – think about how much noise that would make! A holy commotion indeed!

While that sound is imaginary – what is real, what is real holy commotion …

  • are the delighted, excited, and energetic voices of 70 children in the Elm Park Day Camp who meet in this building for two weeks in the summer … their voices and laughter and shouts echoing down hallways and up and down staircases …
  • the voices of another 60 children here in this building every day as part of the Preschool and Montessori Elementary School …
  • the voices of dozens of children and the echoes of bouncing basketballs in the gym …
  • the toll of the church bell ringing in support of the Worcester Pride Parade …
  • the voices of 50 volunteers packing thousands of meals in this place …

All of that noise and others, Holy Spirit-inspired Holy Commotion, for the sake of forming new and healthy relationships, and just and inclusive community.  All of that, supported financially by people of faith, including so many of you in the congregation this morning who have renewed, restored, and sustained this building and made possible the holy commotion, drawing people from all nations to this building, and drawing us from this building to them in new relationships and community.

And so, the Holy Spirit is again working a holy commotion in us. The Holy Spirit is creating a new holy commotion inviting us, as people of faith, to put our money where our faith is so that this building, and this ministry, and all the activities that go on here can tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love in new, and powerful, and bold ways.

That we can proclaim rest, sabbath rest, of deep rest that is found in God, that is offered to us as a gift of grace in Christ.  Profound rest from systems of injustice, from sin and brokenness, from poverty and prejudice, from fear.  Holy rest offered by God in Christ – the rest found in relationships restored and renewed in people rejoicing in community with one another.

That we may proclaim God’s love for you … God’s love for me … God’s love for this city … God’s love for the world … God’s love for people of all nations, tribes, and languages.

Thanks be to God.  AMEN.