Building A Future…
First Baptist Church Laurens
February 18, 2018
Have you been watching the Olympics? I know, the time change is challenging and ice hockey, the luge and nordic combined are not necessarily sports that we in the South have a whole lot of experience with or knowledge of in general. After all, most schools in the ACC or SEC don’t field a curling team, at least I don’t think they do?!?
But, cheering for our country, learning the stories of the athletes and discovering new sports that we know nothing about is exciting, entertaining and still a good way to enjoy the evening after a long day. In watching the Olympics this past week, one group of athletes that I enjoyed were the American snowboarders. In case you don’t know, a snowboarder skies on one oversized ski not two.
One particular member of the American team this year is nearing the end of a prolific career. This is his fourth straight Olympics which has included gold medals in both 2006 and in 2010.
But, in the 2014 Olympics, after those two straight gold medals, he didn’t win a medal at all finishing 4th. And then, last fall, he had a horrific crash, the worst of his career, while competing in New Zealand. All of this is to say that he had ever reason to retire, rest easy and celebrate the accomplishments of his past which are many. Yet, he refused to believe his career was over and Tuesday night, he won another Gold Medal while achieving some of the highest scores of his career.
As I watched his gold medal run unfold, the moment served as an excellent example of not giving in to the temptation to rest on one’s laurels by celebrating the accomplishments of the past while resting easy in the present. Instead a choice was made to believe that good days were still ahead. And, that belief paid off in results that defied many folks’ expectations.
Paul, in our text for today, challenges the Philippians to do the same. Suffice it to say, the Philippians were among Paul’s favorites in terms of the congregations he worked with over the years. He loved them. They had been good to him. Together, they had accomplished a lot for the kingdom. In fact, even as Paul sat in prison while writing this very letter that we call Philippians, he was again grateful to them as they had sent one of their own, a man named Epaphroditus, to take a gift to Paul so that the great apostle would know of their love, support and a well wishes. In truth, Philippians is nothing more than a thank you note to the Philippians for this very visit from Epaphroditus.
But, Philippians is not just a thank you note. It also provides Paul a moment to reminisce about the past through remembering the good work of the Philippians over time. As he reminisces, however, Paul refuses to give into the temptation to simply celebrate what the Philippians have already done. He also uses the celebration of the past as an opportunity to point toward the future and to help the people in Philippi to understand that God is not finished with them yet. Hear Paul’s famous words – “he who began a good work in you, will be faithful to complete it!”
Celebrating the past and being people who know our history and are proud of our accomplishments is a good thing. It is something that we all should and need to do. In fact, sometimes, we are so quick to get on with what is next that we fail to take time to give thanks for what has taken place and for how God has used us.
But, celebrating the past always carries a danger with it. The danger is that we become prisoners of the past while always living there and no longer attentive to what we still can do or to what God wants to do in and through us.
This was a danger I believe for the Philippians and it is a danger for us as people of faith individually and collectively as congregations.
Just as we celebrate the past, we must also ponder what now, what is next or what our future will be. It seems to me that those individuals whose faith is strongest and those congregations who are at their best are always those who are fully aware of their past, fully alive to their preset and fully open to the future.
Let me say that again, as individuals and as congregations, we are at our best in terms of our faithfulness to God when we are fully aware of our past, fully alive to our present and fully open to our future.
David Brooks is a journalist and writer who lives in Washington D.C. You may be familiar with his book from a few years back that was called The Road to Character. Though not a minister, Brooks was invited one Sunday last year, to offer the sermon at the Washington National Cathedral. As he shared, Brooks spoke about how much the Cathedral meant to him personally. He said that because he lived nearby, he often sat, reflected and prayed there. He pointed out that he regularly ate meals nearby and that he and his children had even played catch on sunny days on the Cathedral’s large and beautiful lawn. Brooks clearly communicated how much he loved the aura and the majesty of the Cathedral and Cathedral grounds.
But then, in the midst of his reminiscing about the wonders of the Cathedral, he said this, “we build buildings and then buildings build us”. His point was that we can easily get caught up in the majesty of a place and fail to, at the same time allow it to shape, form and launch us into new projects, work and ideas. We are proud of our facilities here at First Baptist. We celebrate those who have helped us to build them. We will be proud of whatever work we are able to accomplish building wise through this new campaign. But, this is not an end in itself. These buildings that we build and maintain are truthfully here to build us and launch us into always asking what is next for us? What is our next role in the kingdom? What now does God want you, me or us to do?
Herein is a great joy and a great challenge. The great joy is in knowing that no matter where we are in the journey – God isn’t finished with us. We are not yet done. There is something else. The great challenge is that we must continue to ask what that next thing is and by faith to embrace it once we recognize it.
There is a movie out at the theaters right now called Winchester. It is a horror movie and I won’t be seeing it. I love a good movie but I don’t care for scary ones. I do, however, feel a connection to this movie for Winchester is about the real, life Winchester House in San Jose, California.
Several years ago, Ann Marie and I were in San Jose on a Friday and got to tour the Winchester home. It was the residence of Sarah Winchester, heiress of the Winchester rifle fortune. The story is that Ms. Winchester bought the house in 1884 after she moved west following the death of her husband. According to the legend, a spiritualist had told her to go west and to continuously work on building a home where she and the spirits of those killed by her husband’s rifle could be at rest. Supposedly for the next 38 years this is what she did by never completely finishing the work on the house. The home has windows that overlook other rooms, staircases and doors that go nowhere and is full of one room after another. It was continuously under construction from the time Ms. Winchester bought it until her death. In fact, some folks say that at times the work continued nonstop 24 hours a day. (“Winchester Mystery House”; wikipedia.com)
Now, we can certainly question the sanity of Sarah Winchester and her bizarre home. Except that is, as it relates to and illustrates one crucial element of faith, the life of faith and the family of faith that we have been talking about today. The work truly does never stop. It always continues.
We never finish. We have not built it yet. No, we are still building. Amen.