By the Rev.
March 30, 2003
Rebuild the temple of the Lord!
is what the Lord Almighty says: "These people say, 'The time has
not yet come for the Lord's house to be built.'"
the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: "Is it a
time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses,
while this house remains a ruin?"
this is what the Lord Almighty says: "Give careful thought to
your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You
eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill.
You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to
put them in a purse with holes in it."
is what the Lord Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your
ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build
the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,"
says the Lord.
The Death of Lazarus
man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of
Mary and her sister Martha. This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now
lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and
wiped his feet with her hair. So the sisters sent word to Jesus,
"Lord, the one you love is sick."
he heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death.
No, it is for God's glory, so that God's Son may be glorified
through it." Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet
when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two
he said to his disciples, "Let us go back to Judea."
Rabbi," they said, "a short while ago the Jews tried to stone
you, and yet you are going back there?"
answered, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who
walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light
of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the
light is not in them."
he had said this, he went on to tell them, "Our friend Lazarus
has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up."
disciples replied, "Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better."
Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought
he meant natural sleep.
then he told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I
am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go
Coelestia #2916.4 Resurrecting the church
the Lord raised Lazarus from the dead, it symbolized rebuilding
the church among the gentiles. Since all the miracles that the
Lord did were divine, they symbolized the stages that his church
When he heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in
death. No, it is for God's glory" (John 11:4)
we hold the last session in our four-part series of visioning
and planning workshops for our church. For our last session, on
March 9, our facilitator, the Rev. Dan Hotchkiss, joined us for
our morning service. In the session afterwards, I was struck by
one phrase he used. He spoke of dealing with "your crisis."
tempted to say, "What crisis?" For those of us who have been
with this church for many years (and I count myself among that
number, having been a member since I was a teenager), our church
does not seem to be in crisis. In fact, compared to the last
decade, it seems to be doing fairly well. We have new faces in
church. We have added a class to our Sunday School to
accommodate the larger numbers and wider age range. What crisis?
yet, putting myself in Dan's shoes--or the shoes of a newcomer
to the church--the crisis is obvious. As Dan sat in one of the
side pews, he shared the church with a lot of empty pews. There
were our usual thirty or so people in church. And when the
Sunday School children and teachers went out to their classes,
there were perhaps fifteen or sixteen worshipers scattered
around the pews in this church that can seat two hundred fifty
those of us who have become used to it, this looks like a fairly
normal Sunday. But to someone coming in from the outside, it
might very well look like a . . . crisis!
of the most striking moments for me during our visioning and
planning series took place in an earlier session. Dan asked us
to arrange ourselves around the circle by how long we had been
part of this church. That left me with a bit of a conundrum.
Should I seat myself according to when I had first come to this
church as a youngster in 1971, or according to when I returned
as pastor in 1996? But I was startled to discover that it didn't
matter. Whichever date I chose, I would be sitting in the same
position, since everyone present (and this represents almost
everyone active in our church) had either been in this church
before 1971, or had come since 1996. The room was neatly
divided: one half had been here "almost forever," and the other
half had been here from one to five or six years. And Patty and
I were sitting right in the middle, between the two groups.
is the situation in our church today. After a long fallow
period, when the slow, steady decline of our church continued
year after year, decade after decade, we have made some progress
in the last few years. And our church consists of two groups:
the long-time members and the newcomers. There is almost no one
as we went around the church and expressed our hopes and
aspirations for our church, it became clear that the two groups
had quite different perspectives on our situation. It was
apparent that the long-time members were veterans of the war,
having fought the good fight for many years--and that they were
tired. The energy level on that side of the room was
reserved and cautious, unsure of what future our little church
has. By contrast, the other side of the room was hopeful and
optimistic, full of a sense that our church can have a good and
growing future, and wanting to express thoughts of how that
might happen. Though some of you who were there might describe
the contrast between the two sides of the room differently, it
was apparent to everyone that the two groups had very different
perspectives on our church.
for whatever reason, in our last session, on March 9, very few
of our core, long-time members were present. The gathered group
consisted mostly of relative newcomers. We had a good and
constructive session, with many positive ideas and suggestions
for ways we could reach out and grow, and more effectively
welcome newcomers into our church. However, there was also a
pervasive sense among the people present that we could have a
good discussion, but when it came right down to it, it wasn't up
to this group what the church would do--that the critical
decisions were in the hands of the other group. And I could
sense frustration over that.
own belief is that both groups are essential to the future of
our church. We need the long-time members for their experience
and knowledge of this church's history and traditions, as well
as for their solid track record of doing the steady, ongoing
work of keeping this church open and running week in and week
out, year after year, decade after decade. We also need the
newcomers for the sense of new energy and vision for our church,
and for opening up possibilities of new activities and new
programs, new outreach into our community. For the long-time
members, this church as it has operated for many years provides
satisfaction in itself. For the newcomers, it is the potential
of our church for moving forward and growing and reaching out to
new people that is especially exciting.
of these things were on my mind as I turned my thoughts to what
I would say to you during our service this morning. And when I
turned to our scheduled Bible story for today, it was the story
of the Lord raising Lazarus from the dead. Wow! At that point I
knew that divine providence was working. Because I'm not sure I
would have dared to make that connection on my own. But the
message to me was clear: we, as a congregation, are engaged in
the task of resurrecting our church.
his family and friends, Lazarus looked quite solidly dead and
buried. In one sense, our church never got that far. But a
church can be dead even when there are still people in the pews.
When the vision is gone, and a church is on a long, steady
decline, there is the smell of death about it. And this church
has experienced that smell of death--and the sadness and fear
(perhaps suppressed) that come with it. This church has
experienced decades at a time of having no new faces in the pews
Sunday after Sunday. Or if there were new faces, they have
departed after a longer or shorter time, leaving the same group
gathered to worship together.
today, I sense that we are holding our breath, wondering if we
can sustain this new growth that we have been experiencing for
the last few years. And for some, there seems to be a sense that
perhaps we have hit a wall. Lately, I sense that our new energy
has been flagging a bit. There is a pause, a plateau, and we are
all wondering, "What next?"
story is passed down in our family lore of what led up to my
grandfather, the Rev. Louis A. Dole, taking on a new pastorate
in Bath, Maine. At the time, he was serving our church in
Fryeburg, Maine. But he saw the desperate condition of the Bath
church, and cast his eye in that direction, wanting to rebuild
that church. Still, he couldn't just go there. He had to be
invited. And at their annual meeting, the seven remaining
members of the church voted four to three not to call a
the course of time, two of those seven members died, so that
only five members were left. And they held another vote on
whether to call a minister. This time the vote was three to two
in favor. They promptly called my grandfather as their minister,
and the church experienced new phase of steady growth into a
solid, stable, and useful congregation, during which it doubled
its membership several times over.
the moral of this story could be that all you have to do is
decide to call a good minister, and you can grow your church.
But I see a different moral. When there were seven people in the
church, there was not the collective will to take the steps
needed to grow the church. But when there were five--when the
church was almost dead--a change had taken place. Perhaps the
change was that two of the people who had voted against calling
a minister had died. Or perhaps the overall feeling in the group
was changing. What is certain is that this tiny group of five
people made the decision to move forward. And it was on the
strength of that decision that they were able to rebuild their
when I was finishing my degree in preparation for attending
seminary, I recall a book on one of my class reading lists
titled Surplus Powerlessness. I'm not sure I ever made it
through the book. But the title has stuck with me. It is true
that our power is limited. We can't do everything we would like
to do. However, too often we limit ourselves by thinking we are
unable to do anything at all. Our sense of powerlessness is
greater than our actual lack of power. In other words, we could
do a lot more than we are, but we hold ourselves back because we
think we don't have the power in our hands to move forward.
now have sixty-four members. And on an average Sunday, we have
about thirty people in church, including the Sunday School
children. If a church that is down to seven members . . . and
then five, can make the decision to move forward, how much more
can we with the larger and more active congregation that we have
here? We think we are limited by money or by numbers. But we are
really limited only by our vision and our commitment, and our
decision to listen to the Lord's call that he makes to us, as he
did to Lazarus, to "come forth!" And as Jesus said a little
earlier in the story, "This sickness will not end in death. No,
it is for God's glory."
week, as we look at the story of the Parable of the Vine, we
will explore the real source of power for rebuilding our church.
© 1999 Bruce DeBoer
Photo Courtesy of
Custom Dings by Set City