“God is ALWAYS Building”
Isa 65:17-25 & Luke 21:5-19 ~ Northwood UC ~ November 13, 2022
Today is a hard day to gather because conversations of change and rebuilding are now in the air. Our Property Development Team have been working faithfully and diligently over the past year and last Sunday they presented their findings in the Congregational Informational Meeting. As they presented, we are increasingly moving in an unsustainable direction. We are needing to explore changes. And I know of no one who truly embraces change. You go into your favourite coffee shop, and you want your beverage…just right. You want your burger cooked the way you like; your sushi just the way it was made last time. And when it comes to your temple…to your spiritual home…to Northwood…the thoughts of change or modification from what we have grown accustomed to…are not what we immediately want to embrace. Change is hard. And, I would suggest that we must continue to deeply listen to one another during this sensitive time in the life of our congregation.
The two scripture passages before us capture some of that emotion for our consideration. It is reassuring to know that our faith ancestors faced similar emotions as they were confronted by change. In the Isaiah reading it was the change in front of them of rebuilding their destroyed homeland of Judah; their destroyed temple was lying in ruins; the destruction of their hopes and dreams shattered. They returned from Babylonian slavery to their homeland only to find that their homeland was not as they had remembered. It lay in ruins; the air of pessimism was in the air; it was a time of deep and significant change and uncertainty. They had wept by the rivers of Babylon while they remembered Zion, and they continued to weep upon their return as they saw the devastation before them…and they wondered if they had it in them to rebuild.
How many of you remember back to the days of our founding churches? Who among us were the North Surrey people? Who were the Fleetwood people? Who among you have been part of the closing / decommissioning of a church? Do you remember the pain you felt? Do you remember the sadness? Do you remember the heartbreak? It was there! It was hard to think about closing your church. There were tears and sadness. Certainly, there was the optimism of a new building here a Northwood, but before you got HERE…there was deep pain, there was deep loss, there was uncertainty. Do you remember that feeling? Of course, you do…heartbreak never fully goes away; scars never (entirely) fade away. We remember those hard times of loss.
That pain is what was on the hearts of the Hebrews returning and pondering a time of rebuild. And the prophet speaks God’s words to their deflated hearts: I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. Be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. No more weeping or cries…No more will a child live but a few days…no more will an old person not live out a lifetime; You WILL build houses and live in them; you WILL plant vineyards and drink the wine. Isaiah presents a vision of a new world, newly constructed. We immediately notice that it is not the same world as before. It is going to be a different world. It will be a world that God is birthing with wolves and lambs…feeding together; with lions and oxen…side by side. It will be a new kingdom, a new world, a new creation!
I am wondering how many of you were here when this new church of Northwood was opened? Some of you joined as part of the founding congregations: North Surrey and Fleetwood. And a number of you joined the newly opened church. I recall, myself studying in Seminary at the time, and I attended some of the opening services. There was an energy and optimism in the air. And, as we contemplate change, the hopeful thing for us to be reminded of is that we are a congregation who have dealt with change in the past. And we dealt with change VERY well in building and establishing Northwood. I’m not suggesting that it was easy. But, I AM suggesting that we are congregation who have that spiritual gift of dealing with change! You built a creative new design that you (rightfully) should be very proud of! A wonderful welcoming space that gathers people in; a modern sanctuary that welcomes. You embraced the realities of change, listened to one another, and built the church that you proudly call Northwood!
And as a community that has dealt with change, this is a time that we are charged to further embrace this reality…and to deeply listen to one another through it. Doug Tingley’s presentation pointed to the financial reality that has been growing for a number of years. We have a number of building deficiencies that need to be addressed now. And, we have shrunk our ministry staff to a single ministry position (‘little ol me’) from the previous two. Doug noted that we are not addressing the ministry priorities that we have named in our Ministry Goals. These opportunities are present with the proposed housing development of the north portion of our property (the treed lot and the Thrift Store). But it does represent change. And that is hard!
I hear the wisdom of this morning’s gospel lection speaking to us here. Jesus is speaking with his disciples in front of the majestic temple that was the prize build of King Herod. The text notes how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God. Yet Jesus said, ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’ It was unthinkable to them that this might occur! The temple in ruins! The beautiful temple where they gathered…gone…in rubble…how could this be? Yet Jesus, after speaking of signs and warnings, he says that through all of this they will be protected, and upheld, and led…by God. “Not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
As I think of this time of change in the life of our congregation, I think, more than anything this is a time for listening: listening to our pains, fears and uncertainties. This is also a time for listening to our hopes, dreams and visions. This is a time to listen to God who has guided, who is guiding, and who will forever guide those who faithfully listen.
So what does faithful listening look like…
When you go out into the Gathering Area, you will now find two bulletin boards dedicated to listening to your thoughts, dreams and visions of the future. On the one board, you will find an opportunity to consider how we might be “A building to serve all”. The Property Development Team need to hear from you: what building items would you like to see addressed? People have spoken about the flooring, the heating unit, the kitchen. Take a sticky and write your idea(s) on how to refresh Northwood into a church that can continue being an extension of our faithful ministry. The second bulletin board is about expanding our ministry. A ministry to serve all. What areas of ministry would you like to see us addressing? What are we missing? Ministry for parents and tots, children, youth, social justice, interfaith? An intercultural ministry that connects with the ethic community in our neighbourhood. What do you see as the faithful way for us to expand our ministry team? Again, write each idea/ ideas on a sticky and tack it up on the board over the coming weeks. And over the weeks ahead, the Property Development Team will begin developing a ministry business plan and putting these ideas all together to present to our Regional Church as we carefully consider how we can move ahead.
The second area of listening, I am going to invite us into right now. We don’t do this a lot; however, I am going to ask people to gather in groups of 4-6 with their nearby neighbours and actively listen. How are you feeling as a result of last week’s presentation? The proposed development to the northern portion of our land? The changes to the Northwood building and its various ministries.
May we continue to listen, dream and be the faithful church.