Prayer for the Readers
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.~ Ephesians 3:14-21 (NRSV)
During her second month of nursing school, a professor gave her students a quiz, and the last question stumped most people in the class. It read, “What is the first name of the janitor who cleans the school?” All the students had seen the janitor many times. He was tall, gray-haired, and in his sixties, but how would any of them know his name? Before class ended, one student asked if the last question would really count toward their grade. “Absolutely,” said the professor. “In your careers you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say, ‘Hello.’” The students never forgot that lesson, and they also learned that the janitor’s name was Tom.
Friends, today we are kicking off a month-long event called “Name Tag November!” Now I know that not everyone likes to wear nametags, and I’m sure several of you might be thinking, “I don’t need to wear one because I know everyone’s name.” Well if that’s how you feel, then this event is not about you. But, yes, you are still expected to participate.
Friends, over the last two months we have been following our “In This House” sermon series and we have learned that In This House: we give grace, we tell the truth, we make mistakes, we say I’m sorry, we have fun, we give hugs, and today’s theme is “In This House: We Value ALL Families.”
Now, if you value something, you take care of it, right? And sometimes you even put your own wants and needs aside to make sure that it is okay. Has anyone ever experienced that? Well, that is exactly what today’s theme is all about.
Sometimes when we come to worship, the message might not always be what we think we need to hear. We might not always feel like greeting everyone during the passing of the peace. We might not always like the music that is being played. The noise in the sanctuary might irritate us. The length of the sermon might be too long, or too short. And sometimes it’s just too hot or too cold in here. But you know what? That’s okay. Because when we are here in worship, it’s not always about you.
You might not think that the message is what you need to hear, but it might be just what the person next to you needs to hear. You might not feel like greeting the person next to you, but your handshake or your hug might be the only positive contact that that person has had all week. You might not like the one of the songs today, but that song might make someone else feel the presence of their mom who they lost years ago. The noise in the sanctuary might irritate you, but the child who is struggling to sit quietly is learning that they are loved and accepted by their church family even when their behavior is not perfect. The length of the sermon might be too long or too short because your pastor is passionate about what she is saying, or she is exhausted from a week filled with pastoral concerns. And sometimes it’s too hot or it’s too cold in here, even though our Building and Grounds Ministry has been at the church for hours, trying to get the furnace to work or setting up fans to move the air around. So, the next time you think, “I don’t like this,” or “Why do we have to listen to this?” or “I don’t want to do it this way,” remember, it’s not always about you.
In This House: We Value ALL Families. And what did we say happens when we value things? It means that we sometimes need to put our wants and needs aside to make sure that others are okay.
Friends, today in Househol Huddle, in honor of All Saints Sunday, we made family portraits, and we included in them our family members that are here on earth and also those who are in heaven. And a few minutes ago here in worship, we read the names of our family and friends that passed away in the last year as we rang the bell in our steeple.
But I want to point out that there were three names on that list of people who were an important part of our church family. Frank Sawyer, Neil Gagne, and Kim Koepfler were all treasured members of our church family, and we valued them as such. Because we valued them, we sometimes put our own wants and needs and plans aside to make sure that they found a warm welcome in worship. And it wasn’t difficult, because we cared about them.
For Frank, who was blind since the age of ten, we bought a braille hymnal and served him communion in his pew. Darnell, who sat in the pew next to him, would describe to him what was happening in the sanctuary each week, telling him about the colors on the altar, or the wreaths in the windows, or even if Pastor Kelly had a haircut.
Neil, came to us through AA across the street, and he really struggled with his addiction, but he found solace here in worship because he felt safe and cared for. Now he had good days and bad days, and good weeks and bad weeks, but no matter how he felt about himself, he knew that he could come here to worship and get a hug and a smile to encourage him on his journey.
And last, but definitely not least, Kim Koepfler, our Oldtown hugger in chief. Kim has always been a source of light and joy for our congregation, but as Kim’s dementia progressed, we all learned as a congregation that there were a few changes that we needed to make to not only value Kim’s time with us, but to make her comfortable in worship. The pastor’s procession into the sanctuary as worship began added a stop at Kim’s pew for an extra hug on the way. When communion was served, we made sure that Kim was first as she raced to the front to receive it. When my sermons went too long, Kim would help me. She would start out quiet, and then get louder, and louder, calling out the number to our final hymn. And even our young people learned a new sense of sharing and patience when Kim would commandeer their stuffed animals as her own.
Friends, if it weren’t for Frank, and Neil, and Kim, our worship and our church family would never be what it is today. They taught us patience and joy, the importance of unconditional love, and the gift of seeing the beauty of the world around us—all things that we would have missed had we not spent Sunday mornings together here in worship.
Folks the hard truth is, we don’t come to church to be comfortable and to stay the same. We come to be inspired, and to be challenged, and to be made new. As I often say, here in Oldtown, God loves us just the way we are, but he loves us way too much to lets us stay that way!
In this last year, we made a major change here in Oldtown, moving from an old Sunday School model to Household Huddle. There have been growing pains, and we have learned a lot in the process, but the reason why that change was made is because we value our families. We want to keep everyone safe, and we came to the realization that families needed an opportunity to learn and experience faith together. In today’s society, kids get dropped off at all kinds of activities, but there aren’t a lot of opportunities for families to spend time experiencing things together. We changed our way of doing Sunday school because we value ALL families.
We do things a little different here Oldtown than many other churches do, because what is important to us, is relationships, fellowship, and togetherness. We don’t separate into men’s groups and women’s groups. We don’t divide up by ages, or grades, or stages. We don’t send our kids to separate programs and activities, because we have found that we receive our deepest learning and we truly experience the holy when we work together and play together, eat donuts together and pray together, and sing together, and most importantly, when we worship God together.
Because, in this house, we value all families and all individuals, we understand that it’s not all about us and what we want. It’s not about our individual opinions and personalities. But it’s about loving and serving, and allowing and encouraging everyone to worship God together.
Since our church’s founding in 1712, safety has always been a concern. That’s why our pews face the front door. That’s why our shutters are on the inside, and that’s why, back in the 1700’s, attendance at worship was mandatory. The law of mandatory attendance at worship was not to punish those who do not comply. It was to check in and make sure that everyone was okay, because back then, there was no facebook, or email, or telephones. Over the last 306 years, our church has set many boundaries to make sure that people of all ages are safe here in Oldtown, and it’s no different today. But it is important to understand that “Safe Church” is not about of a sense of fear or aggravation or control; but it is all about a sense of love. The truth is, when we love and value one another, we don’t just let each other run wild, doing whatever we want. We encourage each other to stick together, giving each other opportunities to grow. We set boundaries and expectations, not out of a sense of judgment, but out a desire for health and wholeness and healing.
Here in Oldtown, we have a “Safe Church” policy that was put in place, not to be a legal document used to punish offenders, but as a guideline to help us make good choices as a congregation as we strive to best care for one another. Do we always follow it to the letter of the law? No. But we do the best that we can, because when you value something, you take care of it.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, I encourage you to think about the words in the prayer that we heard from the book of Ephesians today. Pray that Christ might dwell in your heart as you are rooted and grounded in love, remembering that sometimes, it’s not about you and your preferences and opinions. Because sometimes, it’s about putting your wants and needs aside as you love and value your neighbor.
My friends, may it be so, thanks be to God. Amen.