Sermon delivered by Keith Herron, pastor of Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo., on August 30, 2009.
2 Corinthians 4:7; Isaiah 40: 28-31
Souls have bodies the Bible tells us … or is it the other way around? The earliest theologians who penned the various books of the Bibles struggled with the dual mystery of merged bodies and souls and so have the rest of us throughout time. Our soul (our self) is housed in a physical, mortal body … how else can we imagine ourselves apart from them? We’re equal parts body and soul and in this merged existence they’re so united as one it’s hard to distinguish them as one separate from the other.
The Apostle Paul referred to our human bodies metaphorically as clay jars (literally, earthen vessels). Our bodies are the containers of the self and by faith we believe the soul transcends them when they return to dust. Similarly then, our buildings do not define our church anymore than our bodies define our souls. Perhaps these “bricks and mortar” buildings are the clay jars the church lives within.
Years ago we launched a building program that hasn’t paused for long.
* Our history tells us in our second year of existence, the members pledged $35,000 and took out a loan for another $50,000 and with that we built our first sanctuary.
* In 1961, Jene Hayes, Chair of Long-Range Planning, recommended we develop a Master Plan for the future as well as hiring an architect to develop a preliminary plan – a plan that resulted in the decision we add an education wing and remodel what already existed.
* In 1970 we refurbished the Student Activities Building.
* In 1972, even more remodeling was recommended and plans were presented for the construction of a new Activities Building at a cost of $350,000.
* In 1980, fundraising began to construct a new sanctuary and our members pledged $355,000 in response. With those pledges, the church voted to begin at an estimated cost of $1.5 million. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held in 1983 and this structure was dedicated the next year along with a new organ and grand piano dedicated as a memorial to Vencie Farber.
* In 1993 we determined we needed more space for preschoolers and youth and for a larger Fellowship Hall, so we hired architects and a fund-raising team to lead us in a 3-year campaign with a $2 million goal that ended up costing $2.5 million necessitating reducing some plans.
* In 1994, additional renovations were made to the activities building in addition to the construction to tie the existing buildings together.
* In 1995, we celebrated our 40th Anniversary and broke ground on the new educational wing.
* Meanwhile, in the midst of these new buildings and refurbishing projects, we’ve typically struggled from year-to-year balancing receipts and expenses.
* Pat yourselves on the back … a year and a half ago, we made our last mortgage payment and are debt free today! No one can seem to remember when that was last true about us.
This rabbit warren of hallways and the various buildings tied together by one spirit are the clay jars of our church. Over the years, while we’ve attended to the needs of the community through the ministries of our members, we’ve also built buildings and remodeled them. We raised money to do all those things even though we had other needs and we did it because we lived fitfully with the tension of the duality of community ministry and structures of steel and wood in which to welcome the people.
Five years ago, Dr. Jack Wilson, our founding pastor, preached from a sermon from this pulpit from Isaiah 40:28-31 in which the prophet describes a progressive sequence of movement: Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening? God doesn’t come and go. God lasts! God is the Creator of all you can see or imagine. God doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath. And God knows everything, inside and out. God energizes those who get tired, gives fresh strength to dropouts. Even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime stumble and fall. But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles. They run and don’t get tired; they walk and don’t lag behind.
Fellow members, our clay jars are in need of remodeling again and it’s time to go to work. But let’s remember the clay jars are not the church … we are the church, all of us who make up the Body of Christ that meets at the corner of 97th and Holmes.
So while we’ve adopted yet another refurbishing project, we still have work to do in this field where God planted us nearly 55 years ago. In truth, we can do whatever it is God leads us to do as we’ve done over and again in the past. That’s our calling and that’s our belief.
George MacLeod, founder of the Iona Community, wrote a prayer that is said every Thursday at the Iona Abbey:
It is not just the interior of these walls; it is our own inner beings you have renewed. We are your temple not made with hands. We are your body. If every wall should crumble, and every church decay, we are your habitation. Nearer are you than breathing, closer than hands and feet. Ours are the eyes with which you, in the mystery, look out in compassion on the world. So we bless you for this place, for your directing of us, your redeeming of us, and your indwelling. Take us outside the camp, Lord, outside holiness, out to where soldiers gamble, and thieves curse, and nations clash at the crossroads of the world. So shall this building continue to be justified.
After serving as bridge pastor at First Congregational Church of St. Louis, Missouri, during the past year, Herron moved recently to Lawrence, Kansas, where he will continue to minister in interim settings. He is author of Living a Narrative Life, Exploring the Power of Stories (Smyth & Helwys, 2019).