Summary: We are given to frenetic activity, most of it characterized by wrong priorities, a lack of partnerships, and the failure of power. We get played out unless we are prayed out.
Is there a lawyer in the house? Somebody who can give me a little legal advice? I need to know what the statute of limitations is on destruction of church property. Can somebody tell me, is it possible to prosecute fifteen years after the crime? And especially, is it possible to prosecute a pastor for destruction of church property? Because, if it is, I’d better not preach this sermon!
Well, assuming that even if a certain pastor could be sued after fifteen years, provided we knew who that was, we will ask for immunity in order to bear witness. That’s commonly done, isn’t it? Immunity in order to hear the testimony of a witness? And today I want to give a witness. So as Marc Rich said when he bumped into Bill Clinton, "Pardon me."
Almost fifteen years ago I began my work here as pastor. One of the first things I did was to take a tour of the entire building. I had been in the sanctuary, the offices, and a few other rooms, but had never been upstairs. I have to tell you that after that tour I came down, sat in the office, put my head in my hands, and said to the Lord, "What have You done to me?" The place was a mess. It was a shambles. Now it was clean enough. Frank Jackson saw to that. And it was in relatively good repair - our Building and Grounds Committee had worked on that. But it was the housekeeping in the individual classrooms that got to me. Books and papers and chalk and scissors and crayons and Bibles and everything, scattered and shoved everywhere. Not the kind of thing a janitor would touch, because he had no way of knowing what was important to those who used the rooms. Not the kind of thing a Building and Grounds Committee could work on either. It was the responsibility of those who used the rooms. And the rooms were a mess.
Sunday School literature eight, ten, twelve years old, long since out of date. Bibles with their backs torn off, crayons worn down to a nub, pencils with no points, scissors with no points, classrooms with no point to them! I nearly wept. I felt it said something about a church that was sick and demoralized. I knew it spoke to me about the task that faced me. What was I going to do to lead a church in this condition?
Now at that point I had some choices, didn’t I? I could have chosen to scold all the teachers and force them to clean up. I could have told Mr. Jackson to sweep it out, sweep it all out, and let everybody scream at him. Still another choice, and one I must admit I have thought of many times, would have been first to check the insurance policy and then to buy a can of gasoline and torch the place. A little over the top, maybe, but effective.
Well, I did none of those things. I went for another solution. I chose another strategy. I chose to clean it up myself. I would pick up the trash, I would straighten up the shelves, I would throw out the broken down furniture, I would discard the obsolete literature. Nobody else can throw away like I can throw away. I will clean this place up.
And more than that, I thought, I will do it in such a way that they won’t see me doing it. If somebody sees me, he’ll ask by what authority I am doing this. If a deacon sees me, she’ll say that isn’t in my job description. If a financial officer sees me, he’ll remind me that it costs money to buy new junk to replace the old junk. So I will do this cleanup thing alone, by myself.
I went to work. I filled trash can after trash can. I gathered up old, older, and oldest, and got rid of it. Why, in one room, there was a collection of maybe fifty bulletins of the Sunday services from 1965. Who needed twenty-year-old Sunday bulletins? Out they went. Everything went.
And then I looked at some of the furniture. What shaky, rickety, filthy furniture some of it was! So I decided I ought to get rid not only of paper and clutter, but also of worn-out, useless furniture. I decided to start with one big old cabinet. I chose it because its glass doors were broken, its shelves were collapsing, its back was cracked, and three of its four wheels were missing. It was clearly a candidate for the wrecking yard. A little large for one person to move, but hey, my strength was as the strength of ten because my heart was pure. And so I tugged this mess out into the hall and shoved it down to the stairwell. Hmm. Now this is going to be a bit of a challenge, but I can do this. If I just tilt it and let it slide, gently, gently, down the steps, I can do this.