Summary: For our Annual Theme focus: all that we have accomplished as a church, fine as it is, is flawed. Much remains to be done, but it requires different leadership. This pastor’s departure, however, will not diminish the bond of love.
Some things end, but are not completed. Other things are completed, but do not end. There is a world of difference between the two.
Some things end, but are not completed. Some things stop, unfinished. The tragic accident out on I-95 the other day is a reminder of this. Several lives ended in a fiery crash. But I dare say those lives were not completed. Those who died had families whom they were never able to greet. They had jobs they were never able to wrap up. They had business they were not given time to care for. It’s tragic when things end, but they are not completed.
On the other hand, some things are completed, but do not end. Some things come to the point where you know that all that can be done has been done, and what you have set in motion will not end. As the calendar pages turn for me, I’m grateful that the government years ago set up an entitlement called Social Security. The legislation was passed, the administration was created, and now it’s so set in stone that no president, no congress would dream of terminating Social Security. They didn’t do a perfect job; but what they did they completed, and now it will not end. That’s what we want, don’t we? Something that is completed, but will not end.
Each year, since January of 1987, I have asked you, on Annual Theme Sunday, to take stock of what has been completed in the work of our church, and to look ahead at what the Lord wants us to do in the year to come. Each year I have asked you to focus on what has been completed and to believe that what we have done will not end. This year is no different. This year, once again, I ask you to think about what we have accomplished together. And this year, once again, I ask you to believe that the Lord is taking us forward, and that if we trust Him, no matter what peripheral things change, He will prevail. This year I ask you to see what has been completed and to know that we are not going to celebrate an ending. We are going to celebrate a new beginning. Our gaze is going to be on the future. And our hearts and minds are going to be drawn into one accord. I hope you can celebrate this with me; because some things end, but are not completed, and that’s tragic. But other things are completed, but do not end, and that is glorious.
First, let’s look at what we have done. Let’s focus on what has been completed. But with a twist, with a difference. Let’s look at the kinds of things that the apostle Paul said he had accomplished in his own life. These things that Paul cited are very similar to some of the things we have done as a church. But Paul sort of dismissed these attainments, and maybe that means there are some questions we need to raise too. What have we completed, and what does it mean? You might want to open up to Philippians 3:5-6 and follow with me. It’s quite a list. What does Paul say he has to brag about?
“Circumcised the eighth day” That means his parents put him through the ritual that made him officially a part of the people of Israel. He didn’t exercise faith, he didn’t make any decision. He was eight days old, for goodness’ sake. But he was ushered into God’s chosen people by the ritual. Over the more than seventeen years I have served as pastor and the nearly twenty years I have been preaching here, I estimate that we have brought in to church membership somewhere between three and four hundred people. Some came by baptism, some transferred from other churches, others were received on the basis of their statement of faith. Three to four hundred people; for an older church in an urban setting, that’s not bad. That is something we could boast about – except that all too many of those persons we do not see and cannot even find today! So while we might like to boast in numerical achievement, that’s rubbish. Let’s try something else.
Paul says that he could have, if he wanted to, brag not only about being circumcised the eighth day, but also about being a member of the people of Israel. Israel thought of itself as God’s special folks. Israel was proud that she alone had God chosen out of all the nations. And we here at Takoma like to talk about how special we are, how unique. We like to say that there is no church quite like ours, where blacks and whites, men and women, young and old, rich and poor, Ph.D’s and Law-dies all mingle. That is something we could boast about – except that we’ve been seeing certain kinds of folks distance from us. We’ve been feeling the pinch of aging, and the mix is not as rich as it once was. So while we might like to boast in feeling special, that’s rubbish. Let’s try something else.