Summary: Sermon delivered in support of our theme for 2002, and on the occasion of our annual meeting. A vision brings death if it is not communicated; it is discerned in prayer; and it always calls for repentance for the incompleteness of our obedience.
Two things you learn, if you are at all observant about churches. First, that church people do not agree on their vision of what the church should be about; and, second, that the world knows what the church ought to be about better than church people know. We who gather week by week as the church of the Lord Jesus Christ find it easy to forget why we are. But the world out there knows what we ought to be about. It knows we should be about giving life. The world demands from the church a life-giving vision. But we don’t always have it to give.
My friend John Wimberly, pastor of Western Presbyterian Church in Foggy Bottom, loves to talk about the battles his church went through when they were forced to relocate. Some of you may know that Western Presbyterian Church was originally located on H Street, in the shadow of the World Bank buildings. The World Bank wanted to expand, and offered to provide millions of dollars to move the church building. Well, you don’t just go out and build a new building without a vision for how it will be used, and the folks at Western began to create their vision. As they did so, they thought about a facility that would feed homeless people. They had already started to do that in their old space, and saw an opportunity to expand that ministry in a new space.
Almost immediately a group of church members began to protest that vision. They got really uptight about the notion of homeless people traipsing through their new, fresh church building, and this group tried to stop the plans. They got so feisty in their protests that some of them even picketed the worship services in an effort to call the church away from this kind of ministry. Focus on evangelism, they said. Focus on winning souls, not on feeding the hungry. One member even picketed on the very steps to prevent worshippers from coming in on Sunday mornings. It got to be a vicious business there at Western Presbyterian.
But wisdom prevailed, and the new facility was constructed, with a large kitchen and dining room for the homeless ministry. Soon, however, there was a lawsuit, brought against the church by the city government. The Area Neighborhood Commission tried to stop the church from opening a feeding ministry, and their argument was that church buildings are for purposes of worship, prayer, and Bible study, and not for feeding the hungry. The complaint said that churches ought to stick to their “normal” business – things like preaching, singing, Bible study, and prayer. None of this feeding the hungry business.
Pastor Wimberly was astounded that all of these protests came from Christian people – the members of the church who picketed, the members of other churches in the city government. These were people who are church members and who think they know what that’s about. But guess what happened? A Jewish trial judge listened to the argument that churches ought to stick to spiritual things and stay away from feeding the hungry. He wheeled around in his chair, and shouted, “Look, I’m not even a Christian, and I know better than that. Feeding the homeless, helping the poor, and healing the sick, that’s what churches have done for centuries. Case dismissed!”
Christians sometimes lose their way, and do not understand their own vision. But the world knows better. The world has a vision for what church should be about. And the world demands a life-giving vision.
In our Bible story, Daniel met somebody who had a vision but who did not know it, could not understand it, and would not communicate it. Old King Nebuchadnezzar caused quite a stir in Babylon when he announced that he had had a dream and he wanted somebody to interpret it, but he wasn’t going to tell anybody what that dream was! How about that for game-playing?! I’ve got a secret, and you have to guess what it is, and only then will I let you tell me what it means! The story says that the King threatened everybody with death if they didn’t interpret his dream, but he wouldn’t give them so much as a clue as to what was in the dream! What a horrible game to play!
But church people play that game too. Each of us comes with our own vision of what church should be about. Each of us worships with our own perspective as to what that experience should be. But we are not talking with one another; we are not communicating our dreams. We are not listening to one another’s hopes. We are playing a game of “I’ve got a secret”, and we end up threatening each other if you don’t guess what I want and I don’t figure out what you see.