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How foolish can we be?

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Autumn 2019  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  12:17
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Our current reality might look all that great on paper. The church is under pressure like it hasn't been in a long time. We can be quite discouraged at the number of losses over the recent years. However, the message of the cross is a foolish one. If we think the church is perishing, then we need to rely on the message of the cross -- be foolish and believe that we do have a future.

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Our Current Reality

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if I say that things aren’t the way they used to be. I know we’ve described our present reality a number of times, and in a number of ways. We’ve looked at the demographics. We’ve looked at the neighbourhood we’re in. We’ve looked at traffic flow patterns. We’ve looked at attendance numbers. We’ve looked at finances.
As we’ve looked at them, it is easy to get discouraged. We’re older, more tired, less connected to the people who live around us, traffic zooms by our door without even knowing we’re here, there’s less people here, and it is harder and harder to pay bills.
One could easily say that our current reality is bleak. Particularly as we count resources, it does look bleak. We just don’t have the resources that we had “in house” years ago.
While I have great confidence in the Reference Group that has been formed to help us look forward, I think if we’re all realistic we know that no one group can help take us back to those days when we had the resources, when we had the energy, when we were more connected to the people living around us, when we had more people, when it was slightly easier to pay the bills.
The reality of today is very different from the reality of the beginning of Holy Cross. Try and wish as we might — we can’t go back to those days. The world just isn’t the same, and while we can lament that, lamenting it still won’t change the fact that we are not where we used to be in a number of areas.

Our Beginning

That doesn’t mean though that we are disconnected from our past, and that we shouldn’t look back to our beginning to get a bit of grounding as we move forward. The history of any organization is crucial to the ability of the organization to move forward.
The early stories that I’ve heard about this place generally go like this:
Pastor Bill Brown would hear about Lutherans living in Burlington. He’d find out their address, and go knock on their door, introduce himself and invite them to church. While this isn’t the whole story — it is part of it. In a number of ways, we grew because we knew we had a mission to meet the needs of Lutherans living in Burlington.
While we were never the size of Glad Tidings, St. Luke’s, … we did grow because there were enough Lutherans around. I’m not suggesting that it wasn’t hard work — it was. Buying this land, building this building, the renovations to it, the narthex, … all difficult and time consuming work. Getting people to come and support it, and become part of the community even harder.
And yet, we did it. From the start of meeting the needs of Lutherans here in Burlington we grew to a place with two Sunday worship services, and weekly services in Advent and Lent. We had a full education program for children. Looking forward at that point, we could only see smooth sailing on the horizon formed out on Lake Ontario.

How we got here

So how did we get so quickly from the smooth sailing to the choppy waters?
Honestly, I don’t know. We could blame it all on so many factors. We missed on the opportunity to keep our children in the faith community. Why? Some moved away geographically. Others moved away ideologically. Neither I would actually say would be our “fault”, it just happened.
We missed on the opportunity to make Sunday worship crucial in the lives of people. While there are many other options for people on Sunday morning, we didn’t make this place their default first choice.
We missed on the opportunity to stay in touch with the people who literally live next door. As gates and walls went up around the houses near us, we backed away from them assuming that people who lived in such excess didn’t need us.
Then there’s the simple fact that society has changed greatly. We live in a time so different from our beginning that honestly I don’t think people of today would even recognize the time we were formed in.
None of this is to assign blame — it is to describe reality. I’d be the first to say there’s lot of opportunity that has been missed by Holy Cross because of my ministry and the lack of ministry at times. Honestly, none of us can do it all — meet all of the needs around us — try as we might, sometimes the waters just get choppy before we even see the signals that a storm is brewing.

Where are you in this story?

Which brings us to this question. Where am I … where are you … in this story of the development of Holy Cross? Are we still longing for a day long gone, hoping beyond hope, and praying fervently for a history that just won’t repeat? Are we working as fast as we can to bail out the water from the choppy waves that crash over the edge of the boat from time to time? Are we hoping that someone will help us figure it all out?
1 Corinthians 1:22 NRSV
For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom,
Come on Jesus — just give us a sign about the future of this place — just give us the wisdom to know what we need to do.
Tell us our calling — clearly, simply, fully — and we’re willing to follow it … if only you’d tell us.
1 Corinthians 1:26 NRSV
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.
Where once the church — and I don’t mean Holy Cross but the church catholic (the church universal) was considered the source of wisdom, power, and nobility, we aren’t anymore. Maybe we never should have been, but we certainly aren’t anymore.
1 Corinthians 1:21 NRSV
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.
Wisdom isn’t really our goal though is it? Wisdom, power, nobility, prestige — all things that are longed for in our world, are not our end goal. Our goal is simply and complexly to change the world, to change the hearts of everyone we meet, to change their focus from themselves to God, to change all around us.

Where do we go from here?

With such a lofty goal — to change the world — it can be paralyzing to think about where to go next. How can a small, struggling congregation that has cut the number of worship services it has, that has less people, and more expenses, and less energy than it once had ever possibly “change the world”?
WE can’t.
God can.
God can — through us.
1 Corinthians 1:30 NRSV
He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption,
Is it foolish to think that Holy Cross will survive the next number of years given our demographics? Maybe. Is it foolish to think that we — as individuals — as simple disciples of Jesus can change the world? Maybe.
But our true message is one of foolishness.
1 Corinthians 1:18 NRSV
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Today as we celebrate Holy Cross Day let us particularly think about the power of the cross in our lives — and in the lives of all the people in the world. It is foolish to think that someone rose from the dead. It is foolish to venture out into a world where we don’t even know where the next change will come from. It is foolish to think we can be so grand as to change the world.
But that is exactly the foolishness that we’re called to — life changing foolishness — and for that we give thanks. Amen.
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