Sermon from Dedication Sunday

 "My name shall be there."

Pentecost II (Dedication Sunday); June 3, 2018

Matthew 16:13-20

It's been a long road. Before our Presbytery met here last month, I prepared a time-line of our planning, fund-raising, and construction work. We had our first planning meeting over four years ago. And today we dedicate our building and dedicate ourselves to the work of the Gospel, to be a light shining, the city of God on this hill.

For me, the project actually began before I was called to be your Pastor. For many of you, it began long before that. For me it began when the Pastor Nominating Committee gave me a tour of the building and then asked, "What do you think?" I talked about the great space, its flexibility and usefulness, and added, "But it looks, well, shabby." One of them – I think it was Dave Emry – replied, "That's a nicer word than we've been using." So it was clear that one of the expectations of the new Pastor was to be a building program.

If I had been as dutiful as I wanted to be, there would be lots of pictures from before and during, to remind us how far we've come. It's hard to remember what the old hall looked like, now that it's been replaced by a beautiful new Commons. There are still lots of pictures around of the old bell tower; that design at the top never did look like a Cross to me, but more like fan blades. I'm glad for the new bell tower and the witness of the three crosses.

Above all, I'm grateful for the experience of working with teams of talented, committed people in this project. I listed their names in my annual report, so I'm not going to name them all here. First there was the Building Task Force: this group did a thoughtful survey of our needs, interviewed architectural firms and chose one, then worked with that firm – Alley Poyner Macchietto – to engage you in decision-making. Do you remember the alternative designs for remodeling this facility or building a new one? You provided some great feedback.

At the same time a small Capital Campaign planning group met to get a sense of how much money we could raise and started interviewing firms that lead campaigns. One of our very wise decisions was not to try to do the Campaign by ourselves; the professionals helped us raise far more than we could have alone, more than justifying the cost of their services. The Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program suggested an amount of debt that we could reasonably sustain and an initial goal for a capital campaign. That number told the Building Task Force to plan to remodel, not build new. Unless, I remember saying at the time, God showed us that it was the divine will to build a new one by sending a tornado to destroy our existing building so our insurance company would help pay for the new one.

The Steier Group – the fundraising company we hired – did a feasibility study with you which told us two things: which projects you were willing to support and how much money we could hope to raise. No, a third thing too: who among you were good prospects to be volunteers. So while the Steier Group worked with us to prepare the Second Fifty Capital Campaign, the Building Task Force decided which projects to proceed with, told Alley Poyner Macchietto what we needed now, and interviewed general contractors, deciding to hire Lund-Ross Constructors.

All these decisions, of course, were proposed to and approved by the Session. We are Presbyterians, after all. And the Session appointed another group, the Project Management Team, to work with Lund-Ross throughout the construction. That group scrutinized drawings, made decisions about color, texture, layout, and where electrical outlets ought to go. Now a Session-appointed Aesthetics Group is making plans for bulletin boards, furniture, and artwork.

Throughout the entire process everyone worked together extremely well. This big project has been one of the happiest experiences of my entire career. No one tried to dominate the rest of us, no one insisted on her or his own way. Everyone was willing to listen and to speak up. And we all laughed a lot. I have only one sadness in all this: the death of Adam Koslosky. I doubt you know how key he was to this project and you can't know how much he came to mean to me. I miss him.

I mentioned that we laughed a lot. We also prayed a lot. Every meeting was framed by prayer. We composed a Capital Campaign prayer that we still use at meetings of the Follow-Up Committee. We never forgot that this building is the home for a church, a place for people to encounter God, to know the Lord Jesus Christ, to be open to the Holy Spirit. As Solomon said in his prayer at the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem, it is the place of which God said, "My name shall be there" (I Kings 8:29).

We chose the name "Second Fifty" for our capital campaign because Presbyterian Church of the Master was organized in 1965 and so the campaign was launching us into our second fifty years. We didn't know at the time that we would become united with a congregation that was well into its second hundred; the First Presbyterian Church of Benson was organized in 1906.

In other words, this entire project was thought of as launching us into the future. One thing that garnered weak support in the feasibility study was the new nursery; we decided to do that anyway because of our concern for families. Many would say it's absurd to spend two million dollars on the facility for a Presbyterian Church, since they believe the Presbyterian Church is dying. And to be honest, I have occasional moments when I fear that they may be right. But we did it anyway, laying a foundation and leaving a legacy for another generation of Presbyterian Christians.

Our new and renewed building is an act of hope. Two things to say about hope: hope is never empty, but is built on reliable promises. And hope is never abstract, but is demonstrated by concrete deeds. Get it? "Concrete" deeds.

One concrete deed we have done we celebrate today. Because of our hope, we remodeled and built this facility. We pledged and gave a lot of money to make a good start on paying for it. Out of deference, I was going to say that "you" pledged and gave, but let's be honest: Kathleen and I gave a lot of our own money to this too. Because we share in your hope for the future of this church. Two things we can do to fulfill this promise: pay the pledge we've made (how are you doing on your Second Fifty pledge?) and expect to make a pledge to the next capital campaign. Yes, we're going to be left with a big mortgage and we want to pay it off quickly.

Another thing we have done to build a foundation for the future is to create an Endowment Fund. Now, you don't need to give anything to that fund; not yet. But I challenge you to remember your Church in your will. One way to leave a legacy for the future is to leave money to organizations you care about; if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, your Church should be at the top of that list. At the risk of tiring you by having to hear it again, I'll remind you that our Endowment Fund was created with money left this Church by my mother. She never even had the chance to visit us, but the fact that I was your Pastor motivated her to leave money to this Church. I have been astonished that many faithful, committed members of this Church have died and left the Church nothing in their wills. You can change that; pick a number or pick a percentage. Between this and my brothers' churches and her own church, my mother left ten percent of her estate to the Church of Jesus Christ. Since the Bible's own model is to give ten percent – a "tithe" – that's a good number to work with.

Okay, those are the concrete acts we have done and can do. We show our hope by what we do. But what is the basis of hope? Reliable promises. And for Christian people, there is one promise of Jesus that is fundamental to all of our hope for the community of faith: "On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it." Although there is some dispute between Protestants and Catholics about what "this" refers to when Jesus says "this rock," I'll simply assert what we Protestants believe: "this rock" is Peter's confession of faith: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." The church of Jesus Christ is built on the rock of our creed, our confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. We can have Lund-Ross get concrete poured for our new Commons, but that is not the foundation of the Church: the foundation of the Church is the clear affirmation that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

And Jesus' promise is that the gates of Hades cannot prevail against His Church. That is, the powers of death cannot defeat us. Honestly, I don't think the Presbyterian Church is dying: we're going through a difficult time in our lives because we've been pretty stuck in the 1950s and 1960s. As we get unstuck, things actually look pretty good in some places. But social trends and styles of music and the creativity of ministers are all passing things: our hope is built on Jesus' promise that death cannot defeat His Church.

On that promise, that the word of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of the living God is stronger even than the power of death, we built this place. And on that promise, we call upon the living God, who has said of this place, "My name shall be there."

Robert A. Keefer

Presbyterian Church of the Master

Omaha, Nebraska

Sermon from June 10: Hard Words


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