In January I rejoined Session as an Elder.  Neil Knecht, who plays Bass guitar at the second service, was at that Session meeting.  He told us that during the summer, after blended services where he had played with the modern worship group, some people from the first service attacked his music and said that they didn’t want to hear guitars played in church.

At the same session meeting another person said that she had heard from several people who attend the second service that they just want “their service back” meaning the 2nd service with guitars and drums.

I met with Pastor Shari later and said “we still have some division over this first service vs. second service thing and we need to address the issue with the congregation.”  She said “I’m going to the Holy Land in late February and I need people to deliver the message on two Sunday’s.  Will you address this issue on one of those Sunday’s?”

So here I am.

Shari asked which texts from the Bible I would like read and I asked for the part of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and the Great Commission.  Shari gave me a great CD focused on Paul’s letter.  I will be sharing some of that message with you, just so you don’t start to think that I am a great Biblical scholar – which I am not.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

13 If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

2 If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

3-7 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Most often we hear this reading about love at weddings.  We’re at the wedding and everything is beautiful and we hear these nice sounding words about love and we all say “isn’t that nice.”

But this is a real challenge to us.  In the first part, about rusty gates and being bankrupt, Paul is writing about us.  The description of the qualities of Love is not about us – that’s God.  That’s what Jesus did.  So right there it’s a challenge.

In fact this passage is an enormous challenge to Presbyterians, because Presbyterians tend to be very service oriented.  Anywhere you look in our community you will see Presbyterians contributing to worthwhile projects.  There would be no Lewis County Food bank, for example, if it weren’t for Presbyterians.

But Paul’s message warns us that all of that great service might mean nothing.

 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

I can go to the stake as a martyr.  I can give away everything to the poor and it means nothing?  Paul is telling us that we have to look deep into our soul and ask why we are serving.  Are we serving, attending church, joining session, giving money to the church so that people will think that we are good?  If so, it’s nothing.

I am in no position to judge what this passage means to you in your life.  You and I have figure out what it means for us as individuals.

My father died yesterday and to keep this from sounding like I’m judging you, which I am not, I’ll apply it to him because he served the church and the community in many ways.  But Paul’s message is clear that if all that service wasn’t done with love, an open giving heart, then it gained my father nothing.

I’ll give you my opinion on some of what Paul’s message means for congregation, for WPC inside and outside this sanctuary.  It means that we are to love, as Christ loved, all of the people who come to this church even if they don’t contribute – even if they don’t join a guild, or a committee, even if they have a tattoo and only attend one service.  And Paul’s message means that we are in no position to think that we are better or more holy than anybody else just because we serve the church more than somebody else.

This church has been working for 158 years.  That is 7.8% of the time of Christendom.  If we are here in the year 2060 that will be 10% of the time since Christ was crucified.  To me, that’s a remarkable thing.

The title of this message is “WPC going forward” so I’ll share my thoughts on how we accomplish that goal.

We have made it through 158 years because the congregation has been tolerant of others and been flexible in how we worship.  Our worship service today has changed many times over 158 years ago.  And, if we are going to make it to 10% of Christendom, we need to continue to be flexible and willing to change how we reach people.

And when it comes to the kind of service – guitars or the organ – we are called to make a joyful noise.  And I really doubt that God frowns hearing that noise with drums, or organs, guitars, clapping of hands or a baby trying to sing.

We need to stay away from the idea that this is “my service” and it has to have drums or it has to have the organ.  Personally, I like both, but I hope that if the church decided that the way we need to share worship with people who need to hear the Word, we should have service somewhere else with neither organ or guitars – I hope, I would say “then let’s try it.”   I’m pretty sure that I’ve been told that the worship service isn’t supposed to be about “me”.  I’m pretty sure I’ve heard that the service is supposed to be about God – worshipping God.  Pretty sure about that.

We are in a time of transition and this church has endured a lot of that over 158 years.  Change is difficult and can be unsettling.  Pastor changes, building problems, budget issues, personnel changes and more have faced this church recently.  I’m on the Pastor Nominating Committee and you heard Chuck Emerick’s report that the new pastor might not be here for 5 more months, or maybe a year.  And you heard me say that we need to get away from the idea that when that permanent pastor comes – they will be perfect and all of the problems will just go away because the new pastor will be imperfect, just like all of us, and we will still have work to do to keep going forward as a church.

The PNC committee has a helper, Rose Erickson from Onalaska who has been a worker in the Presbytary for many years.  She helps us get through the Presbyterian process.  She keeps reminding us that God is in charge of the process.  The truth is that, at first, when she said that I nodded my head but I thought “right, fine, but we’re going to get this done soon.  We need to get moving.”  Well guess what?  Rose was right, darn it, God is in charge of this process and it will be competed in God’s time not ours.  We need to have faith.

Within the family we need to have faith and to treat each other with love.  Then there is the challenge of what do we need to do outside of this sanctuary and how to reach all of those people who haven’t come to church, most of whom never will set foot in this sanctuary?

For them, and for us, we need to decide whether WPC is a club or a church?  A club worries about its membership and its dues and its budget.  A club will worry about fixing the building.  There are elements of a club that are part of this church and they need to be because we do need to pay attention to our budget and fix our beams when they slip.  But if that’s all we worry about at WPC the church won’t go on because clubs are dying in America.  Rotary, Elks, Eagles etc.  Generally speaking people under 40 won’t join clubs – for many reasons.  But the good news is that they will join causes.

The purpose of a church is different than that of a club.  The primary purpose of The Church worldwide and of WPC was told to us by Jesus in the last thing he said on earth before he ascended.  The Great Commission.  He said:  “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you.”

There is the main purpose of this church.

But what does it mean for WPC?  I don’t stand here with the answers but I’ll give you some opinions.  I’m pretty sure that for this church it doesn’t mean we will go door to door carrying our Bible.  But maybe it means that we need to be flexible in thinking about where we hold service, when and how?  Maybe we’ll decide that to reach young single parents in this community we need to hold a service at Stan Hedwall park on Saturday evenings?  Maybe it will mean we need to create a Hispanic service here or somewhere else.  Maybe.

It wasn’t that long ago that everybody in America got the same picture of what happened I the last day.  You could choose to watch the news from Walter Chronkite, Huntley-Brinkley or whoever read the news on ABC.  We all had about the same information on what happened.  But today, if you are conservative you can watch FOX or if you are liberal you can watch MSNBC or CNN.  Or you can find one of thousands of blogs to tell you what happened.  Of course the trouble is that now we don’t even agree on what happened today, let alone what we should do in response.  Same with music.  Used to be here you could listen to KELA AM.  Then along came KITI and then FM and now, with more than 1000 stations on cirrius radio or the IPOD you can spend all day in your car and just listen to Bluegrass music, or just organ music, or just classical piano.  Whatever you want and only what you want.

With that, my opinion only here, the idea that we are going to create one service that will have the music and the style that will appeal, across the board, to everybody who might want to come here for worship is highly unlikely.  If that’s true we need to be flexible and be willing to rethink how WPC carries out the great commission. I think it may be that in the next six months or so we may need to return to one service, but longer term I think we may need to look to create new and different ways of reaching out and doing worship.

The good news is that people are attracted to organizations that have a worthwhile mission and are carrying it out.  That’s our opportunity to go forward as a congregation.

To go forward we can take Paul’s list of the qualities of Love and apply them to WPC

Love –

Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.