SCRIPTURE – Jeremiah 29:11 – For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Imagine A Church…
Sept. 30, 2012
I have a story to tell you. I don’t know how much of it is accurate, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s true. In 1981, the New York Yankees and the Oakland A’s were battling to see which team would advance in the playoffs. The series was dominated by names like Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson and Goose Gossage, but there’s another name you need to know: Krazy George Henderson.
Legend has it that Krazy George was a rabid A’s fan, who would show up at games fully decked out in his team’s gear and carrying a drum, which he would beat into submission to encourage the A’s to do the same to the opposition. With his wild eyes and Einstein-like hair, Krazy George looked like an elderly cheerleader who just been struck by lightning. But his fanaticism for the team was contagious.
On this particular night, the A’s weren’t doing so well, and Krazy George was frantically trying to rally the crowd to cheer on the home team. Using his trusty drum to sound a call to arms, he encouraged the section where he was to all stand at once and raise their arms in the air as a show of support. They did, and when the section next to them saw this, they did the same, a few seconds after the first one. And then the section next to them did it, and the section next to them, until each section in the stadium stood and raised their arms in succession.
You know what Krazy George Henderson created that night in the Oakland Coliseum? It was the Wave. Journalist Dev Seidman wrote this about the phenomenon: “The wave is an extraordinary act. All those people spread out over a vast stadium, with limited ability to connect and communicate, somehow come together in a giant cooperative act inspired by a common goal: to help the home team win. It defies language and culture, occurring regularly throughout the world at Tower of Babel events as diverse as the Olympics…It transverses gender, income, and societal status. It is the pure expression of collective passion released.”
I love that last line! “The pure expression of collective passion released.” That story got me to thinking: “What could we at Crestwood do to be the pure expression of collective passion released?” After all, we have a lot of similarities with a stadium doing the Wave. We are diverse group of people who, outside of this place, collectively communicate and connect only in a limited way. We are all gathered here for a common purpose: not to help the home team win, but to praise our Head Coach and learn how execute the Playbook. And our gathering transcends gender, income and societal status. If a stadium full of fans can join together in a common endeavor as powerful as the Wave, what can we as a church accomplish when we unite our minds, our hearts, and our resources toward a common goal?
That’s what this year’s Stewardship Campaign is all about. It’s called “Imagine a Church…” and the ellipses at the end is intentional. We are one cusp of something incredibly exciting here at Crestwood. All the signs are pointing toward God using us in amazing and humbling ways. Forty new members so far this year. A Children’s Wing that is bursting at the seams with kids. A building that is being used every night of the week from groups ranging from Alcoholics Anonymous to the Boy Scouts to the Orchid Society. A commitment to outreach that is touching countless lives. I believe God’s Spirit is stirring up something here at Crestwood, and I want to encourage you to imagine what that might be.
What we do when we imagine what we can’t yet see is we engage in the process of vision-casting. That’s a crucial step for us to know where God is calling us to be. If we just sit back and wait for it to happen, it may never happen. But when we dare to cast a vision, when we dare to imagine the ways God might work through us, we are paving the way for the Holy Spirit to guide us into our future. In 1774, the leader of an upstart group of rebels declared, “Someday, I see a union of 13 states, a new nation, independent from the Parliament and the King of England.” In 1963, a black preacher boldly proclaimed his dream about racial equality and people being judged by the content of their character. Both John Adams and Rev. Martin Luther King were casting a vision of what they could not yet see, but believed to be true.
Peter Senge defines vision as “the picture we carry around in our heads of what we want to create, a sense of commonality which binds people together for the greater good and uplifts people’s aspirations.” Researcher George Barna says it another way: “Vision is not dreaming the impossible dream, but dreaming the most possible dream.” As Christians, we are called to look forward and see where God is out ahead of us, beckoning us forward to join God in the future. That’s what Jeremiah is reminding the people in exile. God is out in front of us, making plans for us to prosper, giving us hope. Our job is to open the eyes of our imagination wide enough to see it.
But that’s a lot easier said than done, isn’t it? After all, there’s so much in the here and now that demands our attention, and it’s really easy to get so wrapped up in the day-to-day that we shut our eyes to the future. But we can’t see what God wants us to see if we have our eyes closed, our heads down, our goal being simply to put one foot in front of the other. Hey, we could do that, as people and as a church. We could simply strive to make it from Sunday to Sunday, keep the lights on and the grape juice flowing. But I have to think that God has called us to so much more than that!
Being willing to open ourselves to the future and imagine who God is calling us to be can be exhilarating, but it can also be scary. God may be calling us to be more than we think we can be. It may frighten us to think about stepping out so boldly. We may be like the man who walks into an optometrist’s office. His hair is frazzled, his eyes are wild, his legs are shaking. He says to the doctor, “Doc, I’d like to see things a little LESS clearly.” If we allow ourselves to fully imagine who God is calling us to be, the magnitude of what God might do through us can be downright scary.
At my last church, our administrative board was reviewing a long-range plan that we had just completed. There was general consensus that the plan was good, but one person spoke up and said, “I’ll say it if nobody else will. The Long-Range Planning Team has put a lot of work into this, and I only see one problem – it’s crazy! This is impossible!” Now, I’ve seen what our ministry teams want to do next year. I’ve seen how they want to change lives and make a difference at Crestwood, in Lexington, and beyond. And I would offer the same critique – the plans are not just ambitious, they are crazy! Your church leaders have very active imaginations, because they’ve imagined a church that is even more than we already are.
Which is exactly what we should be doing. When the board member finished her statement about the plan being impossible, I said, “Good! That’s how we know it’s from God.” The world is full of people and churches who stop one question short of finding an avenue to fulfill God’s vision for them, who search and search until they find a good reason NOT to follow God’s leading. Crestwood, let’s not be one of those churches. Let’s dream and imagine who God wants us to be, then let’s commit together to doing the impossible.
We’re going to spend a lot of time next year imagining together. We’ll be entering into a vision process, a process which will engage the whole congregation and let everyone have a voice. We’re not going to lock five people in a room and tell them they can’t come out until they’ve got a plan for us. We’re going to give each one of you the chance to imagine what Crestwood will look like in the future. The result of this process will be a clearer picture of who Crestwood is and who God is calling us to be. This doesn’t mean that we’re somehow not doing God’s work right now. We most certainly are! We have a ton of oars in the water, don’t we? My hope is to get them all rowing in the same direction, so that we become the pure expression of collective passion released.
Now, the moment in the stewardship sermon you’ve all been waiting for: it’s going to take money to do this. Of course it is! We’re all investing in God’s work through Crestwood, and in order to reach out and claim the future God has for us, we have to each commit to funding that work. This is an incredibly generous church, and the ministers and staff are blessed to see examples of that all the time. Yes, the imaginations of our ministry teams have been working overtime, and the things they have dreamed about are amazing. But we won’t be able accomplish even one of those things without your prayers, your participation, and your pledges.
A lot of time, the concept of stewardship is individually focused. “You need to give because it’s what you are supposed to do as a Christian and God loves a cheerful giver.” And that’s true, for sure. But here’s what excites me most when I think about what my family and I are going to pledge to Crestwood. We are participating in something that’s so much bigger than we are, joining together with each one of you to take all our dreams about this church and make them a reality. I imagine the lives that we are going to change together, I imagine the ways that God will work through us, I imagine the difference we can make in the life of a kid who comes to VBS or a homeless person who stays with our Room in the Inn program or a guest in worship who’s wondering if God really loves her and if there’s a place for her at Crestwood. And the coolest thing is that no matter what I or you imagine, God has something even bigger planned! It starts now, as we offer up our pledges to do God’s work in this world. How can God use your gift? How many lives will it impact? How will the pledge you become the pure expression of collective passion released? Can we really do that? It sounds crazy! It is crazy, but it’s also incredibly exciting. What can we accomplish when we work together for God’ s kingdom? Just imagine!