You can put the steeple in Hell for all I care!
I’m outta here!
The meeting from which
Carl Anders Anderson took his leave
with that definitive expression of frustration
must have been memorable. A real corker.
Sixty years later, Alof Carlson who had witnessed the whole thing told me,
the new pastor, all about it.
It was one of many colorful sub-plots related to the church’s rebuilding
after an all-consuming fire back in the 1920’s.
That the congregation had made the decision to dramatically pivot
its new structure on its foundation by 90 degrees
in order to make the hilltop entrance more readily accessible
had really impressed me.
To turn a whole church around, literally,
must have taken some heavy duty discussion!
After that, whether to position the little steeple that housed the bell
to the right or the left of the new front door—for that
be such a bone of contention
was hard for me to imagine.
(Oh, how green I still was at that point,
just four years into ordained ministry,
the veteran of a mere four annual meetings
and only 48 church council meetings).
You can put the steeple in Hell for all I care!
I’m outta here!
During my student years of seminary training,
while there had been extensive discussion
on the pastor’s role as preacher, worship leader, biblical exegete, community leader and soother of souls, there wasn’t a course on meetings.
Something of a deficit when you think about the frequency of meetings
over the course of any week in ministry:
annual meetings, council meetings, committee meetings,
task force meetings, ad hoc meetings, meetings to plan meetings,
meetings to debrief meetings…
It is a fact of life that
most if not all of us gathered here in the seminary chapel
will spend a lot of time in meetings.
Carl Anders Anderson’s Steeple in Hell declaration
came to mind recently as I listened to
a quieter account of an exit from a congregation.
A casual inquiry about which congregation an acquaintance attended
prompted the woman to admit
that she was in the process of drifting away
from a church where she had once been very active.
In fact, she had served on the church council.
And after a council meeting
consumed with protracted debate over
putting a padlock on the door of a new refrigerator,
she had said to herself, silently, I’m outta here.
It is so sad:
meetings convened in the name of the Triune God
that run amok
in large measure for lack of a proper agenda.
It is so sad and so unnecessary!
To discover of the antidote for meetings
that generate more heartburn
than hearts on fire for the gospel
we need look no further than today’s readings
from the letter to the Ephesians and the Gospel According to Matthew.
What if every church meeting were to begin with some version
of the prayer of the apostle prays in Ephesians 1:17-20:
Let us pray
that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of glory,
may give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation
as we come to know him,
with the eyes of our hearts enlightened,
we may know
what is the hope to which he has called us,
what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,
and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power
for us who believe
according to the working of his great power,
the very same power God put to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead. AMEN
A much shorter version could go something like:
Lord, the immeasurable power you’ve given to us, your church,
is nothing less than the same power
you used to raise Jesus from the dead.
So if what we have planned for this meeting
could be addressed with
than the level of power needed to raise the dead
send us home now. AMEN
Or even briefer:
Lord, keep us mindful of the power you entrust to us
and grant us wisdom and courage to tackle any agenda worthy of that power for the sake our neighbor. In Christ’s name, amen!
Next, for the building of agendas worthy of
the power God put to work raising Jesus from the dead,
we need look no further than
the Gospel according Matthew, chapter 25.
All by itself,
the 25th chapter of Matthew offers
enough worthy agenda grist
to keep any church meeting sufficiently occupied
until the Second Coming—which is exactly the point
of what Jesus is doing here in the 25th chapter, beginning with
No Bridesmaid Left Behind.
Behind every bridesmaid who shows up without extra oil
is a slacker big sister or elder cousin or aunt who has failed to pass on
a critical bit of wedding wisdom—
the groom is always, always, always going to be late! So, be prepared!
For 21st century agenda building, this could translate into
consideration of everything possible to keep the congregation in top form
for passing on to the next generation
everything there is to know about The Bridegroom, aka—Jesus.
Same chapter, second parable:
Parable of the Talents.
Did the one-talent hole digger really dig his own grave all by himself?
Or was his fatal miscalculation regarding the Master’s true nature and appetite for risk
actually a colossal agenda failure on the part of a whole community in communicating
the Master’s true nature?
Here, a second agenda item builds on the first:
first learn all you can about Jesus,
and then whenever and wherever there are people
motivated by fear digging holes to hide in,
shine some resurrection light on the subject.
Do exactly what Carl Anders Anderson suggested:
Care enough to put the steeple in that hell of ignorance
and ring down its walls.
Fling wide the door, unbar the gate,
unlock the fridge, for pity’s sake!
Lastly, what the final parable in the series in Matthew 25 does
is demonstrate what grows out of
agendas that are relentlessly focused on sharing Jesus and
the power that raises Jesus from the dead
in meeting after meeting after meeting.
With that kind of practice, over time certain things
are just going to become second nature,
just part of what we do,
the agenda items we know we are called to tackle
being who we are, being whose we are,
being members of the body of Jesus Christ who was
crucified, descended into hell and raised from the dead.
We’d be getting up from the table ready with a plan
to be the hands God needs for God’s power to work in the world:
for sustaining nourishment for the hungry,
supplying clean, plentiful water for the parched and the fracked,
creating new clothes for the dignity-stripped and trafficked,
raising up roofs for the evicted,
dispensing health care for the vulnerable,
and lining up to accompany the incarcerated with compassion.
Not because we have to,
not because it keeps us sheep-side instead of goat-side,
but because we, being who and whose we are,
cannot resist any opportunity
to put our steeples in hell, to hold our meetings in the deepest holes
and refuse to leave until we’ve rung all the brothers and all the sisters out.
Here ends chapter 25.
Ready to adjourn?
Don’t you want to know what happens next?
The Gospel according to Matthew, the 26th chapter, verse one:
When Jesus finished saying all these things,
he said to his disciples, I’m outta here!
Anybody wanna’ come with?