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Of Monuments and Buildings ~ Romans 12: 1-8, Matthew 16: 13-20

With all that is going on in our world, our nation, and right here at church, it is good to remember what binds us together: Jesus Christ–“the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” as Peter declares to Jesus as they come into the district of Caesarea Philippi.

Sometimes we lose that essential: you and I have been given new life in Jesus Christ – we therefore present our bodies as living sacrifices – not being conformed to this world – but being transformed by the renewing of our minds (which is the translation of the biblical word REPENT) we have a new mind for a new age.

Remember, you are beloved of God, just as you are. Don’t think of yourself more highly (or less) than you ought to think, but never forget who you are and whose you are. And then go act like you believe it to be true.

We don’t come together because we agree on everything, but because we share a common concern to be the people of God, to discern God’s will for us at this time, and to offer our gifts whatever they may be, as Paul reminds us!

I need to hear this, and remind myself of the gospel because I can get all worked up; overwhelmed. I know there are those of you who still are concerned about the call of a Co-Pastor and feeling unsettled about how to talk about race. In the aftermath of Charlottesville, there is still such tension.

But I see all of this as the coming of a new age – shaken and stirred – something is happening amidst it all. And our job is not to cling to the past, or protect the status quo, or to live in fear, but to point ahead, to be the people of God.

God is calling us to be the church – this is exciting stuff!

We are in a Kairos moment – this time is rich and full, and we don’t know how it will play out but play out it will. I am not sure if I have ever been more excited about ministry.

I have been thinking a lot about the statues of confederate generals and “heroes” and how we remember our past. Honestly, until two weeks ago, I never really thought about it. Never really had to. I grew up in Arlington, VA where Robert E. Lee had his mansion (now Arlington Cemetery). I lived not too far from the Jefferson-Davis highway (he was the President of the Confederacy.) My neighborhood was called “Tara” – I never really thought about it much as the name of the plantation from “Gone With the Wind.”

The black communities were a few blocks away.

I went to Yorktown High and our rivals were Washington and Lee: Really? Lee is to be held in the same esteem as the “father of our nation?” Never really thought about that either.

I am one of those guys who love to wander around graveyards looking at tombstones, I love history – and I have always marveled at statues and monuments in museums, parks and battlefields. Yes, monuments and statues tell us a lot about history and the myths of our culture.

There is a statue of George Washington in the Smithsonian American History looking like Caesar. There is the statue of FDR with Fala, his little dog. There is the statue of Mary McLeod Bethune in Lincoln Park in DC holding the cane given to her by FDR. There is the statue of Dr. King emerging from a block of granite.

Statues and monuments do tell us a lot about ourselves. It is nothing new. As St. Paul said to the people of Athens, “Wow, you have a lot of statues to the gods…. You must really be religious!” Folks of Athens probably didn’t really notice, really didn’t think about it.

Americans are a very historical people. How often do we really reflect upon that history?

Until Charlottesville, I never really concerned myself with the statues of Nathan Bedford Forrest – Confederate General and founder of the KKK.

I admit I have mixed feelings – but I am a white guy, so I don’t know what it feels like to be a black person who everyday walks by the statues representing oppression, men who were rebels, fighting against our country.

That these statues were put up  50 years (mostly) after the Civil War ended is interesting. Just as Jim Crow was cranking up, why would we build those statues? Who was erecting them, with whose money and for what purpose? So I am conflicted but I understand those who say, “Tear them down.”

I like Gail Collin’s solution in the New York Times the other day. She thinks that every monument and statue should come with a 20-year expiration date. At the end of that time every community should decide whether to keep it or get rid of it.

This current question points to even larger issues, personally and institutionally. What monuments and statues in your own life do you need to take down or re-evaluate?

False expectations, looped messages, beliefs that don’t work any longer, statues of a past that no longer needs to be?

While we are arguing about the statues of the past, the real question is what are we trying to build? What kind of church are we trying to build together?

I don’t want to forget the past but as Jesus said: “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62) We have to be building something new, plowing ahead, not just maintaining a comfortable pew or a pretty building or a nice memor, or a monument or a tomb.

Jesus tells Peter (Aramaic name Cephas, meaning Rock) You are my rock – I am going to carve the church on YOU. The church is a living organism constructed on faith like Peter’s who recognizes in Jesus – the presence of the divine, the face of God. In Jesus we get to see who God is and what God wants, and how far God will go to bring all created matter into harmony.

Unfortunately, too many Christians and contemporary writers want to memorialize Jesus and build a monument to him in the church. I have mixed feelings because I love the cathedrals. I love the statues to the saints, and the tombs where the dead person has their hands crossed, with a little dog lying at the feet. I loved stained glass windows and all of it! The Spirit can be alive in these places, for sure.

I want this church to look its best and stand at the corner of Monticello and Lee (after Jefferson and the general?) for a long time. I love our liturgy and service, but once the church becomes brick and mortar, once the church becomes rules—a structure, an institution, locked in to tradition, or style – we have lost something defining.

Sometimes, not all the time–and please forgive me if this angers you, I don’t mean to–but sometimes it seems as if our priority as church is to maintain who and what we have been. And so a co-pastor seems wasteful and too risky, and talking about white privilege and racism is too hard and unsettling, and hosting the pantry gets the floors dirty.

We have built a great church – don’t mess with it! I feel the tension, trust me!

But following Jesus,  and building his church, is not about maintaining monuments and statues, whether of brick, stone or word. No, the church that we are building together must be alive and living, creative, and imaginative, risky, willing to fail, moving, reforming.

We don’t want to be conformed to this world – but lean into the growing edge – that is the only way to make it. Move towards the tension!

As we sang last Sunday: “Who will build this church now? We’ll build it together.” We’ll build it together upon the rock of the living Lord, presenting our bodies, our time, talents and treasures, NOT for the protection and upkeep of a monument, or a memory, but for the construction of a new church that discerns God’s mind and moves us closer to being the beloved community.

A new mind for a new age and a church to go with it is the only thing worth building And yes, it should come with a 20-year expiration date.

Amen.

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