Familiar and New

Psalm 25:1-8

This day is a long time coming.  It has been more than three years, almost four, since we began planning for this renovation. It has been a long time coming.  We have not worshiped together in this sanctuary since May 21st — that’s 18 weeks we’ve been away.

During the time when we’ve been away, this building has changed, and we have changed, too. Let’s take a little time now, to notice.  Look around the room; look into your own heart. I ask you to think for a moment about three questions: What is the same? What is different? And how do you feel?

(The congregation shared its observations…)

So, we bring all of this: our memories of what was, our feelings today, our anticipation about what is to come, as we worship this morning.

I have to admit that when I imagined coming back into our building after the renovation I imagined something a little different than what’s happening here today. I imagined a “grand re-opening.”  It was going to happen in September. There would be a big celebration that was really well-planned ahead of time. Maybe there would be balloons, or everyone would process through the new entryway, or a brass band would come. We would be so excited to see everything fixed and finished.

But as construction moved along, it became more and more clear that our first time coming back into our building wouldn’t be like that.  A competitive construction season slowed us up. One of our sinks got stuck in Texas, our countertops are still traveling towards us from China, and our moveable platform won’t be ready for another two weeks. The new entryway is not done. The painting is not done. We did not even know for certain whether we would be allowed to be in here today until mid-afternoon on Friday.

So, instead of a grand re-opening, we have today what you might call a “soft open.”  Everyone worked incredibly hard this week to get us to where we are this morning, but there is plenty yet to do.

I won’t pretend that I haven’t gotten frustrated during the process.  Construction dates and details kept changing and so our plans had to change again and again. But I will say this: I think it’s better this way.

I think it’s better this way, because our first time worshiping here was never going to feel like we had really arrived. Some of us are mourning what used to be. All of us need time to adjust to the changes. Our spirits take coaxing to feel completely at home.

I think it’s better this way for another reason, too. There will never be any illusion that our building is perfect.  Everything is still in process, and even the parts of our building which are finished are not perfect. Our newly refinished floor has already been scratched. The new paint has already been smudged.

Sometimes, we like to pretend at church that we have it all together: the correct beliefs, the right behavior, an enviable life, a great show that we put on for one another.  But church isn’t about having it all together.  We’re never finished. We’re never perfect. In fact, the stories of our tradition have a completely different narrative.

We come to the book, and we read the work of the psalmist, who writes: “To you, O lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust.” We don’t know much about the psalm writer, but the psalm makes it sound like she has been through a lot. She has enemies.  She has made mistakes.  She is messy. And in her messiness she turns to God for guidance, goodness, mercy, and steadfast love.

We come to the table, where we give thanks for the acts of God throughout history. And the one thing we always remember, when we gather at the table, is the story of Jesus.  We thank God for the gift of Jesus: Jesus, who lived for us, and who was willing to die for us. Jesus, of whose broken life God made something beautiful: a resurrected Christ who lives on in the church today.

We come to the font, where we remember how God has moved over the waters from the beginning of time, and in the waters of the wombs that held each of us before we were born. At the font, we are invited to renounce evil, be free from sin, and be born again in to a new life. We are blessed by God’s spirit and bound to God’s people.

Church is not about having it all together. It is about bringing ourselves, just as we are, with our mistakes and our tragedies, and seeing what beautiful things God might be able to do with them.

Today we have new furniture to help us to remember the word, and celebrate the meal, and be washed by water and the Spirit. Ann Schummers brought over our bible, which is now in its rightful place, in a pulpit that was made  to fit it. I baked some bread to bless our first meal at the table, and Susan Coppock brought flowers to brighten it. Some of you have brought water from many places to bless the font. I invite you to come forward, and tell us where the water is from; we will respond, Thanks be to God.

(Folks came forward with water from Lake Michigan; Verona, Italy; Zürich, Switzerland; Slovakia; London; Great East Lake, NH; Assabet River under Pine St. bridge; Lac Tremblant Nord, Québec, Canada; Lake Shirley, Lunenberg, MA; Cannon Beach, OR;  Québec, Canada; Tanglewood MA;  Pacific Ocean, San Diego, CA; Sheep Pond in Brewster, MA;  Lake Ossipee, NH; Hog Island, ME; Lake Washington, NH ; Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard, MA; Wells, ME;  Nile River;  Walden Pond;   Prince Edward Island, Canada; Myrtle Beach, SC; West Concord)

Let’s join together in blessing our furniture and this renovated sanctuary:

Holy God, whom the heavens cannot contain,
We give you thanks for the generosity of those who have built and rebuilt this house of prayer.
We praise you for the fellowship of those who through their prayer have made it holy.
As we gather now, we dedicate this space once again to your worship,
And ask for your blessing.
Bless this pulpit, that the words shared here might be true to your gospel.
Bless this table, that the meals shared here might be full of your presence.
Bless this font, filled with water from so many holy places,
that those who are baptized and who remember their baptisms
May find freedom, renewal, and unity with your church and with your creation.
Bless all who gather to worship here, that seeking you, we may find you;
And that our hearts might be filled with joy and peace. Amen.