Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Big churches can be glorious: The programs, the huge choirs, the enormous staffs, the campuses with multiple buildings, the parking lots. In our day and age when everybody expects to have their needs met not sometime in the future, but right now, it’s easy to see why big churches keep getting bigger, while small churches are left wondering if they’ll still be here in a hundred years.
So we get discouraged when we compare ourselves to a megachurch. They really do have something wonderful going on. Just this year, in fact, a local La Jolla congregation decided to give up being the church as they’d known it. The work was just too difficult and the future too uncertain. They still had a congregation, and I guess they kept it, but they decided to cease being the church they’d been and allowed a megachurch to move in and be the church for them.
I’m not saying a megachurch is not a church, or that they don’t share the gospel, or that their members aren’t real Christians. I’m just saying they’re different from a small church. And they usually get a lot more attention.
And so when I hear the words of Jesus at the beginning of this morning’s New Testament reading, “Don’t be afraid, little flock, for God’s future is your future,” I feel like he’s talking directly to me and you. I’m sure God’s promise is to the faithful of big churches as well as to small ones. But hearing Jesus so lovingly address his ragtag band of followers as a “little flock” gives me reason to hope that God loves small churches as much as God loves big ones. Though we have to pray for our daily bread more fervently than megachurches do, God still hears our prayers.
I’m going to be heading back to my hometown in northeastern Kentucky this week, and when I’m there I worship at one of two churches in Ohio. I love both old churches, but I am very confident that neither of them will still be opening their doors in a hundred years. I’m not even sure I’d give them five years at the rate they’re going. It’s not that their members didn’t pray hard enough or were too unwilling to be the body of Christ. But their communities simply moved away from them. They’re both urban churches in places where the city just dwindled.
When our La Jolla ancestors built a church on this corner, I’m sure they, too, must’ve been comforted by the words, “Don’t be afraid, little flock, for God’s future is your future.” They had faith that we’d be here in a hundred years, looking at the time capsule they placed in the cornerstone.
And they were right. No, we hadn’t become a megachurch. But they didn’t exactly build us a mega-building, did they? We’re still a little flock, and we still need to hear Jesus tell us not to be afraid as we place back in the cornerstone the things we want people in the year 2116 to know were important to us. We still baptize our children with the old formula. We still repeat Jesus’ words when we gather around the table, “This is my body,” and “This is my blood.” And every time we come together, we still pray not for more than we need in order to be secure for years into the future, but that God will “give us this day our daily bread.”
So don’t be afraid, little flock. God’s future is our future. We don’t know that future, but we trust that those who come after us will be faithful to word and sacrament, and that they will continue to welcome people into their community. We will leave this place with many of God’s promises still unfulfilled in our lives. But so did our 1916 ancestors. And just as we are the fulfillment of promises made to them, so our descendants will realize many of our hopes.
When God promised Abraham and Sarah a future, they had to believe in something they’d never live to see, for faith, as the writer of Hebrews defined it, “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” And who knows what that unseen future holds. But there are some things that I hope for the denizens of La Jolla in the 22nd century. I hope that there’s a church at the corner of Cave and Ivanhoe. And when they point to the table that sits in the middle of that church, I hope that they’ll still be saying to people, as we do, that no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here.
Because you really are. You’re welcome here. If you’ve been here a thousand times before, come. And if you’ve never laid eyes on this table before, come, for it’s the same table that stands in all churches. If you’ve been faithful to God in your recent past, then come, give thanks, and pray for strength to share your faithfulness with your sisters and brothers. If you’ve been unfaithful, then please, for goodness’ sake, come. Ask forgiveness, and receive what God has to offer you. If you have all you think you need, then come, and receive what you didn’t know you needed. And if what you lack is overwhelming you, come, be nourished with something the world can never offer you.
Today’s reading from Luke ended with the words, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The things of this world can never be part of us—at least not permanently. But the more closely we identify with them, the harder it is for us to be separated from them, as someday we must. But there are other treasures—ones which can indeed become an integral part of who we are.
This bread and wine represent the greatest treasure on earth, for when we take it we remember all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ—in eating and drinking we receive heaven in our hearts. And if heaven is in our hearts, we are in heaven, and nothing can change that. So don’t be afraid, little flock: The table is set, God’s future is your future, and your future is in God.
—©2016 Sam L. Greening, Jr.