The Church has set up seminaries to train ministers for ministry. Like most seminary students I did course work in Bible, Theology, History, Ethics, Education and Preaching. In four years of college and five years of graduate school I didn’t seem to find time to take the most important classes: How to put up tables and chairs. The proper adjustment of thermostats. Building bell towers. Raising funds to do special projects and programs. And of course you must raise the money, but you can’t ask for it, because that makes it sound like all you want is money. I have found that ministers cannot walk on water; but they do learn to swim, quickly.
All ministers have to face each day with a little humor. I am reminded of the story told by the late Grady Nutt. A pastor made a grief call. The house was full of people and the only place that seemed to give privacy was the bathroom. He sat on the bowl and she sat on the tub. Following their talk and a prayer, they both stood up. Without thinking, just out of habit, he flushed.
I am indebted to my predecessors who have done a wonderful job and have made my job much easier. In fact when we have an opportunity to chat, we have a lot to talk about. The Church somehow becomes home and there are many fond memories that call us back to this place. Agnes Gralman who ran a couple out of “her” pew. Wilda Woods who couldn’t hear but never missed. Melvin Smith who always had something positive to say. But the list goes beyond the memories of being baptized here, or married in this place. We’ve talked to God, here. As beautiful and accommodating as this building is, what makes this place special is not the facilities. It’s the congregation. It’s the Christians in this place. It speaks highly of this congregation to have fourteen Timothy’s in its 95 year history. Hillside Christian Church has always taken seriously the mandate to make disciples. MAT 28:19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit….” In that time there have been more than 2,500 baptized by this Church.
There is nothing else like the Church. The Church becomes a part of our lives. We find that it is for people who are not perfect, people like you and me. Most of us are there because we need help meeting the temptations that line our daily lives. A worship service is a time for us to take a good look deep within ourselves, and then to reach out in prayer for help for our weaknesses and sins. At frequent intervals we enter this place just to sit in this meaningful surrounding and think about the blessings that are ours. Blessings we didn’t earn, and maybe don’t deserve. To think about how we came to be and why. To measure our lives and the way we live.
Church attendance is infected with a malaise of conditional loyalty which has produced an army of ecclesiastical hitchhikers. The hitchhiker’s thumb says, “You buy the car, pay for repairs and upkeep and insurance, fill the car with gas – and I’ll ride with you. But if you have an accident, you are on your own! And I’ll probably sue.” So it is with the credo of so many of today’s church attenders: “You go to the meetings and serve on the boards and committees, you grapple with the issues and do the work of the church and pay the bills and I’ll come along for the ride. But if things do not suit me, I’ll complain and probably bail out – my thumb is always out for a better ride.”
I am mindful of the lady who refused to come to Church because she “got more” out of watching Robert Schuller. But when she was hospitalized no one from Crystal cathedral came. When she died, I buried her. Church has never been about what I get as much as what I give. Lord Jesus himself said: `It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” In a world that is entertainment oriented we are tempted to come to Church and say entertain me.
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Only the valiant can make the most of life. Sydney Smith said, “A great deal of talent is lost to the world for the want of a little courage.” Fear of failure is the father of failure. The main battlefield is in the heart and the chief foe is fear. It took courage for those 246 Christians to start a new congregation called Hillside, 95 years ago.
During that 95 years Hillside Christian Church has never lost or changed its identity, and has remained faithful to its calling. It has never been about a building, it has been about people. It has never given in to what the market demands or stooped to showmanship. Its message has been clear and its direction sure. We have never been a church of volunteers. We are a church that has been called. Not one of the 12 apostles was a volunteer. Jesus called each of them and they left everything behind for Jesus.
The story goes that when the temple of Solomon was in the course of construction all the stones sent up from the quarry below were practically of the same size and shape. But one day a stone was found different from all the rest, and the builders said, “There is no place for this stone. There must be a mistake.” So they rolled it to the edge of the cliff and tumbled it down into the valley of Kedron below the temple area. As the years went on (Solomon’s temple was seven years in building) they were finally ready for the chief corner-stone; so they sent down the order for it. They were told, “You must have it there; we sent it to you long ago.” Their search proved fruitless. And then an old workman said, “I remember now. There was a stone different from the rest and we thought there was no place for it and tumbled it down to the valley below.” So, as the story tells us, they went down to the valley of Kedron and there they found the stone, now covered by debris — the very stone the builders rejected. So now they had to hoist it to the top of the cliff, then back to the platform and put it into place. It fit perfectly. The stone the builders rejected had become the head stone of the corner. Every Jew knew that story and knew what Peter meant when he said, “This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner.” Jesus was God’s Anointed and you rejected Him, crucified Him, but God has raised Him from the dead and in resurrection has made Him the chief cornerstone of the new temple He is building, the Church spoke of in Matthew’s Gospel, “Upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”