Minute for Mission: February 16, 2014

February 16, 2014
Capital Campaign Minute for Mission
Craig Wrisberg

Hope is mentioned often in scripture so it’s only fitting that this concept be included in the overarching theme of our capital campaign, “Heritage, Heart, and Hope.” During the Babylonian captivity, God told the prophet Jeremiah to encourage the people of Israel with the following words: For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11)

While praying about what to say in this Minute for Mission my thoughts kept going back to Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of Heaven found in Matthew 25. In verses 14-30 Jesus likens his kingdom to a man who, before traveling to a far country, entrusts three of his servants with different sums of money. While he’s gone two of them work hard to return a profit on what they have been given. When the master finally returns he is greatly pleased to see the results of their efforts and richly rewards them both.

One commentator has noted four essential ingredients within this account: resources (i.e., the talents, or money, the servants received), work and time (i.e., what they did with the money in the allotted time), and results.1 Like the master in Jesus’ story, God provides us with resources and expects us to put them to good use. He is not harsh, nor does he expect us to do the impossible. God does, however, expect us to do the best we can with what we’ve been given. Without question, God has provided First Presbyterian Church “exceeding resources” in the generous gift of Mrs. Kaptola McMurry. The question is: What are we going to do with them “for Christ in the heart of Knoxville?”

Among the kinds of work Jesus encouraged of his followers–as mentioned later on in Matthew 25–were things like “feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, taking in the stranger, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and those in prison.” Whether we view these examples as actual or metaphorical, it’s clear that God expects us to use a good portion of the resources he has given us in the service of others—both inside and outside the walls of this building. Moreover, he rejoices with us whenever we accomplish his purposes.

We know from the New Testament that Jesus wanted his followers to take care of each other. First Church has certainly done that by serving as a site for worship, prayer, teaching, music, fellowship, and various forms of individual and corporate ministry over the past 220 years. We also have a strong history of ministry to non-members. Currently we serve over 50 groups that reach over 5000 people in and around our city. Among the local missions that take place right here inside this building are Family Promise of Knoxville, the FISH pantry, Parents’ Day Out, the Community School of the Arts, and the Jesus’ Friends class (a weekly meeting of hymn singing and Bible study for mentally-challenged adults).

Given our history of ministry, how might our proposed building renovation offer additional hope for us—the members of First Church—as well as for those on the “outside,” an increasing number of whom have moved to or are living in the downtown Knoxville area? From a ministry standpoint, perhaps the “crown jewel” of the proposed renovation is improved access into and around this facility—a more welcoming feel if you will. I must confess that as a member of First Church since 1985 I still occasionally find myself getting lost when moving about this place. Moreover, I shudder whenever a visitor gets that puzzled look on her face because I know she’s going to ask me, “How do I get to (fill in the blank) in here?” In some ways, I think the people of this church have performed their many ministries over the years in spite of the configuration of the building rather than because of it. If our architects are able to achieve the goal of “free and easy access,” then we all will have the hope of spending less time getting from here to there and more time experiencing the blessings of ministry and membership. As for the people in our neighborhood who pass us by on a regular basis, some might even stop wondering, “what’s going on in there” and actually feel compelled to come in and check us out. And once they get inside—well most of us know what might happen then. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to seek bold and innovative strategies for attracting their attention—because that’s arguably more important than the mere renovation of a church structure; that is if we really want to be a place that offers them hope for the future.

Recently, my wife shared with me an experience she had with a child of one of our Family Promise visitors. Sue had decided to take the little girl into our sanctuary to show her where we worship God in this place. After looking around for more than a few seconds, the child looked up at Sue and said, “I can feel Jesus in here.” Who knows how God might use that single experience in this place in that one child’s life? This renovation promises to enhance the spaces in our facility so that more little kids like her—as well as their parents—can have the hope of experiencing God’s love in a special way.

At the Centennial Anniversary of First Presbyterian Church in 1896, the Reverend James Park declared that, “Only Almighty God who knows all things, knows what has been accomplished for the good of men, the welfare of this land, and the glory of his name by this church in the one hundred years now gone.”2 I think it’s fair to say that Almighty God continues to expect of us good stewardship of the resources he has given us to provide hope for future generations of this congregation and the people of this fair city.

1Retrieved from https://bible.org/seriespage/parable-talents-matthew-2514-30-luke-1912-28 (February 10, 2014).

2Retrieved from http://knoxcotn.org/research-aids/50-religion/133-centennial-anniversary-of-first-presbyterian-church-knoxville (February 10, 2014).