How do you turn a church around?
This was the question on the minds of a congregation up in Billerica.
They wanted to turn their church around.
Now when I say that they wanted to turn their church around I don’t mean that
they were unhappy with their fellow parishioners. Au contraire! They were a
wonderful congregation. Nor were they disappointed in the clergy. He was a
good, sensitive pastor.
No, they wanted to turn their church around physically.
It was 1844 and this was the First Parish Church of Billerica, a church in the
Unitarian-Universalist tradition - one of those beautiful white clapboard
churches, built on the Town Common, of which we New Englanders are so proud.
But the building faced north. They wanted it to face the East. They wanted this
because so many of the great religious traditions of the world come from the
East - Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Turning a church around was no small matter. They developed all kinds of
engineering plans for the project.
One plan was to jack the church up off its foundation. Once it was up they’d
push large timbers under the building from one side to the other and they’d get
a lot of men to lift the timbers and try to walk the church around. The problem?
There weren’t enough men in the town to lift that kind of weight. Plan after plan
Then, someone remembered that there was a long horizontal beam that ran the
length of the church under the floor. It rested on a vertical column that reached
up from the ground. He had an idea. He felt that you could hollow out a rounded
niche on the vertical column and another one on the horizontal beam - and you
could fit a cannonball between them and perhaps move the church that way.
That’s exactly what they did. They jacked the church up, hollowed out those
beams, lowered the church on the cannonball, and swung the church until it
faced the east. With the cannonball as a pivot the job took just 15 minutes.
Here at Christ the King we face the south, but rest assured we won’t be turning
the church around anytime soon.
In the Gospel we see Jesus turn the Temple around – upside down would be
more apt. Physically (turning over tables)and spiritually. He goes into this
sacred place and cleanses it. This was so shocking the leaders begin to plot his
The Temple in Jerusalem had become a den of buying and selling - all distracting
people from prayer. It was meant to be holy. Jesus turned their tables upside
His purpose was to get us to see things in a new way. He was interested in
these temples - our hearts and bodies - where God dwells and prayer is
Lent is a great time for cleansing this temple, for turning this church around.
Most of us don’t need to make a 90 degree turn but maybe just a few degrees.
What pivot can we use? What cannonball, to use the metaphor?
One might be the Ten Commandments, from today’s first reading.
There’s one God. You shall not have others. What is it we worship? Do we
place God clearly above all other people and things? Or, do we sometimes
worship other things - pleasure / power / money / material things / status /
You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain. Do I disrespect God with my
speech? Sometimes when we’re light with the name of God that signals the fact
that deep down I really don’t respect God.
Remember to keep holy the Sabbath Day. It may sound like preaching to the
choir but the Lord wants our bodies and souls right here in this place.
Worshipping God is a commandment that has never changed. He wants our
bodies and our hearts here - even when we may not find the Mass entertaining
or tedious. We signal that God comes first when we worship.
Honor your father and your mother. What’s going on within my family. How are
the relationships? Some of the worst grudges come within our families. Some
of the most violent crimes come within our families.
You shall not kill. I suspect there are no true murderers here today, but do I
enhance the lives of others or take life away from them by my speech.
You shall not commit adultery. While the Bible is clearly not obsessed with sex it
does command that our sexuality is given to us as a gift for the building of the
human spirit. If I simply ‘use’ others or if I’m indifferent to how my selfishness
can hurt others- I’ve failed to give the other the dignity they deserve.
You shall not steal. This can happen in big ways and in small ways. A little here,
a little there. It can happen on a computer. It happens on a large scale with
corporations. Remember Enron. There are many like them.
Stealing also happens when we bear false witness against a person’s good
name. Gossip steals.
And coveting – desiring what another has. Sometimes we desire things that
other people desire. This leads to conflict and unhappiness.
How do I turn this church around?
What would Jesus expel in me?
Allow the Lord to move through your temple& turn the tables upside down.