There is an amazing process of restoration taking place at Mount Vernon Place right now. If you walk through the 1917 historic building, you can see the original brick walls, along with the metal casing for new walls that will be installed. It is quite remarkable to see the building being turned from something so old into something seemingly new and spectacular.
In addition to the interior of the church, much of the exterior is also being transformed and restored, including the lights.
The existing lights were all removed a few months ago, and a sample photo of the restoration was recently returned. It is amazing to see the difference.
It seems as though layers of paint and other chemicals have been added to the fixtures through the years. The paint was intended to help the fixtures - to make them look better. Yet, the paint covered the core of their beauty. The paint prohibited the fixtures from shining.
I have thought a lot about the fixtures as I share the photos with people who come to my office. I wonder what else the church has covered - how many layers have been added on top of the original state or purpose of the church.
The church exists for the transformation of the world. The church is Christ's body in the world and is called to be a vehicle through which real change occurs as we seek to love God and neighbor with all that we have, all that we are, and all that we do. Yet, somehow this core is too often covered with other layers of stuff. The stuff is intended to help. It is intended to add to the structure. Yet, the stuff has little to do with what it means to be a church. It often takes away from the church's original purpose - from its original, spectacular beauty.
We had a lot of 'stuff' happening at Mount Vernon Place when I got here two years ago. There were several activities, concerts, performances, meetings, and events happening nearly all of the time. Yet, new people were not coming in. Lives were not being changed, touched and transformed. The church's core purpose had been covered with all kinds of stuff - but the stuff was not necessary (or had little to do) with the proclamation of the Gospel.
When I come to Mount Vernon Place now, I see all kinds of beauty. I see beauty in the diversity of the congregation - in a community where all are welcome and accepted just as they are. I see beauty in the 25 people who raised over $500 for Rachael's Women's Center on Sunday by participating in a mini-walk to Help the Homeless. I see beauty when people come and study the scriptures for the first time. I see beauty when we go and serve at Calvary Women's Center one Sunday night a month. I see beauty when a baby smiles as I preach while people pass him around. I see beauty when a 93-year-old woman nearly dances in the front row to "This Little Light of Mine." I see beauty when Larry plays his violin, offering a wonderful gift to the congregation.
I see beauty - not because we are entertaining others or taking care of ourselves or doing what we have always done before. I see beauty because we are trying to remove all the layers of paint - the layers of things that do not matter when it comes to being the church - the body of Christ in the world.
There is a spectacular beauty that shines when we gather - a powerful light that shines, and the darkness has never overcome this light.
Thanks be to God! Amen.