Jesus – always turning the tables on the power-hungry

– Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Alexandria

“Instead, when you receive an invitation, go and sit in the least important place. When your host approaches you, he will say, ‘Friend, move up here to a better seat.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”

Luke 14:10-11

Sunday morning Rebekah and I went back to the Old Presbyterian Meeting House for 11:00 worship. It’s a wonderful space (originally built in 1775 in the Early Republic style) featuring a three-sided gallery upstairs reminiscent of the church I was raised in.

It was the perfect location for Saturday’s beautiful wedding (read: “Powerful antidote to our national deficit in belief“), but even more appropriate for both morning worship and the congregation’s ongoing witness to God’s grace and glory in the heart of Old Town Alexandria.

The sanctuary was filled with the sound of a magnificent pipe organ, thanks to organist and music director Steven Seigart, and it was a good place to be for the latest episode in the “Derek & Rebekah Go to Church” series.

There are two particular elements to the story that I want to share with you today. First, one hope-filled fact from the past. Second, the central idea in Rev. Robert Laha’s excellent message.

Hope from History:

Although the building dates from 1775 as a Presbyterian house of worship, the congregation dwindled in the years following the Civil War until the church eventually closed in 1899. The property was then maintained by 2nd Presbyterian Church and used as a museum and an occasional meeting place.

Then, in 1949, the site was re-occupied by a brand-new congregation, and the ministry of “the Old Presbyterian Meeting House” was established.

– Sunday morning, Aug 28

I find this good news in a day when many congregations, struggling with demographic shifts, indifference, and the aftermath of a momentum-killing pandemic, have either closed their doors or lost hope. But this is the gospel, and the church is in the good-news new-life business! It is not our church in the first place, it belongs to Jesus, and if we keep the life and the light of Jesus in the forefront of our purpose, then anything is possible.

Old bones; new life. It’s a great story and it is full with promise.

Seat Flipping:

I beg forgiveness if I misrepresent the preacher’s message in any way, but this is what I left worship with Sunday morning, so my caveat is that the words here represent what landed where I sat!

– during the message

Rev. Laha’s sermon was thorough, interesting, intelligent, and at the same time disarmingly simple. He referenced the political obsession with “flipping seats.” Seat-flipping is all about party-politics, gaining the upper hand, increasing a majority, and galvanizing partisan support around elections (nowadays it’s about the culture wars too). Then he pointed out, using the story Jesus told at a dinner party, how Jesus is – always – in the business of seat-flipping.

Jesus reminds his listeners that humility is always the best play, especially if we are interested in making any kind of a positive impact in this world. It’s another version of his “The first shall be last and the last shall be first” principle.

What I especially appreciated was Rev. Laha’s observation that, according to Jesus, the danger inherent in self-aggrandizement is that if we are not prepared to take ourselves down a notch or two, then – eventually – God is going to do it for us!

– “Derek & Rebekah go to church” (usually) at Hudson Memorial in Raleigh

There was a lot more to his message, but for me Sunday morning worship was a poignant reminder both that “The Church” is a beautiful, life-charged, eternal idea that’s so much bigger than our human failings… and that Jesus is always upending our concept of what power is, and who should be the first in line.

Peace and love – always – DEREK

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