1 Kings 8:22-24 & 27
It’s hard to believe now, but the potato was once a highly unpopular food. When first introduced into England towards the end of the 1580s, the early printing presses were used to condemn the potato, ministers preached sermons against it, and the general public wouldn’t touch it. It was alleged to sterilize the soil in which it had been planted, and cause all manner of strange illnesses, even death. A few realised the benefits of potatoes for relieving famine and feeding the poor, but they didn’t succeed in persuading people.
A Frenchman named Parmentier took a different tack. He planted potatoes on his farm, and when it was time to dig them, at his own expense, he hired a few soldiers to patrol all sides of his famous potato patch during the daytime. Meanwhile he conducted distinguished guests through the fields, digging a few tubers here and there, which they devoured with evident relish. At night, he began to withdraw the guards. A few days later one of the guards hastened to Parmentier with the sad news that peasants had broken into the potato patch at night, and dug up most of the crop. Parmentier was overjoyed, much to the surprise of his informant, and exclaimed, “when the people will steal in order to procure potatoes, their popularity is assured.”
As you know, we’re launching our Pilgrim Project this weekend. As we do so, we set out on a new phase of our journey. Jesus reminded the disciples going on their journey not to be precious about what they take with them, but to focus on the end result. Much as I enjoy crisps, chips, roast potatoes, mash, and buttered Jersey Royals, our end product isn’t to persuade people, by whatever sneaky means we can, to eat potatoes, but to offer them the good news that is Jesus Christ, God come among us to find every person, restore every person, and rejoice with every person.
You might be forgiven for thinking that a building project, a very expensive building project that will consume as much time and energy as it will money, is not really about offering Christ to people. You might be forgiven for thinking this edifice is simply a place for us to offer our worship to God, like Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. But, remember what Solomon said in his prayer at the dedication of the new Temple, “even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!”
This is much more just a box where we can meet God, and certainly more than somewhere that we think we can contain God, it’s our tool, our opportunity, our means, to show the love of Christ to the world, not just as a landmark symbol, but by what we do with it. When Paul wrote to the Colossians he reminded them in Christ the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. Solomon reminded his hearers that God was so vast that their wonderful new Temple, not even all of heaven, could contain him, and Paul tells his readers that Christ is the fullness of God. God is not just some vague ethereal intellectual concept that’s too big for to think of in any meaningful way, because all that fullness of God was shown to us in Christ.
This Pilgrim Project is all about making that love God which so filled Christ known in our community, through having a building which shows people welcome and hospitality, from which we can more effectively recharge our spiritual batteries, from which we can show people that love which is with them and for them.
A young salesman was disappointed about losing a big sale, and as he talked with his sales manager he lamented, “I guess it just proves you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” The manager replied, “young man, take my advice: your job is not to make him drink. Your job is to make him thirsty.” When I talk about showing people the love of God in Christ, I believe that it’s not about trying to persuade people to drink, but about creating a thirst for Christ’s love.
Fritz Kreisler, the world-famous violinist, earned a fortune with his concerts and compositions, but he generously gave most of it away. So, when he discovered an exquisite violin on one of his trips, he wasn’t able to buy it. Later, having raised enough money to meet the asking price, he returned to the seller, hoping to purchase that beautiful instrument. But to his great dismay it had been sold to a collector. Kreisler made his way to the new owner’s home and offered to buy the violin. The collector said it had become his prized possession and he wouldn’t sell it. Deeply disappointed, Kreisler was about to leave when he had an idea. “Could I play the instrument once more before it is consigned to silence?” he asked. Permission was granted, and the great virtuoso filled the room with such heart-moving music that the collector’s emotions were deeply stirred. “I have no right to keep that to myself,” he exclaimed. “It’s yours, Mr. Kreisler. Take it into the world, and let people hear it.”
I believe God is calling us to take his love into the world, and let people see it. The Pilgrim Project is about how we equip ourselves to do that. I believe this is what God is calling us to do as the next phase of our journey, even it means a journey into the unknown, not taking with us things we might think we need, but I believe that God will give us what we need in Christ, in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. The Pilgrim Project will not happen if we leave it to the others, if we leave it to them, whoever they are. I believe that God is calling all of us to give what we can, money of course, but much more than that, giving our energy, our enthusiasm, our hearts, and our prayers.