1 Thessalonians 5:11
"Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing."
Dr. Clardy starts every service at Saint Mark's United Methodist Church with the same statement, "Welcome to the place where we build you up and don't tear you down." All of us smile and laugh a little bit each time he says it, but the words hold true as the mercy and the grace of God. Those words define a culture of people who strive to make a difference in the world around them and leave the mark of God in the people they encounter along the way. There is a true idea that the church has the responsibility to build disciples up in the talents that God has given them and send them in the world to make a difference. In most associations and in most circumstances, those who attend St. Mark's would agree, it is most definitely a place where you will be built up in the grace of God.
Ten years ago we sat in our living room surrounded by our bedroom furniture because it could not make it up the narrow stairwell of the Fort Belvoir base house. Our first daughter had just been born and many decisions to be made were in front of us. I had been offered a unique opportunity to serve in a prestigious post at the Pentagon (preceded by a long deployment in Iraq) or conversely, the opportunity to leave Active Duty and enter in to civilian life. One direction was a military career maker, sure to show me the way to a high rank, and the other was a path which offered a softer and less impactful route for the family we were building. In the years preceding this crossroad we had been blessed to be surrounded by people and friends on our base in Kirtland that showed us the true sense of a community. We looked out for each other in many different ways and depended on each other for care of our loved ones while we were away and even while we were all together. Most of us moved at the same time, and in our case, our new post did not offer the same situation. We often felt alone and isolated. We missed our community.
Our reasons for electing the path to start fresh in the world outside of the military involved a few simple idealizations. We wanted to be part of a community where people knew each other and cared for each other like an extended family. We wanted to grow in our faith as part of a church community and do our best to become involved in community groups that made a difference in the lives of others. We wanted to know our kids were going to be loved and protected by people around them and that their welfare was important to the families and friends surrounding us. We wanted the opportunity to provide the same type of comfort to other families. We wanted the deep sense of community and we wanted to grow in it.
It has been 10 years now and I sit here this morning overwhelmed by the community we have found. The genuine care and love that has been shown to my family is rich in the love and mercy of our good and righteous Redeemer. Sure there are folks from different faiths and holding different beliefs, but it makes no matter, in all of these people who surround us and hold us in their thoughts and in their hearts I see the light of God.
My girls have had the opportunity to spend time with steadfast friends and to fill the air with laughter and shouts of joy in excited play. I pray their future relationships are as meaningful and as pure as the ones they have built here. I pray for these children who I have come to know, each in their own personality and with their own gifts, that they will continue to grow in the Grace of our loving Creator. I look forward to seeing the world that is improved and made more loving by their good and faithful works. Yes, I have high aspirations for these children because they have shown me they are capable of great and wonderful things.
Dr. Clardy states every Sunday morning, "Welcome to the place where we build you up and don't tear you down." Although he may be speaking about the church, I carry that statement to my friends in the community at large. You have affirmed our decisions made in the past and you have given us courage to make hard decisions now. We have felt love and we have felt belonging in the strongest sense of the words. We have been blessed in the overabundance of friendships and in the genuine love of a community.
Yes, I have proven many times this week that I am a big guy who wears his heart on his sleeve. I can't even watch coffee commercials at the moment! So, don't be offended if my eye contact is less than stellar the rest of this week. It is not sadness though. It is joy in knowing that God led us to you, our community, to help us grow in Him. You have built us up and not torn us down. You have helped to make us ready for new challenges and new adventures. You have helped open our hearts to the new community we will soon be a part. Perhaps, the greatest and most wonderfully Grace-filled aspect of all of this, is that in all of us, God is active and growing. Listen to the Spirit and act in its ways, just how you have been doing.
Thank you for loving us. We certainly love you.