Vision, and values, what is ours?

February 4, 2018

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

(Annual Meeting Sunday)

Indian Hill Church

Cincinnati, OH

Isaiah 40:21-31

Mark 1:29-39

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine


1:29As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. 32 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons. (Mark 1:29-39, NRSV)


Let us pray: Everlasting God, you give strength to the powerless and power to the faint; you raise up the sick and cast out demons. Make us agents of healing and wholeness, that your good news may be made known to the ends of your creation. Amen.


What is a church?  Is it a building or is it the people?  Is it the good work we do or the worship we participate in together?  What is a church?  There was a time when it would have been easy to answer that question.  Not too long ago even the average person on the street, your neighbors, the stranger at the grocery store could answer that question.  It was not so long ago everyone basically understood what “church” is and what “church” does.   I’m afraid those days are gone for good — there is no longer a well-accepted understanding in our society about what a church is supposed to be and do.  And that’s not all bad.  This means we are free to redefine what church is and does.  I think if you asked a random person on the street to define “church,” you would be amazed at the variety of answers you would get.  Even inside the church, I imagine we would have a lot of different ideas and answers.[1]  Keep this in mind, as I invite you to join me as we spend this year exploring what and how we define our life together as Indian Hill Church.


This year we are beginning a journey together.  A faith journey.  It seems appropriate to embark on this journey as we enter our 71st year as a church. I propose that on this journey we will explore what we believe, what we cherish, and even what we don’t like.  We will explore our history, our powerful ecumenical witness and the rich dual denominational story we have to tell.  This congregation has impacted the village, our surrounding communities, our city, our county, our state and the religious landscape of our nation.  I have heard stories of the powerful witness of Paul Long and the Indian Hill Church took in the city of Cincinnati on civil rights and racial issues long ago.  I have heard stories of the impact of Ann Bunis and Snowden Rowe made on affordable housing for the least of these in Over-the-Rhine.  However powerful and important those movements were unfortunately that is the past.  A past we cannot recreate, but a past that informs our current life together.


I have heard stories of the glory days of Jim Metzger and Paul Long.  How the sanctuary was full for worship and simultaneously the Adult forum was full for people wanting intellectual stimulation.  Again, it was wonderful, but it was the past, but a past that informs our current congregation.


I have also heard stories of the dark times of clergy infighting and staff upheaval and hope that you and everyone else realizes that “thank God those days are in the past as well.”  Still a past that informs our present.


I present these historical examples to say that this faith journey we are inviting each other to take this year will be one of exploration. It will be one of remembering our past but more importantly reimaging our future together.  George and I are inviting you to explore with us what we value as a congregation.   What is important to us?  What is our vision for following up and achieving supporting what we value? What is our purpose as a church?


Today is the perfect day to begin this journey as we have our Annual Meeting. I really want you to take some time and take a careful look at the annual report.  Read the reports of the clergy and staff, the committees, the financials and look at the beautiful pictures of life around the church over the past year.  They will tell you a story about the church, good, bad, otherwise, the report tells our story.


I think we are doing the work of the church…we proclaim the good news of God’s love for the world and for each of us.  We praise God from whom all blessings flow.  We worship God in song, word, prayer and deed.  We rightly administer the sacraments.   We seek to love our neighbor and look out for the least the last and the lost.   We offer opportunities to care for the sick, visit the imprisoned, feed the hungry, comfort the afflicted and welcome the children.   But, and this is a really big, but, it is not easy.  It takes you and me, our effort, our commitment, our time and yes, our money.  Which gets me back to my original rhetorical questions… what do we value as a congregation?  What is important to us?  What is our vision for following up and achieving supporting what we value?  How do we get to what is important to us?  What is our purpose as a church?  Is there something holding us back from achieving our goals, fulfilling our dreams, visions and doing what God calls us to do?


In the Gospel reading for today, Simon Peter’s mother-in-law is sick and unable to meet the needs of her guests. She was unable to serve them because something was holding her back.  It was of course, illness, physical sickness, so bad that she was incapacitated.  By the touch of Christ’s hand and she was made well. Restored.  Able to resume life.  Her encounter with Christ enabled her to serve once again.  What is it that is holding us, the Indian Hill Church back?  What is keeping us from fulfilling our life as a church?  There are also parts of our lives that hold us back from our call and ability to serve the world. It may not be a physical illness, but it may be fear, previous obligations, excuses, bad attitudes or ignorance.  Any of these can be just as debilitating when it comes to living out our call to serve.  We must let ourselves be touched by Christ.   When we are, we too can be restored to our vocation of service to all.  Let me explain…


I can tell you what I believe and what I value or what George and I see as important and that is all well and good but if you don’t buy in then we are spinning our wheels and it will lead to failure.   Let me give you an example, Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) is a long supported and important ministry to the homeless in Cincinnati.  At least 3 times a-year, we host three to four families for a week inside our church facilities.  On average it takes around 100 volunteers to cover all the bases.  We must have people to spend the night, make breakfast, make dinner, share the meals with the families, buy the groceries for the meals, clean up, wash the linens, coordinate all the volunteers, weeks of planning and staff involvement.  Why is this an issue?  What is holding us back?


Because it takes so much time, talent and resources to make this possible.  If it is not important to the congregation and hosting these homeless families is not a value we support, then we are wearing down the few people who do value it and using up a whole lot of resources for something from the past that no longer fits our vision and our values as a congregation.


This can be said for every activity, every program and every ministry of our church which is exactly the journey I want us to travel together this year.  If we value music and the choir, great, then let’s put the right resources and support behind Phil and the choir to make our music ministry truly reflect the values we hold.  If we value children and youth, then let’s put the proper amount of resources and support behind Jennifer and the Children and Youth Ministries so they can truly reflect what is important.  If we value having a top-notch Nursery School that is a real school and not a day care/ glorified baby-sitting service, then let’s support Jocelyn and her teachers so the Indian Hill Church Nursery School reflects what we as a congregation value and support.


So, I am asking that you read the annual report and think about what you value in this church.  However, it is not the whole story.  What I mean by this is how do we measure the spiritual aspects of the church?  I can honestly say that I have no healings under my belt, I have never cast out any demons or cured anyone from disease.  Now, George, may have some but I don’t.


After serving you for four years, I can tell you what I value at Indian Hill Church.


  1. Generous Hospitality — I want us to be a truly accessible church. When a visitor comes to worship they can know that they are welcome, they can follow the worship service and participate as they wish, they can access the communion rail and baptismal font, they can join the choir and go to Sunday school even if they have mobility issues. That means easy to understand bulletins, clearly marked signage showing the way to classrooms and the Guild Hall and an elevator to get them to the lower level.  It isn’t going to happen overnight, but it is important to me.  It means we think about someone other than ourselves, as we offer God’s welcome and acceptance to others—in all we do.


  1. Passionate Worship — this is the core of who we are and what we do. Worship either Episcopal or Presbyterian, in word of sacrament, is what grounds us. We must have meaningful, challenging and inspiring worship. And know we have challenges and great opportunities to take our music program even further. The chancel area is really getting crowded. How will we remedy this moving into the future?  With the wonderful addition of   Phil, Kristin, Amy and our choirs. The new soloists, the friends of Phil (FoP) and the longtime choir members who lead us in worship each week make our call to glorify God and enjoy God forever all the better.


  1. Children, the Nursery School, children’s programs, youth and experiences with God. I value that here at IHC we seek to foster the spiritual growth of our children and youth through several enriching programs, including Sunday School, youth groups, and choirs, all which are for creating a lifelong faith and relationship with Jesus Christ in every child in a fun, engaging and relevant manner. Times are different, and we must be creative in the ways we interact with and teach children the faith.  We are doing that here, but it is ever evolving.


  1. Mission/ Outreach/ Service through mission outreach, we can serve our brothers and sisters in need, sharing in their struggles and hopes and working together for a world of compassion, peace, and justice. Mission/ outreach/ service is essential to what it means to be church. I believe that faith without service, without giving back is not fully embracing the joy of being a disciple of Christ. We cannot be the church without a vibrant and life-giving mission focus.


What do you value? Send me an email or write me a note, give me a call. We will have some formal opportunities to talk about the future of the church as well as re-invigorating the Long-Range Planning Committee for us to prepare for a bright future at IHC. I invite you to join us on a journey to see where God will lead us.


Let us pray: Restoring God, enter our hearts and remove all that keeps us from our call to serve you in the world. Send us out to do your good work that all may know and experience your love. Amen.


[1] Vision, A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 11/11/12 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX. Based on Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17; Psalms 127[1] © 2012 Alan Brehm.