After being tempted in the desert for 40 days, Jesus returns to Galilee and eventually ends up in his home town of Nazareth. As he’s teaching in the synagogue, he’s handed a scroll from the prophet Isaiah where it was written:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news
to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Luke 4:18–19 (CEB)
He rolls up the scroll and says “today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you have heard it.” He goes on to say that prophets are often not sent to their own people but to serve the other, those who are left out. His ministry to the poor, to the captive, to the oppressed, those whom we would call marginalized, would take him beyond Nazareth. They basically drove him out of town because he said he wasn’t called to stay there and serve them, that his calling was bigger than that.
Luke goes on to tell the story of Jesus teaching by lakeshore and calling Simon Peter, James, and John to return their nets to the water after a long night of fishing with nothing to show for it. After they fill their boats to almost sinking, he tells them to leave it all behind, their life’s work, to follow him as they fish for people. Now this had to sound a little crazy. Not just the fishing for people part, they may not have even understood that, I don’t know. But the whole leaving behind boatloads of fish which would equate to cash and their entire livelihoods, their careers, to follow this guy around. Now sure, he’d been doing some pretty amazing things, but these guys were just fishermen’s, they had a purpose. And Peter, the rock upon whom the church would be built, kneels before Jesus and says “why would you want to have anything to do with me, I’m a nobody, and not just a nobody, a nobody who makes mistakes, who is not part of the in crowd, someone who cannot claim to be righteous like you. I’m not good enough to be part of the holy work you’re doing.” Yet he calls them anyway, and as we talked about last week, they become his friends. Friends with whom he builds this movement that goes on for millennia. If Jesus hadn’t transformed lives, his message would have died out with him.
The decision for us to end the ministry known as San Dimas Community Church United Church of Christ was not an easy one. In fact it was hard. The writing was on the wall years before the final decision was made. The inevitable closure was a train that left the station even before my arrival. Those of us standing on the tracks couldn’t stop it, but we were able to slow it down, and switch the tracks so that the train could head in a new direction. With its beginning in the second decade of the 20th century, the history of San Dimas Community Church is one passed down through church writings and through those whose families were part of the congregation for generations. As I have come to understand it, the San Dimas Union Church as it was first called was founded to bring together the people of different denominations in San Dimas to worship together. Yes, that was a pragmatic mission as there were not enough people of any one denomination to worship on their own. However, the mission was one of a call to unity as well. The founding of the Union Church created a foundation of remembering that what brings us together is our kinship in the family of God because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Over 100 years later, there are congregations that are Lutheran, United Methodist, Baptist, Wesleyan, and nondenominational. Transportation has connected our communities so that even within 5 miles of San Dimas there are 3 other United Church of Christ congregations. What was once a community of 2,000 citrus-minded folks, San Dimas is home to nearly 35,000 people with diverse backgrounds and faith traditions. It seemed to us that San Dimas Community Church had served its purpose of creating a place of worship and gathering where there wasn’t one now that there were numerous faith communities within just a few blocks of San Dimas Ave and Third St.
When I first arrived, we spent the first year and a half or so, looking at our congregational DNA to discern how and where God might be calling us next. At the time, I don’t think any of us thought it would mean selling the building and moving a dozen miles away, yet we knew that the the future looked somehow different. We looked to the 2012 decision to become an Open and Affirming Congregation in the United Church of Christ, which proclaimed to the LGBT+ community that they were not only welcomed, but invited to be their whole selves serving however they wanted to with no limits because of their identity. That statement came at a time when it was much less popular to say such a thing. What new, bold things could we be called to pursue?
That’s when the message of Jesus’ reason for ministry began to resonate for us. No one was driving us out of town, but could it be that we were called to do ministry beyond our community. The needs of the marginalized were also being met by others. Where was there no place for those who were marginalized by even the church? That pursuit brought us eastward to the west end of San Bernardino county. If you look at a map of the reach of United Church of Christ congregations, there is a big empty spot in Rancho Cucamonga. With congregations in Claremont, Ontario, and San Bernardino, the foothill communities near the 15 & 210 freeways had few places where those who were often excluded from faith communities could gather. The congregations that do exist, even our kindred in the United Church of Christ, are somewhat more traditional in their approach to worship. There’s an entire segment of Christians who are used to a different worship experience who find the exclusion of specific groups of people more and more problematic. While they may not be LGBT themselves, their friends, family members, and others whom they care about are. We could create that place, that sacred place, for those who are marginalized by the larger Church itself.
As San Dimas Community Church closed, Sacred Place United Church was born out of its legacy, to create sacred places for those who need it, with a new focus of creating sacred places with the excluded and those who care about them. We are called to continue Jesus’ mission. He has sent us to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. I hope you will join us in that mission. It’s a daunting one at times. It’s a politicized one at times, especially in today’s culture. Yet, doing so proclaims to everyone that you are loved, by us and by God. This is your Sacred Place.