On June 9th, the Voters’ Assembly of University Hills Lutheran Church decided to move forward on our building project by razing the old building and constructing a completely new, single level, church. The 1884 barn church, which opened its doors in 1952 and served the congregation well for 35 years as sanctuary and fellowship hall, and as school for a total of 53 years, will be no more. The decision was a difficult one and was not made lightly, and I know that some voted this way with a heavy heart.
In Philippians 3 Paul writes, “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” At a time when we’ve voted to take down the original church building, we might wonder if we should take what Paul says and make a case for the past being unimportant or even holding one back. Such an argument might say “Cut loose the old and get on to the new; the old is bad but the new is good!” This would be a mischaracterization of Paul’s words. In Chapter 3, Paul is responding to those false teachers who are trying to take the church back into circumcision and a dependence on the Law for salvation. Paul goes through a litany of his own obedience to the Law, “Circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews….” To those who would look to such feathers in their cap Paul says, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” He goes on, then, to say, “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Paul is not focused on himself, on his accomplishments, etc. He’s not relying on his circumcision, or his pedigree. Rather, his focus is on the Lord Jesus, on preaching Christ and what He has accomplished for us, on the upward call of God—our eternal future as redeemed and restored creatures.
Paul is also not advocating that we forget our history. As Christians, our past is an important part of who we are. How many times in Scripture is Israel’s past rehearsed? The phrase, “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” is common in the Bible and points Israel to God’s faithful fulfillment of His promises to the Patriarchs. The exodus from Egypt and God’s care for His people in the wilderness is another theme which reappears throughout Scripture and points believers again to God’s faithful care for His people. In responding to some Pharisees who had tried to entrap Jesus, He takes his antagonists all the way back to Genesis and the Creation account—“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19). Clearly, the past matters. In fact, as in the case of our building, it is to be celebrated.
It is also true, however, that in many ways we are not defined by or tied to our past. University Hills Lutheran Church is not a church building, but a gathering of believers who confess our sins, receive God’s gracious forgiveness, celebrate the death and resurrection of our Savior, offer our praises to our Heavenly Father and work together for the good of our neighbor and for the spread of the Gospel.
U-Hills Lutheran Church is not a building, but a gathering of believers who are one in body and one is Spirit. Our congregation demonstrated this understanding of “Church” when we moved out of our sanctuary in 1987, and again in 2019. Our plans to remodel and move our sanctuary back into the original building have now changed. What has not changed is the solid foundation of our salvation by grace through faith in Jesus. What has not changed is our baptism, our connection to and inclusion in the body of Christ. What will never change is our Christ-given mission to proclaim Him, to teach and to baptize. Remodeling the old building would have given us space and a place to worship our Lord and be Church. A new building will give us nothing less.
As we move forward into our future, we do so with confidence. Our past is an important heritage to be celebrated, a history of God doing his work in and through His flock at University Hills. By His grace, that work will continue as together we “strain forward to what lies ahead, pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Our God be with you and meet your every need in Christ!