Sermon - 18th May 2014
Building God's Church
Scripture - 1 Peter 2:1-9
[An audio version (mp3) of this sermon is available via the link at Spirituality > Audio and Video.]
When you read this passage, what's your emotional response?
I'm quite sentimental at heart; I can get very nostalgic about places I used to live and if I’m in the area will often go and visit to just see what they look like now.
While sorting out some old CD's the other day I found a set of photographs of my last house taken by the estate agents. I got a twinge of nostalgia and it made me smile as I remembered many happy times that we'd had there.
Of course the reality is , that it's not the building itself I'm remembering with fondness, it's the people I shared it with, the parties, the long nights cheering up friends when they were down, and moments of great revelation and joy during family visits, it's the people that make me nostalgic for the place. When I hear this passage, especially the very last section brings me a sense of joy.
When we talk about church, often most people’s sense is the structure itself, but when you feel you belong to a church, somehow the word gets a lot bigger.
What makes a church work? For some it’s the spectacle of the building the decoration the design, the fabric of its construction. Our reading today talks about the fabric out of which a church is fashioned, but it's not talking about bricks and mortar.
Scripture uses many ways to describe Jesus, and in this case he is described as being a stone, a foundation stone upon which God would start to construct his church.
The passage makes a reference back to the Old Testament book of Isaiah which talks of the forthcoming messiah using this analogy. The image of him as a stone gives us a sense of stability of dependability that affords shelter and protection.
The people of the day reading or hearing this passage would have been only too aware of the temple in Jerusalem, a massive imposing building, a place of pilgrimage and status, the Temple was a massively significant building in their world, through his actions on his fateful visit to Jerusalem (and his visit to that same temple) we know that the church which would be built in his name would be far greater than the one that angered him so much.
Jesus may be the cornerstone of our church, but you don’t build a building out of just one stone brick.
Completing the image, we too are described as being stones. As people of faith we hope that we will find a spiritual community that truly connects with us, a place of worship where we can feel acutely aware of God's presence in our lives. I remember only too acutely the day I experienced it for the first time, and it’s been a joy to see and share that experience with others.
What makes a church feel like that for you? is it the building, is it the coffee, is it the xxx, for most people the answer is rarely something so ordinary, as important as having a good building and serving a decent cup of tea is, what makes a church great is the foundation stones upon which it is built. It is essential that we have Jesus as our cornerstone, our bedrock guiding and supporting everything that we do, but the church is built with people, we are described as living stones, and our job is vital if we are to build that space where God is glorified and folk can connect.
This is the place where we are fed with spiritual food, where we can unburden ourselves from some of the cares and concerns of the week, where we connect with other souls; this is the place where we are builders. Jesus lives and gives life, so too in our lives we have to build up others.
The passage doesn't just call us stones; it calls us 'lively' stones, indicating that we have to be active participants. Our church is not built on perishable materials; it is built out of souls.
But it isn’t just the spiritual community of a church where we need to consider Jesus as a foundation; we have to reflect on how we can build his certainty, his faithfulness into our very lives as well. Embracing Jesus as a foundation stone in our lives is a key part of our discipleship. Just as with a building, you sometimes don’t focus on what’s holding it up, but you’re grateful for the fact that something is! A foundation stone is heavy, it has weight, and it’s not easily moved.
The final stretch of the passage talks about folk being outsiders but welcomed into the family of Christ, at the time of its writing the author was referring to the inclusion of Gentiles into the house of God. At the time of its writing this was truly significant, reflecting on folk who had been outsiders finally being welcomed into to the family of God.
Clearly with time that sense has diminished as the Christian church has grown and grown so some of the sense of achievement is probably lost on the casual reader reading it today; but for us, some of us who have known what it is like to be outsiders, to not know a place where we can walk in and expect to be welcomed in, these word still ring true with that sense of joy.
These words offer a stark contrast to those with which some folk use to exclude, we are a Royal Priesthood, and the church of God is a diverse building, just like if you look around our hall today, you will see different materials, different textures, different colours; each element is there to do a job. Glass needs to do a different function than stone; fabric needs to do a different task than metal.
In the same way, as God continues to build his church here on earth, we are called to be both builders and materials, to perform the actions that only we can, You could have a church building without glass or cloth in it, but it wouldn’t be as interesting and it would fall short of God’s vision of a church where all people acknowledge they are the children of God.
Unless there are some ‘Grand Designers’ among us, we’ve probably never built anything of significance like a house, but we’ve probably done something like a shed, or maybe even some self-assembly furniture possibly something from a well-known Swedish department store. Have you ever got to the end and realised there’s something missing, maybe a handle or a bolt or a pane of glass?
God’s church needs all the parts to be included for it to be complete, in order for it to do its job properly. What God does with us together is just as important as what he does with us alone.