1 Corinthians 3:10-11,16-23
Building Our Church, One Stone at a Time
This morning, I am going to speak about something that I think is important to many of you. At least it was five years ago, when this congregation was discussing whether or not to amalgamate with another congregation. You had long and hard conversations and, in the end, you decided to stay here. For those of you who were here at that time, why did you decide to stay? For those of you have come here since that time, why have you chosen to make St. David’s your church home?
This morning’s scripture passage is about church. It is an excerpt from a letter from the Apostle Paul to the church he had founded in Corinth, which is about an hour’s drive west of Athens. Paul had left this fledgling group of Christians to continue his missionary work throughout Greece and Turkey only to find that competing missionaries had gone to Corinth and had sought to detract followers from the group he had founded. The result was that there was much in-fighting amongst members of the church.
How many people have I met over the course of the years who tell me that they don’t attend church because they were once involved and they saw so much un-Christian-like behaviour in the church that they were totally turned off religion. There is the story of a minister who was in constant conflict with his congregation. Eventually, it was mutually agreed that the minister should leave. He decided to take a job as a prison chaplain. He based his final sermon on John 14:1, “I go to prepare a place for you.”
All of this tells me that the way we come together as a church or a congregation is, given human nature, kind of precarious. Whether in first- century Corinth or twenty-first century Vancouver. In Paul’s letter, are there any clues as to how we might make the bonds of our fellowship stronger?
The image that Paul has in mind as he writes is that the church is built on the foundation of Jesus Christ and the believers are like the stones that God is using to build up the walls. Picture in your mind a temple, with stones of various sizes used to construct the walls and then a wood truss roof would be put on top. Two things make the building solid: the foundation and the stone walls. The question to ask ourselves as we read this is: If I am a stone here at St. David’s…what kind of stone am I?
There are two other images – west coast images – that I think refer to our congregation: a river and a tree. We live at the mouth of the Fraser River. The Fraser River begins almost 1400 kilometres to the northeast, a single stream flowing out of Yellowhead Lake near Mount Robson. Other significant rivers, including the Nechako and the Thompson, flow into the Fraser as it travels through the province towards Vancouver. By the time it flows into the Strait of Georgia, hundreds of tributaries have flowed into the “Mighty Fraser”.
Similarly, a tree beings with a single seed. The pinecone falls to the ground. Its seeds – tiny, vulnerable, alone – fall onto the soil. Each seed germinates and puts its roots down into the earth, and, at the same time, sends up a shoot towards the light. The roots diverge under the ground – all over the place – looking for nourishment and water. The shoot grows into a trunk – which slowly diverges – and the branches grow outward and upward. The tree, not unlike the river, gets larger and larger, mightier and mightier.
The church is like a river. In the last book of the Bible, John, the visionary, gives us a picture of the formation of a worship community. He sees a huge throng of people from every nation, kindred, tribe and tongue coming together in a great chorus of praise. Like the tributaries of a river, they all started in different places, but have now brought their different streams into a single flow. The river reminds us that in the church are people from a variety of different backgrounds who all become part of the same powerful flow, moving forth in the same direction. Our diversity becomes our unity.
At the same time, the church is like a tree. The single seed is Jesus himself. Sown into the dark earth, Jesus has produced an amazing plant. Branches set off in all kinds of directions, some pointing skywards, some down to the earth, some heading out over neighbouring walls. They are all rooted in the same place: Jesus. And, like the river with its tributaries, the mighty tree is a system of roots and branches, a mosaic of inter-connected parts.
Way back in the Old Testament, God promised to the father of Israel, Abraham, that God would form a single multi-ethnic family. We believe that this was brought into being by Jesus, through his life, death and resurrection. Jesus called his followers to bring the good news of transforming all of creation with God’s restorative justice. The whole purpose of the church is to let all of creation know that in Jesus God has shown how God cares for creation and that God intends to put the world to rights. The mission of people in the church in the here and now, by the power of the Spirit, is to put the world right. The word “mission” comes from the Latin word “to send”. Jesus said to his followers after his resurrection: “As the father has sent me, so I am sending you.” (John 20:21) So, you know what you are supposed to do. You are to be a part of putting the world right. As you find yourself carrying out this “sending”, you will find your own life healed by God’s tremendous grace.
I have a Baptist friend who is very concerned that he pin point the moment of his conversion to the Christian faith. The “born-again” language makes those of us in the mainline church uncomfortable. I wonder if it is more like we wake up to Jesus. Some of us set an alarm clock when we go to bed. In the morning, the alarm goes off. Waking up can be a bit of a rude shock. Some of us jump out of bed. For others, waking up is a slow quiet process. We can be half-asleep, half-awake, until gradually we are happy to realize that another day has begun. Most of us know something of both.
Waking up is when God takes hold of our lives. There are alarm clock stories like Paul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. Blinded by a sudden light. Left speechless. There are others for whom the waking up takes months or years or an entire lifetime. Waking up slowly, not sure whether or not they are fully awake, exploring the Christian faith to see whether it is real or not. And as with ordinary waking up, there are many people who are somewhere in between – sort of awake but not yet read to get out of bed. Paul put it this way, “Wake up, sleeper! Rise from the dead! Christ will give you light!” (Eph. 5:14) Wake up to the fact that God is doing something new in Jesus Christ in your life and in the world. The kernel of the Christian faith is to believe that God has come to our world, especially in Jesus, because God loves each and every one of us so much and that this God comes to exhaust the power of evil and create a new world in which everything will be put right.
Becoming a Christian is not an independent activity. Nowhere in the New Testament do we find anything which says that you can be a Christian by yourself. You need to belong to a faith community. This community is the fellowship, the spirit of the collected believers. When I was in university, the church I had grown up in burned down. When we met in the local school auditorium, we quickly realized that that building on the corner of Eastgate and St. Clair Avenues that burned down wasn’t our church. The spirit of Clairlea Church was what we had when we gathered together. Having shared in faith with you for nearly three years, I know that St. David’s isn’t this building; St. David’s is what we have when we come together in faith to be God’s people and to do God’s work. Granted, our building holds many memories. And we have been praying and worshipping and mourning and celebrating here in this space for years. But it is the people who matter. The church is the people; it is a community.
The church exists mainly for two reasons: to worship God and to work for God’s purposes in the world. You can do these things on your own, but, as Tom Wright, an English biship, put it, “if the kingdom is to go forward, rather than around and around in circles, we must work together as well as apart.”
There is a third purpose of the church, which serves, undergirds the other two. The community of St. David’s exists for us to encourage one another, to build one another up in faith, to pray with and for one another, to learn from one another, and to teach one another. But it also exists to set forth examples to follow, challenges to take up, and urgent tasks to perform. It is about living with a joint sense of purpose, like a family business, in which everyone has a rightful share and a rightful place.
Three purposes: worship, work and support. They flow together; they are intertwined in our fellowship. Like the river. Like the tree.
Have you seen the programme, “Canada’s Handyman’s Challenge?” Four judges scout the country looking for 16 people to take part in the competition. They are given a project. For example, they are instructed to build a bridge and are given two hours to do so. They are given the materials and then they go to it. In the bridge-building episode, none of the bridges had a firm foundation and when the judges walked on the bridges, they collapsed. The question I want to leave you with this morning is, “How do you participate in the collective building of St. David’s?” Jesus is the foundation. We are called in this place to use the stones of our gifts and talents to build upon this foundation for the glory of God.
In your bulletin this morning is a building stone. We are going to ask you to write on your stone what you think is a gift or talent that you contribute here at St. David’s. Nicole is now going to sing Take O Take Me as I Am and I am going to ask you to take the marker at the end of the pew and write just one word to describe your stone in building St. David’s.