Good afternoon! Sorry for the delay in posting this week. I have no other excuse other than I am two weeks away from my due date and we are busily getting ready for my maternity leave at church and the baby at home. And holy cow, spring is in full swing and things are BUSY at church! I think I have something going on every night this week – all good things, but I’ve been trying to keep track of everything and I keep thinking I’m going to miss something.
I won’t be preaching this weekend, so I won’t post another sermon until Memorial Day weekend. Our Children’s Day & Choir Sunday is this Sunday, so the children are leading worship and we have some special music planned. We’re looking forward to a great celebration with the theme, It Takes A (Church In The) Village!
Have a great week, everyone!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
May 14, 2017
1 Peter 2:4-10
Has anyone driven across the Tappen Zee Bridge lately? They are building a new one; construction began in 2013 and the project – which is estimated to cost $3.9 billion – should be completed in April 2018.
Bruce and I have taken a few trips down to Pennsylvania in the last year or so and every time we make the trip, we get almost geekily excited to see the progress that has been made on the bridge since we saw it last. I do not know about the rest of you, but bridge construction has always fascinated me. I understand it is an engineering process but, from my background of theology and church, it just seems like only a series of divine miracles could construct something so sturdy over such a large body of water.
There is just something about construction – any kind of construction – that seems so daunting to me. Think about it: You start with materials that, individually, really do not look like much or have all that much function, and yet somehow, by the end of the process you have something not only functional, but, most of the time, sturdy as well.
My parents had a sunroom put on their house a few years ago and I remember sitting and watching their contractor – who is a good friend of ours – work one afternoon. Eventually I looked at him and said, “So you just took a bunch of wood and put it together and made a whole new room on their house, didn’t you?”
He looked perplexed by, what I can only imagine from his perspective was one of the stupidest questions he had ever heard, and said, “Well, yeah, that’s the idea.”
But, again, not knowing how to do it myself, I really am just fascinated when I observe the construction process! It is methodical, it is intentional, it is creative, it is adaptable, it is collaborative and it is visionary.
Which is why the metaphor used in this morning’s scripture has always been so compelling to me.
This morning’s reading comes from First Peter, which is a letter written during the first century addressed to various churches facing religious persecution. The author of the letter draws from the Prophet Isaiah, who said:
thus says the Lord God,
See, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone,
a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation:
‘One who trusts will not panic.’
The author of this letter makes a promise to the persecuted Christians he is writing to; a promise that their sacrifices are not being made in vain. He assures them that Jesus Christ, even though he was rejected, is a living stone; and, like Isaiah prophesied, that living stone is tested, precious and a sure foundation. He tells the people that they are building something on this foundation; something not only functional and sturdy, but life changing, as well.
And even more than that, the author tells these struggling churches that they, too, are living stones; they are called to allow God to build them into this church – into this “spiritual house” – where they can offer themselves to God. It is here in this church, the author says, that they can gather together, learn and grow in their faith and invite others into the narrative of the Gospel.
This is not a passive religious experience. The author is describing the difference between attending a church and being a church. “Now you are God’s people,” the author writes. “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Yes, Jesus is the cornerstone and the sure foundation of our faith, but we – we, the persecuted Christians who first read these words 2,000 years ago and we, those of us reading them today – are not only building the church, but we are the pieces of the church as it is built, as well.
I think this is where the engineering process stops and the series of divine miracles begin.
So what does this mean for us? As a church, we are not necessarily building something out of nothing at the moment. We are part of the Christian faith that has been around for 2,000 years, a protestant tradition that has been around for almost 500 years, a denomination that was formed 60 years ago and a church that was incorporated nearly 300 years ago. The situation we face today is different than the Christians this letter was first written to.
But I would argue that there is still very much a sense of urgency to the work that needs to be done in our generation. We live in an increasingly secular society; we, especially, feel this in New England, where we yield some of the lowest percentages of church attendance countrywide at 10%-15%. It is not easy to be a Christian in a world where the culture rejects the very notion that faith is something that should be valued. Being part of a church is no longer something that necessarily fits easily into the routine of our lives. We have to fight hard to make church “work” in our schedule and, even then, sometimes we struggle to find balance.
This is why I think it is imperative for all of us to keep in mind that this scripture is not just talking about building the institutional church; it is also referring to the more widespread notion of building the Church universal and sharing our faith with the world.
I believe the authors identifies us as living stones not simply so we can walk into a church and be members, but so that we can nurture our own personal faith, as well.
Bruce and I have talked about this a lot recently, especially as we think about our growing family and how we can be intentional about building a life, as a family, on the foundation of our faith. We know it will not be easy. We see the struggle people of all generations and stages of life have to find balance and are under no illusion that we are somehow immune to it just because I happen to be a pastor.
But I think there are some things we can do – things all of us can do – to try. It might not necessarily look like “church” the way is has over the past 100 years, but it can and will be what God is calling us to do, today.
I believe the most important thing the author says in this passage is this:
Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house … to offer spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
I do not think the author is talking about elaborate and bizarre ritual sacrifices; I believe the author is reminding us to ask ourselves the question, “Will this bring glory to God?” as we set out to live each day.
Now, will this seem like a silly question when we are doing some of the more mundane tasks in life, like shopping for groceries or pumping gas or cleaning the house? Maybe, but I would also argue that these activities create a sense of home and stability in our lives. And maybe if we approach everything we do – even the seemingly mundane stuff – with this mindset and by asking the question, will this bring glory to God and how, we may find a better sense of balance in our lives.
It starts with the basics. Think about it: When my parents set out to build their sunroom, they did not start by picking out light fixtures and buying furniture and accessories; they started with the basic structure.
And I think as we all seek to live out our faith, to be the church of the 21st century and to continue to write this Christian story, we need to go back to the basics, as well. We need to make a commitment to break bread with our family and friends, find time for personal prayer and devotion, get involved at the church and give back to the community. We need to think about how the different pieces of our lives bring glory to God, in ways both big and small. This is how we will strengthen the foundation of our lives and our faith so it is sturdy enough to withstand everything else we put on top of it.
And I know this is not easy. People are busy, the world is crazy and faith is not exactly mainstream, these days. But here is something I do know about the building and construction process – it is adaptable.
When I was getting ready for my junior year of college, I asked my dad if he could build me a loft for my bed so my roommate and I could maximize our space a little bit more. He drew up some plans and build the loft according to them, but was not satisfied with how sturdy it was when he finished. I remember him saying, “You know, if this was scenery, I would just screw it into the stage to secure it,” and then shrugged, grabbed his drill, screwed the whole thing through the carpet and into the floor of my dorm and said, “There we go!”
We have to be adaptable in today’s world. If we truly want to build our lives on the foundation of our faith, we need to set attainable goals for ourselves, goals that bear in mind the craziness of the world we are living in today and set us up to succeed. For example, it might not be possible to have family dinners every night, but it might be possible to schedule them three or four nights a week. It might not be possible to completely disconnect from technology, but it might be possible to do this for an hour or two every day. It might not be possible to come to church every week, but it might be possible to come twice a month. It might not be possible to join a committee or take on a role at the church that requires hours of commitments every month, but it might be possible to participate in a few projects every year. Give yourselves some grace as you seek to grow in your faith in this crazy world.
I do not think that being the living stones of our faith is as complicated a process as building a nearly-$4 billion bridge; I think it starts at home, supported by our church family and surrounded by a God who is with us always.
So may we all be blessed as we embrace who we are as living stones, building this faith that sustains our lives and truly makes this world a better place. And may we, too, be assured, that our efforts are not being made in vain. May we always remember that we do have to always necessarily understand the process; that divine miracles are happening all around us.
Thanks be to God!