Pentecost 9 2018, New Melle, Mo. Ephesians 2:11-22
2:22, In Christ you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
Psalm 127, Unless the Lord builds the house those who build it labor in vain.
My great – grandfather and my grandfather built some 80 houses, barns and other buildings in Northwest Wisconsin at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. They built the church where our family worships still and the house and barn on the farm where my brothers and I grew up and they still live. Some one commented, “That building was solidly built. It was meant to stand.” This morning I want to take you on a tour of God’s building project, where the construction company Father, Son and Holy Spirit is erecting a building to serve as his headquarters on earth.
God’s building is meant to stand. But it’s a building not made with human hands, design or craftsmanship, but as part of God’s new creation. One of the features of the building is that it be alive, a living building. A second feature is that you and I are part of the building. Paul writes, “And you are part of that building Christ has built as a place where God’s own Spirit lives.” God chose us to be part of his building before the foundation of the world. Paul writes, “Before the world was created, God had Christ choose us to live with him and to be his holy and innocent and loving people.” This spiritual building of which we are part, is the church, which is filled with Christ and through us completes His work here on earth.
A building begins with a plan. Like our choosing, God drew up the plans for this living building before the creation. It needs to be flexible enough, to expand in order to house everything in heaven and on earth, including every spiritual blessing available in Christ plus a growing number of those who believe in Christ. It’s all part God’s greater plan to renew and unite this splintered, fractured and divided universe. When the time was right God, the Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ acted to destroy the walls of hostility and create unity in the universe.
So, construction began with the laying of the foundation. The foundation was not made of concrete but the apostles and prophets. The apostles such a Paul and Peter, among others, had been sent out by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. They carried the word out into the world that God had sent his beloved Son Jesus Christ into the world to free everyone from their bondage to sin. The New Testament prophets were those who brought new insights into the scripture, leading believers to see how the Old Testament speaks of God’s promises which are fulfilled in Christ.
Then God made Jesus the cornerstone by which the rest of the building was measured. That may not be surprising to us. Who else would God use to be sure his building, the church, was always in correct alignment and built to stand? But that wasn’t the case in Jesus day. Psalm 118:22 informs us, “The stone that the builders tossed aside has now become the most important stone.” Peter describes Jesus as “The living stone whom God has chosen and highly honored.” He is the one who holds the whole building together.
Now we are ready to build the skeleton of the building, the frame work. Studs, beams, joists, and rafters. But the framing of God’s building does not use wood lumber, nor steel I beams. God uses what came to us in Christ. God’s compassion, for instance. We see that compassion at work in the gospel lesson, when Jesus steps out of the boat he is confronted by a large crowd. He sees that they are like lost sheep with no one to guide or look after them. His heart goes out to them. “And he began to teach them many things.” He taught them that the kingdom of God is coming right in among them. Despite being caught under Roman rule and the political and religious battles between the various group, Pharisees, Sadducees, the ever- paranoid Herod and those who would violently overthrow everything. He gave them hope that despite what things looked like in their daily lives, God was with them, God was watching over them with his loving kindness. Our opening and closing hymns are based on psalm 23, The Lord is my shepherd. He leads me beside still waters. He refreshes my life. He leads me along the right paths. Even when I walk through valleys as dark as death the Lord is with me protecting and guiding me. And then when Jesus was done teaching the crowd, his compassion extended to feeding them with five little loaves of bread and two fish pulled from the Sea of Galilee. He did it by looking up to heaven, blessing the food and dividing it among those gathered before him. It was just as the psalmist wrote, “You treat me to a feast…you honor me as your guest.” All of it an example of God’s continuing kindness and love which is always with me each day of my life.
That and so much more is in the framework of the church, rich mercy, abundant grace, peace which passes all understanding, the blood of Christ buying us back from sin and death, Jesus’ resurrection leading to our resurrection. All to be found in the framework of God’s spiritual building, the church.
Now Christ is ready to include us in his building. But there is a problem. When God came to use us, he found that we had been dead a long time because of sin and we didn’t want to be part of his building project. We had our own way of building our lives on what we accomplish in life, in being successful, in being long time faithful members of the church. Today people don’t want anything to do with the church because they see us as narrow, judgmental, setting up rules and doctrines which exclude people. Whatever point in history God seeks to include us humans in his work, we let our hostility to one another get in the way, our prejudice, our preference to do things the way I want, thank you very much and don’t poke your nose into my business. It’s like trying to build a house with rotten and warped boards and 2X4’s. And yet God was determined as far back as before creation to use us in his spiritual building.
No wonder Paul writes, it’s not anything you did on your own. We have nothing to boast about. We are the result of God’s craftsman. That’s why he sent Christ to make us what we are.
Our sins hid God’s face from us, so he sent Christ to be his face and sacrifice himself and restore us to our original created condition of being innocent and blameless. He changed our rottenness into goodness and straightened out our warpness. Waiting for us on the altar is the means with which he straightened us out, his body and blood given and shed on the cross. He destroyed the walls of division which separated us from God and from one another. He made us all one that we could live in his church in peace and unity. And now because of Christ, all of us are fit to come before the Father and be part of his building project. And this church is not just for us. The blessing given to Abraham more than 2,000 years before Christ still is in effect 4,000 years later, that everyone on earth be blessed because of Christ and us. So being a blessing as you go about your week. That should keep us busy for the next seven days or 70 X 7 years.