Speak the Gospel, Teach the Bible and Build Community that reflects God’s love. I hope those three phrases are familiar to you by now. Yes, that’s our Church Mission Statement. If you think about it, the first two have been the subject of our sermons for the last two weeks. Speaking the gospel - or being on a mission; and teaching the Bible - growing as students of Christ. And just by coincidence, today we’re talking about the 3rd statement - building community that reflects God’s love.
When Jesus called his disciples what do you think he had in mind? Was he just calling a group of men so he could teach them some useful doctrine? Was he choosing those 12 because he thought they deserved to be saved? No, he was choosing them so he could begin the work of finishing God’s eternal plan. What was that plan? If you’d been part of the confirmation preparation over the last few years you’d know the answer very well, I hope. God’s plan was to create a people for himself, who’d show the rest of the world how good it is to live under his rule and who’d therefore become a magnet to attract others into God’s kingdom.
True disciples begin by being students of Christ, as we saw two weeks ago, they’re then sent out to tell others about Christ, as we saw last week and thirdly, they then bring those others into the community of God’s people.
I don’t think I need to repeat what Bill said so clearly last week, but let me remind you that this building isn’t just for us. It’s a building to house the nations. God has called us out of the world in order that we might proclaim the mighty acts of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. Our task is to bring more and more people into the community so it continues to grow until all of those God has chosen have come in. But then as people join the community of God’s people how are we to build? What do we need to do to create a structure that’ll stand firm.
Well what’s the first thing you need to do if you’re building a house? The first thing you do is to lay a solid foundation. The strongest buildings are built upon a foundation of solid rock. If you’re like me you’ve probably noticed cracks in your walls lately. That’s because houses around here are built on basalt clay which is just fine if there’s a constant rainfall, but when we have a prolonged drought like we’re experiencing at the moment the ground dries out and the foundations shift. And so we end up with cracks in our walls.
Jesus told a parable about this didn’t he? Do you remember the parable about the wise and foolish builder? One built on sand and the other on solid rock. And what did Jesus say was the solid rock upon which wise people will build their lives? It was the words of Jesus wasn’t it? He said ‘everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like the wise man.’ And if it’s important to build our lives on the teaching of Jesus, it’s even more important that we build our life as a Church on that foundation.
In our gospel reading today Peter makes the outstanding statement that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. And Jesus tells him that on that rock he will build his church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. Notice it’s not Peter, the rock, on which the church is built; it’s the confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God.
Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians talks about how he built the first layers of the church. He says: (1 Cor 3:10-11 NRSV) “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. 11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.”
Peter in his first letter tells the church that “6it stands in scripture: ‘See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’”
So the only foundation for our building a community under God is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
But notice that Peter talks about more than just the foundations. He says “like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” It isn’t enough to have the right foundation, you then need to lay down course of brickwork. The bricks need to be bound together so they hold firm. I remember watching my father lay bricks when I was about 5.Yes I can remember back that far, even if it was last century. But I remember he had these cool thick wire things, like huge staples, about 250mm long that he’d lay between the two courses of bricks every now and then, to tie them together so the walls would be bound together. That’s the sort of thing that Peter’s talking about here. He says let yourselves be built into a spiritual house. In other words it doesn’t happen automatically. Just coming to church isn’t enough. No we need to allow ourselves to be bound into the structure, joined with one another in such a way that the building rises strong enough to withstand the forces that come against it to oppose it. So how are we going to let ourselves be built into this spiritual house?
The first area we need to think about is that of relationships. This is a house that’s built on our relationship with Christ and that grows through our relationship with one another. To change the metaphor slightly elsewhere we’re described as Christ’s body where every part has a role to play. So if we want to be bound to Christ we need to be bound to the other parts of Christ’s body.
So what things do we need to think about in terms of our relationships with one another.
Let me just mention three. I’m sure you can think of other areas, but it seems to me that these three are critical.
The first area is that of forgiveness. In case you hadn’t noticed the church is full of fallen people. In fact it’s only made up of fallen people. We all fail to live as God wants us to. We all do things that offend others. If you’ve never had a problem with anyone else in a church I’d like to know your secret. And you know, the best way to wreck a church is to hold on to the hurts and offences of other people; to store them up until they begin to fester. And when those things begin to fester the whole body gets infected. An equally effective way is to be the offender and never admit your faults. One of the great causes of lasting hurt in the church is when someone does something but never acknowledges that they were wrong to do it.
So James tells the church ‘confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.’ (James 5:16) When you confess your sins to someone else you not only heal the relationship with them, you also help yourself to avoid self deception. There’s something about admitting out loud that “I was wrong” that helps me get in touch with the reality of who I am.
Related to forgiveness is patience, bearing with one another in love. Anyone who’s married understands the importance of this. The closer you get to someone the more likely you are to be hurt by them, or simply annoyed by the things they do that are different to the way you’d do them. Yet it’s as we accept them as they are with all their annoying habits that our love for them is proven.
We were discussing Mark’s gospel in our Confirmation preparation the other day and one of the things we noticed was how thick the disciples seemed to be. Even in the continuation of today’s gospel reading, when Peter has made this outstanding statement about Jesus, we find him completely missing the point. And you wonder how did Jesus ever put up with these men who just didn’t get it? But that’s the nature of love isn’t it? You keep plugging away until they get there. Sometimes you just have to take a gentle approach with people until they get to the point where they understand, where they change their mind, where they finally say I’m sorry. I was wrong.
Thirdly loving one another is, of course, the key to building relationships. Later in 1 Peter we read: “maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.”
If we’re to be built into the household of God then it’s critical that love is the core value in our lives. us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
And remember that God’s love is expressed towards those who are his enemies. Jesus came and died for us while we were totally opposed to him. He prayed that God would forgive those who were putting him to death. So if we’re being built into his temple we need to love in the same way; to love not only our brothers and sisters but those outside the church who are strangers to God and his church.
Next we need to work on mutual encouragement. Let me suggest that mutual encouragement could be the most selfish thing you ever do. Why? Because when you encourage someone else they’re strengthened and when they’re strong they’re able to help you remain strong.
I have a feeling that this sort of encouragement of one another is something that Australians are not normally good at. Yes we’re great when there’s a crisis like the bushfires of late. Then we go out of our way to support one another. But when things are going well and everyone seems to be OK we often don’t bother to give a word of encouragement.
I’ve become more and more aware over the last few years of the need to tell people they’ve done a good job. I know in my own case what a help this is. Every now and them someone will say something to me or perhaps email me to thank me for something that I’ve said or done and it gives me a real boost to think that someone noticed and appreciated whatever it was that I’d done, even if it’s only a little thing.
I’d like you to think back over the last weeks or months and think about who you’ve said something to, to encourage them. How often have you told someone they did a good job, or you appreciated something they did, or you were helped by their particular ministry to you or to others even? It’s that sort of small thing, like the metal staple that’ll bind our building together.
Gathering together for corporate worship of God
Next, gathering together for corporate worship of God. God has put us in a Church for a good reason. That’s because he wants us to worship him together. He knows that Christians who try to live their life alone will struggle to remain faithful. We need the support and encouragement of a community if we’re to remain strong in our faith. We need others to help us if we’re to bring new people into God’s kingdom. We need to submit ourselves to God’s word as a community so together we can discern his will for us. I love the way we worship here at St Thomas’ as a community that embraces all ages and many nationalities. This is a strong proclamation of the gospel, a statement that Christ died for all people irrespective of age, race, class or gender. My expectation is that those who are followers of Christ will make the weekly worship of God with his people the top priority in their lives.
Sharing our resources with others
Finally, if we’re to be build into the household of God we’ll need to share our resources with one another.
So our time, probably our most precious resource in this part of the world, needs to be made available to the community. For some, this may mean a sacrificial giving of time. It may not be all the time, but there may be times when you’re asked to give up your precious leisure time in order to build the kingdom. There are a number of people who do this already but maybe there are others who could offer their time to take on some of the tasks around the church in order to build God’s temple.
Similarly God gives us gifts of varying types that he expects us to use for the sake of the church. These may be up-front gifts: preaching, leading, reading, praying; or they might be background gifts: flower arranging, delivering leaflets, morning tea preparation, visiting sick or housebound brothers or sisters. Whatever the gift you’ve been given God expects you to use it in some form of ministry, as we saw last week.
Finally one of the resources that we can share with others is our money. One of the ways of overcoming our shortage of time is to pay others so they can be freed up to do ministry full-time. But that requires the rest of us to give generously to cover their stipends. Although I’ve said it many times before I keep on coming across people who haven’t worked out that the only money we have to pay for ministry at St Thomas’ is the money we each give. So if we want to continue the very effective ministries we have here, to children and youth, to Cantonese speakers, to the wide range of adults in the congregation then we need to continue to give generously to support that work.
And of course as we move towards building a new church complex over the next three years we’ll need to be even more generous so we can afford a physical building that will suit our needs.
So how will we succeed in the third part of our mission statement, to build community that reflects God’s love? First we’ll proclaim the mighty acts of God to those who haven’t yet heard. Secondly we’ll build on the foundation of Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection; thirdly we’ll concentrate on building good relationships with one another; fourthly we’ll work at encouraging one another to love and good works; fifthly we’ll make gathering together for corporate worship of God our top priority; and finally we’ll gladly share our resources of time gifts and money with one another.
Let me finish by reminding you what a high calling we have as the people of God, in the words of 1 Peter 2:9: “9But 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.”