ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH SEPTEMBER 11, 2016
Rev. Sabrina Ingram ANNIVERSARY SUNDAY
BUILDING ON ROCK
1 Peter 2: 4 – 10; Matthew 7: 24 – 26
One of the stranger habits humans have is that of building monuments. All over the world monuments have been erected – the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower, the tower of Big Ben, the Statue of Liberty, the Vatican. Monuments are symbolic; they can represent things like love, celebration, order, freedom, and faith. Monuments also tap into identity and memory. A giant mosquito says a lot about Komarno, Manitoba as does Wawa’s goose and Sudbury’s nickel. Cenotaphs throughout the world preserve the memory of those who died in war. Strangely humans grant superiority to the country with the highest tower which is presently the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Destroying the monument of another nation does more than destroy a structure – it goes to the heart of who they are.
When the Israelites crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land God performed a miracle on par with the dividing of the Red Sea; he stopped the flow of the River. When the people crossed a person from each of the 12 tribes of Israel was called upon to pick up a rock from the middle of the river, where the priests stood, and to bring it into their new homeland. Joshua took those rocks and set up a monument. The monument represented many things. It was a symbolic way of declaring that the Israelites were God’s chosen people. It foretold their intention to take over the land. But first and foremost, it was a symbol to the other nations that the God of Israel was powerful and to be feared.
Christians do something similar when we build Churches and Cathedrals. We build monuments that say we are God’s people and this is a place which honours God. They declare that our God is worthy of our worship – even of our very best offerings.
It may surprise you to learn that God too builds monuments although of a very different kind. In 1 Peter the Christian Community is referred to as “Living Stones”. That image endures today. You and I are the rocks, the living stones,that God takes and sets in the midst of the world. Peter wrote, “…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… you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people…” We are living stones. In our living and dying, in our rising and resting, with every breathe we take God wants us to be a living monument to him. Each of us will do that in a way that is particular to our personalities and lifestyles. The way in which each person lives as a testimony to God is as unique as every stone that sits on the Communion Table today. And not only are we to be individual stones, we are living stones which, if we let him, God will build up into a spiritual house. Together we’ve been chosen for God’s purposes. We’re to be a priesthood creates a bridge between Christ and our neighbours. We’re holy, set apart to love God and love people. We are God’s people, a living monument in this neighbourhood where we’ve been placed. And the great thing about living monuments is: they’re very mobile. We can be living stones wherever we go – whether that’s home or work, the places we play, when we’re with other Christians, with friends who don’t yet know Christ or with those who tell us our faith isn’t welcome. As a spiritual house, nothing can tear us down, if…and this is a big if…
Jesus taught, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!” If our foundation is weak, we’ll fall. The Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy was never intended to lean. The 179-foot tower moves about one-twentieth of an inch each year, and is now 17 feet out of plumb. Without being re-inforced it would have fallen. The problem is not the tower itself – its design was both beautiful and enduring yet it began to lean even before it was completed, which did take 200 years. The problem is that the foundation is only 10 feet deep and built on a bog. The engineer might have seen this downfall coming: the word “pisa” means “marshy land.”
To build anything lasting, we need a solid foundation. Throughout the Old Testament God is frequently described as a rock. Peter described Jesus as “the cornerstone, chosen and precious” rejected by many but precious to those living stones who believe in and build on him. Jesus taught that a wise man builds his house on rock. And when the rain and floods and winds blow and beat against the house, it remains standing because of its foundation. For some people Christ is a stumbling block. For Christians he is the rock on which we’re built. To become part of his living monument, Jesus advised us “to hear these words of mine and act on them”. Listening and action are the tools we use to build this living, spiritual structure. And if we’re built on rock, we’re unshakeable.
Today St. Stephen’s celebrates another anniversary. This congregation, this collection of living stones, has been strong and solid for 52 years. Anniversaries are touchstones for our identity as God’s people. They are times when we remember who we are and who God is and what God has done for and among us. They are times when we pause to ask, “What does this mean?” What’s special about this time, this place, these people, our faith? What is it we’re celebrating?” No doubt your answers are as distinct as each of you. There may be memories the excitement and purpose when you started a Presbyterian congregation in the north end of Ptbo. For others there are memories of parents, partners, family or children. There may be warm memories of times of fellowship or a favourite minister. For many it would be the love, support and prayers of the community that brought you through a tough time. Hopefully the moments of spiritual revelation and growth that have come through this congregation to give your life meaning float to the top. Churches fulfill many purposes and all those things are part of being a living, spiritual house. According to Peter we exist “in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” When the children of the Israelites saw the monument made of rocks they asked, “What does this mean?” As Living Stones should witness to the power and wonder of Christ in such a way that our children notice and ask, “What does this mean?” And when they ask, our first answer should be “the hand of the Lord is mighty” and don’t ever forget it. “Revere the Lord your God forever.” He is the God of miracles, mighty acts, and marvelous light. He is the God of incarnation and resurrection.
I believe St. Stephen’s has been built on The Rock – on the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ. God, our solid foundation, is indestructible. He has held us in the past, he holds us in the present and he will hold us in the future. As we hear him, trust him, believe in him, witness to him and act, he will build us every day into a living monument to his glory. As he does, let’s humbly remember,
Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.
May this congregation always revere our God and may we proclaim with our lives the mighty acts of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.