Creekside Church
Sermon of November 10, 2019

"Building Together "
Ephesians 2:19-22

Pastor
Rosanna McFadden

 

Good morning! This is the second Sunday of our sermon series from the book of Ephesians; a month of reflections on gratitude. As I said last week, gratitude is something which should be part of our lives every month of the year, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of what God invites us to through the words of the Bible. Last week we talked about gratitude for people, and I was delighted to see how many of you picked up a gratitude card on the ushers’ table -- I saw some of you with more than one, which is even better. The intent is that you give them to someone, beginning with someone from Creekside, for whom you are grateful. Yesterday’s service for Jeff Hostetler was a reminder of how important people are in our lives, and how important it is to tell them that and not simply assume that they know.

This morning I want to talk about gratitude for the church, what the author of Ephesians calls the household of God. We here at Creekside have lots to be grateful for with this facility and the grounds and gardens which surround it: it is always appropriate to express our gratitude for the folks who take care of those physical expressions of the church, but the physical structure of the church is not where I want to focus this morning, because physical structure is not what the household of God is built upon. The church, Ephesians 20-22 tells us, is built together spiritually on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.

This means that the church is built out of people -- people like you and me -- and the weakness in that plan is immediately apparent. You’re not perfect, and I’m certainly not perfect -- how is that going to work? Although I do my best to be reliable, there are days when I’m not sure that I’m structurally sound. And frankly, there are days when I can barely hold myself together, let alone a whole lot of other people. This building metaphor can only take us so far before the whole thing falls apart. We don’t have to look very far to see that there are great challenges facing the church in this country: church attendance has been in decline for the past 30 years, and an entire generation has basically opted out of organized religion. Many of them are raising children who have no context for being part of any kind of community, let alone a household of faith. These kids haven’t heard the Christian story in their families, and may only set foot in a church building at Easter or Christmas Eve, if that. Christians are viewed as self-righteous hypocrites, or just irrelevant. Churches are increasingly trying to run programs and pay staff and maintain buildings with shrinking budgets. If this is the first time you’ve heard this, you haven’t been paying attention to announcements and articles in the Creekside newsletter.

Those are some of the organizational challenges of the church, but there are wider systemic issues which may be even more damaging to the church as we know it: changing cultural expectations about discretionary time and entertainment, how we get our information and what information we choose to get, changing attitudes about money and charitable giving, and continuing revelations of sexual abuse by clergy. All of this has eroded the structure of the church as many of us remember it from decades ago. And yet, I believe in the church. More specifically, I believe what the author of Ephesians says about the church, and what the church is intended to be: a dwelling place for God.

The idea that humans can build a dwelling place which would contain God has been tried and failed. No physical structure, not even Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem could do that. Nor can we contain God by the less tangible things about church: our theology, our programs, and our budgets. These are vital things, but they do not control God, they ought to serve God, just as we Christians are called to serve God. Ephesians 2:21 says “In him [Christ Jesus] the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” What that says to me is that without the cornerstone of Christ Jesus, the whole thing falls apart. I believe that church building should be a life-long process: not that we should perpetually be in the process of actual construction, but that in order to be a holy temple of the Lord, we need constant formation. The challenge with physical buildings is that they are expensive to construct and even more expensive to change, and they begin to lose their value almost as soon as they are completed. Spiritual formation is nearly the opposite: it is not expensive, although it may be costly; it is flexible and constantly changes us; and it becomes stronger and more beautiful over time.

We need to keep the physical and the spiritual in balance to have a healthy church. I love this building and the Prayer Garden and the way we’ve been able to use our property to feed people in our community. Many of you work diligently to make this a beautiful place, and many of you give financially to help pay the mortgage and the utilities. God bless you. The only way we can maintain this building is by your generosity. No one else pays for that but us; if you do not contribute financially to this church, someone else has to pick up your part. But a building without Jesus Christ as the cornerstone is not a church. A church is place where saints and insiders welcome strangers and foreigners and they join together to serve and glorify God through Jesus Christ. A church is where can be the household of God for each other, but more importantly, where we are a holy temple in the Lord. We do that through prayer, we do that through our love for one another and reaching out to our community, and we do that by expressing gratitude. It begins with gratitude for Jesus Christ, for being saved by grace, for being who God created us to be, made for good works which God has already prepared to be our way of life.

No demographic shifts or cultural changes or human wrong-doing can stand against the glory of God and the grace of Jesus Christ. A church which is a dwelling place for the glory of God and the grace of Jesus will still have to change for its people and its setting; but more importantly, making our church a dwelling place for the Lord will change us, because we will be building together to become whom God has called us to be. Gratitude is one of the things which holds us together; gratitude is one of the ways we glorify God and the way which we can receive the grace of Jesus Christ.

I have committed myself to giving us ways to exercise our capacity for gratitude this month. I already mentioned the gratitude cards and the gratitude tree which is in the Gathering Area. Please continue to use those -- I’m going to add something you can do with the tree: between now and the end of November, and if you’ve already put up a leaf, you can put up another. The second one is a scripture verse that you are thankful for, a passage which is important to you. Just write the reference -- Philippians 4:13 or Psalm 23 or whatever -- you don’t have to write out the verse. Please take some time to see what other people have written.

And this morning, on your way out, I have asked the ushers to give you a quarter sheet of paper with items for a Gratitude Scavenger Hunt. I got this idea from a book which I’m studying with a group of women pastors and church leaders. These aren’t physical things which you have to find in the Creekside building or on the grounds, these are prompts for to remember what you are grateful for about the church. I have suggested 5, but I’m sure you can think of more. You don’t have to write them down -- although you may, if you wish. Feel free to share your answers with your spouse, your children, your Sunday School class, your pastor -- or ponder them in your heart. Whatever you do, I hope it will be a reminder of the good things which church can be when we share the glory of God and the love of Christ with each other and with our neighbors. I am grateful to be building together with you for the glory of God.

 

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