Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sermon: Construction Materials

1 Peter 2:2-10
Construction Materials
James Sledge                                                                                       May 14, 2017

When I meet people for the first time on a Sunday, no one ever asks me that standard question, “So what do you do?” But when I meet people outside of church I do get asked that. Sometimes when I say that I’m a pastor people will respond, “What church?” When I say “Falls Church Presbyterian,” it almost always elicits a shrug. I have to tell them that we’re on East Broad Street, but usually, that’s still not enough. Finally when I say that we’re the stone church just down from Applebee’s, I finally get, “O yeah, I know where that is.” Sometimes they’ll say something about how pretty it is.
We do have a beautiful stone building, so it’s not surprising that people have noticed it even if they’ve never actually read our name. Buildings are an important part of most churches. When a new church first starts, it may meet in school or a movie theater, but that’s temporary. Even before the first worship service at the movie theater, people are thinking about plans to acquire land and build a building.
For many people, a church building is what makes it feel like church. That likely explains why I get a fair number of phone calls from people who attend other churches but want to get married here. Sometimes they’re at one of those churches meeting in a movie theater. More often, their church has a building, but it’s a contemporary space that doesn’t look like a church. For their wedding, they want a church building that looks like a church.
Church buildings are important and so we have a committee dedicated to our building and grounds. That committee has to worry about keeping up all our buildings and property, making sure there are plans for when we need a new roof or a new boiler or have to repave the parking lot. It takes a lot of work and a lot of money to keep all our buildings in good, working order.
Not that anyone thinks church is just the buildings. Many of you likely know the old rhyme where you form a church building with your hands and fingers. “Here’s the church and here’s the steeple. Open the door and see all the people.” Without those people, a beautiful church building would be nothing but a museum.
That’s why along with that committee that makes sure our buildings are well cared for, there are other committees focused on what people do in the buildings. People discuss and plan for worship, Sunday School programs, youth groups, mission efforts such as our Welcome Table program, fellowship events, and much more.
As important as buildings are – providing a place for worship, Sunday School, youth groups, Welcome Table, etc. – who we are as a church is more about what people here do.

How many of you are participating in one of the Renew Groups that have been meeting over the past few months? For those who may not know, these groups are part of process to discuss who we are as a congregation and where we are called to go in the future. They meet in people’s homes each month for a meal, and there are scripture readings and discussion questions to help us think about our strengths and weaknesses and what the future may hold. There is even an online Renewsletter where you can keep up with these groups if you’re not able to participate.
Other than reading those newsletters, I’m mostly familiar with what’s happening in the group I participate in. But I feel fairly confident that most of the group conversations are less about the buildings and more about the things we do or don’t do, should do or shouldn’t do. They’re about the people and activity part of being a church.
At some point the Session will utilize the information coming from the Renew Groups to discuss our mission and call as congregation. Whatever planning that entails will certainly include ensuring that we can maintain our buildings and property, but that will be largely about setting aside sufficient funds. The more difficult discussions will be around just what we are supposed to be doing as a church. What is our core mission or purpose?
How does the Session, or the congregation, go about answering such questions? How do we decide how best to focus the energies and activities of the people in the church? When I’ve been a part of such discussions in other congregations, I’ve noticed that people tend to talk about what they like or don’t like, want or don’t want. But that seems contrary to the picture painted by our scripture reading this morning.
Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation — if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 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.
Newborn infants and living stones; neither of these metaphors speak of those with a great deal of power or control, of those who decide what they want or don’t want. Infants don’t necessarily know what they need to grow into the people they should become. And imagine trying to construct a building if you had to ask each stone where they wanted to be placed, or if they wanted to be a part of that particular building at all.
But of course stones can’t do that. Stones don’t construct buildings. They get constructed into buildings. Which is what our scripture writer suggests for us. Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house. Let myself? That’s a little passive for my taste.
A few weeks ago, members of our confirmation class made their professions of faith. As part of that they answered this question. “Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Lord and Savior, trusting in his grace and love?” Many years ago I answered the same question. So have many of you.
“Lord” is something of an archaic word, relegated mostly to religious use. Its use by Christians to speak of Jesus has multifaceted meaning including “master, boss, ruler.” The Lord tells the subject what to do, not the other way round. Like the builder and the stones.
But I want to be the ruler of my own life. In similar fashion, the living stones in many congregations want to build a house that they like, that suits them. They want to be their own master, their own architect. We don’t like others telling us what to do.
Yet sometimes, when I feel lost or overwhelmed, I do want someone to tell me what to do. I do want someone to give me direction. I suspect many of us feel overwhelmed and lost at times. Some of us are stressed out and feel like we’re stuck on a hamster wheel. Some of us see our children or grandchildren over-scheduled and under intense pressure to perform and succeed. Some of us have done really well at the acquiring and achieving that our culture says will make us happy and secure and fulfilled, but we’re not so sure it’s working.
What if what we most need is not more control but to be shaped and transformed by the way of Jesus? What if we really, desperately need a guide, a teacher, a master, a savior, a Lord, a God?

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