February 19, 2017
Our Building and Grounds committee has kept busy for many years with upkeep on our church's foundation. If you can remember when we had our old back entry, the whole cement slab was sinking, the foundation wasn't built deep enough and that was causing other troubles with doors and cracks etc. And so the new back entryway was built with a new, deeper and solider foundation.
When we redid the front steps a year and a half ago, we discovered part of the foundation behind the front entryway was crumbling. The foundation had to be reinforced with an outer layer of concrete to ensure that the front entryway wouldn't start to slide away.
And then late this summer, we were able to repair and and overlay the rest of the foundation of the church. A protective covering was applied to fill and repair the cracks and then it was painted to improve the look of the church.
Paul, in our epistle reading today, spoke of foundations. He wrote that he laid the foundation of the church in Corinth. Not the physical foundation, but spiritual. He laid the foundation, but, as we read last week, others built upon it.
Now God's house can suggest two different entities. We can look at our personal faith in terms of being God's house...which Paul in fact does; “Don’t you know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” We also look at the church as God's house...and it was the church in Corinth to whom this letter was written. I'm going to look at these two paths and examine what Paul’s words mean for us in our lives and in our church today.
Let's start with God's house as the church and let's first look back to Corinth. Undoubtedly there were some problems arising in the new Corinthian church. Divisions were appearing in the church. Cracks , if you will, were beginning to form. And it wasn't necessarily troublemakers stirring things up. The church is made up of many individuals. Individuals with different expectations, different needs, different talents, different opinions...differences. And it's still true today. We are all different. Every one here is a “theologian” with his or her understanding of who God is, how God works, how we should be worshiping and serving God.
I'm reading Shirley Guthrie's book Diversity in Faith-Unity in Christ. He spends a good deal of time writing about the importance of correct doctrine in the church; but he also explains how doctrine can be used to divide us; to cause cracks in the foundation of a unified church. “Biblical truth is not just “our” truth but THE truth, not just truth for us Christians but truth for everyone, not just a matter of subjective perception but a matter of objective truth.” In other words, while it is true that we each have our personal theology, there is an objective set of truths that the church has struggled with, fought over and come to a conclusion as to what is the truth. I can list some as examples: Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, our knowledge of Jesus comes from the scriptures interpreted as God's word to us, it is grace, not works, that allow us to be true children of God. When we recite the Apostle's Creed, we are reciting doctrine handed down through the centuries. Our Presbyterian Book of Order includes a lot of denominational doctrine. But not everyone agrees with every word in the creeds; the Book of Order is constantly being reformed, and there are many specific doctrinal issues upon which we disagree; baptism-infant or adult, sprinkling or dunking? Communion: open to all or only those who have been baptized? Do you need to have been confirmed? Must you be a member?
When we talk about the foundation of the Church, we need to be aware that it is built up, not by agreeing on every aspect of church life, but in agreeing that Jesus is Lord and Savior and building our unity upon that truth. We will need to make a theological stand at some time, but understand that we don't all come from the same place. Our understanding, our interpretation of scripture is influenced by many things. Guthrie writes about how our biblical wisdom is shaped, we “tend to forget that the wisdom of even the most orthodox Christian is shaped... by their own personal temperaments and prejudices, by the self interest of the economic class and political group to which they belong, and by the philosophical, cultural and scientific presuppositions of the particular time and place in which they live.” This is perhaps one of the hardest concepts for us to understand. Well, it is hard for me so I assume it is hard for everyone. We come at the reading and hearing and study of scripture with biases well in place. It is impossible I'd say to eliminate them, but we can build a better foundation by understanding before we begin that there are certain differences already in place. Knowing we come at this all as fallible human beings is critical in our journey; none of us has all the answers. Cracks develop when we believe we, our group, our church, ourselves have all the answers and fail to listen to other positions. Come together in humility and the foundation is strengthened as we build upon the knowledge and understanding of one another.
That said, we must as the church guard against false teachings. Scriptures hold the pastor and the congregation accountable to teach right doctrine. Paul wrote to Timothy about this. Timothy was a pastor appointed by Paul, and he was instructed to guard against false teaching and teach the truth as he got it from Paul, “Follow the pattern of true teachings that you heard from me in faith and love, which are in Christ Jesus. Protect the truth that you were given; protect it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us”. [Paul also warns us about frivolous arguments over biblical details; trivia if you will. I share portions of 2 Timothy 2 from The Message: Repeat these basic essentials over and over to God’s people. Warn them before God against pious nitpicking, which chips away at the faith. It just wears everyone out. Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won’t be ashamed of, laying out the truth plain and simple. Stay clear of pious talk that is only talk. Refuse to get involved in inane discussions; they always end up in fights. God’s servant must not be argumentative, but a gentle listener and a teacher who keeps cool, working firmly but patiently with those who refuse to obey.]
Foundations. The church universal is built upon the teachings of the bible. Jesus himself is the cornerstone. Doctrine is part of the foundation. Sharing the sacraments is part of the foundation. Sharing in fellowship—especially as we share our joys and concerns to be lifted up in prayer support the foundation. But we do need to be on constant guard against cracks in our foundation.
Most of us weren't here when we had a big split back in the 70's. I don't know details, some wanted the pastor to go, some wanted him to stay, some accusations were made.... But the process was never mediated and the cracks formed by mistrust grew and grew until fellowship was broken, doctrine was left in the dust of rules and votes, and the church split.
We do not appear on the verge of any such disaster right now. But we must remain vigilant. Especially on the three foundational structures I mentioned—doctrine, sacraments and fellowship all built upon the cornerstone of Jesus Christ.
There are volumes and volumes of books written about how to keep a church alive and active and strong. Time doesn't permit me to go deeper. I'm going to leave this part of my sermon and go on to our personal faith and the importance of a strong foundation there. Just like the building and grounds committee took time to walk around and examine the actual foundation of our church and make the necessary repairs, so we should do from time to time with our personal spiritual foundation. First, I suggest three personal practices that will reinforce our spiritual foundations.
1. Church participation. You are here, that is the fundamental part of this. There are many blessings that come with church participation. Did you know that married couples who attend church weekly are much less likely to divorce? There are health benefits, “In a 20-year study, Harvard scientists found that women who went to religious services twice a week were one-third less likely to die compared to non-attendees.” (That's a direct quote, I'd say they all will die eventually” An article in the New York times said this, “Religious attendance... boosts the immune system and decreases blood pressure. It may add as much as two to three years to your life.”
Now all that may be interesting, but it is not the true importance of church attendance. Church is about connecting with God and with fellow believers. Lots of time we talk about coming to church to get our tanks refilled to face another week in the secular world. And attendance is very important as it encourages others here. What a lift we get to see our brothers and sisters gathered together and then praying for one another, especially as we share the unison benediction. Church attendance is an important part of our foundation. But probably not the most important. And why would the pastor say that. Because church is only a couple of hours out of the week at the most. There are 168 hours in a week. We need to spend time with God during the week to make sure our foundation stays strong. So 2 and 3 go together. We spend time with God in two ways, prayer and scripture reading.
2. Prayer: I've given several sermons on how to pray over the years. But there is no one size fits all. The main thing about prayer is that you are consciously in the presence of God. It is not about asking for things, it is about being with God. A nice little acronym we've shared before is a guideline that can help us focus. ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. Using this, ¾ of our prayer time is spent in ways other than requesting God to grant our wishes...which is not really the spirit of prayer anyways. This prayer time includes being still and knowing that God is with you...it can include meditation if that helps you connect. It is communication with God, letting the Spirit have time and quietness to overcome the noise of the world. . 3. Bible Study. Back to doctrine for a second, it has been established that God's revelation ended with the canon selected as the bible we now have. If you want to know about God, especially God as revealed in Jesus, the bible is the only sure way. There are lots of postings on facebook that suggest that they are teaching us about God, but it all must be tested against the scriptures. As it is for the church, so for us, the Word of God is the truest guide for this journey of faith. Don't think that our foundation will ever be as strong as possible without the bible.
Foundations. Now I invite you to do that mental walk around, checking your foundation as based on these three activities. Church—check at least for today. Prayer time...did you daily set aside time...5 minutes, 10, 20 minutes, during the week to be with God? And Bible...do you take bible study seriously, seeking to know God better through His word? How's your foundation look?
I've shared a fraction of what we could be doing to build the foundation of our church and our personal lives. Church: doctrine, sacraments and fellowship. Faith: Church, prayer and scriptures. But I am remiss if I don't emphasize that Jesus must be the cornerstone of our faith, the rock upon which our church and our faith is built. Jesus, Emmanuel, come to earth to demonstrate the love of the Father. The Lamb of God who takes away our sins. The Son of God who sits at God's right hand interceding for us today. It is God who initiates our faith and by grace we can build our lives upon the foundation of Jesus Christ. He, and He alone, is the only foundation that will never crack or weaken. He is our unchanging God. He is the same, yesterday, today and forever. Amen.
Hymn: Christ is Made the Sure Foundation 416 PH