“The God Who” Series
February 6-7, 2021
“The God Who Builds His Church”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
The key word at Ascension Lutheran Church, this church, right now, is the word “building”. We spoke about renovating our building for the last few years. We agreed that we should do it. Then you gave gobs of money to pay for it. And then the actual construction began a few months ago.
But I’m learning something about the process of building when it involves renovating a building built in the last century. Before anything is put up, lots of stuff have to be torn down. In the last few weeks we have seen some walls being built, electrical outlets put in place, and the sheetrock delivered. But you know what the first 6 weeks, or so, looked like? Destroying. Demolishing. Wrecking. Lots of grown up men and women looked like they were having fun removing walls, ceiling tiles and insulation. You know, two and three year-olds really enjoy destroying things. We could have hired them, maybe they would have done it for free!!
We are building here – on our physical building. And God is building here – in our minds and in our will and in our souls. One of the themes of this book of Ephesians is about “The God who builds His church.” Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18b) In our reading from Ephesians 2 we hear, “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)
God, the builder, is at work in you and in me. He is the builder and we are His building – His temple. But before He gets to build He has to demolish. I get a weekly paper from the area where I once lived. They have a section called “Peeking Into The Past”. They tell you what was in their newspaper from 5, 10, 25, 50 and 75 years ago. I’ve especially enjoyed reading the section about remembering what happened 75 years ago. 75 years ago takes us back to the 1940’s. World War II. The articles would talk about the sale of War Bonds and how much Phillips County was to sell to meet their quota. They would talk about rationing of lots of common goods, including gas. They would have drives for recycled metal, paper, even nylons. They would collect grease. (I guess that would make a good meal for the soldiers??) What was portrayed in these articles was a country united to win a war. It took sacrifice to be without some things but they worked together for something bigger than themselves.
I wonder what historians will say about us? Or maybe I worry what historians will say about us. Will they speak about our divisions and discord and bitterness? In 75 years will they concentrate about the riots in the cities or the rampage at the Capitol? Our deep divides are like the divide that Paul speaks about in our reading.
When Jesus said that He would build His church I’m sure that He knew what kind of work that would take. His church, His people, would come from all different groups. And they had a way about them that God had to correct. People in that time were as dysfunctional as we are. They despised each other. They hated one another. They were not unified, and they didn’t want to be unified. The two groups that made up God’s church in Ephesus were Jewish people and Gentile people. The Jews looked at themselves as “the chosen” and the apple of God’s eye. But they considered the Gentiles unclean, dirty, failures. The Gentiles, in turn despised the elitist, holier-than-thou, separatist ways of the Jew.
And God? Well, God loved them all. They, all, were His people. He wanted them to be His church, His own. But before He could build His church He had to destroy their evil heart. Our reading says, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away (he is talking about the Gentiles) and peace to those who are near (about the Jews). For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:14-18)
If God was going to make one church, so that Jews and Gentiles, could sit in the same pew and partake, together, of the Supper of Christ, then He had to do a work that He alone can do. There was a dividing wall, literally, between Jew and Gentile in the holiest place for the Jewish people – the Temple in Jerusalem. There was a wall, called a Soreg, that prevented the Gentile to enter the Temple area. This was the sign that showed that there was no unity between a Jew and a Gentile and that none was desired, “Let no foreigner enter within the screen and enclosure surrounding the sanctuary. Whosoever is taken so doing will be the cause that death overtakes him.”
How can you build a church where people despise one another and where there is no unity? It can’t happen. Something has to change. Before the building can go up, something has to come down. Paul says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (II Corinthians 10:5)
First, He destroys everything that is offensive to how we would live toward Him and toward one another. But His goal is not to level us but to build us. In some of those first verses in our reading Paul says, “Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:12-13)
God’s ultimate purpose is not to destroy but to build. And if you’re going to build anything you’d better have a good foundation. “Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” We build our life and faith, we build this church, on Jesus Christ. We build on Christ – crucified and risen. We build on Jesus who carried our sins and defeated the enemies that would rob us of our eternal security and our true identity in Jesus. In Corinthians Paul uses the same image of building, “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (I Corinthians 3:10-11) You will never be disappointed that you built your life on Jesus. You will never be disappointed that you trusted in Him to give you peace. You will live eternally in heaven because you built your life on solid rock – Jesus. In Romans Paul says, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (5:1)
What I miss during these last 11 months is the community of church. Watching a sermon in your pajamas is not church. Church is community. It is being together, holding each other up. It is crying together, celebrating together. That church in Ephesus, as diverse as they were, as prone to having divisions that ran down to their bone, were unified by Christ and they could live in love to each other. In the very earliest days of Christianity I read that Christians starting calling themselves a “third race”, or a “new race”. They were no longer simply Jewish or Gentile, God had made them something unique in Jesus. Peter would say of this God who builds His church, “As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (I Peter 2:4-5)
When you read this passage this past week did you see the building that Christ does? He begins building by removing old hostilities and sins. And when the old building is cleared of every bit of a faulty foundation He begins to build. What a building He builds!! It is strong and sure. It will last forever. And He builds not just a single dwelling but a whole city – a church. As Paul would color it, “In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
Lord, build your church here!! Amen!!