Our Place Has Been Prepared
Back in my days as a camp counselor and director I would often take my campers on an in-depth tour of the church building. We would often begin and end at the dated cornerstone of the building; I would use this as an opportunity to share a few stories from the history of the congregation. This practice of mine expanded and I acquired an interest, some would say a strange fascination with church cornerstones. As I began new ministries in varied congregations I would familiarize myself with the simple but important cornerstone. For me it serves as a reminder that my participation in the life of this congregation doesn’t exist in a vacuum all by itself, but it is part of a greater narrative, it is merely a chapter in a story. This reminder would both be humbling and exhilarating. Yes indeed history is important.
I have had different opportunities to see how important history is to the people of St. Matthew Lutheran Church this year. Our first Sunday happened to be the Sunday that you all celebrated the centennial of St. Matthew. Bishop Ullestead was here to mark the remembrance of 100 years of ministry and the story of St. Matthew’s was put into a video entitled, Look Back, look Forward and Look Up. And the last two Sundays I have had the privilege to sit in on the adult Sunday school forums in which I have heard a regard for the past inform our hopes for the future. Yes brothers and sisters history is important and it’s a part of what makes us who we are.
Today’s readings remind us however that our history as believers doesn’t begin with a church building. Our history doesn’t even begin with our denominational roots in the protestant reformation. Our history as Christians, your history as St. Matthew Lutheran Church finds it’s beginning in the incarnate God who reminds us today that He is the way, the truth and the life who has prepared a place for each and everyone of us.
In our second reading from 1st Peter we are told that Jesus Christ is the cornerstone that the church is built on; the foundation upon which our faith as children of God solely rests. Friends in Christ this doesn’t just tell us about who Christ is but it says something radical about whom we once were and who we’re called to be. To use Peter’s words.
1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:10 10 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.
Yes friends our identities are defined by the God who became man for us, we find our worth in the relationship that that God calls us to and we find our hope in the resurrection that that God has promised us.
It’s so easy to look for our salvation in the newest programs, or find despair in declining membership and financial struggles especially in the age of the mega churches and televangelists. We just need to turn on our TV screens and we see full sanctuaries and celebrity clergy, we begin to believe bigger is better and that is how church should be. But numbers and programs aren’t the marks of communities of people who self identify as disciples and see their future as God’s promised future. The marks of a faithful community of Christians are that God is worshipped and proclaimed and people are empowered to become who God calls them to be.
I really enjoyed opening my new member bag last week and seeing a copy of the DVD that was created for the centennial. I enjoyed it the first time I watched it and will enjoy it again. The best part of the whole DVD is that is just a part of St. Matthew’s story, it’s merely a glimpse of the faith narrative of all of us in this sanctuary and those who have been here before us. Because St. Matthew’s story is a part of the greatest story ever told, and there is nothing insignificant about the part we play in that story.
I am always amazed about how the bible takes what seems insignificant and shows us how integral to God’s story it really is. Today’s reading from the seventh chapter of Acts is an excellent example. Stephen is a man who we’ve never met before this point. He isn’t one of the apostles who travel the countryside proclaiming the Gospel and performing miracles in the name of Jesus Christ. As a matter of fact the only reason he is in the picture today is he was selected as one of seven men who would feed the hungry so the apostles can continue their work. While the apostles served up the Word of God Stephen served the food. But the story doesn’t stop there Stephen answers his call in that place and in both his life and death he provides an amazing witness to the love of God. In his speech to the High Priests when he was questioned, which comes right before what we read today, he exhorts all his hearers to look beyond the laws and structures made by human hands and human minds to find God as the author and source of all life.
Acts 7:47-50 47 But it was Solomon who built a house for him. 48 Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands; as the prophet says, 49 'Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? 50 Did not my hand make all these things?'
Yes friends, God who has created all that is and redeemed you and me had prepared a place for Stephen. Stephen who lived out his faith by feeding widows and orphans and proclaimed the Gospel of Christ with boldness and power that no one expected from him.
This God my friends is the cornerstone, the starting point of all we do at St. Matthew Lutheran. Stephen’s final words began with “Lord receive my spirit” we also hear similar words in the psalm for today. In Stephen we not only meet someone who gives his own spirit to God but also receives God’s spirit in abundance. God who has come to us in the form of Jesus Christ is the way, truth, and the life and has prepared a place for each and every one of us; we don’t need to wait until our last fleeting breath to experience what has already been given us. We can experience it in the smile of a child, a rainbow after a torrential rain, the first sign of a plentiful harvest, and in relationship with each other. These things my friends are sure signs of the God of the resurrection.