Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 7 May 2023.
• First Reading: Acts 7: 55-60 (The death of Stephen. Saul’s approval)
• Epistle: 1 Peter 2: 2-10 (Living stones, being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood)
• Gospel: John 14: 1-14 (I will do whatever your ask in My name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son)
One of the wonders of modern life is the way building projects rise from the ground. To begin with there is that open and empty site –an open field or the site of a former project.
Then the builders move in – the site is secured and then it seems to dissolve into absurdity. A total mess of holes in the ground, building materials and equipment stored anywhere and everywhere, and the whole running with mud.
How on earth can anything useful, never mind beautiful, rise from this utter chaos? Any casual observer may be completely dismayed by the officially sanctioned shambles.
But then things begin to appear. Service mains are laid and on top of them, the foundations. The ground plan begins to find form.
Then there is a riot of scaffolding but walls and floors are seen until the project is compete. It is clean and tidy and even the lights work and the water and sewage connections do what they should.
Yet the wonder is in how an open site can yield that particular building? It may be known to and understood by the designers, planners and builders, but not many others.
For the church much of the same applies. All we see is the stress of falling numbers of congregations and their funds, the bickering over details of church life and order, the difficulty in telling what is nice to have from what is essential – and opinions on these things can vary, wildly and noisily.
What we see is an organized chaos – sometimes the sense of chaos prevailing over the sense of order. Where will it all end? How can anything good come out of this? Someone must be to blame for it all.
But then there is another way of looking at it all. In the Upper Room, shortly before Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion, He was speaking to His disciples.
He knew what was coming – they only knew that there was a great sense of threat and unease.
And so Jesus spoke to settle them. No, things had not run out of control. Yes, there was a purpose to it all. Yes, they might be scattered and reduced to confusion, but no this was not the end of the story. God was still in control, and they would come to see it.
But the misgivings persisted. ‘Lord, where are you going?’ – ‘Somewhere where you cannot come just now.’
‘Show us God’ – Oh dear. ‘If you have seen Me, you have already seen God – as much of Him as you can bear just now. Use your eyes of faith: do you believe in Me – or not?’
Some were already numb. Others were getting there. None was really settled. And yet, and yet.
In the resurrection, the disciples would understand that what Jesus had said about being the Way, the Truth and the Life were wholly true. There was no other way to God the Father except through Jesus and Him alone.
There may be plenty of ways of coming before God apart from Jesus but all wound find that He was their Judge before whose utter holiness they were already discredited and degraded. Their self-selected and self-appraised good works were worthless when shown up in the Glory of God.
The only works that God was going to acknowledge were those achieved in and through Jesus, and none other. Jesus would be available to people of all nations and races, all cultures and creeds. But He would redefine all of them His way.
And this is where the process of building work comes back into focus. Jesus is forming His people and building them into a glorious temple.
All are being prepared as living stones in that temple, all have a place and a purpose within the designs of God. Nobody is excluded.
But then all are taken and like stones, shaped and put into their places. Some may have to be given straight sides, others formed to be corners and keystones. Some will be prominent while others will be foundation stones, hidden but essential.
And yes, it is Jesus who is doing the design work as well as the site management. He has a plan for the overall scheme and He knows how He wants each stone and each part to fit together.
Perhaps we only see the mess. This is where we need to trust. We may not see the site layout, the floor plans or elevations. But we are called to trust in the overall design.
And that applies when we also are being taken and shaped, parts cut off, trimmed and smoothed to take the place that the Lord intends for us.
Difficult? Yes. Challenging? Definitely. Sacrificial? Quite likely. It demands faith and patience, and acquiring these can be costly and demanding.
But this is where we are called on to trust Jesus: originator, designer, builder and controller.