Cantate, The Fourth Sunday after Easter May 13, 2001
11, 188, 473, 466
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. So far the Holy Word.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, Who is our Cornerstone, uniting all the Church in one, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
The prophet Elijah was feeling pretty lonely and isolated. He’d been doing his best to preach God’s Word to the people of Israel. He tried and tried to make them realize their sinfulness and turn back to the Lord, but as far as he could see, it wasn’t doing any good. It seemed like the whole country was worshipping Baal, the false god of the Canaanites. So Elijah gave up. He went to Mount Horeb, and holed up in a cave on the mountaintop. “And the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ So he said, ‘I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left.’” Elijah whined, It looks like I’m the only true believer left, God, so you may as well take me now! Do you remember how God replied? Basically, He told the prophet to quit feeling sorry for himself, and get back down there and get to work! Now hear this, Elijah: “Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him!”—1 Ki 19:14,18.
You see, the Lord knew exactly who the true believers were, even if Elijah didn’t. And the same is still true today. With our human eyes, you and I cannot see the structure of God’s invisible Church of all believers. And sometimes that can make a person feel pretty lonely and isolated. You might start to think that you’re all alone in your faith. Why keep up the struggle when so few people are in church here on Sunday . Why go on fighting when the number of believers in our society seems to be getting smaller and smaller as time goes on? But remember, God’s got a heaven’s-eye view of the Christian Church. He sees the whole beautiful building, and he knows where every stone belongs. You are part of that building! Our text for today tells you that there’s a particular niche in that structure that the Lord designed especially for you. In the words of our theme,
Isolation can be an awful feeling. I have to confess I felt a little isolated when our family first moved to the Pacific Northwest. Of course, none of my friends in the Midwest had ever heard of DuPont. Some of them didn’t even know where Tacoma was. It did make me feel a little remote and isolated, like a single block of stone standing all by itself in the middle of a quarry.
In this part of his letter to the believers in Ephesus, Paul was addressing that same problem of isolation. Here they were, after all, one little Christian congregation on the coast of Asia Minor. They were surrounded by a vast empire of hostile unbelievers. It might seem like you’re all alone, he told them, but you’re not! Before you came to faith in Jesus—that’s when you were really alone. At that time you were blind, foreigners to the truth, strangers to God. But Now, Paul says, ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God. He tells them: as believers you are now part of a vast, invisible structure—the Christian Church. You people are the very materials the Church is made from. You Christians are the building blocks of the Church!
The same is true about this little group of believers we have here in DuPont, Washington—a place that most of the rest of America considers pretty remote! No matter what it looks like, we are not alone. Each of us is tied into the mighty structure of the Christian Church just as intimately and solidly as building blocks that are cemented into a towering stone structure. What is it that unites us, and holds us together as a unified body? Well, it’s several things.
First, and most important: each block is connected to the Cornerstone. You know what a cornerstone is. You often see them on churches and schools, and other public buildings. Sometimes it has the date of construction etched on its face. It’s usually considered the most important block in the structure. In the case of the Christian Church, the Cornerstone is more than just important—this one stone supports the whole structure! Through the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, the Lord said, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation.”—Isa 28:16. He was talking about the Child who would be born in a stable in Bethlehem, the Man who would die on a cross at Calvary. Jesus Christ is the Cornerstone of the Church!
In the days when Jesus was preaching in Israel, there were a lot of people who rejected Him. They just couldn’t believe that this humble carpenter’s Son from Nazareth could be the Lord’s Messiah, the Savior of the world. Not even the religious leaders themselves recognized who he was! But the Lord had predicted that, too. In Psalm 118 He says, “The Stone which the builders rejected has become the chief Cornerstone.”
You know, people are still rejecting that Cornerstone today. Sometimes it seems like folks will take anything but Jesus Christ as the cornerstone of their religion. The Roman Catholics make good works the center of their faith. The Methodists concentrate on the Christian life. The charismatics focus on emotion and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.—All of these are important parts of Christianity, granted. But they’re not the cornerstone. Only Jesus can be that!
All the building blocks of God’s Church are connected to the Cornerstone. If you’re a true Christian, then your faith rests solidly on Jesus Christ, and Him alone! Peter told the Jewish council in Jerusalem, “Jesus Christ of Nazareth…is the stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone. Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”—Ac 4:10-12. As a sinful human being, you can’t save yourself, no matter how hard you try to do the right thing. And nobody else can do it for you, either. Nobody, that is, except Jesus Christ! Only Jesus offers the perfect righteousness you need to win God’s approval. Only Jesus’ blood will work to blot all your many sins out of God’s book, and earn you a place in eternal paradise. How hard is it to get these precious benefits? That’s the funny thing—it’s not hard at all! It’s as simple as Paul’s advice to that jailor in Philippi: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”—Ac 16:31. Just receive the Good News about Jesus, and you’re in!
If Jesus is the Cornerstone of the Church, then the Bible is the foundation. In the Christian Church, each block rests on this foundation.
I was watching a program the other day about how they build skyscrapers. Special attention is given to the steel that goes into the base of the building. The huge bottom girders are even subjected to x-rays and ultrasound, to make sure there are no hidden flaws. If they’re anything less than perfect they have to be rejected, or else the whole building could collapse at any time. Well, the Bible is like that for us Christians—it’s the strong bottom structure of our faith. God’s Word is the only thing in this world on which our faith can safely rest, with no fear of collapse. There are no flaws in this foundation. Every word, every fact, every promise is utterly true and reliable. It speaks to us sweet words of forgiveness through Christ, and promises us eternal life in His name. Of all the books in the world, the Bible is the only one that comes with the Lord’s personal guarantee of truth: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”—II Tim 3:16.
Our text says that Christians are building blocks that are “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” But here again, there are many in our day and age who aren’t satisfied with this foundation. They think they have to tinker with the Bible to bring it up to date. If the scientists now say that all life evolved from one-celled organisms, then we’d better take the Genesis account of creation with a grain of salt! If miracles are scientifically impossible, then perhaps it’s better to view the miracles of the Bible as myths and legends. If homosexuality is nothing more than “a legitimate alternate lifestyle,” if keeping a strict guard against false doctrine is no longer very important, if it’s only fair that we allow women to be pastors as well as men, why then we’re going to have to adjust that “foundation” a little bit, aren’t we? In that case, there are certain very clear passages of Scripture that we’re either going to have to explain away somehow, or else simply ignore…
God forbid! In fact, God does explicitly forbid us to tinker with His eternal Word! His stern command in Deuteronomy leaves no room for misunderstanding: “You shall not add to the Word which I command you, nor take anything from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.”—4:2. Why do we cherish this Word so much? Why are we so careful not to add a single syllable to the Bible or subtract a single syllable from it? Because this Book, in all it’s parts, teaches us about Christ. It is truly “His-story”, and that’s what makes it the foundation of your faith, and my faith, and the faith of every member of the Christian Church. We dare not tinker with any of the teachings that we’re relying on to get us into heaven! Let the liberal Christians call us names, and say we’re “unloving,” and complain that we don’t have “the right Christian spirit.” That won’t kill us. Jesus said we’d never make a lot of friends by standing up for the Gospel. We know that what the Bible tells us is true: let even a little false doctrine creep in, and it can ruin the whole works, just like a little yeast causes the whole batch of dough rise!
As the building blocks of the Church, each of us is connected to the Cornerstone, which is Christ, and each of us rests firmly on the foundation, which is the Bible. But there’s something else: in this building, each block fits with all the other blocks. Paul says, In Christ, all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
The Christian Church is like a building—but not a brick building. If it were made of bricks, then every member of the Christian Church would be exactly like every other member. That’s not so, and God never meant it to be so. The Church is more like those beautiful stone structures—you know the kind I mean?—Where every block in the wall is different, but each block fits perfectly with those around it. In fact, Paul compares the Church to a human body, which has many parts. All the parts are different, but each one carries out an important function. “And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’”—I Cor 12:21. No, we Christians do need each other. We fit together with one another, and we serve one another in mutual love for our Lord Jesus. God has placed you exactly where He wants you in the structure of His Church, so you know beforehand that there’s work for you to do and talents for you to use right here in this congregation, in DuPont, Washington.
Now, Christ has promised you a mansion in heaven, and you’ll be moving there someday, as sure as He died on the cross to pay for your sins. While you’re waiting, though, why not use your talents to serve your fellow Christians here in this congregation? Have you ever thought of stopping in to visit someone who’s sick or shut-in? How about taking a moment to call and encourage a member we haven’t seen in church for a while? If you can teach Sunday School, then do it! Ask the pastor how you can help with our congregation’s outreach. Perhaps you can lend your counsel at voters’ meetings, or serve as a congregational delegate. Our Lord has blessed us with a growing economy lately—maybe your financial situation will allow you to lend more economic support to the Gospel than in the past. All of these things are good ways to say “thank you” to our Lord, and good ways to serve our fellow believers. Not because we have to. But because Jesus is taking us to heaven, and that tends to make a person happy!
Isolated? Remote? Alone? Not us! You and I are building blocks in the most beautiful temple ever built—the Christian Church, the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. The invisible link of faith in Jesus Christ connects you with every other true believer the world round. And have you ever considered this?—You are a block in the same structure that includes Moses, Noah and Abraham; the disciples and the martyrs; Augustine, Martin Luther and C.F.W. Walther. The building isn’t finished yet, either—God willing, our children and grandchildren will find their place in this temple, too. And on the last Day, the whole intricate structure of this mighty temple will be revealed, and then all men will realize that we were never alone at all!
In 1678, John Bunyan wrote the Christian classic, “Pilgrim’s Progress.” This great communicator often referred to the Christian Church as “the Palace Beautiful.” People were always surprised to learn that the place he worshipped in on Sundays was a rude country church, little better than a barn. But when he lifted his eyes to God in worship he saw, not the rough-hewn rafters of the building he was sitting in, but the lofty peaks and gorgeous structure of the Church Universal, the invisible Church of all believers. Our place of worship here is likewise a rather humble dwelling. May God grant us grace to remember that, for Jesus’ sake, we too are part of a much greater structure. We Christians are the building blocks of the Church! AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.