Summary: A sermon preached on a church’s anniversary Sunday
Where I am from in the Miramichi, we do not gather for anniversary services every year, so this is very much a new experience for me. But I do see myself as someone who has a strong connection with the past, especially with the worship and theology which was believed and followed of old. But the truth is the world is a far different place from the world into which this building was built, at Dominion Number 6 in 1914.
That was a crucial year in history. The liberal ideal of progress was dramatically shaken by the war that erupted in Europe in August 1914, a war which would claim 10 million lives. And from that rocky beginning we have moved on through eras of war and peace, of depression, recession and growth, we have seen a community rise and fall. I am but a new face in this community, a new voice in this chorus of faith that has existed in St. Luke’s.
Today I want to take you back to Jesus Sermon on the Mount. This morning, from Matthew’s gospel, we read the very last words of that important series of teachings of our Lord. Teachings which include the Beatitudes, the Lord’s prayer, the complete turning upside down of the Mosaic Law. The Sermon on the Mount is a call by Jesus to his disciples, a call to be something greater than what they are, a call for more than they had given, a call to go beyond the faith of the Pharisees, a call to be salt of the earth, to be a light on the hill.
And he begins by asking the question, “What is a true disciple?” He has been warning them. The gate is narrow. There are false prophets who will demand your attention. There are wolves in sheep’s clothing, entering the flock. “Who is the true disciple?” For Jesus makes it quite clear that there is more to discipleship that saying, I believe. There is more to being the church than pretty stained–glass windows. There is more to being the church than a beautiful organ and a choir to go with it. There is more to being the church than a steeple for all to see.
“Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my father in heaven.” (v.21) The confession, Jesus is Lord, is but the first step in our journey as disciples. But there is more. The name of Jesus, the word “church” on the side of the door, it does not guarantee a place, our Lord implies, in God’s kingdom. For Jesus says many will come and say, did we not prophesy in your name, cast out demons in your name, sing praise to your name, raise funds to your name? And Jesus will say, “I never knew you.” (v.23)
To prove his point, Jesus offers the story of two men who build their houses on the side of a desert water course. In the middle of summer the watercourse is empty, so it seems to be a safe place to build. The first man builds his house on the top of a solid foundation, building with care and with deliberation. The second man builds his home rashly, in great haste, not setting first a foundation, building with only the sand beneath him. So, the two houses stand side by side, looking the same from the outside, just as most Christians look the same as they sit in their pews, just as most churches look the same as they sit by the roadway, with no regard to the depth of what stands beneath them.
But then, the rains fell, the floods came, the wind blew and beat upon the houses. And what happens? One stands tall against the storm, the other falls flat in the face of nature’s forces. One builder has been recognized for having forethought, the other has been made homeless by his recklessness and lack of vision. One has been named wise, the other foolish.
As we look back at the history of this church, we may wonder if we have built this church on a solid foundation, or on the shifting sands of time and fate. We may wonder if our own lives as Christians have been lived on solid ground, or on quicksand that just takes us away. As we read about the foolish man and his house on the sand we see that it was not a less than serious thing which Jesus describes. The rains fell, the floods came, the wind blew and beat upon that house, and it fell-and great was its fall! This was not an ordinary comment about living a superficial Christian life. This was a comment that said unless you build on solid rock, then the fall from God’s grace will be tremendous. Christ himself envisioned that any church that stands on a weak foundation, of loose Biblical tradition, of poor theology, of superficial worship, however grand it may appear, it will fall. AND GREAT WILL BE ITS FALL.