Over here at Abiding Grace, we are building our church. It’s a pretty exciting time. The walls are up. The roof is just about up. The utilities are going in. Finally. After all this time planning, preparing and permitting, praying and paying, we are building our church. Are you excited? You know, when we got together to talk about building our building, we said we wanted something that "looks like a church," right? …Something that people wouldn’t get confused with an office building or someone’s house. It was supposed to "look like a church." Have you seen it? Do you think it does?
Well, truth be told — that building going up on Ga. Highway 212, even once the stained glass gets in, will look nothing like what anything those first Easter Christians would have thought of when they heard that word. In fact, when the Bible uses the word "church," it talks about people, not buildings. This text from First Peter 2:4-10 is actually the closest the New Testament ever comes to describing a building, and even this is very clear that it is a spiritual building we’re talking about. The physical buildings we build are just designed to represent what Scripture says about this collection of people it describes as "Church" — something set apart, holy, beautiful, precious. And personally, I think what we’re building does that pretty well, but let’s never forget what "Church" is far more important.
Peter writes: "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."
You see what he’s saying? You are the Church. The Greek word we translate "church" is really a two-part word made up of the preposition "ek" which means "out of" and the noun that means "calling." Later in this text, we see the verb form of it, where Peter writes that God has "called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."
First off, you are the Church because you see the light of the living Stone. It’s not because you’ve got your membership letter at one organization or another. It’s not because you give your offerings to one particular place. You are the Church because he has "called you out of darkness." You see, darkness describes perfectly where we were: not being able to see what was really going on, where confusion, apprehension and worry live.
But God called you out of that. God’s word has shown you his promises, Jesus’ victory, and your eternal reward. God’s word has called you out of darkness into his wonderful light and showed you the light of what Peter calls the "Living Stone."
Jesus isn’t some old useless artifact. He is the "Living Stone," the one who changes everything. Peter uses two other stone picturees, calling Jesus the cornerstone, in other words, that perfect foundation, the perfect stone to set the lines and angles for our building. Then he calls him the keystone — that top stone in an arch that carries the weight of the entire structure, without which the structure falls.
You get that, right? Without Jesus, all of this church stuff falls apart. Without Jesus, Abiding Grace becomes just some social club, where we get together because we like hanging out with one another, but as soon as someone ticks me off, I’m gone, or if people aren’t enough like me, I’m outta here. Without Jesus, church becomes a business venture, and decisions are made based on dollars and cents and people talk to each other like only what I want is important and who cares how you feel about it. Without Jesus, even church looks just like the cut-throat, selfish, me-first world we live in.
But you’ve been called out of that. Abiding Grace has been called out of that. Through Jesus, through the miracle of the power of the Gospel — we have been called out of that darkness to see the wonderful light of the living stone, making us living stones, living like a Church — like those called out of all that junk and called to the one, as Peter describes this way: "The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone."
The builders, the leaders of the physical church of Jesus’ day had rejected that light. They had rejected Jesus and wanted to build their church on the way of the world — the darkness. It didn’t work. They tossed out the cornerstone. They killed the light. And in so doing, Jesus was taking on their sin and mine. He was paying for all the times we treat church like anything but a gathering of those "Called Out." He died in darkness on that cross so that we can live in the light, so that we can be… the Church — the ones called out to live for his glory. Let’s do that!
Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.