Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
If you were to build a house, what is the first thing you would need? What is the first thing a contractor or carpenter would ask for? He’d ask for a blueprint, for drawings of how the house is to be laid out and the architectural design for the house. If you were to build a house on the western coast of Southern California, you would also need the construction plans to include earthquake design requirements so it would not be shaken if some adversity came upon it.
When the Scriptures speak about the Church of Jesus Christ – like the words of an old hymn – it says Jesus is the foundation. “Built on a Rock the Church will stand even when kingdoms are falling.” So the clear truth of I Peter 2 is that Jesus is the foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ. The Church being a temple, God’s house, and we as individual believers are living stones in that temple.
But Jesus must be the cornerstone. What’s the purpose of the cornerstone? It’s the first stone set in a masonry foundation, and it determines the alignment of the entire structure. In our individual lives as people of faith, and certainly in the church, the temple of God, Jesus Christ must have first priority and first place in everything we do. Every aspect of a believer’s individual life and every aspect of the church as a collection of believers as living stones must orient itself to Jesus Christ. So we trust Jesus as the cornerstone of our lives and of our life together in the church.
Jesus’s ethos, His ethic, His behavior patterns, His character, His heart, His passion must be the Church’s template for our life together. We not only model the temple of God after Jesus’ character, but we maybe more accurately conform all aspects of the Church’s life together to the heart of Jesus Christ.
I also want you to realize that if we say Jesus is the cornerstone, there is no neutral response to Jesus. Scriptures say to not believe means Jesus becomes what the Greek word names as “the scandalon.” We use the word scandal to describe a publicly immoral and humiliating behavior or event. So when someone encounters Jesus or the offer of Jesus’ grace and love, but rejects Him, it’s a scandal. We trip over the stone. We fall over the precious truth and reject something essential for the construction of all of life and our life shared. Conversely, when we accept Jesus, all of life falls into alignment to that central precious confession.
We need to understand that God is the builder of His temple. “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who labor, labor in vain,” the Word says in Psalm 127:1. So God builds us collectively into His temple, God’s house – the place where God lives and dwells. The place where His glory is revealed.
We are living stones connected together, gathered together, in order to invite God’s presence be manifested among us. Therefore we, as living stones, are interconnected and essential to one another. The unity of God is a gift, but our interconnected essential dependence is part of His plan. This flies in the face of rugged American individualism where we thump our chests and think, I don’t need anybody else in my life. In the Church we openly say, “I need you; I depend upon you, and you need me.”
When I was in college, in the summers I worked construction for a lumberyard in Cylinder, Iowa. I was assigned on several occasions to work with a mason contractor in building house foundations from cement blocks. I remember him yelling out as I mixed mortar for the laying of those blocks, “More mud! Bring me more mud!” And in five-gallon buckets I would carry mud to where he was working.
What is the mortar that holds the living stones of the Church in God’s Temple together?
First, I’d say in our imperfect brokenness as sinners, we are united in the need for Jesus’ grace and forgiveness.
Second, we’re bound together by a common faith and a common love for Jesus. In Scripture it says, “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (I Cor. 12:3).
We’re also joined together by the peace of God that the Spirit pours into us. It is a supernatural peace.
We’re joined in a common hope as we consider the present but also look into the future, for the hope we hold is based on the promises Jesus Christ has made. We believe our future destiny is inseparably linked to the Lord Jesus Christ. We hold onto that hope, and we hope for eternal life.
Ultimately, we’re united in our common commitment to Christ and to one another. Have you ever watched a stonemason build a fireplace with different configurations of stones? Carefully, the builder selects each stone to fit together just right, constructing it into a chimney. It’s almost an art form. Well, God is the builder of the house and each of us are individually diverse in our gifts, talents, and personalities. Yet God knows how to connect us with one another in a cohesive interdependence that adds strength to the structure of the Temple of God. You have an essential role to what God is building in the Church of God. Your unique talents and abilities, your passion, your faith, your love is called forth by God’s Spirit to connect with others.
There are also threats to that unity and cohesion. Like a huge crane with a heavy, heavy wrecking ball swinging, smashes down to demolish an old building, we have wrecking ball threats to the Church as the Temple of God.
One that comes to mind is unresolved conflict. When different individuals in arrogant pride refuse to listen to one anothe r, their conflict stands like adversarial animosity and refuses to resolve.
The second threat to unity is withheld forgiveness. It simmers under the surface as a grudge, a feeling of malice wishing ill to another. Wrath can be explosive, and withheld forgiveness can pull apart the structural integrity of the Church as the Temple of God.
The third thing I think of is unfaithfulness to the Word of God. If we begin to depart from the wisdom and revealed will of God in the Word, if we begin to depart from the promises God has made to us, the revelation of who God is as we read it in the Word of God, we begin to chase rabbits paths to rabbit holes, which pull us apart from the central confession of the Word as truth. That truth is we are a broken, rebellious world that God created, separated from the God who made us. But God in His love sent His only begotten Son to die in the cross for us and be raised from the dead so we could be reconciled to Him into a relationship of shared life and love. If we compromise the Gospel, then the structural cohesion of the Church as a living Temple is gonna get smashed.
Another threat to the unity of God’s house is immorality among the members or the leaders. We are connected to one another. We may live in a culture and society that says Live and let live. Whatever a person does is up to him. No harm no foul. But in the body of Christ, the Temple of God, if my behavior begins to distracted or disrupt others, it’s not okay. The cohesiveness of God’s Temple begins to be compromised. That’s why, if immorality is in God’s house, then the elephant in the room must be named. It must be dealt with.
The last threat to the unity of God’s house is an ambivalence to the mission God has given us to do – reach out to all people to share His love.
The glory of any house is not so much the architectural or structural look of the house as it is the personality of those who live there. Have you ever driven by the house of a famous person? Maybe it’s a pro athlete. I remember driving by the house of John Wayne. Elvis still has his Graceland. If you wanted to go to the White House in Washington, D.C., do you think you would be granted access to see the President today? No, because access to that house is very limited even though the President lives there.
Well, the glory of God’s house, the Temple of God, is it has continual access to the very presence of God because of Jesus Christ. You are welcome there. You are invited in, and you are to bask in the love of all those who praise God there. Everyone is welcome. The glory of every church is not the building where they meet. The glory of the church is God’s presence in that place where two or three are gathered.
The infinity of God does not need a place built with brick-and-mortar, for we invite God’s presence among us each time we worship. His shekinah glory fills the temple. God desires to live among us and with us and within us. Have you ever heard the phrase as people worship, “God is in the house today.” Our desire is to encounter the living God in our worship and in our life together so He can do His mission among us and through us.
Finally, I want to say that the temple of God building us into living stones joined together in interdependence shifts in the New Testament so we become the temple of God. People come to the temple to encounter God, but now the New Testament suggests that each of us are living stones. We are the temple where God dwells. Everywhere you go, believer in Jesus Christ, you bring with you the presence of God. Everywhere you go, the shekinah glory of Jesus Christ’s love radiates from your life, and you can pray that God would use you to be a place where other people encounter God.
What a glory to think that God Himself wishes to not only use our lives to be His dwelling place – Emmanuel God with us – but He uses our lives built together in interdependence to dwell and reveal His glory to the world. The early Church said, “Behold how they love one another.”
May God be glorified among you as His people in your life as an individual believer, and may you come together with other people who love and confess Jesus as Lord. May He use you together for His glory and to build His kingdom. Amen.
Rev. Lee Laaveg