Sermon for Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany
February 23, 2014, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: 1 Corinthians 3:10-23
Sermon Theme: “The Building Code”
(Sources: Anderson’s Preaching Workbook, Cycle A; Emphasis Online Commentary; original thoughts and ideas; Emphasis Online Illustrations; A Great Sermon Illustration by Roger E. Olson (online); Online Humorous Sermon Illustrations; Kent Crockett’s online illustrations; Believer’s Commentary)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Most of you have probably been through church building programs. For many of us, the edifice on the other end down there (pointing to the fellowship hall) was our most recent one. I read about a congregation that recently began a new building program by appointing a Building Committee. The Committee has already met four times, each time passing a resolution. Here are their 4 resolutions in consecutive order:
First Resolution: We shall build a new church.
Second Resolution: The new building is to be located on the site of the old one.
Third Resolution: The material in the old building is to be used in the new one.
Fourth Resolution: We shall continue to use the old building until the new one is completed. Uh…..yeah! I think they needed a Master Builder.
The Apostle Paul uses architecture as a metaphor in our sermon text for today. To build a church, you have to have a solid foundation and a good architect or Master Builder. He tells us that Christ has to be the solid foundation, and, in this specific instance, he, Paul, through God’s grace, is the Master Builder. Each generation of new members builds on top of the previous ones. In the text, he is trying to show the Corinthians the proper way to build.
Whenever a new building is constructed, if it is unusually tall or unique in any way, it attracts a lot of attention and scrutiny.
I want to talk about two such buildings, — one in the 17th Century and the other in the 21st Century.
The first one, which was built in 1689 in Windsor, England, put the town in an uproar. The leaders of the city had chosen famous architect, Sir Christopher Wren, for the job; after all, Wren had designed and supervised the construction of St. Paul Cathedral in London.
The city fathers had Wren place the meeting rooms above what was like an open air car port for farmers to use as a corn marketplace. When the building was finished, the city officers became terrified that the roof of the corn market would cave in because of the weight of the meeting rooms above it; they could imagine their falling through the floor onto the market activities below. So they asked Wren to put four pillars in the middle of the farmers’ market to ensure the roof/floor wouldn’t collapse.
Wren insisted that it didn’t need the four pillars, but they forced him to add them anyway. Many years later, after Wren had died, when the building needed some refurbishing, they discovered that the architect has left a space between the pillars and the roof. So, for all these years, the roof had actually held up without the pillars. Yet the city put cement and plaster to close up the gap just in case it might not always hold up. “You can’t take chances,” the City Council said.
In the life of a congregation, when God works through a Master Builder, and He says your faith is sufficient, you don’t have to put the cement of your manmade traditions and works to hold the roof up, because we are saved by grace through faith alone. That truth is a recurrent theme in St. Paul’s letters.
Another building, — this one built in the 21st Century, in 2010, in Dubai, at the cost of $1.5 billion. Known as the Burj Khalifa ( ), it has been called the world’s tallest building, as it stands 2,717 feet high (that’s over a half mile). What about the foundation of the structure? Paul talks about the need for a solid foundation.
Without a solid foundation, that building in Dubai would end up being a pile of rubble in no time. The foundation is 184 feet deep, filled with 58,000 cubic yards of concrete weighing over 120,000 tons. Jesus says in Matthew 7:24-25 to build your house on a rock, not on sand. Building on 58,000 cubic yards of concrete is like building on a rock. This, the tallest building in the world, will not collapse because of a shoddy foundation; its foundation is solid.
But Paul not only talks about the necessity of a solid foundation, but also how those who follow build on top of it. What is built on top the foundation must also be solid for the building to survive. Well, a swimming pool was built on the 78th floor of the Burj Khalifa. There’s a mosque on the 158th floor. There’s an outdoor observation deck on the 124th floor. The building is still very new at this point, — who knows if the swimming pool is going to flood the floor below! And what’s going to happen in the years ahead as future generations builds on that foundation. You can start out with a firm foundation, but somewhere along the way, the building code can go belly up.
In verse 10 of our text, Paul compares himself to a skilled master builder laboring to construct an edifice according to the blueprint of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. We could even turn that phrase around a little bit and say that all Christians are called to be builders of the Master. We are commissioned to build up the church on the foundation of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. A foundation of tradition, good works, or the latest psychological or sociological trend will not suffice.
We turn the church into a graven image when we attempt to form it according to our will rather than the Lord’s. Christ is both the foundation and the architect for His holy temple; we are merely the workmen. Each of us is responsible for building on the foundation in Christ.
Still using architecture as a metaphor, Paul switches gears a little, from our building a church together, to saying we are a very special temple: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” Wow! It is hard to think of ourselves as a temple where God’s Spirit lives, but that’s what the text says.
Not only that, but we also have a lot of protection, says Paul. If anyone tries to hurt us, they will suffer grave consequences. That’s no small thing! Not only as Christians are we assigned to help build Christ’s church, but our body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit. You know if a farmer plants a tree and never waters it or trims it, or never cultivates the ground and allows weeds to spring up, that tree will not flourish. We must apply that to ourselves and not think for a minute that once we are baptized and confirmed that we have completed our task. No, it has just begun. Each generation of baptized and confirmed members builds on top of those who have gone before us.
In 1900, a small group of German-speaking members built a very small, modest wooden structure that served them well for many years. In 1966, another generation built a brick edifice that we are worshipping in right now. In 2000, another generation built the beautiful fellowship and education wing we enjoy. And during all this physical building, each generation continued to build a strong, spiritual body of believers.
Each congregation is an edifice built by its members through Christ; all the edifices together make up the Body of Christ. Together, we are the church. The problem in Corinth was that one group felt they belonged to Paul, another group felt they belonged to Cephas, another group, Apollos, — and Paul was saying, ‘No, you all belong to Christ,’ These factions can cause the edifice to fall off its foundation.
You see, the Church is holy, as is every member, by virtue of the fact that we are possessed by God’s Spirit through Christ. God’s Spirit through Christ makes it holy. You and I can’t make it holy; we can’t even make ourselves holy. Paul criticizes human wisdom, which prides itself in possessing knowledge, as if knowledge could sanctify anything! We already possess everything in Christ, “For all things are yours,” says Paul, “. . .and you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.” And, we might add, — God is love.
Just think about the awesomeness of being a part of this great edifice. Built on the foundation of Christ! Lovingly layered with decades of the labors of the saints before us! Reaping the fruits today! All this expressed so touchingly in our sermon hymn: “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. . . . We share our mutual woes, our mutual burdens bear, our fears, our hopes, our aims, are one, our comforts and our cares.” Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.