by Bruce Gilberd
(Based on John 14:1-14; Ps 31:1-5; Acts 7:55-60; I Peter 2:2-10)
In today’s readings there are references to stones, mansions and buildings … and, living faith communities of people – the Christian church.
Pat and I noticed when living in – and visiting – Britain, almost every church – Celtic, Saxon, Norman, Gothic, Victorian and contemporary – was made of stone. Westminster Abbey, seen by hundreds of millions this past week, is/was made of stone – in the thirteenth century! Not so here in Aotearoa NZ where most, except our cathedrals, are made of wood.
A church building provides sacred space for the church people to gather to be graced, to worship, to be equipped for service and witness when we are not gathered here – for twenty four/seven discipleship.
Place and People: they go together. From the time of Solomon’s Temple three thousand years ago, hosting the Jewish church, to St Francis Tairua of the Christian church here this morning.
A reflection on all this from today’s readings:
- From Psalm 31: the writer – probably David – says God is his fortress and his rock.
- In the Acts reading: Dr Luke gives us the end of Stephen’s speech to the Jewish Council, and his prayer, as he dies from stoning, with rocks, a prayer similar to Jesus’s on the cross. Stephen prays, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” He then dies, and Saul – later Paul – approves of his killing.
- Peter – the ‘rock’ and apostle – the rock on whose faith Jesus was to build his church – speaks of Christ as the “cornerstone” on which people build, or over which they stumble. He then describes in eloquent language the community of faith – the church, God’s divine creation, purposed to carry on the work of the risen Lord. The church, he writes, is “God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” The church has inherited the calling Israel failed to fulfil. We are chosen not for privilege but for costly service and witness, joyfully offered.
- Then John writes of Jesus telling ‘the eleven’, on the night before he died, after the exit of Judas, “not to be troubled”; “to believe”; and that they have places in “the Father’s house”. And he will return to bring them home.
‘Questioning Thomas’ evokes Jesus’s telling statement:
* I am the way (to God)
* I am the truth (of God)
* I am the life (of God)
* And, most challengingly, “No one comes to the Father except through me …”
Then he replies (this time to Philip’s question), in essence saying, “God the Father is like me” (I ‘abide’ in him …).
Well … quite a lot to take in here, and ponder about.
The contemporary universal church, across God’s world and in every nation, whether meeting secretly in small groups, perhaps in a persecuting environment, or publicly in great buildings – or one like ours – is called to be a presence of Christ, and to hold and share the Gospel of forgiveness and new life in trust for present and future generations. The church is not something early Christians established: it was divinely established and is divinely sustained.
The church is us. People anchored in God our Rock, and his purposes.