The Church's One Foundation
11 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
This past April, the week after Easter, I was able to travel to Costa Rica where I led a team of 8 people from our church in Charlotte on a mission trip. It was my 5th time on a mission trip to Costa Rica, it’s a place that holds a special place in my heart because of the connections I have there. I have a close connection with the missionary down there, Wil Bailey. Wil is from my home church in Rocky Mount and after going to seminary our church sent him as a missionary there so he packed his bags and moved to Costa Rica in 2003 and started a mission to the Methodists in Costa Rica. When I was a freshman in high school, I went down for the first time in 2004, then I went back a few years later and then when I started at Myers Park in Charlotte, I found out that that church had sent the first missionary team to partner with Wil in 2003 and had been going ever since. Primarily the work we do down there is construction projects, rebuilding and renovating Methodist churches and parsonages for the pastors. It’s incredibly important and transformational work that will change your life.
This year, we were down in Sierpe, Costa Rica, near the Pacific coast, in the jungle working on a Sunday School building for this little Methodist church down there. It was about 95 degrees every day, it was so humid you could almost drink the air, and the task that Wil had given us was pouring concrete to lay the foundation, really the foundational corner of this two-story Sunday School building. Of course, the way things work in Costa Rica are very different than they work here, they don’t have as much money as we do so there are no fancy tools, or easy ways to cut corners and most importantly for us, there was no big truck that would drive over to the hole and just pour out the concrete right in front of us. There was a little cement mixer that had actually been purchased by our church 15 years earlier that they were still using, it had a flat tire and electrical wires sticking out every which way. And so we would have to lug bags of cement down from the sanctuary to the job site, and I have evidence of me carrying a 110 pound bag of cement down to the mixer, throw it in the mixer, shovel some gravel, pour some water and mix it all up and then we would have concrete. We would wheelbarrow it over to the ditch where the rebar was set up and pour it in and spread it out and repeat that process about a thousand times.
The foreman on the job site was Don Hugo, he was in charge of everything and he explained to us what we were doing and why. He said our work that week was of the utmost importance for this new building because we were laying the foundation and specifically the corner that had to be perfectly level and square in order for the building to be properly built and able to withstand the heavy rains, flooding, hurricanes even occasional earthquakes that hit Costa Rica. The concrete we were mixing and pouring would sit upon nothing but dirt and soil, the earth. If our concrete wasn’t solid or stable enough and the ground moved or shifted, the building could collapse. The foundation of the building would provide its strength and secure it so it could last many many years and the people of Sierpe, Costa Rica would have a place to read the Bible, pray, visit with one another and be faithful to God.
It’s about the foundation. The foundation is crucial. What is our foundation? What are we built upon? What is the foundation of this church?
The Church’s One Foundation
Paul tells us, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.” I don’t know if there is any verse more beautiful, wise, stirring from Paul in this whole letter. “So then.” You can hear him getting ready for something big. “So then.” Everything he has said up to this point has been to say this.
At one time, we Gentiles were aliens and strangers from the commonwealth of Israel, but in Christ Jesus we have been brought near, for he is our peace and has broken down the dividing wall, the hostility between Jews and Gentiles has been abolished so then. So then. So then we are no longer strangers and aliens, but citizens with the saints, members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.
We often think about Jesus being our Savior, the one who died for us on the cross so we might have life. Or Jesus the King, the King of the universe, or Jesus the Shepherd, the Good Shepherd who leads us out of the valley of the shadow of death. But Paul says Jesus is our foundation, the cornerstone of the household of God. The one on whom all else is built. Everything rests on him.
Why Jesus? Why is Jesus so important? Why does Paul say that Christ himself is the cornerstone? Of all the things the church shares with others, other people, other religions, other organizations that help people, everyone else, of all the things we share together, Jesus is unique. Jesus is the one who makes us different. We are built on the rock of Christ. And today when we’re having all these conversations around the future of the church, will the church be around much longer, our congregations are getting older and declining and running out of money, there are fewer and fewer Christians in the world, in the midst of all these conversations and doubts and concerns, we tend to forget about Jesus. We forget to look down and look at the foundation on which we stand and we forget that Jesus might actually have something to say about everything going on and he might actually be saying, “I’m not done with you yet.”
If there’s anything that will bring people to the faith, if there’s anything that will attract people and make them want to come to church and be a part of a community of faith and give their lives over to something greater than themselves, it’s not any kind of marketing we could do, or events we could put on, or causes we could donate to, it’s Jesus. Jesus is the one who beckons people to himself. Jesus is the one who draws us close, brings us into the community of God, gives us a purpose to live for, promises to be with us through it all. It’s Jesus. It’s our foundation. Jesus is the one who started this church and continues to sustain it and give it life by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the reason we come here to this place to worship. I guarantee you if we showed up one Sunday and we looked around and we realized, “Wait a minute. I don’t think I see Jesus anywhere here,” if that EVER happens we better be gone!
I think about the people, those faithful disciples, who came together all those years ago in the 1840s and decided that Jesus was calling them to start a church in some little mountain community that didn’t even have a name yet. The people who started Oak Grove Methodist. And then a few years later the people, those faithful disciples, some of whom are still here today, who decided that Jesus was calling them to move a little ways down the road and build a new church and call it St. Timothy Methodist Episcopal Church, South. They are the ones we stand on today. The apostles and the prophets of Oak Grove and St. Timothy Methodist. Billy has so beautifully arranged these bricks that are literally a part of the foundation of the building of our church. It’s amazing to think about the people, the brickmasons, the architects, the builders, the ones who made this church so that it was able to stand as it is today. But it’s another thing to think about the Sunday School teachers, the volunteers, the trustees, the lay leaders, the donors and givers, everyone who made this church what it is and have given us a foundation on which to worship.
But they knew, maybe more than us, that our true foundation is Jesus, he is our rock, our cornerstone. And they knew that if we ever lose our footing, if we slip, if we decide we no longer want the foundation that Christ is, then we’ll lose everything, we won’t have firm ground to stand on.
Members of the Household of God
As we think about the ones who have come before us and laid the foundation of this church, the one word that comes to mind is family. That is exactly how I feel like I have been treated. Family. In a family, you’re welcomed, you have a place, you’re greeted with a smile, there’s warmth and hospitality in a family. That’s what it feels like to be a part of this community. This church embodies and lives out Paul’s words that you are no longer strangers and aliens, but citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.
It’s interesting to think of our church as a household. Families live and exist in households. Parents, grandparents, siblings, pets, relatives are all a part of the same household. We too, our church family, is a household. It’s the household of God.
In Greek, the word Paul uses is oikonomia, which is where we get our word economy from. God’s household is God’s economy. What that means is the word economy literally means the management of a household. To us, when we talk about whether the economy’s up or down or booming or crashing, we’re talking about our jobs, how we put food on the table, our salaries, the economy how we provide for our families.
The economy of God then, is what God does in the world, how God manages his household, all of creation. The Incarnation of Jesus, God becoming human, God taking on flesh and dwelling among us, is the ultimate example of the economy of God. John 3:16 tells us that God loves us so much, God wanted to be with us. The way God interacts with us is through love. (Meeks 3) God’s economy is an economy of love; how God manages his household is with love.
God loves us so much God didn’t want to be strangers or aliens with us. God loves us so much, God came to be with us. The way God manages God’s household is not through competition or taxes or supply and demand; it’s love. God loves. God doesn’t buy or sell or trade or invest. God loves. It’s free. It’s unearned. You can’t buy it. God gives it to you, to us, to everyone. Love.
The Power of Love
I don’t know if you had a chance to see the royal wedding a couple of months ago, but the Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon was incredible. Us preachers got really excited to see such a great sermon delivered at the wedding because we don’t usually get the best publicity in the world. Usually, we hear a story about some preacher condemning half the world’s population to hell, or saying things that are just dumb.
Michael Curry preached about love, it was a wedding after all, and in his sermon he said,
"There’s power in love. Think and imagine a world where love is the way. Imagine our homes and families where love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce where this love is the way. Imagine this tired old world where love is the way. When love is the way - unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive. Love.”
Imagine a world where love is the way. Brothers and sisters, we don’t even have to imagine it. Love already is the way. And really it’s not that love can change the world, but that love already has changed the world. Love is what God did in sending Jesus to be with us. That was the night that changed the history of the world. When that babe was born, the dividing wall was broken down, the hostility that separates us was abolished, those of us who were once far off were brought near, that now, in Jesus, we are no longer strangers or aliens. I don’t know if you can believe that. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that we aren’t strangers or aliens, that we aren’t enemies. The world tells us we are enemies with one another. But we’re not. We’re members of the household of God.
In Jesus, in that little babe lying in a manger, was the truest, most beautiful, most holy form of love the world has ever seen. And it wasn’t even a form or type of love. That child was love. And that is our foundation, as the Body of Christ, as St. Timothy, as the household of God, that love is our foundation. Thanks be to God.