Sermon: Under Construction: How God Is Building St. Luke United Methodist Church (pt. 1)
Scripture: Ephesians 2: 19-20
Date: August 21, 2016
Forty years ago God was up to something in in the Southeastern part of Lexington. I was in my third year of college at Eastern Kentucky University, from Frankfort, Kentucky and several times a year I would make the trip from Frankfort to Richmond or the reverse and I would take the more direct route through Lexington. US 421 to New Circle Road to Richmond Road and then catch I-75 at the Richmond Road interchange. Now today that would probably add about an hour to the trip but at that time once you got off of New Circle (and it was relatively new then) on to Richmond Road it was clear sailing. There was very little development in the stretch between New Circle and I 75. As I recall a couple of houses and I think a liquor store was about it. There was no Alumni Drive and so no interchange off of New Circle Rd. I think that Ball Homes had just begun building most of these houses along Old Mt. Tabor. But God was up to something big. And he planted His dream in the hearts of several brave pioneers from all over Lexington of a church that would be built somewhere in what was mostly open country then and in 1976 those spiritual pioneers came together and through them, God’s dream began to be realized. He began to build St. Luke United Methodist Church. First in a storefront in Woodhill and then out in the middle of nowhere along a road that was not yet built but that would become one of the main arteries in and out of Lexington. Such is the nature of God’s dreams. He sees things that we can’t even imagine and then plants that vision in human hearts. And a new church was born. In a few weeks we will be celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the beginning of the construction of the church that God dreamed of back then. And I say beginning of the construction because I do not believe for one moment that God is finished building St. Luke United Methodist Church. He continues to be up to something in Southeast Lexington and he continues to plant his dream in the hearts and minds of faithful people, even up to this morning. So as we prepare to celebrate the Anniversary of the beginning of this wonderful church, I wanted to take some time and reflect on what I am seeing as 9 Building Blocks that those first vessels of God’s dream, those faithful pioneers, used to build this church. Now the Apostle Paul knew a lot about building the churches that God dreamed of. In fact, God planted in him dreams of churches in places where others wouldn’t even dare to go. And yet when Paul went to those places, he always found that God had been up to something before he had set foot in those places. That he had placed his dreams in the hearts of others who greeted Paul when he arrived. Ephesus was one of those places where God was up to something. Paul went there and began construction on God’s dream and some years later he wrote this to the church that was rising out of nothing there: “Together, we are His house, built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus Himself.” (Ephesians 2:19-20. Now, in construction terms, the cornerstone is the first stone of the foundation that is laid and then all of the other building blocks are connected to it. So if the cornerstone is not solid, or not laid properly, eventually the foundation will not hold firm and the whole building with fail. St. Luke is the vital church it is today because those first pioneers began with Christ as the cornerstone and they built the church from there. And so for the next few weeks I want us to think about the building blocks that have been laid on the cornerstone that has developed into St. Luke United Methodist Church. This will be a completely different kind of message. It will be one message in nine parts over three weeks. I hope to deal with three of the parts every week but if we run out of time after just one or two, then we’ll pick back up the next week. I am also hopeful that you will participate in the message along the way and you’ll see how that unfolds.
So fasten your seat belts and let’s get started.
The first building block upon which the church is being built is Scripture, the Word of God. The writer of Genesis tells us that everything came into being at God’s word. He spoke and the heavens and earth came into being. And John begins the story of Jesus In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was God. And through Him all things were made. All of life and creation is built on the Word. St. Luke has been built upon the Word of God. In fact the first value statement of the church states: We value the Bible as our foundation of Truth. Two parts of that statement are essential for successful construction of the church. The first word is foundation. God’s word is the foundation upon which the church must be built. In fact, Jesus tells us that the Word is the only solid foundation upon which to build a church. In Matthew’s Gospel we find these words, Everyone who hears my Word and lives it is like a wise man who built his house on a rock. And the rain came, and the floods, and the winds blew and beat on the house, but it did not fall. But everyone who hears My Word and does not live it, is like the foolish man who built his house on sand and when the storms came it collapsed. Now there are those in the church and outside the church that would build on a different foundation – the social gospel, the shifting sands of modern cultural norms – and those houses may look good for awhile but they will not stand the test of time. When the storms come, they will not be able to stand. His Word is the foundation upon which God is constructing his church. And even the gates of Hell will not be able to stand against it. And secondly we say the Word is a foundation of truth. Jesus says that if you hold to My Word, you will know the Truth and the Truth will make you free. It really doesn’t get much clearer than that – this link between Word and Truth. It is a constant theme of scripture. Paul makes the link when he writes to the church at Ephesus By Speaking the Truth in love we become the grown up body of Christ who is the head of the church. Now there are always those who try to convince us that speaking the truth of God’s word is not always the loving thing to do and that truth is situational. In other words, what may have been true in God’s word in Jesus’ day is not necessarily true today. The world has changed, they say, and the loving thing to do is for the church to change with it. But a shifting foundation is no foundation at all. And it is not loving to compromise on truth. Bob Russell, who is the founding pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, one of the largest churches in Amerca writes this in his book When God Builds A Church: Truth without love is dogmatism. Love without truth is sentimentality. Speaking the truth in love is Christianity. The Word is the only true foundation upon which to build the church. God is building St. Luke on the solid foundation of His word. I am told that when the Life Center was under construction a few years ago, before the flooring was installed, people from the church family came to the under construction building and wrote their favorite scripture verses on the concrete foundation. So that now everything we do in that building; Sunday School classes, Slumy events, recreation in the gym, children’s activities, breaking bread together in the kitchen, fellowship in the Café, those who come to God’s pantry every day – are undergirded by God’s word. That was before my time here but I’m sure that some of you participated in that. Does anyone want to share a word about that experience? How powerful to know that God is building St. Luke on His word. That scripture is our foundation of truth.
And then the second building block that God is building St. Luke on is Prayer. I have come to know you as a praying people. The second value statement of the church says this: We value prayer as a gift of God’s grace, a discipline to be cultivated and absolutely essential for spiritual growth. Maxie Dunham has written extensively about prayer and in one of those writings he talks about how he came to realize that prayer was all about relationship. He writes this:
Airport terminals are among my least favorite places. Most terminals are usually very cold and antiseptic in their décor. I remember an experience I had in the Los Angeles airport, long after I had left California and moved to Tennessee. The arrangement of the terminals included three long passenger tunnels that went underground. These are long tunnels that are corridors to the different loading lobbies of the different airlines. I had finished eight days of preaching and teaching in Southern California (and) I was tired and weary, spiritually drained, and anxious to get back to my family. As I walked down passenger tunnel #2, I came upon a scene which lifted my soul. The walls and ceiling of the tunnel were covered with glaring antiseptic white tiles. Very clean and very cold. But an artist had transformed 256 feet of one of the walls into what she called a Name wall. She had taken paper squares exactly the size of a tile, and on these paper tiles, she had printed over 3000 different names, which she had selected at random. Names from all over the world, and she had repeated those names enough to cover one entire wall – 13676 tiles. The wall was a collage of names. And I began to read them in excitement. Amazingly crowds of people would stop in front of the wall to read the names. I looked for my own name, but it wasn’t there. That was okay, because my spirit had been suddenly lifted. Suddenly the airport wasn’t nearly as impersonal. The names brought to mind old friends and relationships. At the end of the wall there was an explanation. The artist wrote that, naming and the need to be named, is the most desperate of all human needs. I think if I had been the pastor of a church then , I would have gone home and transformed fellowship hall into name walls, on which I would have printed the name of every member of the congregation. I now believe that this is what God has been doing throughout history (through prayer)– naming. When God enters into relationship with us He names us, just as a parent names a child. Dunham goes on to say that he realized that day that Naming is all about relationship and that prayer is all about naming. It is a personal relationship where you move from a hello of politeness to an embrace of love. I love that. Prayer puts us in a first person relationship with God. When we pray He calls our name and we call His. A church that is built on prayer is a church that has a first person relationship with God.
So in prayer we name God for ourselves. We name God out of our experiences in life. So in those times when we need to experience the power of God in the face of our powerlessness – we call on God Almighty. In those times of loneliness, when we are feeling rejected and unloved, we name God the loving God. In those times when the sinfulness of our life is threatening to overwhelm us we name God gracious. All knowing. Our great Shepherd. In prayer we can approach God on a first name basis. God is building St. Luke, based on our first name relationship with him.
Then secondly through prayer we name ourselves before God. In prayer we confess who we are to God. In one of his letters, Martin Luther King tells about one night in the middle of the Montgomery Bus Boycott when he was awakened about midnight by the phone and an angry voice on the other end said: Listen, (and he called King a vile name), we’ve taken all we want from you. Before next week you’ll be sorry you ever came to Montgomery.” And then the line went dead. King said that fear gripped him and he wrote: I got out of bed and walked the floor. I was ready to give up. I tried to think of a way that I might move out of the picture without appearing to be a coward. I decided to take it to God, with my head in my hands, I bowed and named my fears before God. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone. The people are looking to me to lead and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. At that moment, the presence of the divine was upon me as never before. An inner voice said, ‘stand up for righteousness, stand up for truth, and I will be at your side forever.’ God builds his church upon our humble prayers of confession in which we name ourselves before God.
Thirdly, through our prayers, God names us. Or perhaps renames us. The scripture is full of examples of God giving persons new names after what could be interpreted as an extended time of prayer. He changed Jacob’s name, which meant deceitful one, to Israel. The Psalmist would later write: He who formed you, O Israel. Fear not for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. Jacob went from “deceitful one” to “redeemed one”. Maxie Dunham writes: In prayer we wait in the presence of the Lord to be named by Him. And so he changes our name from sinner to gracefilled. From condemned to redeemed. From hater to lover. From weak to strong. From lost to saved. He changed Paul’s name from persecutor to Apostle. He changed the Disciple’s names from Seeker to Follower, and then the last name He calls them – Friend. Through Prayer our lives are turned around and we enter into a new relationship with Him. He changed Martin Luther King’s name from defeated to victorious – powerless to powerful. What a difference that earnest prayer made in the history of our nation and indeed the world. And King wrote: my fears began to go – my uncertainty disappeared, I was ready to face anything. So what about you. Has God ever changed your name through ardent prayer? Share your new name with us right now.
And finally, through our prayers, we name one another. You know we human beings were created with the propensity to assign names. The writer of Genesis tells us that God gave Adam the task of naming all of the beasts and things of the earth.
Now Adam did pretty well at first. Hawk, Robin, Eagle, flower, man, woman – all easy names to handle. But then Adam’s darker nature must have kicked in and he came up with Orangutan, and Opossum, and Hippopotamus.
Mankind has always had a fixation with naming things. We have this inherent need to place labels on people. Think about the names we call one another. This presidential race has often degenerated into name calling. Crooked, crazy, lyin, unfit, corrupt, bigot. The names we often use tend to drive us apart rather than bring us together.Black – white. Christian – Muslim. Legal – illegal. Refugee. Terrorist. Gay – straight. Conservative – liberal. Republican – Democrat. Rich – poor. The list goes on and on. Too often the names we give to one another are meant to hurt. To divide. To tear down. But through prayer we give each other new names. Names like brother and sister. Friend. I wonder what would happen in our world if every time we felt the need to call someone a name – instead we dropped to our knees and prayed for that person. If rather than the hateful, divisive name we were about to give them – instead we gave them the name of brother or sister in Christ. You see when we enter into a Prayer relationship with Jesus, there is really only one name by which we call one another. The name of Jesus. We have this incredible story early in the Book of Acts. Peter and John have been preaching in the Temple and the Chief Priest has them arrested. They are called liars and blasphemers and thrown in the dungeon. And the next morning, they are brought before the Priests in kind of a mock trial. And the high priest asks them: By what name did you do this? And Peter who knew something about name changes says this: The stone you builders rejected has become the cornerstone of the church. Salvation is found in none other than Jesus, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we are saved. Think about the people in your life. Among those, who are the ones that you struggle to get along with? What names do you know them by? How would your relationship change if you gave them a new name – the name of Jesus? Through prayer – enemies become friends. Now I am not going to ask that you share those names with us, but I would like for us to take a moment in silence and on the bottom of your Digging Deeper insert there is a space to jot down someone in your life who you need to rename. Jot their name down and stick it in your Bible and pray for them every day. Call them by the name of Jesus. You’ll be amazed by how your relationship will be transformed.
God is building St. Luke through Prayer in the strong and powerful and grace filled name of Jesus.