“GOD’s Building” - a
church anniversary sermon
A sermon preached at the
“You are … God’s building” (1 Cor 3:9)
On Church Anniversary Day we give thanks
for the foresight and vision and faith
of those who built a chapel here 195 years ago.
And we also look forward -
our thanks to all who have given so generously to our Anniversary appeal -
that money will be dedicated today and will go for the redevelopment work
planned for the building here during the coming 12 months.
But the Church is about a lot more than merely bricks and mortar.
In 1633, two Somerset boys were brought before the local
charged with breaking Church windows whilst playing ball.
Their defence (showing considerable theological astuteness for 10 year olds)
was that the Biblical definition of the Church
was not a building, but the people of God.
The Church, they said, could be anywhere -
on top of Quantock Beacon - if that is where God’s people were gathered.
All they had done was break the windows of an empty chapel building -
they had broken no part of the Church (God’s people).
So they were innocent as charged.
[see Christopher Hill, The English Bible and the 17th Century Revolution p.51]
leave the lawyers to reflect on the strength of that argument -
suffice here to say that it reminds us of an important truth
on Church Anniversary Day:
the Church is not just a building made with bricks and stone,
it is the people of God, built of living stones.
me wrong -
We believe that upgrading our Church building is important
(we wouldn’t be raising all this money otherwise) -
but it is not as an end in itself.
Whether in 1813 or 2008, Church buildings are merely a means
whereby we can better be Church and build up the living people of God.
in our lesson today,
“You are God’s building, built on the foundation of Christ”
Ironically, those who commissioned the physical Mint
building in 1813 neglected to build on firm foundations -
their foundations were slight verging on non-existent.
Those of you who were around in the 1960s know the result of that -
the building became unsafe and had to be demolished and replaced.
be a cautionary image for us -
if we are a building of living stones,
then we need to be built on Christ as a sure foundation.
We do not
always build as we should - we are sinners and fools often -
sometimes we build follies of straw when what is needed are bulwarks of marble.
Paul knew this writing to his often frail and shallow converts in Corinth.
Whatever you build, he said, will be tested by the fire of God’s judgement.
And when you build poorly, what you have built will be consumed in the fire.
Paul, you will escape as one from the fire.
God will be with you in world, in Church,
in earthquake and fire, and keep you safe.
Today is Aldersgate Sunday -
the day when the Methodist people give thanks for John and Charles Wesley,
the founders of the Methodist movement.
As a young child, John Wesley lived in the rectory in Epworth in Lincolnshire.
One night the house caught fire
(or maybe - John’s father was not a popular vicar in the village -
someone set the house on fire).
Either way, all the many Wesley children were rescued -
until a count up showed one was missing.
Then little Jackie was seen at a bedroom window
and he was pulled out of the fire by his father.
And afterwards John Wesley always said (quoting Zechariah 3:2)
that he had been saved “as a brand from the burning”.
and believe with Paul and Wesley
that even when we build with straw, even when we fail,
even when we are overwhelmed by the trials and tribulations of life
or by the consequences of our sins or the sins of others,
when what we build is only good for the fire -
still shall we be saved from the fire -
that is the Gospel of God’s love which ultimately purges the world of its sin
and yet through that process brings us all safe home to our Father’s arms.
even our best efforts may seem very puny
compared with the saints who have gone before us.
If we are called to be living stones,
we may feel ourselves to be insignificant rough rocks
compared with the hefty marble pillars which went before us.
In Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose,
there is a point when two mediaeval monks are discussing
the building of a great Monastery Abbey
which has been going on for scores of years and is still incomplete.
And they bewail the fact that the craftsmen
are not as skilled as in days of old,
and the latest bits to be built look poor compared with earlier parts -
One of them says “We no longer have the learning of the ancients -
the days of giants is gone”
To which the reply comes - “Yes, we are dwarfs -
but dwarfs who stand on the shoulders of those giants,
and small though we are, sometimes
we manage to see farther on the horizon than they”
And so as dwarfs, or as misshapen stones,
we are still called to be part of the great and majestic Community of faith.
And we are still called to look out to the horizon.
have been to Midnight Mint here on a Friday night,
you will know that clubbers and others call in between 10.30 and 1.30 am
for coffee and conversation -
Sometimes the clubbers come in across the car park -
but often they don’t come beyond the pavement -
so members of the Midnight Mint team are there
by the pavement meeting with them there -
the top of Quantock Hill, the top of Fore St -
God’s Church is where his people are.
We look forward to hearing the Hallelujah Chorus
from Handel’s Messiah towards the end of the service.
Early performances of the Messiah were frequently held
not in Churches but in playhouses and Music Halls
such as the Covent Garden Opera House
where Handel was Director of Music.
This incensed some prim and proper Church-goers,
who said it was sacrilegious to sing the words of scripture in a playhouse.
Some so called Christian folk went to great lengths
to sabotage performances of the Messiah.
Boys were hired to tear down notices advertising performances.
A number of self-righteous women gave large teas
or sponsored other theatrical performances
on the days when Handel’s concerts were to take place
in order to rob him of an audience.
One opponent wrote to a press complaining
that the Playhouse was not a fit Temple,
nor a Company of Players fit Ministers of God’s Word."
can you be?
This is God’s world and everywhere is potentially a holy place
in which God’s name may be proclaimed.
John and Charles Wesley, I should say,
supported the performing of Messiah in secular settings.
Indeed the owner of Covent Garden Opera was one John Rich,
whose wife had been converted by Charles Wesley,
and the Wesleys and the Riches often dined together.
But then of course the Wesleys
were frequently expelled from the Church buildings -
John was debarred from St Mary Arches around the corner on one occasion -
that didn’t stop them proclaiming the Gospel -
they did it in market squares, from tomb stones, in homes -
everywhere a part of God’s earth,
everywhere a good place to share the good news.
Yes we build
meeting houses, Chapels, Churches - call them as you will -
but they are not there to hide away the Gospel and imprison the love of God -
they are there as a launch pad for the love and peace and justice of the Gospel
to be proclaimed to all people.
As the Trinity
Sunday Gospel says:
“go forth and make disciples of all nations
in the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit”.
is the Gospel we proclaim - that God is the God of all -
no place, no one, is beyond his presence, his love and his care.
Some people have looked at Burma and China this week and
there cannot be a God.
I look at Burma and China and say
“In times like this, only if there is meaning and life and hope
beyond this world’s calamities, only in God’s presence,
can we make sense of the world.
Our faith transcends death, cyclone and earthquake, fire and flood.
Last Tuesday we held two funerals for two dear Church
for Lucy Barlow and Eric Smith.
At both services, the first verse of Psalm 46 was read -
words of comfort for all who face death -
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”
Then remember how the Psalm goes on -
and hear it against the news from China and Burma -
“Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar & foam & the mountains quake with their surging”
is our Gospel - though the whole of our life crumbles about us,
and collapses into ruins, still yet shall the day come
when God’s Kingdom shall prevail, and we shall sing
“the kingdom of this world is
become the kingdom of our Lord,
and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever”
So on this Anniversary Day,
§ Looking back, let us give thanks to those who brought us thus far
the present, let us live life to the full,
building the Church in this world,
if need be walking through fire itself for the Gospel.
for the future, let us look forward with sure and certain hope
for the final coming victory of God
in God’s power, we can do all that,
our next year here should indeed be an exciting and blessed time!
Order of Service
Hymn 243 “Rejoice, the Lord is King”
All Age Ministry – Maureen Coleman
Hymn 746 “One more step along the world I go”
Leader: Let us share the peace
Adults: The peace of the Lord be with you
Children: And also with you
Leader: Go in peace
[Young People leave for their own sessions]
Reading: Psalm 46 (p.570)
Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:5-15 (p.1146)
Hymn 29 “Thou whose Almighty Word”
Sermon: “God’s Building”
Hymn NHWS 203 “Living God, your word has called us”
Offertory and Dedication of Gifts
The collection will be taken and then brought forward for dedication,
together with all donations already given in response to this year’s Anniversary Appeal.
Affirmation (remain standing as we say together)
We believe in God
who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus,
the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others
by the Spirit.
We trust in God.
We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God’s presence,
to live with respect for creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
our judge and our hope.
In life, in death, in
life beyond death,
God is with us. We are not alone.
Thanks be to God, Amen.
[© Iona Community, from Iona Abbey Worship Book, Wild Goose Publications]
Choir: “Hallelujah” from Handel, The Messiah
Hallelujah: for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth. (Revelation 19:6)
The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 11:15)
King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. (Revelation 19: 16)
Prayers and Lord’s Prayer
Hymn “All people that on earth do dwell”
Congregation and Choir:
All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice:
Him serve with fear, his praise forth tell;
Come ye before him and rejoice.
The Lord, ye know, is God indeed;
Without our aid he did us make:
We are his folk, he doth us feed;
And for his sheep he doth us take.
O enter then his gates with praise;
Approach with joy his courts unto;
Praise, laud, and bless his name always,
For it is seemly so to do.
For why, the Lord our God is good;
His mercy is for ever sure;
His truth at all times firmly stood,
And shall from age to age endure.
Congregation and Choir:
To Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
The God whom heaven and earth adore,
From men and from the angel host,
Be praise and glory ever more. Amen.