Spirit, Church and Hope: Vision for intergenerational faith formation (Part 2)
Sermon by Rev Allister Lane on 3 November 2019
Readings were 2 Thessalonians 1: 1-4, 11-12 and 1 Peter 2:4-10
What do you think of when you hear the word ‘institution’…? Who wants to be associated with an institution these days? Where there are Royal Commissions into abuse in care. Patients waiting longer for surgery. And young people dying in University hostels.
With all the scrutiny, institutions are very uncool. Who wants to be found as part of the ‘institution’?
What about churches…? Many people see churches as institutions. But not the writer of 1 Peter. By comparison with an institution, the church is described as
living stones…being built into a spiritual house. (v5)
We’ll consider what this means for us in a moment. But first I want to recap what we heard last week… Today I’ve titled the sermon the same as last week: Spirit, Church and Hope: Vision for intergenerational faith formation. Last week I explained that we are claiming the vision of Joel (that Peter echoed on the day of Pentecost) we believe God’s Holy Spirit is working in our midst.
Joel’s vision is ours too: the Holy Spirit is present with us all…
sons and daughters … old men and young men… male and female
We are claiming our own vision for intergenerational faith formation. This vision builds on our strengths as a Church, AND takes us into a more intentional way of living as an all-generation Church family. This vision is about knowing God’s presence, growing our faith together.
We are going to be exploring a lot more how this framework gives us opportunities to experience intergenerational faith formation. And we pray we will all be attuned to the presence of God’s Spirit and open to the experiences we have together.
To remind you again, these are the eight pillars of faith formation that synthesise with the four main words of our St John’s Mission Statement:
- Peak Experiences
- Encounters with Jesus
- Mentors and Life Coaches
- Big Story of the Bible
- Positive Peer Community
- Anchors/Rites of Passage
- Serving in Mission
- Respond with compassion
There is more detail about this framework available – and copies of the booklet Towards the Future can be picked up in the foyer today.
So, how does today’s reading from 1 Peter help us recognise ourselves as a community with a vision for intergenerational faith formation? There are three things I want to highlight about ‘living stones’ that identify us, not as an institution (depersonalised, and monolithic), but as a vibrant kaleidoscope of wondrous humanity!
Firstly, the ‘living stones’ are plural. The church is more than just me, and more than just you – we are people drawn together by the Holy Spirit.
Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people (v10)
The living temple (that the Holy Spirit inhabits) is us, built together. In 1 Corinthians chapter 6, Paul talks about the individual as a temple of the Holy Spirit. But virtually all other references to the temple of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament are plural.
Y’all are the temple of the Holy Spirit!
The second thing to notice is that the ‘living stones’ are described using passive present progressive.
- We are being built
- We are being built presently/now.
- We are continuing to be built.
It’s not our own efforts, but God’s grace that transforms us …into who we truly are. The Holy Spirit is present with us, among us now, and is at work with us, within us, and among us.
Like the workers who crawl all over this building during the week. We are not sitting still, the Church is meant to be a dynamic body of people – being transformed by God’s grace.
So, living stones are plural and passive present progressive…
And thirdly, we are interconnected. We are like bricks in a wall. Not as Pink Floyd described:
all in all it’s just another brick in the wall.
No! Every brick matters and we all depend on the other. Each brick above you heavily depends on you as a brick ‘here’ in the wall. And you are dependent on the bricks under you. If any of the others shake, they all shake; if the others fall, they all fall.
Do we live as if one stone moves they all move? Or do we privatise our faith and participate in church as a discretionary activity; as consumers?
Another way of thinking of the church is like a jigsaw puzzle. We are all parts of the one puzzle. Each a different colour, a different shape (no sniggering please!) and each valuable in the big picture. You know what it’s like to finish a puzzle and have one piece missing! I think if Jesus was teaching today… sure, he might stick with the parables about a missing sheep, a missing coin, but perhaps he’d add a story about a missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle!
C.S. Lewis, the famous Christian writer describes human interconnectedness in his book The Four Loves. And I want to read you a part where he reflects on his tight-knit group of friends. (His mention of ‘Ronald’ refers to his friend J. R. R. Tolkien. And his mention of ‘Charles’ is a reference to his friend Charles Williams, who had recently died.)
In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s reaction…. Far from having more of Ronald, having him ‘to myself’ now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald.
… In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious ‘nearness by resemblance’ to Heaven itself… [like] the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision crying ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ to one another (Isaiah 6:3). The more we thus share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall all have.
Do we live with this sense of connectedness, and this sense of abundance together? With this sense of ‘the more the merrier’?
As “living stones…being built into a spiritual house” (v5) we are connected to each other more than we are often ready (or able) to recognise. A big part of this lack of recognition is because our relationships are fragmented.
Why do our relationships fragment….? Because our relationship with God has fragmented. You might be surprised how much of leadership in the church is a lot of the time invested in holding relationships together – you and I (everyone) is prone to fragmentation!
We live on the fault-lines of our human weaknesses. Thank God, Jesus comes to sort us out. Jesus died on the cross for us; to restore us and make us whole. God promises: you can get right with me, and I can hold of each of you together in my community of self-giving love.
To think of the Church another way…we are like threads woven together by God. Being woven together make the threads stronger than each separate one, AND usually more beautiful too.
The lyrics of the song ‘Through Heaven’s Eyes’ expresses the purpose we find when we recognise we are woven together:
A single thread in a tapestry
Through its colour brightly shines
Can never see its purpose
In the pattern of the grand design
And a third way to pictures ourselves together as the Church…is when a single note of music recognises the other notes in the song. It is identified with something bigger and more beautiful; something with pattern and purpose.
I wonder which image you feel speaks of the Church best? Stones, tapestry, or music?
At the centre of our lives together is an image we can see… the Table. When each of comes to the table alongside others, we are re-membered together. And we remember we are one family… of all ages, being formed in our faith together.
So, this word we hear for us today, describing us (the Church) as “living stones”, strengthens our vision for intergenerational faith formation. Indeed, may it be so.
 Do you think of: dependability, inclusion, common good…? Or do you think of: bureaucracy, rigidity, depersonalised, monolithic…?