June 11th – Anniversary Service

250 years ago, some brave souls decided that they need to have an official Presbyterian presence in this country. It took them another 50 years before they were able to have their own building. During the time between, they rented space in various places, but eventually, they were able to build their own sacred space, their place to worship, and it has been here ever since, standing as a monument to the importance of a settled faith community in their lives. There have been many changes since that day in 1710, but the basic premise remains the same. This building is still the place where Presbyterians come to worship – not as many as in the old days, or even in the days of less than a century ago – but still a place that we call home, a place where we find comfort and community.
Both of our readings today can be applied to this sanctuary. We will start by looking at the Old Testament, the reading in which Solomon dedicates the temple. Solomon was the king, but he was not a priest. He was a lay person. And the fact that it was Solomon who dedicated the temple shows us how important lay people were at that time. This is no less true today, in the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Each church has a minister – a teaching elder. But we also have a session, the people who are the ruling elders of each congregation. The session may be larger or smaller, but they are the people who govern the church. In fact, we have even had lay people as the moderators of our General Assembly. We have a Board of Managers, people who are responsible for a lot of the physical demands of owning a church building. They are the people who worry about the money, and who make recommendations to the session and congregation on the spending and saving of assets. We have readers who take part in worship every week; we have people who greet you when you come in and who give you a copy of the order of service; we have people who receive the offering each week; we have people who prepare the coffee for our social time; we have people who organize flowers; we have people who teach Sunday School; and the list goes on. And without these people, the church would be just a building – a very attractive building, but still just a building. As you will hear in our closing hymn today, the church IS the people.
What, then, is the point of having a building? Could not people just pray at home, without worrying about getting here every Sunday? Surely there are times when you would rather sleep in, or go out of town for the weekend. But you get yourselves here most Sundays, and I hope that most Sundays you find the trek worthwhile. Let’s go back to Solomon for a minute. We read: The Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in front of the whole assembly of Israel. He didn’t stand in his living room, or out in a field to be closer to nature. He stood before the altar of God. And the people of Israel stood there with him. Not for them the comment that “I am spiritual but not religious.” You would not have heard the Israelites say, “I find that I am closer to God when I am alone with nature than when I am in church.” Nor would they have said, “There are so many hypocrites in the church that I really don’t want to go.” No. They knew the importance of community. They knew that it was essential that they worship together. After Solomon had finished his prayer, there were many sacrifices. And this was important for the people of that time and place. No self-respecting Israelite would have prayed without offering a sacrifice. For us, Jesus Christ was the ultimate sacrifice, and we no longer have to do this, but we still have to present ourselves to God through Jesus. And that is the point of having a building. It gives us a place to come to, as a community. It gives us a place to worship God together, as a community. In Living Faith, we read: The church lives to praise God. We have no higher calling than to offer the worship that belongs to God day by day, Sunday by Sunday. We are told that worship draws us into the work of Christ, and could there be any higher calling than that for each one of us? Whatever role we play in this church, in St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Québec City, we are united with Christ because of our commitment to this building.
And now that we have come to the building, let’s take a look at the reading from Matthew, which most people are familiar with. There is a children’s hymn about the wise man who built his house upon a rock, and how the house withstood all the storms that nature could hurl at it. Now, in this story, which comes at the end of what we know as The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is talking about two men and two houses. We really don’t know a lot about either the builders or the houses they built. They both could have been experts, and they could have used the same house plans. In fact, the houses could have been identical. Let’s transfer this to us, because that is what Jesus meant people to do with his parables. Let’s look at two people who call themselves Christians. They follow the same plans, in that they both attend church – more or less regularly. They hear the same sermons, and they may even go to the same Bible studies. But the thing Jesus wants to draw our attention to is the difference between them. Going back to the parable, we can readily see the difference between the two houses. One was built on a rock, and the other was built on sand. And when the rains came, so that the streams rose, and the winds blew, the house that was built on sand fell down with a great crash. Well, that certainly shows the importance of a solid foundation.
Let’s go back to our two Christians, who seem to be the same. But one has a good foundation, and the other doesn’t. How did this happen? Well, many people are Christians by default. They were baptized as babies, and just continued the tradition as they grew up. But they never really built their life on the foundation of Jesus Christ. They never really thought that it was necessary. They probably aren’t bad people, but they do not have a good foundation. And when the storms of life crash against them, what happens?
Just think about all those people who have built houses in earthquake zones in California. They are usually expensive homes, and they look great. But every year, houses in these places are destroyed when nature decides that it is time for another seismic shock. As Christians, we need to be sure that Jesus is our foundation. We need to be sure that we are not led to the wrong foundation. And there are plenty of wrong foundations out there; there are plenty of false gods, just waiting for us. There is the god of pleasure whose motto is: If it feels good, do it. There is the god of riches, who leads us to believe that, as long as we have enough – or more than enough – money, all will be well. Most of us can see through these false gods, but how about this one? How about the god of good deeds? People who follow this god think that, if they do good things, so that other people praise them, then God must be pleased with them, too. This one is a little harder to recognize, and that is what makes him dangerous.
Our forefathers and foremothers knew this, and they knew that one of the best ways to avoid being caught in the trap of false gods was to establish a faith community. That is why this church was built, and that is why we continue to worship here. In order to have a firm foundation, we need to be exposed to the truth. We do this by coming to church, and by reading Scripture regularly. We also need to listen to the word of God. It is not enough just to hear it. This is one of the reasons the Presbyterian Church insists on well-educated ministers, ministers who have studied God’s word, and who are able to interpret it. But it is not enough just to let the minister expound on the word of God. It is also important that you interact with it yourself, and that you ask questions when you read it. This can happen in a Bible Study, or after Sunday worship, or at just about any time during the week.
The people who built this church knew this. They knew the importance of having a place where they could come to worship. They knew the importance of a faith community, just as did the Israelites of Solomon’s time. And so do we. This is why we are celebrating this weekend. That is why we believe it is important to recognize that, even though the church IS the people, the building itself is important. Solomon recognized this, and, even though he was the king of the nation, called himself God’s servant. Solomon knew that the people needed to come together to keep their faith alive, and the early Presbyterians here knew the same thing.
As Presbyterians, we consider ourselves to be always reformed, and ever reforming, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And where do we find this guidance? In Scripture, and also in worship. It is in worship that most people hear the words of God; it is through worship that most people become familiar with Scripture. People who take part in worship as readers here often comment that it was through reading Scripture out loud that they gained a new insight into the words.
The cornerstone for this building was laid 200 years ago. The fact that the building is still standing is a testimony to the builders of the day, who laid a good foundation. The cornerstone for your faith was laid over 2000 years ago. The fact that it is still around shows that Jesus laid a good foundation. If you remember, one of the things he said was: You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church. The church is still being built, but because the foundation is solid, it will withstand any trials thrown at it. Always reformed, ever reforming – because there was a good foundation, the church can do this. Because there was a good foundation, the church is able to change to meet the demands of changing times. And your own faith? If Jesus is the cornerstone, if Jesus is the foundation, then it will survive and grow. This means that St. Andrew’s will survive and grow, so that in 40 years, we will be celebrating our 300th anniversary as a congregation. We will still trace our roots back to Scotland, and further, to Galilee. Because we do this, we know that we cannot just look to today. We have to look to the future, so that this congregation will still be worshipping on this spot, decades from now. The wise man built his house upon a rock, so that it would survive. We have built our church on the rock that is Jesus Christ, and, as long as we remember this, we will survive and grow. Thanks be to God.

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