NO LONGER STRANGERS

A SERMON FOR THE CHARTERING OF PEACE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

EPHESIANS 2:12-22

TED W. LAND, PASTOR
First Presbyterian Church of Arcadia

No more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home…
"My Shepherd Will Supply My Need"
#172 - The Presbyterian Hymnal

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 the prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In Him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you are also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
Ephesians 2:19-22

It would have been easy to have focused on the first part of our scripture today. We’re chartering, organizing, a Presbyterian Church called Peace. And Jesus Christ is indeed our peace. He has made peace, and reconciled us to God through the cross. And that is the message that this church called Peace is chartered, organized, designed to proclaim. Peace to those who are near, and peace to those who are far off. The peace that passes all understanding.

But that would have been too obvious, too easy.

Instead, let’s think about what it means to be “no more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home.” Let’s think about what it means to become citizens with the saints, members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.

I remember once when we were all strangers, all guests. Polly, Bob and Ardis, and I, we were there, present, at the first gathering of the saints who would become Peace Church. It was a cold night in January, and we met in the library at the Out of Door Academy, and Chris Curvin, then associate pastor at Church of the Palms, led worship, and John Ferriera, their Director of Music, played the keyboard, and several of the choir members from Church of the Palms sang. And we were all strangers and aliens one to another. Some of us were interested members of Presbytery; some were members at Church of the Palms or Sarasota First. Some were people who saw the notice in the newspaper, or a sign on the corner. Some of you may still be here this afternoon. Some of those folks we’ve never seen again.

For some people, things happened too fast. For others, they happened too slowly.

Patience and passion have to come together in equal measures to start a new church. And sadly, those with the passion sometimes lack the patience, and those with the patience, the passion.

You were once all strangers and aliens, visitors and guests, you who have signed the roll as charter members of Peace Presbyterian Church. You are now citizens with the saints! You are members of the household of God! You are no longer in that limbo that exists when you are a New Church Development. You’re official! You can have elders, and deacons if you want them, and a pastor, and even a parish associate. That “almost a church” status that you’ve both enjoyed and suffered under has come to an end. You are a church! You are indeed a household of God!

I’ve mentioned a few of the saints, the apostles and prophets who were a part of that beginning. I won’t dare to attempt to list them all. They were too many, too varied. There was a steering committee that plotted a course, and a search committee, that found Elizabeth Deibert, and there was the Presbytery Committee, that has changed its name twice during the time this church has been developing, and there was a property acquisition committee.

I’ve lost track of how many pieces of real estate were considered as a future home for Peace Church. It is important to have that piece of real estate. But that doesn’t tell you where Peace Church is. Peace Church is wherever its members are, individually and corporately

When someone asks you where your church is, tell them it is wherever you are! Peace Church cannot be confined or defined by a building!

You’ve already built one building, you know! That’s right! It isn’t a house of worship. It isn’t a place of fellowship and learning. Well, maybe it is, because a lot of fellowship and a lot of learning took place when the team from Peace built Mr. McIver’s house in the little DeSoto County community of Hull. This church truthfully was building itself as they built that house. And someday, maybe using some of the things you learned, you will build a house of worship. I know that all of us look forward to that day when we will meet again to dedicate the building in which Peace Church will worship and gather for fellowship and for Christian Education, and from which you will go out into the community to serve. I’m planning on being there!

But recognize and realize: you will not be dedicating a church when you do that. You will be dedicating a building. You are the church! You are that which is built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets with Jesus Christ Himself as the cornerstone.

Now the word we translate here as cornerstone, well, we don’t have a word or a concept in our architecture that corresponds to the concept in Biblical times.

Perhaps you’ve heard the scripture, and the legend, about the stone that the builders rejected, the one that came from the quarry when they were building the temple in Jerusalem, It had one arm that went like this, and one that when like that, and a third arm sticking out to the side. It wasn’t like the symmetrical keystone that holds together a Roman arch. It wasn’t like the square, solid, cubical stone that we put in the corner of our buildings. But in the rather primitive architecture of the Israelites, “the head of the corner” was what held the walls of the temple together, and odd-shaped though it was, it was essential to keep things together.

You who were strangers and aliens, visitors and guests, have been bound together by the one who is the cornerstone into a church called Peace.

As the Avery and Marsh song of a few years back said,

I am the church! You are the church! We are the church together! All who follow Jesus all around the world! Yes, we’re the church together!

The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people.

We’re many kinds of people, with many kinds of faces, all colors and all ages, from all times and places.

I am the church! You are the church! We are the church together!

Today, you become Peace Presbyterian Church. It is Jesus Himself who joins you together, and who allows you, empowers you, to grow into a holy temple of the Lord. You are thus built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Peace Church, God dwells within you! God dwells in you hearts, in your minds, in your souls, in your lives. His peace is your peace.

You are no longer strangers. You are now a church.

And to Jesus Christ, the head of the church, the cornerstone who joins us together, be the glory, the power, the dominion and the praise, in the church and in the world, now and forever more. Amen.