READ: Ephesians 2.2-22 CEB
Where is the strangest or most-unexpected place you’ve ever worshipped?
The word Worship has its origin in the Old English word, Worth.
And in our faith, it means gathering to acknowledge God’s worthiness.
Maybe we can just call it praise.
As part of a covenant discipleship group in Washington, DC, where I attended seminary, our group would gather each Wednesday evening after class.
We’d meet at a place called Bolt Burger right downtown on Massachusetts AVE NW,
and there we would discuss our covenant —
that is, what we promised to do for one another as we all grew in our discipleship.
We always started the evening with a prayer.
And we’d get some odd looks from time to time, as we’d go around the table of the six of us offering our praise or worship for all the amazing things God was doing in our lives.
Week by week, we would look forward to what we affectionally called it Bolt Church.
When we prayed, other patrons and even wait staff would often come over and join us.
They would ask if we could pray for them or their loved ones.
A couple of times, we’d even sing.
Here were six people from completely different backgrounds —
not all of us were United Methodists;
there were male and female, a few different races, diverse economic backgrounds, some very urban and others from rural homes, and we even different sexual preferences.
And that was just the core of this group!
Those who come to pray with us, had their own diverse preferences, beliefs and backgrounds.
How, then, would this trendy burger joint in the heart of downtown DC become what we might call “church”?
After all, there were no pews, there were no instruments, there were no sacramental images or appointments, and the place had been built for commerce, not worship.
So how could it possibly be “church” for us?
In our reading this evening, in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Paul is addressing two groups who were formerly divided: Jews and Gentiles.
The Jews were originally believed to have been the chosen ones of God’s,
but we learn through Christ, the Gentiles are also among God’s people.
And that translates to Everyone belongs to God.
Throughout his letter — and others Paul has written — we see so many images of building.
We see foundations, cornerstones, rocks, stones, brick and mortar and solid ground.
And those images all serve as metaphors for what Christ is building — and not just what Christ has built.
It is active, not passive.
In other words, it is alive.
It’s a living, breathing thing.
Christ himself is the cornerstone through all of those images,
and that which has been, is being, and will be built is all held together by Christ, with a foundation in what God has created.
At the time of Christ, nothing served more as a concrete image than the temple in Jerusalem—
that is, the only place in all of Israel in which the Jews believed God dwelt.
It was the place that they would make pilgrimages to, sometimes several times a year, to offer their sacrifices — their worship and praise — to God.
And we, too, might know that this barrier — this wall — that Paul speaks of in Verse 14 was the very wall within the Temple in which no Gentile was allowed past.
Jesus took down that wall and erased that barrier.
And there was now no separation between Jew and Gentile.
A new humanity was constructed.
It’s a living, breathing thing.
And interestingly, the Temple — just about 37 years after Christ’s death — was destroyed.
If God thought this physical temple was needed as the only place for God to dwell, it wouldn’t have come down.
At the very least, it would have been rebuilt.
Ah, but it was, wasn’t it?
Not of bricks and mortar;
but flesh and blood.
A living, breathing thing.
Jesus became the temple.
And after his death and resurrection, Jesus was no ghost, no spirit, no specter;
he was flesh and blood—
with wounds on his hands and feet;
the piercing of his side in which Thomas touches;
and as evidenced by the food Jesus eats when he reappears to the disciples.
But as such, Christ the cornerstone then tells us what?
That when we are in communion with him, we now become his body here on earth.
We become part of that edifice — that building, that temple itself!
No longer do we gather at the temple to worship God;
We gather as the temple.
We become the building itself.
And God dwells among us.
Together in Christ
Now, you may have heard the popular Christian adage found in our hymnals, in children’s music, Sunday school classes, from the pulpit and in so many books from the heaviest theology to the lightest pop Christianity:
What makes a church isn’t the bricks and wood or stained glass or pipe organ;
and it’s not even the trendy coffee houses, the Bolt Burgers, the lofts, annexes, theaters, gymnasiums or even living rooms where folks gather together to praise God;
it’s the people themselves.
Paul says in Verse 20, that it was the apostles and prophets that are the foundation.
And we — you and me — continue to build upon that foundation.
I love this imagery so much because it shows us that we’re not just standing on solid rock;
we’re not just dwelling in a house that has been built by these saints, and all their work is being held together by Christ —
all of that certainly is true —
but this temple continues to grow with every stone and brick that we lay upon that foundation.
God blesses it, and Christ holds it all together as the cornerstone.
That tells us five key things:
The church is continuously being built;
That we are active participants in that building;
that we don’t build it alone, but only TOGETHER in community;
as we’re building, God’s reality is becoming more and more effective in this world; and, finally,
God dwells within us all, together.
Come on, get happy
Knowing this makes me happy.
Does it make you happy, too?
To know that when we gather, we are expanding what God wills, what the apostles, prophets and saints have done before us, and we are honoring what Christ has given us on the cross.
But we need to break out of our theory mode,
stop talking about the metaphors, or else we’ll just remain on some theological platitude with no practical application.
You may belong to another church or another denomination or none at all;
still, when you come here and praise God, you become Christ’s church regardless of whatever affiliation you may already have …
whatever apostle or saint or prophet rolled up his or her sleeves to lay the foundation on which you place your bricks.
It’s all one great, big foundation;
it’s all one great, big church;
and it’s all held together by one great, big Savior.
Yes, those are all good.
But remember the most important one:
We can have Faith.
It’s faith in the foundation and the bricks and the cornerstone we may not see;
but it’s also faith in the foundation and bricks and cornerstone that we can see.
It’s not what we do that builds the church;
it’s what we do in faith that builds it.
Listen: Faith is the reason we build;
and faith is the reason we worship.
To God goes all the glory!
Because we understand God’s worthiness to take what we build in faith, bless it, live within us, be with us, protect us, provide for us and guide us…
That’s God’s will for us.
As Paul concludes,
“The whole building is joined together in him, and it grows up into a temple that is dedicated to the Lord.
“Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit.”
It didn’t matter if my covenant discipleship group worshipped in the National Cathedral or in Bolt Burger.
What matters is that we were together worshipping our Lord in faith.
Not alone, on our own in front of some TV or radio pastor;
Not off in the woods or on the lake.
That’s wonderful; but that isn’t the body.
The body only is present when we are worshipping together — in faith.
The body — what we call the church — is only evident where two or more people are gathered in Jesus’s name.
Only then can this community of believers begin feeling that firm and true foundation beneath its feet;
only then can this community of believers begin seeing the reality of God becoming more and more effective in our lives and in our world.
And then, and only then, can this community of believers truly be Christ in this world.