11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection September 16, 2018
"On Rock" by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
At the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew‘s Gospel, Jesus ends his wonderful teachings with a parable. He tells the parable of someone who built his house on rock – as opposed to someone who built his house on sand. We all know what will eventually happen to a house built on sand – it will be unable to withstand the rains and the winds. This was especially so in the Palestine of Jesus’ day when flash floods were very common in the rainy season.
In our own time, in this past week of very damaging winds and rain in the Carolinas, we see the damage that can happen to many. Jesus states the obvious that it’s foolish to build a house on sand instead of rock. But, of course, Jesus is not trying to give us advice on building homes. Jesus is giving us advice on how to live our lives.
Throughout the Old Testament, God is often referred to as a rock. Jacob, in his final words to his children, speaks in the “name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel.” (Genesis 49:24b) The Psalms are filled with similar references, such as Psalm 62: “For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.” (Psalm 62:5-7) Isaiah proclaims: “Trust in the Lord forever, for in God you have an everlasting rock.” (Isaiah 26:4)
But what might this really mean? Surely God is not really a rock! The Biblical writers are using an analogy. God is like a rock. We can cling to God when the winds and the floods come. We can cling to God no matter what turmoil and troubles come our way. This is certainly true and serves as one of the most important foundations of our faith.
Yet each one of us is also a rock – a stone – in the building of the church. The first Letter of Peter states: “Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood…”(1 Peter 2: 4-5)
Every one of us is a “living stone” and together with all who follow Jesus Christ, we comprise the church. Jesus is the cornerstone, as we know from numerous New Testament references.
Our brother Paul writes this important text in Ephesians: “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 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 also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)
In essence, therefore, we comprise “a dwelling place for God.” This is a wonderful image and a wonderful reality. When the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed by the Roman army in 70 A.D., Jews believed God no longer had a place to live on the earth. But this is not the case. God has a dwelling place and that dwelling place happens when we come together as church at our beloved Morgan Park American Baptist Church.
Here’s something for us to consider: Jesus Christ did not found what we might call a Christian denomination. The “Jesus Movement” - “the Way” - was not the start of any denomination, it was the beginning of a great fellowship of all believers in Jesus Christ. It was and is the “New Israel” which is not be a bad way to speak of ourselves.
The church comprises all who love Jesus Christ. But, as is often the case, this understanding of church has been lost over time. We now have so many Christian denominations – all of them contending to be the TRUE church of Jesus Christ. But there is no TRUE Christian denomination. Denominations are not what Jesus had in mind for his church. There is but one church gathered together in Jesus’ name throughout the world. We have over 2 billion brothers and sisters in Christ. The fact that the one church is splintered among hundreds and hundreds of denominations is a long-standing tragedy.
The hope and prayer of every Christian should be that Jesus Christ might heal all the divisions in the church gathered together in his holy name. Every denomination has strengths as well as weaknesses. Every denomination is flawed and in need of God’s grace. I know this truth better than most. And yet I also know that most denominations strive to be faithful to the good news of Jesus Christ.
What matters most is the “cement” binding (all) the rocks into one: the Holy Spirit of the Living God. The Holy Spirit alone can build the church with stones as ill-hewn (and as ill-fitting) as we!
The Holy Spirit alone can hold us together; keep us one in spite of ourselves, in spite of the centrifugal force with which our boundless pride endows us. Because Christ became incarnate, I no longer have the right to divide the good from the bad, the innocent from the wicked, the true believers from the heretics ... All comprise a single whole called The Church.
At our beloved church, we have members who have come to us from a variety of other denominations. Let us keep in mind that being Baptist, being Episcopalian, being Catholic, being Methodist or Presbyterian, is a secondary identity trailing far behind our first identity as a living stone in the community of Christ – a living stone in the church. And the gates of Hades, which signifies the evil powers constantly assailing our world: the evil of racism – the evil of narcissism – the evil of unbridled avarice - can never – will never prevail against it!
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor