“Built Together”: A Sermon Preached at Bellbrook Presbyterian Church < /br>
Rev. Diane Ziegler< /br>
Texts: Matthew 28:16-20; Ephesians 2:11-22
In October of 1911, two teams of adventurers made final preparations for a quest to be the first people in modern history to reach the South Pole. They were competitors of comparable strength, skill, age and expertise. Roald Amundsen, 39, and Robert Falcon Scott, 43, both had been part of prior expeditions, Amundsen part of the first expedition to spend the winter in Antarctica, and Scott leading a South Pole expedition in 1902 that reached 82 degrees South. The two started their trips within days of each other, both had more than 1400 miles (New York City to Chicago and back) to travel, and were headed into an environment where even in the summer temperatures can reach -20 degrees, and strong winds were common. They also lacked any method of modern communication – no radios, cell phones, GPS, satellites, etc.
The two men had very different approaches to their trips. Amundsen began preparing for his dreams of expeditions in his late 20’s. In 1899 he traveled from Norway to Spain to earn a two month master’s certificate in sailing. He didn’t take a ship or a horse or a carriage from Norway to Spain, but rode a bicycle! Later he experimented with eating raw dolphin meat to test how well it provided energy. He made a trip to live learn from Eskimos for a while to learn from people who have lived in polar conditions. From them he learned how to use sled dogs. He noticed how they never hurried, but moved slowly and steadily so that they did not generate sweat which would turn to ice in sub-zero temperatures. He learned about their clothing and practiced their methods to prepare for every conceivable situation he might encounter. Amundsen’s philosophy was essentially this: “You don’t wait until you’re in an unexpected storm to discover that you need more strength and endurance. You don’t wait until you’re shipwrecked to determine if you can eat raw dolphin. You don’t wait until you’re on an Antarctic journey to become a superb skier and dog handler. You prepare with intensity, all the time, so that when conditions turn against you, you can draw from a deep reservoir of strength.”
Scott was very different. He did not planned physical training prior to his expedition. He did not go live with the Eskimos. He chose ponies for his trip over dogs because he was more comfortable with them. He also chose “motor sledges” that had not been tested in the extreme South Pole conditions.
Amundsen built buffers for unforeseen events. Scott did not. Amundsen planned for big forces and chance events Scott did not. At his supply depots along the way, Amundsen stored 3 tons of food for 5 men; Scott one ton for 17 men. Amundsen carried enough extra food to reach his goal and go 100 extra miles if he missed every supply depot along the way. Scott did not.
Amundsen reached the South Pole on December 15, 1911, planted the Norwegian flag, and went right to work putting up a tent. When his team started their journey home, Scott was 360 miles away. Scott reached the South Pole a month later. His ponies had frozen to death. His “motor sledges” cracked in the cold weather. His men had to drag the sleds and supplies on their backs. When they arrived at their destination, naturally they were disappointed to see the flag left by Amundsen. He and his crew began their journey home exhausted, and with dwindling supplies. They ran out of food on their return journey and Scott and his team froze to death.
What do Amundsen and Scott have to teach us? How we choose to go about things matters. Both men were experts in their field. But the one who flourished was the one who didn’t assume he knew enough, was prepared enough, was strong enough. The one who flourished was the one who made it a point to learn and grow in wisdom, strength and skill. Amundsen could have looked in the mirror and said to himself, “you got this”. But he didn’t. For him there was always more to learn, there were always ways to improve and grow.
There is always more that we can learn as Christians. The second line of the mission statement of this congregation reminds us of that. It says that this church’s mission in part is “providing a home for spiritual nurture and worship.” What does that mean?
Spiritual nurture includes many things. It is Sunday School for adults and children. It is Bible Study. It is Movies that Matter. It is fellowship events like lunches and dinners and the bean supper that bring us together for fellowship and service. Spiritual nurture has at its core a missional component to build up the body, each individual, each household, and all of us together, so that we are constantly growing in faith and wisdom and faithfulness to God.
Jesus modeled life-long spiritual growth. He didn’t rely on his carpenter experience as enough for his life and ministry. He was constantly seeking the will and work of God through prayer, studying the scripture, and actively participating in a community of faith. And that pursuit never stopped. We know that in the Garden before his death he prayed for the Father’s will and not his own. He was perfect and yet in his perfection never ceased to model the priority of spiritual growth.
So this church commits to providing spiritual nurture. This line of the mission statement also prioritizes worship. Worship is central to who we are as people who commit to following Jesus. Our lives are to be testimonies to God and glorify God and we do this by praying and singing, reading scripture, passing the peace, hearing the Word. We worship so that we are reminded who we are and whose we are and that we belong to and are called to live in and under Almighty God.
Both worship and spiritual growth are critical for the development of disciples. Jesus tells us to go and make disciples. Disciples are not people who think they “got this”. They are not people who know it all. They are people who are committed to being formed and changed and refined to be more like Christ their entire lives. We are to be disciples. And we are to make disciples. The reading from Matthew reminded us of Christ’s commandment to go. And as we go, worship and spiritual nurture are critical. So that we are equipped to be God’s people - - not just any people - - but God’s people, in the world.
Being the people of God in the world is no easy task. Ephesians 2:11-22 makes the challenge of this call and task very clear.
“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 are also build together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”
We are called to be unified, not under our individual will and way, not under the will and way of any earthy entity, but in Jesus Christ who is The Capstone - - the finishing stone, the final achievement - - that is Jesus Christ.
And no matter who we are, or what position we are in, or how much experience we have, we do not have the skills as humans to do this on our own. We are too sinful, too self-centered, and too self-assured. And assuming we have the skills, like Scott, not only puts us at a disadvantage, but it can be deadly. It leads to cracks and fractures in the body, and it can destroy a community of faith, and that community’s witness to the world.
What is this unity that Ephesians speaks of? You will remember from other lessons we’ve looked at this year - - Acts, Galatians, and many of the Gospel passages from Luke and elsewhere, that division is something that humans excel at. We have all kinds of boundaries that separate us – location, vocation, knowledge, where we live, how we speak, where we are from, what we have done. And we seem to have an uncanny ability to notice how people are different. And different, often times in our sin, becomes “less than”.
For the early Christians it was trying to figure out how Jews and Gentiles became a community together. These were two groups of people who simply did not mingle for thousands of years and now they were breaking bread together and defining the rules of the community together. Their longstanding differentiating factor was circumcision (vs. 11 and 12). But this letter tells them that in Christ that differentiating factor is no longer there. “In Christ Jesus you who were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. There is no Jew or Gentile any longer.” There is no difference!
v. 14 – He has broken down the dividing wall
v. 15 – one new humanity in place of two
v. 16 – reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross
v.17 – so he came and proclaimed peace
v.18 – through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father
v.19 – you are no longer strangers and aliens but citizens and saints
v.20 – you are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.
Who is the cornerstone? Not you. Not me. Not any production of our efforts. Not our will. Not our experience. None of it.
Out of disunity, Christ calls us TO unity. Unity in Christ who reconciles us to God. The cornerstone, the top brick, the crowning achievement, the one that all of us fall under and are incomplete without, is Jesus Christ.
v.21 – In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord;
v.22 - in whom you are also built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
And in Christ we are to be built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God. Think about that. A dwelling place for God. Is that not so awesome?
But we cannot be a dwelling place without unity; not a unity defined by us, because we as sinful people are prone to division; but a unity that is from Christ, Jesus Christ the Capstone.
Achieving such unity has become even more difficult in the years between Amundsen and Scotts ventures to the South Pole and today. During the time between 1916 and the present, our societal constructs and understanding have changed dramatically. As people, even as Christians, we have lost a sense of a meta-narrative and instead are lost in the fragmented reality where there is no longer a shared Truth, no longer a sense of truth that is greater than us individually and collectively.
A sick and horrible form of that lack of sense of Truth might be cited in the very recent story of five teenagers, 14-18, who laughed, mocked, and recorded the death of a disabled man who drowned before them in a pond and none of them did anything to help. That horrible incident is a case of complete lack of any moral framework, any sense of right and wrong, and the presence of an all-consuming sense of self that places oneself over and above and apart from and higher up than anything else in the world. It is sin.
Our lives, those of us gathered here to worship, and our contexts - - by the sheer grace of God - - are still bound by a shared sense of truth and morality and something higher than ourselves; otherwise we would not be here.
But we are fools not to reflect on the tragedy of this story. We are fools to assume that even we hold Christ as our capstone. Our culture is so saturated by these “modern” notions of “truth” that at times we fall into positions where our own authority, opinions, self-assurance place God at best in second position. And God is not a second-position God.
Ephesians says no to putting God in any form of second position. Jesus Christ is the only Capstone and if you follow Jesus Christ you no longer are under yourself or any notion of truth that originates from anyone or anywhere else than Him; but you are under Christ the Lord.
Amundsen had a sense of an overarching narrative, of a truth that was bigger than himself and out of that he sought every bit of knowledge that would put his journey into the context of a much larger history and ensure that he achieved what he set out to do. Scott went for the truth of himself. He thought he knew better. He liked ponies better than dogs. He was fit enough, so he thought. Everything was going to go as planned so he need not think about contingencies.
You and I individually and we collectively are not going to solve all of the woes of the world. We cannot undo the unravelling that has occurred in this century any more than we can undo the unraveling of any time before. But God does not call us to fix the unraveling. God calls us to be unified, and to make sure that Jesus Christ and no one else or no other thing is our Capstone. And by being unified, by being disciples and making disciples we will be a dwelling place for God and in being so will testify to the world.
But we cannot do this on our own. And so, we worship. We come to worship every time that we can. We pray every moment we have opportunity. We praise Almighty God when we see the sunrise and when we see the sunset because worship is central to who we are as people who believe in Truth that encompasses not only the world but the heavens too.
And we invest in spiritual nurture. And we worship. And we pray and work and seek at all times to make Jesus Christ the capstone of our lives.
Almighty God of grace and mercy, may we have ears to hear what your Word says to us and may we be willing to do what it is that you call us to do.
All glory be to you, O Lord. Amen.
 Story, quote and information from Great by Choice, Jim Collins, pages 16-18.
 Vattimo, Gianni, 1988 , The End of Modernity: Nihilism and Hermeneutics in Postmodern Culture, Jon R. Snyder (trans.), Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
 Teenagers Recorded A Drowning Man and Laughed. July 21, 2017. The New York Times