In the movie Field of Dreams the central character Ray played by Kevin Costner is trying to decide whether he should sell his farm or turn it into a baseball field. As he discerns this crucial decision, central to his life, he is visited by persons who share what appear to be divine messages. One of these angelic messages comes from Terence Mann who is played by James Earl Jones. He says, “Ray. People will come, Ray. They'll come…for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children. They'll pass over money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they'll walk out to the bleachers on a perfect afternoon…And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters.”
David Rackham sent me a wonderful article from the September 2000 edition of the United Church Observer about church buildings. Author Susan Conly writes "Despite the prophetic tradition of the New Testament, despite the fact that nowhere after the Resurrection is there any mention of building churches or temples, we erect more splendid edifices to the glory of God. Is it not prestige we glorify? The cleansing of the temple should clarify the message. Jesus, burning with indignation, rid worship of all debris."
So which is it, are we called to build something and they will come or should we avoid the temptation to build knowing it will only turn into an idol that will distract us from our true mission to live out our lives as disciples of Jesus?
Let’s turn to the Apostle Paul and our lectionary Epistle for this week. In 1 Corinthians 3 we once again witness a faith community in turmoil. And again Paul reminds these early Christians that the foundation of their community is Jesus the Christ, the historical Jesus who becomes our salvation. In making this argument Paul refers to himself as the “master-builder” and claims he has made Jesus the cornerstone of the Church.
To understand Paul’s use terms like architect (Paul) and foundation (Jesus) know this, the Temples built by Solomon, and later by Herod, were made of fine materials gold, silver, costly stones. The costly stones aren't jewelry here, but quarry-cut stones such as limestone and marble that were reserved for the finest buildings such as the Temple. Wood was expensive, since it was rare in many places. It was used for lintels or rafters. However, wood would burn, while metals and stones would not. In other words while the worship life, character, identity and mission of each community, like the one in Corinth, is uniquely different what all of these Churches share is the strong, sturdy foundation of Jesus who became our Christ.
Paul is the “master-builder” and says he is the one who laid this foundation for the church. How did Paul do this, by inviting the early Christians to follow Paul’s example of living Christ. In the next chapter Paul urges the Corinthians to imitate him (1 Cor 4:16). His classic statement comes later in this letter: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (11:1). Paul is clear that this is the way faith and discipleship works. God's house of faith is built when each of us follow the plan God has given us, not so much by following a recipe or precise blueprint, but by taking the form of a servant and learning from those who have gone before us, who are similarly transformed by Jesus the Christ.
Paul has come to see that God’s holy wisdom requires a transformation of mindset and attitude and perspective, a conversion from the sacrifice of others to the sacrifice of self. We are to literally be examples to others, to live as if their lives and faith depended on us. As writer Paul Bellan-Boyer says of this text, “We are building a Temple to God in our example, this Temple not being grand because of the size of its stones or the luster of its decoration. This is not a superficial resemblance, based on putting on an apostle suit or a Jesus costume, but is achieved through God's tranformation of our lives. As we'll hear in Paul's next letter, this human temple is built of the cracked pottery of very imperfect disciples. Yet it is built on the kind of love which is poured out for others, as Christ was for us, foundational.”
Paul is saying that being the Church is living out Jesus’ selfless agape love and that we do this with humility, not boasting, as we all fall short of this daring foundation of love. For those who want to suggest that naming Jesus as your Saviour is enough to claim this foundation let me remind you that in the 1960’s Birmingham Alabama’s segregationist Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene “Bull” Connor, was a Sunday school teacher who could teach pious Bible lessons at his white church on Sunday, and then turn dogs and water on innocent black children on Thursday.
In the movie Field of Dreams Kevin Costner’s character Ray believes that if he builds the ball field “people will come”. And they do. But soon Ray confuses the field itself with the deeper reason people are coming. It’s not the beauty of the ball diamond that has drawn people to this place but rather the believers in baseball who have created a community where they can dip themselves in “magic waters”. This has been foundational to what has happened.
As we at Bethany discern the Spirit’s guidance in our decision over which of these building options to pursue let us remember that Jesus the Christ is supposed to be the foundation of this church and this becomes real when you and I imitate his life and spirit in this community’s midst. If you want people to know Jesus you and I need to live his spirit in tangible ways. If we build it they will come but not because of the inside or the outside of this building. No, they will come because of the inside and outside of you and me. Let us dip into these magic waters of faith and be transformed into something new. Amen.