Saturday, July 18, 2009

Jesus is Our Cornerstone

Kingo Lutheran Church of Fosston
125th Anniversary Celebration—July 19, 2009
Ephesians 2:19-22

"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."

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

One of the more enjoyable things I get to do is attend church anniversaries like this one. We Lutherans are a pretty calm, sedate bunch, but every hundred-and-twenty-five years or so, we like to cut loose! And then—watch out! We write up our history…throw a party….sell some keepsakes….and wheel in a bunch of old pastors to see how they’re doing!

Who says we Lutherans don’t know how to have a good time!

A year ago I helped the folks of Calvary in Bemidji celebrate their centennial. The climax of their party was opening up three different cornerstones. It was pretty exciting! After a guy used one of those incredibly-loud saws to cut through brick and mortar to dislodge the cornerstones, they laid ‘em out on a table in the narthex.

The whole church gathered around, with the little kids in the front row, standing on tiptoes, wondering what artifacts were tucked away in those three cornerstone-time capsules.
And what a treasure-trove it was! There were old Bibles, wrinkled catechisms, yellowed constitutions, moldy baptismal candles, and faded newspapers telling how much eggs and shoes and gasoline cost when each of the three cornerstones were laid.

Now this might sound like so much foolishness….but think about it: we put stuff in time capsules inside of church cornerstones because we assume the church has a future, right? It’s like planting: we tuck away that stuff, knowing that someone years from now willopen it up and gawk at it.

The church has a past, a present and a future…because it belongs to Jesus, the crucified and risen one. The church is “built” on Jesus.

Paul says as much in this reading from Ephesians 2: the people of God are like a big building—and the cornerstone of this “building” is Jesus himself. And Jesus never gets old or faded or moldy! Jesus has death behind him and nothing but the future ahead of him—and it’s on Jesus that the church—you and I—are “built.”

Having Jesus as our cornerstone, in fact, leads us to realize three things…to realize:
1. How God lays a foundation for us that cannot be shaken…
2. How God brings us together, transcending all our divisions…and
3. How God orients us toward the future, as missionaries in a world hungry for the gospel.

First, having Jesus as the true cornerstone of our church means that we’re built on a foundation that cannot be shaken.

I know just about nothing about how buildings are put up, but even I know that the foundation comes first. The bedrock, the foundation, the cornerstone needs to get laid before anything else. Nothing will go well for us if we don’t get the foundation straight and strong and deep.

Jesus our true cornerstone is the first stone that gets laid in this “building.” It starts with Jesus. I’ve read some of your history here at Kingo, and I’ve noticed how back in 1884 your ancestors put first things first. Like a lot of good Norwegian immigrants of the late 19th century, they didn’t wait around to organize a church. In many frontier communities—probably here in Fosston, too—newcomers sometimes organized a church family before they even built their own cabins.

Ponder that a moment. If for some reason we all picked up stakes and left here for Alaska or Siberia TODAY, would we be as likely to start up a new church before we even built our family homes?

Our forebears in faith got it right. Kingo was the first Christian church organized here in Fosston, one year after the town itself got started! Your forebears gave priority to Jesus Christ and the faith that embraces him and the mission-oriented life he calls us into.

The church, the people of God, are not “built” on shaky things. We don’t base our life on our proud ethnic heritage or our prevailing politics or our moral convictions or even our good looks! Rather, we are founded, established, on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ our true cornerstone.

If we’re built on Jesus—that means we base our life on his sin-forgiving, death-defying, future-opening unmerited love and mercy. What a foundation! When we get that straight, as your ancestors got it straight back in 1884, everything else falls into line.

Second, having Jesus as the true cornerstone of our church means that God brings us together and keeps bringing us together in a community that transcends all our divisions.

Remember that old joke?---
What did one wall say to the other wall?
“I’ll meet you at the corner.”

The corner is where walls come together….we might even say (in line with the earlier portion of our reading from Ephesians 2) that the corner is where separation-walls are replaced by walls of sturdy togetherness. The cornerstone is where the walls meet up and actually strengthen each other.

Jesus is like that in the community of the church. You started out as a Norwegian congregation….but you’re named a Danish hymnwriter. (How did that happen?) And since 1884 I dare say that you’ve let in all sorts of other folks….and this morning, wonder of wonders, there’s a German standing in your pulpit!

Those old ethnic divides are nothing, though, compared to all the other differences that sometimes keep us apart. Jesus overcomes our gripes and feuds and jealousies and disagreements. We meet—quite literally!—“at the corner”—the cornerstone who is Jesus Christ. When Jesus draws us nearer to himself, he simultaneously brings us closer to everyone else who belongs to Jesus.

Third, and finally, having Jesus as our cornerstone orients us toward God’s future as missionaries to a world still hungry for the gospel. Jesus lines us up as his followers, in order to send us out to keep building his church.

A cornerstone isn’t just the foundation stone or the coming-together stone. It also determines how the rest of the church will be built. Master-builders are painstaking in making sure that the cornerstone is set—straight and true!--because that’s what the whole rest of the building is “oriented” around.

It’s fascinating to read through your history here at Kingo. You started out with just 35 members back in 1884….and you just kept growing until your membership peaked at 931 members in 1959.

But don’t you imagine that that’s how your ancestors envisioned it happening? When they laid the cornerstone for their first church building in 1888 I bet those old Norskie settlers prayed: “Please, dear Lord Jesus, help us outgrow this building?”

Now we all know how the population in this part of the world has waxed and waned over the years. I’m guessing that when your membership peaked 50 years ago, the city of Fosston’s population peaked also. That’s what happened in the midst of the post-WWII “baby boom.”

But I wonder: do we still pray that old pioneers’ prayer: “Lord Jesus, help us outgrow this building?” If we’re not praying that prayer—why not?

Since 1990 the population of your zip code area 56542 has gone up, not down—did you know that?[1]

And do you realize that even now over one-quarter of the residents of Polk County are unchurched?[2] Some might call that a “mission field!”

What if we thought of those 8,370 Polk county neighbors of yours not as “the unchurched” but as “disciples-in-waiting?” What if we followed the trajectory of our hope in Jesus Christ and made the task of claiming them our 21st century assignment? What if Kingo faced the next century-plus, re-oriented to our mission as a people who still pray: “Lord Jesus, help us find a way to outgrow this building?”

Jesus, our true cornerstone, provides a foundation, brings us together past our differences,….and also “orients” us, gives us our marching orders. When we’re lined up with Jesus, like the faithful followers, the durable disciples that he has called us to be….we know where we need to go--right into the next 125 years, caught up in God’s barrier-breaking, future-opening mission!

In the name of Jesus.

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