The Sermon for Last Sunday, our 50th anniversary service of our church building, preached by Bishop Mark Vainikka.
Text 1 Peter 2:4,5,9: ‘As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
In Mark 6:3, Jesus is called a tekton, translated from Koine Greek, meaning a carpenter or a builder. I find it intriguing that God came to earth and thought it was worth his while, to build something. We don’t know what he made. It seems it was nothing significant enough to last. At a time in human history when nations were being upended, wars were being fought, people were being killed, injustices raged, and a vast, violent empire subjugated and persecuted its citizens, God became flesh and built some furniture. As Tish Harrison-Warren says, the light came into the darkness and did ordinary work. I find this strangely comforting. And it also tells me that celebrating something that has been built for God’s glory and honour, like this church building, is God-honouring and worthwhile.
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of this church building, we are reminded that this building is not merely a structure made of bricks and mortar, but a testament to God’s faithfulness to generations past and present. This place has been a sanctuary, a refuge, and a place of encounter with the divine. Fifty years ago, this building was erected as a place of worship, a place where God meets us in and through his Holy Word and the sacraments, a beacon of hope in our community. However, the true essence of our church, doesn’t reside solely in these walls, but in the lives, faith, and service of those who have gathered here—past, present, and future.
Our church’s history is not just a ‘construction/renovations/maintenance’ timeline. It’s a tapestry woven with the stories of faith, perseverance, love, and sacrifice, of all those who have walked through these doors. It’s the laughter of children in Sunday school, the confirmation students up in the loft, the whispered prayers of the faithful, the hands stretched out to receive the sacrament, the sacrifice of volunteers serving the needy, and the embrace of a caring community. The 50th anniversary of this physical structure, is an occasion to celebrate the faithfulness of God, who has guided and sustained us throughout these years. It’s a testament to the commitment and dedication of generations who have contributed their time, talents, and treasures, to build and sustain this church. Yet, as we celebrate, let us remember that this building, while significant, is ultimately a tool—a vessel for our gatherings and worship. The true treasure lies in the gospel, God making dead stones into living stones.
Stones don’t live, of course. There is no life in them. By calling us living stones, St Peter reminds us of the miracle of the resurrection. God has a habit of making dead things alive. That is what he has done for us and in us, through the waters of baptism. As St Peter writes, he has ‘called…[us] out of darkness into his wonderful light’ (v.9). Using the living stones analogy, St Peter reminds us that the faith we have, the place we have been given in the household of God, is purely and entirely by God’s grace. St Peter reminds us that as human beings, we are not sick in need of a doctor, but we are dead in need of a Saviour. And God, by his grace, has made the things that were dead—dead stones—into living stones. And Peter does not focus his words on any one individual. He is writing to the whole community of the faithful. He writes, ‘You (plural) are being built into a spiritual house.’ The passage speaks to the community as a whole. The emphasis is on the church’s corporate nature, not on a believer’s individual identity. Peter speaks of the hearers collectively forming the ‘spiritual house.’ Christians are considered living stones because, through faith in Christ, they become part of the spiritual household that is God’s church.
Like a stone, each believer has a unique role and contribution in constructing this spiritual house. Together, believers form a living, interconnected structure, unified by their faith in Christ and their shared purpose in serving God. The metaphor highlights that believers are not isolated entities, but are interconnected, forming a spiritual edifice, where everyone plays a crucial role, in the functioning and growth of the church. Hence, while the walls of this building enable us to gather for worship together, even architecturally, it’s not the walls that are important, but the space that those walls provide. And that space that those walls provide is filled with people who create the community that is St Mark’s that reaches beyond these walls, with the love of the gospel, so that all may come to know Jesus and worship him.
Hence, the beauty of this church building, transcends its architecture. It resides in the stories of lives transformed by the gospel, friendships forged, prayers answered, and the countless acts of love and service emanating from within these walls, over the last 50 years. As living stones, God’s grace has moulded each of you, transformed by his love and empowered by his Spirit. Each of you, dear saints of St Mark’s, is a living stone in God’s spiritual house. Your faith, your struggles, your triumphs—all contribute to the beauty of this spiritual dwelling place. When we gather together for an occasion such as this, the temptation is simply to remember the good times, the triumphs and the celebrations. And it is, of course, important to celebrate all of these, for they are a testimony to God’s goodness and faithfulness among us.
St Peter, however, guides us to the reality that without God giving us life, we are dead. And that reminds us of the reality that, as human beings, we experience death in its various forms constantly. Death is not unknown to Christ. And whatever death you might be facing at the moment, the death of your hopes and dreams; the death of what you wished for yourself and family, for your business, or your work; the death of your health and the death of your confidence; the death of your career and the death of financial security; the death of your hopes and dreams for your children; the death of relationships; the death of your retirement plans, Christ has endured that death. And he has overcome it.
Death is not a place unknown to God, which means that not even death can separate us ultimately from the God who is prepared to suffer death with us. We often resist our smaller and bigger deaths. We don’t want to accept them. So we drag the corpse along and pretend it isn’t dead. We talk about the good old days, when the children were home and our bodies had strength and vitality. We hark back to the days when Sunday school classes were full, and church held a central place in society. But death has happened, and acceptance is a vital step, in dealing with grief and death. God is not into resuscitation, but resurrection. God makes new. And things will be different. The way that St Mark’s will engage with its community in the years to come, will be different from the way it has done over the last 50 years. God is not into resuscitation, but resurrection.
This is not ‘Groundhog Day;’ we don’t repeat the same day again and again. Things change. As Richard Rohr says, ‘resurrection’ is another word for change, particularly life-giving change. What is constant, is God’s love for all people. What does not change, is that God makes dead stones alive again. Through the collapse of our stories, we are no longer ruled by them. New life is bigger, stronger, and more vigorous than these stories. And although, like the disciples, we are a little unsure about this new path, the invitation is there, to trust the next 50 years to God in Christ.
Like Jesus asked Mary Magdalene on that first morning, not to hold on to him, we cannot hold on to how things were. And this is a kind of death as well. Even post the death and the crisis, we need to hand over, on Sunday morning, our future to God. We do this again this morning, as we thank God for his loving and gracious provision in this building, over the last 50 years and look forward with hope and anticipation to what God will once again resurrect among us, in the years to come.
Bishop Mark Vainikka LCAQD