August 24, 2014

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

Matthew 16: 13-20

“Building A Church”

As we begin our discussion surrounding this morning’s scripture lesson I would like to share with you from our website under the heading of “Who We Are” and “Our History.”

And I quote: “Although Riviera United Church of Christ is now located in Palm Bay, we actually began as a church in our sister city, Melbourne, Florida.  In 1889, a dozen pioneers to the area incorporated a church under the name First Congregational Church of Melbourne.  The congregation met in the home of Edward Branch and later shared space in the Methodist Episcopal Church.  In 1893, the first building was completed at the corner of US1 and Strawbridge (State Road 192).

Over the next century, the church went through good times and bad.  By 2000, we had outgrown the old building and the small lot in downtown Melbourne.  The beloved historic site was sold to another young church. Our congregation, under the name United Church of Christ, Congregational, moved to a temporary site, a former furniture warehouse on Palm Bay Road.  We spent the next three years planning and constructing our present facility.

We took the name Riviera United Church of Christ and made the big move. Our first Sunday service was held on March 2, 2003.”

Therefore, The Riviera United Church of Christ, as we now know it is using “as its gathering point” this piece of land which we “stand on” and this building that we now “gather in.”  That has been the case these past 11 years, 5 months and 22 days; but who’s keeping track.  As we begin our discussion surrounding our sermon topic “Building a Church,” let us be clear that this church was formed, as it is stated in the history file I just read from our website, in the year 1889, when “a dozen pioneers to the area incorporated a church.”  A dozen pioneers, twelve people, were the foundation and rock; they were the start of this church, now 125 years of age, not 11 years and a few odd months.  Seems we may want to consider celebrating, or at least acknowledge the fact that this year is the 125th anniversary of the formation and incorporation of this church body!

In this morning’s scripture passage we hear Jesus saying to Peter these words: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.”  Jesus was quite clear about this.  Jesus understood that brick and mortar, cement in modern times, creates a building.  But a church is formed by flesh and blood.  We as a congregation and as a faith fellowship need to remember this as time moves us into our future.

As we enter into our discussion we need to ask ourselves this question: “If bricks and mortar are not the church, then how do we build the church how do we strengthen the church?”

I remember, as a young lad, learning about church buildings coming in various shapes and sizes.  Some on large well groomed pieces of property and some with pealing white paint (seems it was always white paint that pealed from those old wooden church buildings up in New England,) and some of the churches had steeples and some clearly had had steeples but they had fallen in disrepair and been torn down.  You could tell, and you still can tell, because of the obvious flat spots where the steeples had been.  As I grew older, I learned that there were congregational battles surrounding whether to rebuild those steeples or not.  The cost often went from the hundreds of thousands of dollars to a million or so.  The arguments usually centered on the tradeoff of maintaining the “meeting place” or using the funds for outreach ministry.

According to our current financials, the fixed assets of the Riviera United Church of Christ are greater than double the size of our existing mortgage.   Another way to look at this is to look at housing values.  I financed a house in this area in 2006.  I mortgaged it for $180,000.  It sold in a “short sale” last November for half of the existing mortgage, yet, my home has never had a price on it.  The value of my home is priceless!  My home is where my family and I are, and the bank never owned even a part of my home!  In this changing world we all need to remember this simple lesson.  We can apply the same principle to this church facility.  My point here is that our current financials are only numbers applied to a piece of property; they are not ways of calculating the value or the net-worth of a Church Body!

This church, The Riviera United Church of Christ is priceless!  God forbid, but if a natural catastrophe takes our building or our sister church’s and neighboring church’s buildings it shall not–it cannot destroy this church or any church!  The foundation of this church began with that small group of pioneers 125 years ago!  Build upon that foundation this church body is comprised of a gathering of faith filled followers of Jesus Christ!  This church has a “Statement of Faith” we read it just two Sundays ago out loud during our time of worship.  It proclaims on our website that “God’s love has no string’s attached!”  And “We are a Christ Centered-Church, we are open to all!”  This language does not talk about a building or a mortgage, it talks about the people of this church and what is our common belief as a fellowship!

Like most churches this church has a Constitution and a set of By Laws.  The very first line says to us: “God calls people into the church to accept the costs and the joys of participating in and living out the vision and reality of the Reign of God as revealed in the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  Wow!  Powerful statement!  The writing of this Preamble declares that God “calls” people (people like you and me) into the church!  We could continue reading this beautifully written Preamble and we would find words like “Community of Faith,” “Relationships,” “Spirit of God,” “Word of God,” “Holy Spirit,” and “Faithful ministry.”

The “Vision Statement” of this Congregation states: “We exist to experience and share Christ’s unconditional love by Thinking Openly, Believing Passionately and Serving Boldly.”  Our “Mission and Ministry” statement declares that this congregation, this fellowship exists to “spread the good news through word and deed that God loves us and calls us to love one another.”  Again let me point out that these written words and our discussion surrounding the “Church” does not focus around bricks and mortar.   Yes, within the By-Laws are whole sections on how to manage this building and property, but never does it refer to these assets as being the “Church.”

You, my dear friends are “The Church.”  Jesus said: “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”  On this rock, upon this piece of ground, gathering within this beautiful and spacious facility, is gathered the Riviera United Church of Christ.  It is here that we as a church body gather and renew and refresh ourselves in the Spirit!  It is here that we proclaim the gospel and the teachings of the Bible.  It is here that we share in the sacraments of this Church Body, in the name of the “Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!”  It is here that we teach our children, passing on the teachings of the Bible and words of Holy Scripture that we lift up each Sunday.  Yes, this building is vitally important to the operation and gathering of this church.  To that end it is our responsibility to care for it, maintain it and pay the mortgage, insurance and the electric bill!  We are a responsible body, and as such, we must take responsibility for all choices and decisions we make as a church body!

OK, so now we are all of the same understanding that a Christian Church is the people that gather in the name of Jesus, the Christ.  We know that this building, our gathering place, our place of worship, is our current choice and responsibility.  It is important to us and we spend a lot of resources to keep it the beautiful place that it is; and this is good.  This church has a lot to be proud of in this regard.

On this foundation we can continue our discussion regarding how to build a church.  I will not need to clarify to you again that church equals people, not a building.  Building a church, strengthening the foundation of a church is about the people here.  It is about how we practice our faith.  It is about how we nourish one another in this journey of faith.  It is about relationships, how we form them, how we maintain them and how these relationships strengthen the church.  So how do we do this?

Along my journey of life I have heard others use the word HOW to assist in their remembering how to get something done.  In our case, we might want to consider this simple practice.  Let the H stand for Humility, the O for Openness, and the W for Worthiness.

Let us start by lifting up the word Humility.  If we have humility, if we humbly accept the fact that without God, we cannot possible build a church or build better relationships then perhaps we will remember to bring God into these discussions.   This is a really great way to start.

“Gracious and most Wise God, help us in our desires to build a stronger church.”

See, it really is that easy.  Just bring God into the mix.  Do it consciously and all the time.

How often are we to invoke God’s presence?  As often as it takes to accomplish the task; that’s how often!  Try invoking God every time you gather as a community for any purpose.  Offer up a prayer when you are not sure how to handle a situation that is brought to your attention.  Pray for our children, gathered here today, on this special Sunday we call “Rally Day!”

Now let’s move on from the first step of humbly asking God for help and tackle the next letter the O, representing Openness.  Let this remind us to keep an attitude of openness in our conversations with God.  Then and only then moving on to communicating with others, openly!  Sounds pretty basic doesn’t it?  Yet, the vast amount of problems in churches comes from poor or closed communications.  It is crucial to be open with the people you talk with.  A commitment to open communications will strengthen any relationship; it will strengthen and enhance this faith fellowship well into the future!

Worthiness!  What value have you placed on your church?  Is it worthy of your praise and admiration?  It takes a lot of effort to build and strengthen a church.  Fellowships are not built without folks getting involved and becoming willing to volunteer some of their time, talent and treasure to the cause.  This all takes effort.  If you and I, if we do not feel our church is worthy of our efforts we will be disappointed in the results.

Remember HOW to build and strengthen a church.  Become Humble, Offer genuine Openness in your communications and come to believe in the Worthiness of this fellowship to be at the top of your priority list!  Amen.

Matthew 16: 13-20

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesare’a Philip’pi, he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?”  14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Eli’jah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona!  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.  18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.  19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.



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