Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

Building a Church

Message preached July 20, 2008
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon  1 Corinthians 12:12-17

Order of Worship

Note: This sermon was first delivered in Spanish in our sister church, the Luz y Verdad Iglesia de los Hermanos in San Juan de la Maguana in the Dominican Republic, during worship on July 1, 2008.

above: video highlights from worship in San Juan de la Maguana

            When I was little, I learned this rhyme – well, in English it rhymes. Maybe you have heard it: 

“Here is the church
and here is the steeple
Open it up
and see all the people.”

             I learned this in Sunday School when I was a little boy. It was easy to memorize, and fun to do. And it also was not true. Well, not exactly. But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

     Let me begin with words adapted from the Apostle Paul:


2To the church of God that is in (San Juan de la Maguana), to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

(1 Corinthians 1:2-3, NRSV)

I bring you greetings from your brothers and sisters in the Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren. 

            I feel very blessed to be with you once again. Thoughts of you have warmed my heart many times since January of 2005. I apologize for reading this sermon, for after my last visit with you, I stopped writing out my sermons. You blessed me with the freedom of moving with the Spirit, letting go of a manuscript, leaving the pulpit. The only reason I am reading this sermon this evening is that I want to try preaching it in Spanish. And the only way I can do that is if I write it down. I thank my brother Ellis Shenk, back in Maryland, for translating my English into Spanish so I could speak this to you today without an interpreter. Please be patient with me. I studied Spanish thirty seven years ago in High School. I will probably mispronounce many words. Listen with your heart. 

            We are blessed to join you this week in your building project. I trust that what we build together is not just brick and cement. What I want to preach this evening is about building the church. This brings me back to the Sunday School rhyme I learned as a little boy.  

“Here is the church
And here is the steeple
Open it up
And see all the people.” 

            Tell me, is this the church (hands closed), or is this the church (hands open)? Or, to ask it a bit differently, is this the church (go and knock on wall), or is this the church (point to the gathered congregation)? As we work together adding on to your meetinghouse, we need to become clear about this house in which we are meeting. It is not the church. You are the church. 

            Do we really need to say this? Yes, we do, because it is very easy to get confused. The church we are building together this week is not the second floor of your annex. This space will serve you well. It will be a wonderful addition. But it is only a tool for building the real church. The real church of Jesus Christ is not made of cinder block. It is not made of rebar. It is not made of cement. It does not have a tin roof. The real church is God’s people. And wherever God’s people are, that is where the church lives. 

            You are the church of Jesus Christ when you are in your homes. You are the church of Jesus Christ when you are at work. You are the church of Jesus Christ when you are at school. You are the church of Jesus Christ when you visit the sick. You are the church of Jesus Christ when you care for those in prison. You are the church of Jesus Christ when you love your friends. You are the church of Jesus Christ when you love your enemies. Wherever you go, whatever you do in Jesus’ name, you are his church. A living church, not a building made of cement. 

            Please turn in your Bible to the twelfth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. I’ve asked those who came with me from your sister church in Maryland to help read this scripture in Spanish. Please be patient with them, also. Some are better at Spanish than others. In this scripture, the apostle Paul speaks of the church as a body, not a building - living tissue, not dead concrete. Starting with verse 12, listen:   (read responsively by work campers)

1 - Porque así como el cuerpo es uno, y tiene muchos miembros, pero todos los miembros del cuerpo, siendo muchos, son un solo cuerpo, así también Cristo… For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

2 - Porque por un solo Espíritu fuimos todos bautizados en un cuerpo… For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

3 - Además, el cuerpo no es un solo miembro, sino muchos… Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.

1 - And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.

2 - If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?

3 - If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?

1 - But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.

2 - If all were a single member, where would the body be?

3 - As it is, there are many members, yet one body.

1 - The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,”

2 - nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”

3 - On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,

1 - and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor,

2 - and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect;

3 - whereas our more respectable members do not need this.

1 - But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member,

2 - that there may be no dissension within the body,

3 - but the members may have the same care for one another.

1 - If one member suffers, all suffer together with it;

2 - if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

3 - Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

(1 Corinthians 12:12-27, NRSV)

 It makes my heart sing to think of the church here in the Dominican Republic. God is at work in you to make you one body in Christ. Yes, some may speak Creole and others Spanish, but you are one body, alive in Christ. Yes, some skin may be darker and some lighter, but you are one body, alive in Christ. This is the church. 

            On our last visit, I remember how this church moved. I’m not just talking about when you worship, your spirited singing and praying and preaching. I’m talking about how the church moved out of this meetinghouse. We visited the hospital, and the church was still the church even there. I have memories and photographs to prove it. We climbed into vehicles and took trips, and the church was still the church. I can still see my brother Maximo/Annibal at the wheel of his van, driving the church here and there. In the home of Frank y Lucinda, where I stayed three years ago, I saw the church. The body of Christ was there as I got to know FranLouis, Lucidania, y Anna. On our last night together, we were the church as we watched television. And, of course, the church was evident to me in the home of Miguel y Maria, being welcomed and fed and loved. 

            I remember visiting with Minerva in her home. It was amazing to see how this dwelling became the meetinghouse for a brand new church. I pray that as this campo blanco becomes a congregation, and they build a meetinghouse, that they will continue being a thriving, living body and not a structure made of concrete. 

            Do you hear what I am saying? It is exciting to be aware that the church is Christ’s body. There are so many parts to this body. And they are growing. Those of you who are older, do you remember what it was like to be an adolescent? Do you recall all the changes your body underwent at that time of your life? Some of you who are younger are going through this right now. It’s exciting and frightening at the same time. Amid all the changes, however, it is still the same body. 

            The Luz y Verdad church is changing. So is the Long Green Valley Church. And that is good! Bodies do that. They grow - not so much with concrete, but with flesh and blood and spirit. It’s exciting and frightening all at the same time. On this trip, I am excited that some of the younger persons in the Long Green Valley church are here with you. I need to tell you that there are some parents back home who are nervous about this trip, even as they are excited that their children are here with you. All parents worry for their children, you know. 

This week we will be building the church. Some of that construction will involve concrete. As we work side by side, we will be building the body of Christ. Or should I say instead, Christ will be building us into his body, Anglos and Dominicans together. As we work and play this week, let’s keep our eyes on Jesus, who is the head of this body. We may struggle to understand each other, but the Holy Spirit will be our common language. 

            Last year I visited my daughter, Caitlin, in Ecuador. She was a college student in Quito for six months and I was privileged to spend a week with her. On Sunday we went to church with the woman in whose home she lived – a wonderful, Christ-like woman. Caitlin did a good job translating for me during worship. Still, I didn’t understand much. I didn’t recognize any songs they sang. These were believers in Jesus all around me, but I felt like a stranger in a strange land. I did, until they sang a song I knew, “Tu eres mi respirar.” It was like a breath of fresh air on a hot, muggy day. Tears ran down my face as the Holy Spirit connected me to those people through that song.  (the song “Breathe”)

            Up until that point, I was a less-than-presentable part of that gathered body. I was a visitor who hardly understood their language, a stranger. And then I was clothed with the honor of a song that touched me deeper than words. I was able to sing, “Y yo te anhelo Señor / Estoy perdida(o) sin Ti.”  Why? As the song sings out, “Tu eres mi respirar / Dios, Tu presencia  / Vive en mí … Eres mi pan, Señor / Dios, Tus palabras / Son para mí.”

You, perhaps, are a visitor here this evening. Or maybe you’ve been here before, but, like me, you struggle with obstacles. Not linguistic barriers between Spanish and English, but the obstacles of experience. You’ve heard people talk about Jesus, the Holy Spirit, of God and the church, and you are still trying to understand. You are also invited to take the first step and entrust your life to Jesus. He is like a breath of fresh air in a hot and humid day, and you are welcome to be part of it. Amen?

There is another rhyme I learned a long time ago. Actually, it is a song. We worked hard trying to translate it from English to Spanish for you. Again, I ask those who came with me to come now and share this song with you. Perhaps we can all learn it.

“I am the church.
You are the church.
We are the church, together.
All who follow Jesus
all around the world,
yes, we’re the church together!
 The church is not a building,
the church is not a steeple,
the church is not a resting place;
the church is a people!”

“We Are the Church.”
Words and Music: Richard Avery and Donald Marsh
© 1972, Hope Publishing Co.

(para traducir a español, presione la bandera de España)


©2008 Peter L. Haynes
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

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