Christ our Rock
—Gavin Koh, Fifth Sunday in Easter (14 May 2017)
Acts 7. 55—60; 1 Peter 2. 2—10; John 14. 1—14
I’m going to start this morning by talking you through the reredos which stands over the high altar.
Here is this morning’s passage from Acts:
...filled with the Holy Spirit, [Stephen] gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
After the service, if you have time, I would encourage you to wander up and have a closer look. There is St Stephen on the bottom left-hand corner. The circle of angels and clouds are the heavens opening, with Jesus standing in the middle. The orb you see on the right of the screen is not held by Jesus: it is held in the right hand of God the Father. This reredos is the vision of St Stephen as described in this passage from Acts.
Look there. We have a statue of St Stephen on the South side of the nave altar. St Stephen wears a red dalmatic. A dalmatic, because that is the uniform of a deacon, and red, because it is the colour of blood and of fire, and therefore the colour of the martyrs. In his right hand he holds the instruments of his martyrdom, the stones with which he was killed.
The most moving part of Stephen’s martyrdom is, of course, Stephen’s declaration of forgiveness: ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them,’ which echoes Jesus’ own declaration of forgiveness on the cross.
Christ is the cornerstone. The stone the builders rejected. The rock of Scripture, is to be the foundation of the House of God.Christ, the Word made flesh, is to be the cornerstone of that House.
It is St Stephen’s faithfulness to this rock, this foundation for which he is punished, for which he ultimately loses his life. In that House, we find shelter and succour. In that House, we are nourished by spiritual milk, our thirst is quenched by Living Water, and our souls are fortified by the Blood of Christ shed for us.
Our Church must be built on the sure foundation of Scripture. The Rock of Jesus Christ himself; because without that foundation, how can we even call ourselves ‘Christian’?
The Shard is a skyscraper in London. It is an energy-efficient ‘vertical city’ designed to house 8,000 people. The building rises 310m above the banks of the Thames (that’s 1000 feet in old money) and The Shard is the tallest building in the UK and in Europe.
To support that structure, steel-cored piles were sunk up to 60m deep (200-foot deep) into the Thanet sand to anchor on the Woolwich and Richmond sandstone beds below.
What is the Rock of Christ? Why is Christ our foundation? The first is the unchanging nature of God. The immutability of God. Life is filled with uncertainty and change. Sickness and health, friendship and separation, beginnings and endings. So we look to an unchanging God for re-assurance.
Let me read to you from Psalm 102: Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you endure; ...you are the same, and your years have no end.
The immortal, unchanging God. As the writer to the Hebrews says, ‘Jesus is the same, yesterday, today and forever.’
And what is the nature of that unchanging Foundation? What is the nature of that Rock? Who is Christ?
So this is the second point. What is this Rock on which we are to build the Church? Is it granite? Is it limestone? Is it the Law? Is it Obedience? Is it Faith? Is it Virtue? The Bible?
Let me read to you from St John’s first letter: Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. ...if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. [1 John 4]
In another letter, St Paul tells us that as Christians, we are to be rooted and grounded in this love. And that the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s love surpasses human knowledge [Ephesians 3].
God’s unchanging, unfathomable Love is to be our Foundation!
Love, as it is depicted in the Bible is completely unlike any modern perception of Love. Love is not fuzzy, or warm, or coloured in pastels. The Love of the Bible has hard edges, With a solidity and durability that modern ’Love’ does not possess.
So, if the Church is a house founded on Christ, then of what is that house made? St Peter tells us that we are the living stones from which the Church is to be built. The Church is founded on Christ; But we are the building blocks of the Church, the living stones of which St Peter talks. We are the walls, the pillars, the lintels, the supports and very roof of the house.
If this House, the Church, is to provide shelter, succour, nourishment to the abused, the hungry, the thirsty, the poor…it is we who must do that. We are the living stones from which the Church is built. If we are founded on the love of God, then it is we who are called to show that Love to a world in need of Love.
I return to the beginning, to the story of St Stephen. St Stephen’s last words were these: ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ St Stephen's monologue begins as a summary of Man’s relationship with God, and at the moment of his death, Stephen finishes his monologue with a demonstration of God’s boundless love and mercy.
From the Bible we do not pluck stones which to throw at others. Scripture is the rock on which the Church is founded; Scripture is not a weapon to be used to wound or to hurt. The Bible is not an instrument of hate. The Bible is not a heavy Book with which we bludgeon people with whom we disagree. To use Scripture in that way is perverse.
For God is Love. If you use the Bible as a weapon? If you claim that your prejudice or hatred comes from the Bible? If you say that the Bible justifies injustice? If you say any of these things, then you have totally, fundamentally misunderstood the very nature of Christ himself.
Because Christ is Love, and on that broad, deep and unchanging Love that we as a Church are founded.