Text 1 Corinthians 3:10-23
I like to think of myself as a fix-it, hands-on kind of guy. Ok, maybe just a hands-on guy. That fix-it part of me comes out when I look around our house and see all the things that need repaired, or changed, or remodeled. And to make matters worse, I have too many do-it-yourself books. They make it look so easy to tear out a wall, move some outlets, or install a bathtub. “I can do that,” I mutter to myself. Just give me a drill, a saw, and a jackhammer! But I have one do-it-yourself book that helps put things in perspective. It’s from Home Depot, and down in the corner of every page that a new project begins is the estimated time it would take for people of differing skill levels to do the work. It might say, expert, 1 hour, intermediate, 2 hours, beginner, 4 hours. I know what category I fall into. But the other thing I like about this particular do-it-yourself book is that it has a character named Homer. From what I can tell, Homer is a guy who jumps into the middle of a project without really thinking things through and shares his misadventures. They are called Homer’s Hindsights, as they highlight mistakes he made and how he could have avoided them. Stories of broken toilets, hair raising electrical wiring adventures, and windows that weren’t quite square fill the corners of the pages. Now, if Homer just would have asked the right questions and planned things out, had the right tools, but especially had the right help, he wouldn’t have had such misadventures. What he needed was help from a master builder.
In some aspects, the folks in Corinth had proceeded in being church as if they were being led by Homer. If you recall, the Corinthians had started rallying around leaders and personalities in their church. They separated themselves into groups based upon who had been their teacher or who had baptized them. At a time when this new church was most fragile and in need of becoming stronger in the faith, these divisions had the capability of tearing apart and destroying what had been built. Paul comes in and gives them a different message. They are to be united in Christ and as Christ’s followers in the same mind and purpose.
Today’s reading continues with this theme of unity in Christ. Paul uses the imagery of skilled, master builders, each building upon the work that the other has done. These leaders that they are following, that they have divided themselves among, are not there to compete with one another, but to build upon each others’ work in Christ. We see this as a house is built: a foundation is poured, then the carpenter comes in and frames the walls, the electrician runs the wiring, the plumber solders and lays the pipe, until the house is completed with the finishing and trim work. Each one expertly completing their tasks and building upon what the others have completed before them. If even one person contributes poor work or materials, the building will not function well when it is completed.
Paul says that each builder must choose with care how to build on the foundation. The NIV translation says each one should be careful how he builds. Paul was the one who laid the foundation. It is the one who unites the, Jesus Christ. That foundation is what is what everything else is built upon. Now, each one that follows builds upon that foundation. They do not come in and lay a new foundation, but build upon the foundation that already exists. Peterson’s The Message says it this way, “Using the gift God gave me as a good architect, I designed blueprints; Apollos is putting up the walls. Let each carpenter who comes on the job take care to build on the foundation!”
As master builders in their own disciplines, Paul, Apollos, or whomever don’t compete with one another to build a church; they need each other to build the church. They each must be intentional in building upon the foundation of Christ, to be intentional in all aspects of the life of the church. They must be intentional in how they build for the same reason when a house is built, the carpenters, the plumbers, and the electricians must be careful in how they build and what they use for building materials. It is because there will be an inspection of their work. For the church, the inspector is God, who will reveal and test everything that has been built upon the foundation of Christ. Again, Peterson’s Message, “If you use cheap or inferior materials, you’ll be found out. The inspection will be thorough and rigorous. You won’t get by with a thing. If your work passes inspection, fine; if it doesn’t, your part of the building will be torn out and started over.” Nothing will be hidden. Nothing is to be done half-hearted. God wants to see the church built up and will reveal and remove what doesn’t build upon the foundation of Christ.
Next, Paul lets them know what they are building and what they are apart of. They are not building an organization or association or joining a club. They are building God’s temple and the building material are God’s people. At this time in antiquity, it was understood that the gods resided in their respective temples. Corinth was a large and prosperous urban center with a religiously diverse population. Temples to various gods and goddesses would have dotted the landscape. Even for the Jewish population, it was understood that God’s presence, or shakina, resided in the temple in Jerusalem. Paul’s words that God dwells with believers in Corinth would have been radical, almost incomprehensible to them. Paul extends the understanding of God’s dwelling place in the temple to assert a new idea: Yes, God dwells in the temple, but the temple is not a building, it is the community. When Paul says, “You are God’s temple,” he is using the plural “you” in the Greek that we lose in the English. The temple is all of them. Community is what they are called to build, especially in knowing that the Holy Spirit actively dwells in that community. Each part of the temple, the community, becomes important. Each person becomes necessary for building up and supporting all the others. Remove or exclude one, and they have vandalized the temple of God.
For the Corinthians, intentionally building upon the foundation of Christ with the community was critical for the newly created church to thrive. For us, it is just as important for sustaining the church, so that it can continue to thrive. Paul reminds us to take care and be intentional about the deep foundation that is Christ. A foundation gives the footprint to the building. Paul asks us to consider the question: What kind of footprint did Jesus leave for us to build upon? In light of the metaphor of a building, we have a lot on which to continue constructing on. This church, this congregation in La Grande, is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. We have heard the stories of Sunday school classes taught in the bell tower and children collecting pennies to buy bricks for the education wing. The traditions, the outreach, and the programs that the members of this church have been involved with over that time are well worth celebrating. But where do we go from here? How do we keep building upon what they have built before us? What stories will next generation say about us? What kind of materials do we use?
I see there are really only two ways to build. We can build Homer’s way, jumping in, not spending much thought on things, and hoping that we get things right. Or, we can ask the help of the master builder. Friends, being church, building the temple of God, is not a ‘do-it-yourself’ project. The foundation is Christ, and the Holy Spirit is the master builder who guides our efforts as God makes his presence known to us in this community. It takes discernment, time, and careful listening to God’s voice in our midst as we build upon Christ’s foundation.
Over the next few months, Laura and I hope to begin the process of long range planning. You, all ya’ll, as the temple of God that makes up First Presbyterian Church, will be part of that process. We need all of you to help us hear the voice of God in our midst. We will be inviting you to pray and discern with us the process of building this church. And we know that no matter what God calls us to do; we will have all the tools we need to make it happen. First and foremost he has given us the greatest gift, the gift of himself in Jesus Christ that is our foundation. And it is through the power of the Holy Spirit that those tools, our power tools, are discovered and used, nourished and sustained. But God has also given us each other. Look around, each one of you, from the youngest to the oldest, is important and necessary in building God’s temple. The temple is not complete without you.
Friends, you are the temple of God’s Spirit. Let us go forth together and continue to build upon that foundation that is our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.