A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy K. Hammer, May 27, 2017 (Memorial Sunday)
1 Corinthians 3:9b-16 GNT
As a teenager, I worked about a year and a half in new home construction. The summer after I had turned 16, I worked with my uncle and maternal grandfather as a brick mason’s helper. My uncle and my grandfather (who was a master bricklayer) laid the concrete blocks and bricks, and I did most of the grunt work – making the mud (cement or mortar), hauling the mud in a wheelbarrow or 5-gallon bucket, and carrying and stacking the bricks on the scaffolding they stood on to lay the bricks. Then after that summer, I worked with another uncle in the afternoons after school and on Saturdays for about a year doing just about everything there is to do in new home construction that didn’t require a license.
Obviously one of the things I learned during my construction experience is the importance of a good, solid foundation. A substantially-big trench needs to be dug, and a wide, deep concrete foundation needs to be poured so as to support the weight of the structure you are building. And then getting those first concrete blocks and first bricks on the lowest corner of the house laid just right is of critical importance for the rest of the house structure to rest upon a solid, level, square foundation. And those first blocks and bricks need to be solid and free of cracks and weaknesses. The stability and security of the entire house depend upon it.
Well, the Apostle Paul makes an interesting analogy between building blocks and those leaders and members who comprise what he calls “God’s building” or “God’s temple.” Paul felt that he had “laid the foundation” for the church at Corinth. This he had done when he established the church during his so-called second missionary journey. He had been down in the trenches in Corinth, metaphorically speaking, laying the foundation for a Christian church in a very difficult environment. This he did while also supporting himself as a leather craftsman and tentmaker. Paul spent several months in Corinth. But then after he moved on to establish other congregations in other cities of the Mediterranean World, other church leaders had come along to build upon the foundation he had laid in Corinth.
Then a few years later, when Paul wrote his epistles to the Christians in Corinth, he not only reminded them of the foundation that he had laid in founding the church there, but he expanded the metaphor to compare the members of the Corinthian Church to the actual, physical, living building or abode of God’s Spirit. When Paul says, “you are God’s temple,” the Greek form of “you” is plural, indicating the collective congregation. As such, the people – the members – became the building blocks of God’s temple, which was in a constant state of being built up for the work of God and edification of all.
In a similar way, the United Church members who have worshiped and served here before us are the foundation beneath us. Longest-standing member, Dave Hobson, has been sharing with us at the 10 am service through brief historical vignettes some of the stories of those founding members who laid the foundation for this unique United Church. Today we remember them as dedicated visionaries who ventured to establish a non-traditional, non-denominational church whose philosophy and approach as a church is as relevant today as it was 75 years ago.
But those early charter members were themselves original stones. Their dedication, their sacrifices, and their service provided a solid foundation upon which rests the church we are today.
But in 2018, we are building blocks of a sort who continue to raise the United Church and strengthen and support it for the next generations. The sort of work we are doing now will determine if the United Church remains strong and viable for the future. The quality of the materials we use and the quality of our work will be made manifest in days to come. We certainly don’t want it to be said a generation from now, “Well, there used to be a vital, active congregation that gathered in that historic Chapel on the Hill. But the members who used to gather there failed in their duties and let it run down.” I am not suggesting we are leaning in that direction; not in the least! Things are going quite well, in fact. But we do well to be reminded every now and then that the responsibility for the future strength of this church rests with us and our generation.
We build with whatever gifts, talents, and resources we have available to us. Each of us is given some sort of gift, talent, or ability to be put to good use in building up the church. And each of us is called to give financially as we have received and are able to give so as to keep our church active and strong. We continue to build upon the foundation that was laid 75 years ago.
But on this Memorial Sunday, we are also reminded in a general way that all those loved ones who have gone before us and are no longer with us are the foundation beneath us. All of us are who we are because of our ancestors who passed on peculiar traits, abilities, mannerisms, ethics, beliefs and convictions, and other positive characteristics.
Genealogy, or tracing one’s ancestry, is becoming more popular all the time. All of us have seen those Ancestry.com television commercials about how people are learning through DNA where they came from and how in some cases they can trace their ancestry back to some famous person in history. My brother, Tim, is most interested in our family ancestry, especially on our mother’s side which has some master furniture makers and cabinet makers in the family tree. The more we learn about our ancestors, the more we want to remember them.
But in a more refined way, we are reminded that we are who we are as a nation because of the sacrifices of many servicemen and servicewomen who gave their all for the causes of freedom and liberty. Their service and sacrifices are the foundation upon which our nation, and all the potential we have as a nation, rests.
Frederick Buechner writes of how during a war-time battle, a hand grenade was tossed into a group of soldiers, and how one of the soldiers threw his body on top of the grenade in order to save the rest of his comrades. One man sacrificed his life so the others might live. And Buechner observes, “This is an action for which there is no good word because we can hardly even imagine it, let alone give it its proper name. . . . Who knows why a man does such a thing or what thoughts pass through his mind just before he does it.” Buechner raises the question as to what each of us might have done had we been in that group of soldiers and how we would feel to be a survivor of such a heroic and sacrificial act. And then he concludes the meditation by saying, “I can only live my life for what it truly is: not a life that is mine by natural right, to live any way I choose, but a life that is mine only because he gave it to me, and I have got to live it in a way that he also would have chosen.”1
And so, this weekend is the time we set aside to remember those who have gone before us – those original United Church members, family members, and military personnel – and how they gave us the lives, blessings, and freedom and liberty we enjoy today. They are the foundation stones upon which our church, our individual lives, and our nation have been built. So we take time to remember them and to whisper a prayer of gratitude for them and the service and sacrifices they offered that helped make us who and what we are today. They are the foundation beneath us. Amen.
1Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life. New York: HarperOne, 1992. Pp. 144-146.