1 Peter 2:4-10
4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5 like living stones, let yourselves be built[a] into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in scripture:
“See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him[b] will not be put to shame.”
7 To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the very head of the corner,”
“A stone that makes them stumble,
and a rock that makes them fall.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,[c] in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
10 Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.
Sunday, May 3, 2020
“The Church That Endures”
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Streetsville United Church congregation, (known as Streetsville Methodist Church until church union in 1925). Some time ago we had planned that Sunday, May 3 would be our big 200th anniversary celebration. The Rev. Kate Young, minister of Munn’s United Church and the current President of our Horseshoe Falls Region was to be the guest preacher. The Moderator of the United Church, the Rev. Richard Bott was going to bring us greetings via video link. John and the choir would be doing some special music for the occasion. A fine after worship luncheon was being planned.
None of that is taking place today, though we hope it can all be rescheduled for some time later this year. No one could have foreseen the present circumstances. But today I want to speak briefly about the history of this church and factors that have enabled it to endure for 200 years.
In our church library there is a blue covered book entitled, “A Historical Sketch of the United Church in Streetsville.” The book was written by Rev. T.D. Jones, a former minister of the church, and published in 1962. And though the slender volume needs updating, it contains a great deal of fascinating historical information.
The first Methodist gathering in the area occurred in 1819 when a man named Thomas Beatty invited people to his log cabin weekly for worship, prayer and preaching. The next year, 1820, Methodist circuit riders arrived on horseback and the congregation was formally organized for worship, teaching, and pastoral care. The first church building was constructed from logs, apparently where today Alpha Mills Road meets Mississauga Road. As the population grew a larger building was needed. So in 1821 a wooden structure was built on Maiden Lane, which in 1848 gave way to a brick building on the same site. By 1866 the building was too small, especially for youth activities and Christian education, and was sold to the local school trustees for use as a schoolhouse. This congregation has always had a strong connection with youth and various youth oriented programs. With proceeds from the sale, the present church was built and completed in February 1876. This building has continued to serve us very well right up until the present day, with a couple of timely additions and renovations along the way. That first building didn’t have the comfortable office that I enjoy, for example, or the wonderfully useful Auditorium and Christian Education area.
Buildings have changed but the congregation itself has endured as a vital Christian community for 200 years. Just think of the some of the challenges of the 20th century. There were the two World Wars, the Great Depression, Hurricane Hazel which caused so much damage in 1954 along the Credit River, the shut down of the Avro Arrow project in 1959 which negatively affected Streetsville’s economy for some years; the expansion of the village into a town which is now part of a large city. The farms surrounding Streetsville have become great residential and commercial developments, with large medical and educational facilities. And now in the 21st century we are facing the huge, almost unprecedented challenge of Covid-19.
In Rev. Jones’ book there is a photo of worshippers entering the church through the wooden doors on Queen Street which we no longer use. It looks like the photo came from the late 50’s. In the photo there two cars are parked in front of the church – a Pontiac sedan and a Ford sedan. Well, Pontiac no longer exists and Ford no longer builds sedans, but the church is still here, and looks just as good and attractive and solid as it did back then. Societal and cultural changes through the years have been astounding, but the church endures. What accounts for the enduring nature of this church or any other, for that matter?
First, a church endures when the cornerstone is right.
Peter writes, “Come to him, the living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight…for it stands in Scripture, ‘See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious.’” And that cornerstone is Jesus Christ.
In July 1875 Rev. Egerton Ryerson laid the cornerstone for this building. Then on February 26, 1876 Egerton Ryerson returned for the first worship service after the building was completed. It is noted that he kept the congregation spell bound with a 75-minute sermon. With no sound system! And no cushions on the pews! I guess peoples’ attention spans were longer in those days! Well, it was a good cornerstone that Ryerson laid. It was one of many stones which farmers hauled from the fields for the foundation. We can still see some of those foundation stones today.
But the true cornerstone for the church, the right cornerstone, is Jesus Christ, laid by God himself. As Peter tells us, “The stone the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner.” And “whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
Where Jesus Christ is proclaimed, lifted up, believed on, obeyed and served, the church endures. The Apostles Creed declares, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried, and on the third day rose again.” This congregation has endured and will continue to endure because it has a risen and living cornerstone. The familiar portrait of Jesus in the fellowship lounge is a constant reminder of this cornerstone.
Secondly, the church endures when it is made up of living stones.
Peter writes, “Come to him, the living stone, and like living stones let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
Now who are living stones? Well, that’s all the people who have come to the living stone in faith and have become living stones in the structure of the church. Living stones include all the faithful souls of previous generations who believed in Christ and were empowered by the Holy Spirit for worship and service, acceptable spiritual sacrifices. These faithful souls are now more alive than ever in the Father’s house. So many of them were named in Rev. Jones’ book and there have been many more since.
In our own day and generation, we are living stones in this church. The King James version translates this phrase as “lively stones.” Christ the living stone and we the lively stones who have come to him in faith. As lively stones we are made alive by the Holy Spirit, worshipping faithfully, attentive to God’s word, enthusiastic about our faith and our hope, loving our neighbours, serving willingly, giving generously. When a visitor comes to our church, do we give the impression that we are living stones? It’s a great witness when others see us as lively, enthusiastic Christians. Lively stones are so important to a church that endures.
Thirdly, the church endures because it meets human need.
Peter writes in verse 9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” The church today is just like ancient Israel, chosen to be God’s witnesses in the world, proclaiming God’s mighty saving acts, and pointing to the One who is the light in this dark world, Jesus Christ.
You see, no matter how secular the culture becomes the human heart has needs that can only be fulfilled by God in Jesus Christ. We long to know our Creator as he really is. We long for meaning and purpose in life, for light in the darkness, for victory over the powers that attack us, for strength in our weakness, for a love that is everlasting. We long for our sins to be forgiven; we long for the hope of life beyond death. So the church endures as it lifts up the Christ who is God’s definitive and final answer to all our longings.
The church endures because it meets human needs in another way. History reveals that the congregation has been always been supportive of missionaries and outreach projects which help relieve peoples’ physical burdens and challenges. We continue to do so today. I am saddened that for now we have had to close our food cupboard which helps many people in our community. It will open up again as soon as possible. But in the middle of this pandemic many of our women have been busy making protective masks and delivering them to palliative care homes and shelters as well as making them available for people in our congregation. And these are just some current examples of the church meeting human need. There are so many more. The congregation which meets human need, both spiritual and physical need, endures for 200 years and more.
There is one other factor which accounts for the church’s endurance, here and in other places. That factor is the mercy of God. Peter writes, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received God’s mercy but now you have received mercy.” Mercy is similar to grace – it means God’s undeserved, unearned kindness, continually given to us through Jesus Christ. God’s mercy is the basis of our hope and our salvation. The church endures because of God’s mysterious, overflowing mercy and his empowering Spirit. Yes, we have a part to play, and the part we play is our faithfulness, but ultimately the church endures by God’s great mercy. God is sovereign and as long as he wills it, and pours out his provision in this direction, a congregation will endure in this place. The church everywhere and in every generation endures because of God’s mercy. The church and each one depends on God’s great mercy. We are God’s people now and forever because of his mercy in Jesus Christ. And that is why every Sunday we sing together in worship, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”