But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ. [1 Corinthians3: 11 (NLT)]
Last Sunday, while worshipping in the beach gazebo, my attention was drawn to a nearby tree. A pair of doves kept disappearing into the branches only to reappear a few moments later. Back and forth they went, building their new house one twig at a time. Like the doves, those of us in the gazebo are slowly building something—a new church. Rather than twigs or bricks, we’re building it with people—one person at a time.
After worship two Sundays ago, we saw a fellow sitting alone on a park bench strumming his guitar. My husband walked over to him, listened for a while, and, introduced himself. The men chatted and the guitarist, Jimmy, said he was in the park that morning for his NA meeting. My husband then invited him to bring his guitar and join us for worship the next week. Self-taught, Jimmy is not much of a musician and both his story and attire told me that, while he’s not exactly homeless, he lives on the fringe of society. Lord, forgive me, I wasn’t happy about that invitation nor was I especially thrilled Sunday when our new friend was there at the gazebo. I’m ashamed to admit that I was afraid Jimmy’s presence would offend others in attendance.
While watching those doves build their nest, however, the Holy Spirit did some much needed work on my heart and I saw how judgmental and self-righteous I’d been. The birds didn’t examine each twig to see if it was perfect or ask its history or lineage. They just kept bringing twigs into the tree. Wondering how to build a church, I’d forgotten about the cornerstone: the first stone set into a foundation, the stone that keeps the walls upright and strong. The church’s cornerstone is Jesus and the answer to how to build a church is simple: Do what Jesus would do.
Jesus brought healing to the sick, forgiveness to the condemned, hope to those in despair, faith to those who doubted, and love to the unloved. Jesus neither ignored nor tolerated sin but He welcomed all sorts and conditions of people. He didn’t ask Peter, John or James about their pasts before calling them and not everyone around Him was what could be called “respectable.” Criticized by the Pharisees for the company He kept, He welcomed tax collectors, prostitutes, the unclean, zealots, Gentiles and Samaritans. He gladly spent time with sinners who wanted to learn from him or put their faith in him. Jesus welcomed me and I’m no different than Jimmy—my tarnished past just hasn’t taken the heavy toll on me that it has on him. Moreover, I still have plenty of work to do on the sin of self-righteousness!
So, how do we build a church? We do it by living the truth of the gospel, connecting with one another, serving, and speaking and acting in love. Most of all, we build a church by seeking the lost and welcoming all who come! When I asked my husband why he invited Jimmy, he answered, “That’s what Jesus would have done!” and he was right. Sunday, after Communion, I wondered how long it’s been since Jimmy felt welcome and appreciated, took the Sacrament, or was reminded that God loved him enough to die for him. As we finished our service and gathered our things to leave, his NA group came in to use the gazebo. We offered them our remaining coffee and rolls and invited them all to join us for worship next week. “Hope to see you next Sunday,” I called to Jimmy and, this time, I meant it!