Sermon for 08-22-10: “On This Rock”

Sermon Text: Matthew 6:13-18

The following is the original manuscript of the sermon.

Last Tuesday, Stephanie and I had the privilege of performing music for “54 and More,” our church’s senior adult fellowship group. What a warm and gracious audience they were! When Jerri Davis, the emcee of the event, introduced us, she said, “Brent and Stephanie are down in Vinebranch on Sundays.” At the end of the program, I  gently corrected her, saying that starting today, we are no longer down in Vinebranch.” We’ve all been saying, “down in Vinebranch,” so long that it’s going to be hard to change the way we refer to it. But starting today, we are no longer down anywhere—down in the basement, down in the dark, without windows and sunlight. We have moved up to Main Street. We have a prominent location, a beautiful sanctuary, and a beautiful building that blends the best of old and new.

We are here in part because this church dreamed we would be here.

Oh, to be sure, they didn’t exactly dream this style of worship. They didn’t dream, for example, electric guitars in church—there were no electric guitars back in 1931. They knew pianos and organs, not synthesizers. And drums—well, I can’t imagine what people would have thought of drums in the sanctuary. It just wouldn’t have made any sense, I’m sure. And as for video screens—well, TV didn’t exist back then, so video was beyond imagination. But they did dream this chapel and this sanctuary.

In 1931, at a time when the only two paved roads in Alpharetta were what is now Highway 9 and Old Milton Parkway; when Alpharetta was a poor farming community, without access to railroad or major highway; when the city was on the verge of a financial collapse that would soon compel Milton County to become a part of its larger, wealthier neighbor to the south; they didn’t dream something like Georgia 400 and the explosive growth of the northern suburbs. But they did dream this chapel and this sanctuary. At a time when Alpharetta Methodist worshiped 150 on Easter Sunday, they didn’t dream 1,500 on a typical Sunday. But they did dream this chapel and this sanctuary.

We are here in part because this church dreamed we would be here.

We are blessed to stand on the shoulders of many faithful dreamers and saints—and the shoulders of their children and their children’s children. We are also here because along the way many faithful leaders—including David Tinsley and Jane Nugent and Don Martin—shared that dream with you. And I feel a large debt of gratitude to you for letting me share in it, too.

And I hope we all feel the weight of our Lord’s words, “To whom much is given, much will be expected,” because—make no mistake—we are here most of all because Jesus has placed us here and has given us this new place for a reason.

You see, our Lord is also a dreamer—someone who is able to see things not simply as they are today, but as they can be. After all, surely we present-day readers and many of Jesus’ disciples would be forgiven for thinking that Jesus was being ironic when he named Simon son of Jonah “Peter”—which means Rocky—because in so many ways he was the opposite of a rock.

We saw it last week when we talked about Peter on the fishing boat. On the one hand, it took great faith for him to take those first steps of faith out onto the water; but Peter got scared by the wind and the waves. “You of little faith,” Jesus says, “Why did you doubt?” That’s our man Peter! Some rock to build a church on! If we read on a few verses from today’s scripture when Jesus foretells his death and resurrection, Peter says, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” And Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan. You’re a stumbling block to me.” That’s our man Peter! Some rock to build a church on! And of course there’s the time during the Last Supper when Jesus talks about his betrayal at the hands of one of his disciples. Our man “Rock” says, “I would never do anything like that!” And Jesus says, “As a matter of fact you’re going to deny me three times before the rooster crows.” And when Peter fears for his safety, and Jesus’ life hangs in the balance, he does deny knowing Jesus. That’s our man Peter! Some rock to build a church on!

And even after the resurrection and long after the birth of the Church, Paul describes in Galatians confronting Peter to his face for his hypocrisy, saying one thing and doing another, failing to live up to the spirit and meaning of the gospel. That’s our man Peter! Some rock to build a church on!

And yet… Jesus sees beyond Peter’s failures, weaknesses, and sins and sees the person that Peter can be. He sees the strong leader who will play a crucial role in starting and guiding the early Church; he sees the passionate preacher who stands up at Pentecost and brings thousands into the fold; he sees the man who boldly proclaims the gospel, even though it means getting arrested and beaten and arrested again; he sees the person who tells the same people who threaten to kill him for preaching the gospel, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” Jesus sees the faithful martyr who, when he grows old would stretch out his hands and be taken where he does not wish to go; the student who, like his teacher, would be crucified because of his integrity and his faithfulness to the gospel.

So of course Jesus looked at Simon, son of Jonah, and said, “You are Rocky—exactly the kind of rock on which I will build my church.”

Jesus dreamed a new and different and better future for this disciple named Simon. And he gave him a nickname that reflected not who he was right now, but who he was capable of becoming—a name that reflected his potential, his best and truest self.

I wonder—if Jesus could give me a new name, what would it be? In other words, what does Jesus see in me when he looks past my failures, my weaknesses—and my sin. What future does Jesus dream for me? What future will I begin to realize if I continue taking these little baby steps of faith; if I keep on trusting in Jesus a little more each day; if I don’t give up even when I fall down but keep on getting back up and saying, “I’m ready to start again, Lord.” What future does Jesus dream for me? Can I dream a dream that big?

What about you? If Jesus could give you a new name, reflecting your potential, your truest and best self, what would that name be? Can you dream a dream that big?

Don’t you want to find out? Why don’t we find out together—here at Vinebranch?

I was asked about 20 times over these past two weeks a question along these lines: “What are you going to do to make your first worship service in Vinebranch special?” And I didn’t like the question because it made me feel extra pressure! But I responded every time: “Nothing! I can’t do anything to make it special; I don’t have the power.” But maybe I was holding back a little. After all, I didn’t mention the very special guest who has joined us this morning… Bono, would you please stand up? I’m just kidding! But we do have a special guest this Sunday and every Sunday—the One who promises that where two or three are gathered together in his name, he will be among us. This Sunday and every Sunday we come to this service to do nothing less than to encounter the living God, our risen Lord Jesus—who is going to show up every week!

And if that’s true, how can worship in Vinebranch ever be boring? How can worship ever be anything less than a party? How can worship ever be anything less than a celebration of what our God has done for us; what our God is doing for us; what our God will do for us in a future too big to dream? How can it not be a place where we say, “Hallelujah!” because we don’t know how to keep it inside of us any longer? A place where we overcome this sense of being so reserved, so proper; we overcome our self-consciousness, overcome our fear that other people may be watching when we feel the urge to raise our hand in worship or listening to us when we sing our song loud enough to be heard… Brothers and sisters in Christ… May the Spirit of the Lord enable us to overcome whatever it is that keeps us from worshiping with everything we’ve got!

And sometimes worshiping with everything we’ve got means saying out loud, so that people can hear us, “Thank you, Jesus!” We think about this life that he’s already blessed us with and we say, “Thank you, Jesus.” And we think about this eternal life he’s freely given us, and we say, “Thank you, Jesus.” And we think about this love that he’s shown us, and we say, “Thank you, Jesus.” And we think about how nothing, not even death itself, is going to separate us from that love, and we say, “Thank you, Jesus.” And we think about how we’re not perfect but by his grace we’re getting better, and we say, “Thank you, Jesus.” And we think about how God has made us part of a loving, forgiving community of faith, and we say, “Thank you, Jesus.” And we think about this beautiful building that Jesus has given us, and we say, “Thank you, Jesus.” And we think about all the people who don’t yet know Jesus—but they’re going to because Jesus has put us here to share his love with them—and we say, “Thank you, Jesus.”

And even when the sermon’s not so good or the music’s a little flat or lacking in energy, and we’re not in a good mood because getting out of the house on Sunday morning with family can be stressful or we can’t find a parking space, we’re going to learn to say, in spite of these things, “Thank you, Jesus.” What else can we say? We have so much to be thankful for! Hallelujah!

The construction of this chapel began in 1931 was interrupted for several years by the Great Depression and infighting in the church. When the chapel was finally completed in 1938, there was a bell tower in the southeast corner, and it rang before church on Sunday—and it rang every day of the week at noon. All the people of Alpharetta knew—or were reminded daily if they forgot—that this sanctuary, this chapel, this church was here.

The bell tower was later removed for a future expansion. But we don’t need a bell this time. Because our hearts are going to ring out a song: a song of praise and love and gratitude; a song of service and witness. And if we are faithful to the task that Jesus has set before us, the people of Alpharetta are going to hear that song, and they will learn to sing it with us. Amen?

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