We’re Here For Life: A Call To Continuity
I Chronicles 29:10-19, 26-28
Build me a church, said God
Build me a church, said God
Out of your fairest dreams,
Heaven must be its dome,
Lighted by prophet’s gleams
Justice shall be the stones
On which my house shall rise,
Truth and love its riches
Gripping my ageless skies,
Out of your dreams on earthly sod
Build me a church, said God.
The words of the poet speak clearly to us in this church today—for today we begin a campaign to raise enough money to build a church which will stand for generations to come at the heart of this city. God is calling us to build His church. He is not calling us to build just beautiful buildings. He is calling us to build His church. He is not calling us to build a monument to our own glory. He is calling us to build a mission station for doing His work in the world. He is calling us to make whatever sacrifices are necessary in order that the Gospel of Christ’s truth and love and justice shall be trumpeted from this place far into the next century.
Out of your dreams on earthly sod,
Build me a church, said God.
As I have reflected upon that call of God to us, I have found strength and encouragement from the experience of King David. You will remember that it was the great dream of David’s life to build the temple of God at Jerusalem. David, of course, was the greatest king Israel ever had. He took over the nation at a time of decay and decline and he built it into the greatest strength it ever knew. And David was a superb leader. More than once in the Old Testament we are told that his followers were willing to make extraordinary sacrifices out of their devotion to him, but he never took advantage of that for personal gain. And then, most of all, David was a great artist. David wrote and sang songs of such beauty that we still know and love them today. So the greatest dream of the great King David’s life was to build the temple for God—and the last song that David ever wrote had to do with that dream. His last song is not preserved in the Book of Psalms with all of his other songs. It’s found in I Chronicles 29. David had reigned as king for 40 years. Now, very old, he came to the point of dying. Just before he breathed his last, he reached down into his heart for one last song to sing. It is a beautiful song about the building of the temple—and it is a song which I believe can inspire us as we seek to build a church for God. Let me play the message of the song for you…
First, we shall build this church as an act of reverence for God.
Notice how David sang with such reverence about the greatness of God. Verse 11: “Yours, O Lord, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory and the majesty.” Virtually everything David did in his life, he did out of reverence for God. Perhaps the most telling illustration of that truth is the way David treated King Saul. You remember that Saul turned out to be a colossal failure as a king—and in the process he became insanely jealous of young David. He even sought to have David killed. But in spite of that, David never turned against Saul. Why? Because Saul was the anointed of the Lord, and anyone or anything God anointed David would not attack. You see, there was in David a great sense of awe and reverence for God and for the things of God—and as a result, he dreamed great dreams for God.
For more than 116 years, the people who preceded us in this church, out of reverence for God, dreamed great dreams for the Lord and they made those dreams come true. We must do the same. We must not let doubt disable us. We must not let caution cripple us. We must not let hesitation hamper us. I must say this. I know churches and congregations where the Holy Spirit of God seems hard to find because their spirit-light is encased in a splendid heritage that is not willing to build on the past for a more glorious future than has ever existed before—and consequently they are frozen in place by looking forward to what used to be! They are not willing to trust God for the future, and so the faith of those who were before them is discredited because they are not willing to step boldly into that future out of reverence for God. How does the poet put it?
Filled with a frail new hope they came
The blind and the leper the sick and the lame,
They were frail of body and sick of soul
But as many as touched Him, He made them whole.
Throughout the land they spread His name
On every tongue was the Healer’s name
But doubt held tight to its stubborn crutch
And said, We’d better not expect too much.
Down through the ages His promise came
There’d be healing for sickness, sin and shame
Help for the helpless caught in life’s grind
Healing for the body and soul and mind.
O this Christ we honor, He’s still the same
With healing for all His will who claim
But Oh how often we miss His touch
By saying, We’d better not expect too much.
My beloved, those who have gone before us in this place never surrendered to doubt and fear. Nor shall we. We shall build this church as an act of reverence to God.
And we shall build this church as an act of witness to the world.
Listen to the way David set the thought to music. Verse 17: “I know my God that Thou triest the heart and hast pleasure in uprightness and in the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen Thy people who are present here offering freely and joyously to Thee.” David understood the impact that the temple would have as God’s people came together and sacrificed together in order to make a clear witness to God in the world.For more than 116 years, those who have preceded us in this place have held high the banner of Jesus Christ at the heart of this city. Therefore, we have great tomorrows before us because we have had great yesterdays behind us. The promise of our future is built upon the faithfulness of our past. I believe that the years ahead hold both the greatest potential and the greatest peril for the church of Jesus Christ in our time. If there was ever a moment for a congregation of God’s people to be re-energized, re-focused, and re-committed to the work of Jesus Christ in the world, this is the moment!
Pope John XXIII was a little, short, plump man rather homely with big ears and a big nose. He had a gravelly voice and he walked as if his feet hurt. There was nothing about him that gave him the aura of greatness. But he was great—and he was great because his heart was great. There is a memorial to Pope John XXIII at St. Peter’s in Rome. It is unusual in its appearance but it is unforgettable in its impact. There stands in the Basilica a great block of solid steel wide, thick, high. Carved into the bottom of that block of steel is all of the ugliness and the hurt of this world of ours: dying children, bodies with bayonets in them, barbed wire, grasping hands, burning buildings, sickness, torment, and death—it’s all there, anything in the world that is ugly and broken and hurtful and hateful. And the steel makes it all seem so heartless and cold. But then rising up out of one side of the obelisk of steel and bending out over all the hurt and brokenness, there is the figure of Pope John, bending down with arms extended ready to pick it all up and to pull it to his heart and to soften and change it there.
Well, if you take us all as individuals, I suppose there’s not much about us that smacks of the greatness of God. But now, at this point in time, if we commit ourselves anew in faith to Jesus Christ and in fellowship with one another to this church then we can pull the brokenness and the emptiness and the hopelessness of the people of this city to our hearts and there they shall be softened and changed and healed by our Lord Jesus Christ.
You see, I want future generations to look back at us and say: “There was a church which dared to stand for Jesus Christ in a difficult time. When the society around them was surrendering to the insidious claim of secularism, they dared to confront people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ without apology. When the values and morals were being eroded, they dared to stand firm on the joyous, freeing, uplifting law of God. When the sanctity of the home was being threatened, they undergirded the family and gave new hope to the young. When little children were being neglected they dared to love them with openness and joy and ultimate sincerity. When single persons were being tempted and tormented by loneliness, they dared to welcome them with love and flood them with hope. When racism infected human relationships they dared to fling the doors wide open for all of God’s children. When poverty and injustice turned cities into battlegrounds, they dared to apply both spiritual and human resources to transforming their city. When the church of Jesus Christ was in decline all over America, they dared to be and to do something different here and to do it all to the glory of God.
My beloved, those who went before us in this place waged an incredible witness to this world in the name of Jesus Christ. We shall do the same. We shall build this church as an act of witness to the world.
And we shall build this church as an act of love for our children.
David concluded his song with a prayer for his son, Solomon. Verse 19: “Grant to Solomon my son that with a whole heart he may keep Thy commandments, Thy testimonies, and Thy statutes, performing all, and that he may build the palace for which I have made provision.” Don’t you love that? He prayed for his child. He did everything he could to be sure that his son came to faith in God. Then he prayed to God that his son might be able to do great things for the Lord.
For more than 116 years, those who preceded us in this place have reached out to children—to care for them, to teach them, to love them, to minister to them, to educate them, and to disciple them. And we must do the same. There is no way to calculate what God will be able to do if we pray for and take care of the spiritual needs of our children in this church.
Some years ago, a little boy was born in Harlem who didn’t have much going for him. His parents were poor immigrants who had come to America from Jamaica. They worked in the garment district in New York City to make ends meet. Even that wasn’t enough. So this young boy had to go to work, too, picking up whatever he could to help keep the family afloat. When it came time for him to go to college, there was no question but that he would go to the City College of New York where the tuition was just $10 a year. But even then he had to work full-time in order to help his family and meet his expenses . He went to work in a bottling plant at $0.90 an hour. He wanted to work the machines but he was told that blacks weren’t eligible for those positions and that all he could do was mop floors. So he did that—and he did it well. After three years, they promoted him to the machines. His whole life was like that—always being given the short-end of the stick, always being given the raw-end of the deal, always doing what no one else wanted to do yet always doing it with great pride and great dignity as if it were the most important thing in the world. Those were lessons that he had learned through his faith.
Years later, this unsung hero was recognized for the very special human being he is. In 1987, the President of the United States called him and said that he had heard about him, about his quiet and dignified manner and about his remarkable achievements as a soldier in the Army. The President said to him: “I want you to come to Washington.” Today he serves as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His name, of course, is General Colin Powell.
My beloved, those who have gone before us in this place have helped multiple generations of children become everything that God intends for them to be. We shall do the same. We shall build this church as an act of love for our children.
Let me finish with this…
When Abraham Lincoln was President, he used to go to church frequently at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church near the White House. He would slip in the side door and sit in the minister’s study so he could hear the sermon and not disrupt the congregation. Then before the service was over he would slip out and return to the White House. Once as he and his aide were leaving the church, the aide asked the President what he thought of the sermon. Lincoln thought for a few moments, then he said: “Well, I must say that Dr. Gurley preached with great eloquence and you could tell that he put a lot of work into that sermon.” The aide remarked: “So you thought it was a great sermon?” “No,” Lincoln replied, “I didn’t say it was a great sermon.” The aide said: “Well why not? I don’t understand.” Lincoln’s answer was most profound. He said: “Because Dr. Gurley forgot the most important ingredient of all. He forgot to ask us to do something great!”
Today, my beloved, I am asking us to do something great. I’m asking us out of our fairest dreams to build a church for God. I am asking us to make the dreams of God come true in this time and in this place. I am asking us to build on our great tradition in this church and to do something great for the Lord.
Soli Deo Gloria.
To God alone be the glory.