August 15, 1248 was a very big day for the city of Cologne Germany. They were planning to build a grand cathedral to honor the Risen Christ, and on this day…August 15, 1248…They laid the foundation stone. Hundreds of workers were hired from the surrounding area to cut the massive stone out of local quarries, transport it, cut it, place it, carve it, shape it. Slowly but surely the the cathedral began to take shape and eventually rose into the air, But the project wasn’t finished until 1880, 632 years later. 632 years! Can you imagine that? How many carpenters? Stone masons? Wood carvers? How many generations toiled their whole lives away without ever seeing the finished product? The architect who laid the foundation was dust in his grave when the last piece of the tallest spire was put in place in 1880. Finally, the cathedral was finished and it is a masterpiece.
Building a cathedral takes time and teamwork and spans the efforts of many generations. Each generation had to do its best work in the time they had to do it, but then had to hand that work on to someone else to complete. The Church of Jesus Christ has been working much the same way. Though let’s be clear: We are not called by Christ to build the Church. We are called to help build the Kingdom of God, the renewal of all Creation where everything is exactly the way God wants it. As the Church, we are like the army of stone cutters, carpenters, painters, craftsmen and sculptors used by God to get the job done. Paul realized this early on. It didn’t take him long to grasp that this work of offering Christ to the world and nurturing those who embraced it was going to be more than he alone could do.
In Acts 20, Paul gathers the leaders of Ephesus and simply reminds them of what he has done:
He accepted a responsibility from God…
Did it as faithfully as he could for as long as he could…
Then let it go to allow someone else to take their turn.
Everything in this life comes to end. Nothing lasts forever. It is an undeniable truth of life. Life is hard for most of us and it is brief for all of us. The trick is to finish your time here with no regrets. That’s what Paul is expressing. He did what he was supposed to do. With humility, he shared Christ with everyone. He did not let conflict and persecution stop him. He did not let hunger and hardship stop him. He did not let laziness and comfort stop him. Everyday, he did his job. Now, he turns this work over to next generation, warning them to be just as humble, just as faithful, just as diligent. And with a warning to be ready for fresh challenges, he left for Jerusalem. His message to the new generation was clear. It was the same message given by aging stone cutters and carpenters to their apprentices building the cathedral:
REMEMBER WHAT WE ARE BUILDING.
SERVE THE ORIGINAL DESIGN.
NEVER GIVE UP…Regardless of what obstacles might get in the way.
PUSH THE WORK FORWARD as far as you can.
PREPARE YOUR APPRENTICES to replace you.
And when your time comes to an end…
LET GO, trusting the work to go on.
It reminds me of something Paul said in Philippians 1:6. “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.”
REMEMBER WHAT WE ARE BUILDING: We are part of what Jesus started with His birth, life, death and resurrection. Jesus is changing the world by changing who we are from the inside out. The Kingdom of God grows as there is more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, generosity and self control. With more justice, the world is more fair. With more mercy, the world becomes more merciful.
THE ORIGINAL PLAN THAT WE SERVE WAS DESIGNED BY GOD THE CREATOR. The world will push back against this new and better world, sometimes violently. In the existing world, the powerful find their power and wealth and privilege and want to keep things just the way they are. Jesus disrupts things. Jesus overturns tables and overturns the balance of power as the last become first and first become last. The powerful pushed back at the cross. They pushed back as Stephen was executed.They pushed back as the disciples were scattered, arrested, beaten, and put on trial.
WE DON’T GIVE UP when these things happen because they are proof that the Kingdom of God is making progress! We endure. We persist. We keep on keeping on everyday as we PUSH THE KINGDOM WORK FORWARD through changed lives. We pass on this faith and TRAIN OUR APPRENTICES and when the time comes for us to let go we can fall into the arms of God in peace knowing that the Church of Jesus Christ continues. He who began this good work will be faithful to complete it.
Kingdom building is like cathedral building. It takes time and teamwork and spans the efforts of many generations. We do our part. We leave our mark. What is your part in all of this? The Kingdom of God is not made of wood and stone, so we may not need to be carpenters and masons. How is God working through you? Are you building the Kingdom of God by praying for God’s will to be done every day? Does God use you to help those around you who are struggling? Is God using you to teach the word and tell the story? Is God using you to love all who come? There are thousands of ways God can use you to make this world a better place and open up eternity to us all. And when your time is through, you can pass that gift on to someone else who can continue that work long after you are gone.
If you travel to Germany you can visit the cathedral and you will see scaffolding and cranes all around it because the repair and maintenance work continues to this day. Under construction for 800 years and still not finished! You could say that the Kingdom of God has been under construction for over two thousand years and is still not finished. Since the foundation was laid by Christ the cornerstone, each generation has done the best work it can, then hands the work on to the next generation.
This is our time.
It is our turn.
Let’s make the most of it!