Tonight’s sermon looked at Ps 87, a psalm written in praise of Jerusalem. Jerusalem (city of David, often known as Zion because of the mountain on which it was built) became Israel’s capital during the reign of David (see 2 Sam 5:1-16), but ultimately was chosen and built by God. God is the best builder in the world. The Bible is full of building stories, from the ill-fated Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-12) to the construction of the ark of the covenant and the Tabernacle, from the building of the temple to the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. Whole books of the Bible (Nehemiah & Haggai) are concerned with building, and this theme is carried on in the New Testament, where Jesus tells stories involving building (teaching us that foundations are crucially important in building, reminding us that we need to build on solid rock, not sand (Matt 7:24-29) and that we need to count the cost of following Him in the same way that someone building a tower has to do proper calculations to make sure they can complete the job and not just lay the foundations of the tower (Luke 14:28-30)). The New Testament writers take this imagery even further, using the metaphor of a building or temple to describe the church (Paul says the church is ‘God’s building’ (1 Cor 3:9) and Heb 3:6 says we are God’s house, explaining ‘every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything.’ (Heb 3:4)). Jesus Himself talked about building the church, saying ‘on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.’ (Matt 16:18) The rock on which the church is built is not Peter himself (whose name, of course, meant ‘rock’) but on his confession of faith that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. (Matt 16:16) When looking at this psalm, therefore, we see that there are two aspects to it: the straightforward, historical aspect, praising Jerusalem as the city of God, the place where God’s presence dwelt, and the prophetic aspect which looks ahead to the church as God’s city or God’s dwelling, the place where God’s presence continues to dwell by His Spirit.
Foundations are crucial to building work and 1 Cor 3:1-6 reminds us that we need to build on proper foundations. The only foundation is Christ crucified (1 Cor 2:2); the work of the church can never be classed simply as social action, for it must involve working with God to see spiritual birth (see Ps 87:5-6). Spiritual birth is, of course, the work of God’s Spirit (see John 3:5), but the church is like a midwife, involved in proclamation, preaching and everyday witness so that people can hear the message and be saved (see Rom 10:13-15). Giving birth is a painful and difficult process, but what is more distressing is a labour that does not end in live birth. Isaiah spoke to the people of Israel, saying ‘As a pregnant woman about to give birth writhes and cries out in her pain, so were we in your presence, Lord. We were with child, we writhed in labour, but we gave birth to wind. We have not brought salvation to the earth, and the people of the world have not come to life.’ (Is 26:17-18) The church is meant to grow; it’s meant to be a vibrant, living organism, because God is at work in the world, reconciling people to Himself, wanting all people to be saved (see 2 Pet 3:9). We can be sure that as we do our part – as we testify to God’s goodness, as we ‘gossip the gospel’, as we serve our communities in all the many diverse ways God has given to us, as we maybe find new ways to reach out to our local community – God will give the increase.