This is one of those readings from the Bible that is pretty simple and straightforward. You know how it is when we read the Bible. Some of the readings are a little convoluted and you have to go back and forth digging in here and there to unpack what the author is trying to say. This morning? Not quite so convoluted. Paul is being very direct with the message he is setting up for us in Ephesians. Not to mention when it gets right down to it, after all is said and unpacked, Paul is giving us a common theme throughout much of the Bible, particularly as we read the New Testament.
Last week we heard about all the things that God is doing for us. God keeps busy with blessing and choosing us, destining us, lavishing us with grace, gathering all the things, and marking us with the seal of the Holy Spirit. Those are some of the things in last week’s reading that God is doing for us. Did you find anything in last week’s reading about what God has blessed us with? I mentioned redemption but there was grace and forgiveness, too. Paul is setting up and orienting us in our relationship with God because Paul wants us to have the right mindset for what he is laying out for us.
Last week Paul began his letter to the church in Ephesus by laying the foundation of our faith by describing some of what God does on our behalf. This week we take the foundation up a level as we hear about the cornerstone of our faith, Jesus Christ. Do you know what a cornerstone is? A cornerstone used to be how an entire structure was oriented so that it was square, straight, and level. In the days before laser levels, GPS, and all kinds of spiffy technology you had to start from one point and everything was built from that. Given the technology we have these days they aren’t used that way so much. Mostly a decorative touch on buildings that gives the date of construction. But in those places that used a lot of stone masonry the cornerstone is where everything was built from. The rest of the building was squared up, straightened to, and leveled on the cornerstone. If the cornerstone wasn’t placed correctly, the rest of the structure wasn’t going to end up right.
So it is with our faith in Christ. Paul notes in v20 that our faith is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. Christ is how we see the gift of faith that the Holy Spirit puts into us. It is on the cornerstone of Christ Jesus that our faith is built. It is from the cornerstone of Christ Jesus that we extend our faith in the world.
This is no decorative cornerstone that gives our birth date. This is the solid rock on which our faith is built. We can choose other things to trust in. Material things that we like to have and to hold onto. Houses may have foundations but they won’t do much for our faith. Nice cars or the latest technology are fun to have. But they don’t do much for us in the long run. Kind of a temporary satisfaction, I think. Some of you still have your flip phone and some of you have lived in the same house for 30 plus years. But the honest truth is many of the rest of us are always seeking something better.
That’s the trouble with making the cornerstone of our lives out of something temporary. It just doesn’t last very long and certainly can’t be trusted to be there when we really need. On the other hand, with Christ as the cornerstone of our lives, we are assured, we are promised, that Christ will be there. And it is in Christ that we remain square, straight, and level in our lives.
That’s a good thing because left to ourselves we get a little off kilter. Even with faith in God as the foundation of our lives, if we lack a solid cornerstone that anchors our faith, that our faith is built on, we still can’t get it right. Here is something well known in the construction remodeling and restoration world. You can have it square, straight, OR level. Pick two. Having all three just isn’t going to happen with an existing structure thanks to all kinds of environmental reasons. I can tell you from personal experience that while I may want to miter perfect 45 degree corners on the baseboards in a room I’m restoring, the fact is most of the time that won’t fit much less look right.
So it is with our lives. We may have our faith life all kinds of going on. We may be doing all the right things in accordance with the foundation of the prophets and apostles but without Christ as the cornerstone, we are not going to have all three. Our faith isn’t going to fit, much less look right. We need the cornerstone of Christ to have our faith square, straight, AND level.
It is Christ’s sacrifice on the cross that does that work. No work that we can do can get our relationship with God square, straight, and level. Only Christ can do that. More accurately, Christ HAS done that.
It is a reorientation in our thinking about faith that we need to touch on fairly often. I don’t think we’ve talked about this for a while so it bears mentioning again. As discussed last week we too often have our thinking about hell as that place that Dante described in his writings a few hundred years ago. How bad you had been in your life determined which level of hell you eventually landed in. The burning pit of the fire in the seventh level of hell that we all really want to avoid. Over the centuries that picture became the ultimate focus point for followers of Christ. Do all the things you can to avoid going to hell plus as a bonus you can go to heaven, too. Kind of a wait, wait, there’s more infomercial mindset.
What Paul is reminding us is that through faith our life isn’t so much that we are saved from the fires of hell described by Dante so that we can ascend into some heavenly realm overhead kind of life. It isn’t so much that we’re saved from any other kind of hell however that really plays out. Through Christ we are saved in having our relationship, our connection with God kept intact.
It comes down to having our relationship with God that exists here and now today made better and better rather than avoiding something in the future. It’s important to remember this because when we get too focused on the future we can miss out on the present. It is too easy to spend our today worried about some future hell that has more to do with a 400 year old book. Instead, in Christ we can spend our today living in a present relationship with a loving and ever present God that has everything to do with an event 2000 years ago. That moment 2000 years ago when Christ gave himself up for each of us. In that willing giving of himself, Christ that assured our relationship with God for all time. An event that has made our faith square, straight AND level. Today, tomorrow, and forever.