Lakewood Pühavaimu Church Service Ending the Synod
May 15th, 2011
Markus Vaga - USA First Synod Deanery, Assisting Minister
Peter 2: 1-10
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and our Lord
What is a living stone? I recently went with my wife to
the Brooklyn Botanical Garden where we took a moment to
look at the Children's Garden. One of the displays teaches
children about desert plants. The sign next to the display
asks visitors to find the plants, called "living
stones," from amongst other, normal stones.
In many deserts around the world, and maybe even in Israel,
living stones can often be found. They look like
regular stones, but are actually plants. Perhaps St. Peter
was talking about just these kinds of "stones"
when he wrote this letter. Like all plants, living stones
grow. Living stones propagate.
The Bible speaks often about stones and rocks. In
Deuteronomy we read that "[God] is the Rock,
his works are perfect, and all his ways are just."
The prophet Samuel also often writes about God as a rock.
"The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge..." (2
When we read the Bible, we often find comparisons between
God and a rock. The comparison is perfect -- rock's can be
awesome things. Rocks and stones are hard. We can build
many things from stones, like our church - our own
Estonian people's church -- here in Lakewood. Even the
most splendid churches in Europe are all built with stones
- and many of them are hundreds of years old! Yes, we can
build many things with stone, and we can do a lot more
with stones as well.
St. Peter wanted to remind his congregation that they had
a responsibility to build a church. They were given a
direct obligation to build a church from Jesus when He
said: "Go therefore and make disciples of all
nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of
the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe
all that I have commanded you."
A Christian's obligation back then, and also our
obligation today, is to spread the Word, or to evangelize.
And if we do this effectively, we build congregations and
churches. But we need to be careful here. We build a
congregation, yes, but not a physical congregation and
church. It's necessary to differentiate between earthly
and spiritual thinking. We, as people, often think in a
worldly way - about worldly things. It's difficult for us
to comprehend Jesus' and God's will since our
understanding and way of thinking is often worldly, and
often not correct.
If we look at the many churches of
the world -- and we find some of them here in America --
we often find that the physical building and the size of
the congregation are very important. We've all heard of
so-called "mega-churches" where there can be
thousands and even tens of thousands of members. This is
different from the official state-churches in Europe,
where everyone is pretty much automatically a member,
because in mega-churches, all these thousands and tens of
thousands come to church - every Sunday!
Now there isn't a problem, per se, with such
a church. They often preach God's Word, believe and trust
in Christ, and are properly Christian, if you will. No.
Rather, a problem comes up when an individual places their
trust in such a church -- in a physical church, which has
been built with sweat and
money. Because from that kind of trust, it is only a short
step to thinking in a worldly way. In other words, pinning
your hopes on your success, work and actions.
Even during the time of St. Peter, only a few decades
after Christ's ascension, there were those who came to
churches to spread false doctrine. We read from the Bible
that people began to believe that favouring one disciple
over another was somehow better. The Apostel Paul writes
(1 Corinthians 1:12-13) "Each one of you says, 'I
follow Paul,' or 'I follow Appollos,' or 'I follow Cephas,'
or 'I follow Christ.' Is Christ divided? Was Paul
crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of
Attending the final
Synod Service at Lakewood were Pastor Markus Vaga's wife
and mother, Airi. Photo:
It's true -- even so early
in the life of the church -- only a few years after Jesus'
ascension, many Christians were putting their hopes on
worldly, physical things, or in other people. They put
their faith on stone-built churches, and in the people who
had built them. But these churches were built with
ordinary stones -- and we could even say dead stones!
Stones are not alive. They don't grow or propagate. A
stone is just a stone. They can be found in nature, and if
there are no stones, we end up building things using other
materials. Yes, every church here in the world which has
been built with stone, has been built with the same stone.
And these stones are not alive. We could even say that
architecturally speaking, there really is no difference
between a church and a department store as far as the
construction is concerned.
Our church here in Lakewood, St. Patrick's Cathedral in
New York, St. Mary's Cathedral [Toomkirik] in
Tallinn and even St. Peter's Basilica in Rome - all have
been built with stones - and all of them, basically, are a
large, physical building. These stones are not alive!
Communism has not understood this, and so in Soviet times
they attempted to destroy faith and congregations by
turning old and beautiful churches into theatres. In St.
Petersburg, the famous and beautiful Church of the Saviour
on Blood [Spass Na Krovi] was turned into a
vegetable warehouse. The buildings were not churches
anymore -- but the Church did not die and faith was not
lost. It can even be said that the church during the
Soviet Union was more alive under communism than today in
the current time of freedom and democracy.
Why? How can this be? Because, a church and a congregation
is not a physical thing. It is not built with stones or
walls. No. Rather, it is built with living stones. And
those living stones are you and I. Living stones are
everyone who believe and place their hope in Christ. Like
Peter writes: "you yourselves like living stones are
being built up as a spiritual house."
Yes, a Christian person, a believer, is a living stone. We
who believe in Christ are together with Him, our
cornerstone, building a spiritual house - a holy church,
over which, like Jesus has himself said: "the gates
of hell shall not prevail against it."
I recently saw on a church wall a poster which had
something like this written on it: "First we are
Catholics, then we are Western Catholics, then we are
caused some problems for me. Maybe in a worldly
understanding this may be true. But as a Christian,
shouldn't the sign read: "First we are
Christians...." and then so forth, adding on whatever
group you belong to.
problem is not with the church. We here are Lutherans and
this will not change. We must, however, keep in mind that
Christ is the first and the last, like the Bible teaches.
He is our cornerstone, on which we have built our living
church. A worldly, physical church will not save anyone --
no-one gets to heaven because they are a member of one or
another congregation! No one.
"I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes
in me, though he die, yet shall he live," said
Christ. (John 11:25) A believer builds a congregation on
Christ by believing in Him first. And He makes us into
living stones. Paul writes: "For no one can lay any
other foundation than the one we already have - Jesus
Christ." (1 Corinthians 3:11)
An old Estonian proverb says: "No stone goes up
without being raised." And we have Christ, who raises
us up and gives us grace and saves us from death with
eternal mercy. Let us, therefore, be living stones,
building together a spiritual house exclusively for the
glory of God.
Translated by TR/MV.
the left: Dean Uudo Tari, Vicar Markus Vaga, Assistant
Dean Jüri Pallo, Deacon Kalju Ets. Foto: Tiiu Roiser