Zechariah 2 A Church without walls 10.45am
An Engineering Student, a Physics Student, and a Mathematics student were each given £75 and were told to use that money to find out exactly how tall a particular hotel was. All three ran off, extremely keen on how to do this. The Physics student went out, purchased some stopwatches, a number of ball bearings, a calculator, and got some friends. He had them all time the drop of ball bearings from the roof, and he then figured out the height from the time it took for the bearings to accelerate from rest until they impacted with the pavement. The Math student waited until the sun was going down, then she took out her protractor, plumb line, measuring line and scratch pad, measured the length of the shadow, found the angle the building’s roof made from the ground, and used trigonometry to figure out the height of the building. These two students bumped into the Engineering student the next day, who was nursing a really bad hangover. When asked what he did to find the height of the building he replied: “Well, I walked up to the liftman, gave him £10 , asked him how tall the hotel was, and then spent the rest of the money in the bar.
How often do we when faced with a problem or challenge seem to make things more difficult than they need be? As Christians we are not promised an easy ride but we are promised that Jesus will stand with us at such times. Thinking outside the box is a popular buzz word. I have a better buzz word, Look to the cross!
Although in today’s reading we have another young man involved in measuring, this morning we are looking at walls not hotels. What is the purpose of a wall? To mark a boundary, to stop infiltrators and sometimes, as in prisons for example, to stop people escaping. Throughout history we have seen such examples as The Great Wall of China, The Berlin Wall and even in the UK we still have many walled cities, that have survived the ravages of time. For instance York, Chester and Tenby where Maggie I recently spent 5 glorious days.
Centuries before the Great Wall of China was begun, biblical cultures used walls to protect themselves from marauders as well as to draw boundaries around themselves for purposes of identity. To be effective, walls had to be maintained. (Ephesians 4:27 NIV). The slightest foothold in a fortress wall could give the enemy a fateful advantage.
Here in Zechariah’s third vision he sees a young man getting to work. He has a measuring line in his hand, and he is off to measure the city, presumably so that they can get started on the re-design and rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem, which still lay in ruins after Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came and besieged it. This makes perfect sense to us, and probably to Zechariah also. It is a good place to begin, seems like a very energetic and obedient young man who is just doing the first thing that needs to be done â measuring the city so that construction can begin. But he is interrupted “Run, tell that young man, Jerusalem will be a city without walls because of the great number of men and livestock in it. And I myself will be a wall of fire around it, declares the LORD. But then the LORD speaks, and what comes from His mouth is a much different vision for the city. God no longer wants it to be a place confined by walls, limited by some physical barrier that keeps people out. What God is saying is place you trust in him. He will be your fortress and refuge. This chapter also is a prophetic word that Jesus the Messiah will come to bless and live amoungst all people, and everybody will have access to His saving grace and mercy.
I wonder how accessible is the church today? When we look at most church buildings including in the UK, what do we see? -a Fortresses. Thick brick walls, thick heavy wooden doors, windows so high nobody could look in! Although I have not been involved with the reordering plans for this church, how excited I am especially with phase 1 to see the church being opened up visually.
In her book ‘It Only Hurts When I Laugh,’ Ethel Barrett tells about a king of Sparta in ancient Greece who boasted to a visiting monarch about the mighty walls of Sparta. But the guest didn’t see any walls, and finally he said to his host, “I’d like to see those walls. Show them to me!” The Spartan ruler pointed with great satisfaction to some disciplined and well-trained troops, part of Sparta’s mighty army, and exclaimed, “There they are! Those are the walls of Sparta!” Just as each Spartan soldier was viewed as a brick in a mighty way, so we are to think of Christians as “living stones’ built up a spiritual house” (1 Pet. 2:5). And because it is built by Christ Himself, it can never be destroyed.
The church isn’t just about the physical building no more than God’s vision to Zechariah was just about the city walls. The people are the church. We need to be challenged about the boundary walls we have to build and those to demolish both in our own lives and the life of our church fellowship.
A few weeks ago Martin spoke passionately about some criticism aimed at our fellowship. Although he was right to do so and we have to admit we and this church are not perfect and never will be because it is made up of imperfect people, I think today’s reading touches on areas we need to consider as we move forward as a church. Last Sunday I was approached on two separate occasions by 2 homegroup leaders who asked me if I could include something in this weeks sermon that the groups could be challenged, something to get their teeth into so to speak. Maybe God is trying to tell us something? Time limits me mentioning the numerous things God has laid on heart from the reading but I hope there will be sufficient thoughts to think about and discuss: I know this morning I’m sticking my head over the parapet of the fortress so to speak. There is a good chance I will have my head blown off, but I guess that’s no worse than poor old Isaiah who was sawn in half!
Make no mistake that as this church continues to grow and becomes more transparent, a church without walls reaching out in the community, we will come under attack, not by bombs or missile as the Christian Church in Syria and Pakistan, although who knows what the future holds! Only God knows that! The church is Satan’s enemy he doesn’t want churches to be successful and obedient to God’s call. Satan has many weapons of destruction: divide and conquer, false accusations and criticism, disbelief, doubt and fear just to name a few. We still need to heed the advice (Ephesians 4:27 NIV). The slightest foothold in a fortress wall could give the enemy a fateful advantage. We need discernment and to constantly wear the armour of God as listed in Ephesian 6 We must allow God to build His ring of fire around us.
There have recently been several accusations thrown at us, maybe there is some justification, so we need to examine ourselves individually and corporately as a fellowship and if need be seek remedies.
‘The church is full of hypocrites’ certainly before I became a Christian this is one accusation I used to make myself, along with full of boring self righteous, judgmental people. Now I have joined the club, so to speak, I realise the church isn’t full of such people, although sadly a small minority I have met in my 29 years of membership have fallen into at least one of those categories. Often such statements are made from people I call the three wheelers, their only experience of church is when they attend a baptism, wedding or funeral, And they call us hypocrites! ‘They church is clicky and the welcome doesn’t last’ Is it? I think the welcoming team do a pretty good job in general. Of course in any establishment, institution or club there will be groups of people who seem to bond with each other more than some. Thankfully God never built us as robots or wants to clone us into a certain mold, only to be Christlike. We have a huge spectrum of hobbies, interests and cultural backgrounds which is positive. However to be an obedient and successful church, a church without walls, we need to remove our barriers and let God perform his continuing transforming act which cuts through all things, including cultural backgrounds. God wants us all to sing from the same song sheet and share sweet fellowship with all in His Church. This will not happen till we fully open ourselves to the anointing and blessing of the Holy Spirit. Remember for any relationship to work well, takes time and commitment and effort from both sides.
The vast majority of Israelite’s about 90% were disobedient to God’s call to return to the centre of their faith, Jerusalem, preferring to stay in the Cosmopolitan and splendid country of Babylon, now called Iraq where it even had unground heating, street light and pavements and other comforts including the wonderful gardens of Babylon, one of the 7 wonders of the world. Likewise over 90% of UK residents don’t come to worship God at church, they seek their comforts elsewhere. However the Israelite’s pleasure was short lived because soon afterwards a famine hit Babylon and would itself be destroyed. We must encourage people to put their trust in God, the true source of blessing before they too leave it to late! Sadly when we fall on hard times as we all can, many turn away from their faith, when it’s at these times we need God more than ever. I guess it’s when we come under trials and tribulations our faith becomes measured! In other words we measure God’s ability and purpose. i.e. If God is that powerful why does he allow terrible things to happen? Sometimes we measure people’s spirituality, including our own with others. We must never forget that it is God alone who holds the measuring line and not man. He really does know best. Not only is he Sovereign but judge and jury! How do we measure up? Are we measuring up according to God’s standards or are we relying upon the changing standards of man? Yes it’s vital that today’s church moves with the times, to make the church more appealing and relevant to all, but we must be very careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. It’s interesting how the 9am traditional service is still popular for many of all ages. I personally believe the church must never watering down the word of God just to accommodate modern society?
(Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch in “The Shaping of Things to Come”).
Here in Alberta, any good farmer knows that to keep your cattle or horses from wandering off you’ve got to build a fence. That’s how we do it here, we build fences. But that is not how they do it in Australia. In our home of Australia, ranches (called stations) are so vast that fences are superfluous. Under these conditions a farmer has to sink a bore and create a well, a precious water supply in the Outback. It is assumed that livestock, though they will stray, will never roam too far from the well, lest they die. As long as there is a supply of clean water, the livestock will remain close by.
So to summaries: Throughout the whole of the book of Zechariah, the main themes are to encourage us not to be lethargic or lazy and to build God’s church to be accessible to all of mankind, a church without walls. A church where people can meet with Jesus the promised messiah whom Zechariah foretells will arrive and unite all of God’s people. How wonderful it is that we have the privilege of living under the reign and protection of Jesus. Lets us all work together to turn this fortress, a place some find it hard to infiltrate but easy to escape, into a pleasant watering hole where even those who have strayed will not only be welcomed back, but be refreshed by The Living Waters of Jesus Christ. Use Jesus as your standard. That’s the only way that you will really measure up to what God wants you to be.
Let us pray: Father God we thank you that you sent Jesus, and that you still speak to us today in many ways. Forgive us when we have been lazy or lethargic or turned a deaf ear. May your Holy Spirit guide us, teach us and encourage to build not our church, but your church here in Chadwell Heath. A place where people can find peace, comfort and joy a place where their thirst can be quenched by your living water. Amen
A Church Without Walls Zec 2