A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First and Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
Second Sunday of Advent – December 5, 2003
Text: Philippians 3.6
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
In 1883, the architect Antoni Gaudí y Cornet began the project of a lifetime. He was 31 years old and already a seasoned professional. He had had commissions before, mostly in his adopted hometown of Barcelona, but he had never been involved in a project this immense before. Gaudí had been given a chance few architects get – to leave his mark on the city forever by building it a cathedral. When other buildings had deteriorated or been torn down to make way for progress, the cathedral would remain, a testament to God’s enduring glory…and to Gaudí’s vision as an architect. How could he not accept such a commission?
And so he took up the immense task of first designing and then constructing the Church of the Holy Family, or la Sagrada Familia. It needed to be tall, because it would be a sign of Christ’s authority in heaven and of his Church’s authority on earth. It would need to accommodate many worshipers, and provide appropriate chapels, vestibules and alcoves for those coming to pray, since it would be home to a living congregation of the faithful. It would need to be unique, so that it might express for generations the hopes and dreams of the people for whom it was built. And most importantly, it would need to be a masterpiece, Gaudí’s great work of art, because a great sanctuary of God was worthy of no less than that.
Gaudí’s design is striking. No doubt you’ve seen it…it looks like some fairy-tale church, with 300-foot-tall spires soaring and twisting like enchanted mountains above the skyline of Barcelona. It is practically impossible to find a right angle anywhere in the design; the construction is one of curves and arches, and impossible spirals. It appears to be alive, some sort of urban coral reef reaching for the heavens.
It is also unfinished, more than a hundred years after it was started.
Antoni Gaudí died in a trolley accident in 1926, leaving his masterpiece only partially completed. Gaudí’s plans were so ambitious that even had he lived to be a hundred, it’s doubtful whether he would have brought his cathedral to completion. And so, for more than fifty years the Sagrada Familia sat at the heart of the city, looking more like some ancient ruin than a newly-built house of God, until construction began again in 1979, closely following Gaudí’s original plan. The breathtaking unfinished cathedral in Barcelona remains unfinished business to this day, and the creative genius behind it is perhaps the patron saint of unfinished business, despite his best intentions.
That would, I suppose, make Gaudí the patron saint of all of us, really. We are unfinished business.
That should come as no surprise. Our bodies never stop growing and changing. There is a time in the middle of our lives where the outside changes slow down, and we look like “ourselves” for many years in a row, but on the levels that can never be seen from the outside, those bodies are still constantly forming and reforming. The cells that make up your body only live for a short period of time…every few years you have a completely new body. The watch on your wrist may very well be the oldest thing about you. Our bodies will keep on going about their unfinished business of growth and change until the day we die. And so we remember Antoni Gaudí and his marvelous cathedral.
But there is more unfinished business in our lives than simply the natural processes of growth and change. Who among us has never started a project but not finished it? If you’ve ever begun to clean out the garage in May only to give up and stack the lawn furniture in come September, then you understand Gaudí’s fate all too well. And if you’ve ever lost someone suddenly, with many things left unsaid and undone, your heart has been broken again and again by the kind of unfinished business that is carved in Barcelona stone.
It’s in our nature to start things with excitement and anticipation, but all too often we do not – or cannot – bring those things to completion.
Which may cause us to wonder: “If I am unfinished business at the heart of things, what does that mean for my relationship with God? Can I ever be finished and perfect, or will I always be an unfinished cathedral before God?” And, more importantly, “Will God finish what he started in me?”
Because it is God who has started this whole project in your life. Whether you were baptized in this very sanctuary, or somewhere else – or were never baptized at all – the truth is that God is very busy working in your life, or else you wouldn’t be here in this place today. Someway, somehow God has brought you here, and you are a construction project to him, just like the massive Sagrada Familia cathedral. This congregation is wrapped in yellow tape and decked out in signs declaring “Under Construction – Coming Soon!” God has begun something in you, but as of today it is very much unfinished business.
Will God ever wrap up the construction zone that is you? Will he follow through? Does God finish what he starts, or does the spirit of Antoni Gaudí haunt even God?
Take it from Paul: “I am confident of this,” he writes, “that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”
You are here because at some point in your life God began a good work in you, and even now, he’s hard at work on it. Paul promises us that God is faithful, and that he’ll finish what he’s started in your life. You won’t be completed anytime soon – unless the day of Jesus Christ comes a lot quicker than most of us are expecting – but on that day whatever God’s begun in you will be good to go.
In the human world, unfinished cathedrals, unfinished projects and unfinished business are par for the course. But we can rest assured that God isn’t going to let the work he’s begun in our lives go to waste. He won’t allow us to stand like the ruins of a mighty church, never doing what we were intended for. He will bring that good work he started in us to its full completion, on time and on budget.
Today in Barcelona, work continues on the Sagrada Familia. One day, Antoni Gaudí’s masterpiece will no longer remain unfinished, but will be the marvelous, useful, holy space its designer always intended it to be. God’s promise to you today is that you will not remain unfinished forever, either, but will one day be the marvelous, useful, holy creation your designer always intended you to be. Amen.