Being the Church Together: Oh Brother, WHO Art Thou?

Mark Wheeler

January 26, 2014

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Proverbs 27:5-6

Being the Church Together: Oh Brother, Who Art Thou?

Gracious God, You have made us fellow citizens with the saints in the city of Your eternal light.  In the times of upheaval or when the foundations shake, teach us to wait in silence for Your steadfast and transforming love, made known to us in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”

So, c’mon, Wheeler.  Is that really for the church?  Or is that just for your own self-aggrandizement?”  That was a question asked of me by a friend and colleague several years ago when I mentioned an idea about starting a second worship service, of a very different style.

Before I could answer, I had to look up the word “aggrandizement”.  And then I had to thank this friend for asking me a hard question.

I thought I was thinking of the church.  I still think I was considering this idea for the good of the church, and for the good of those who were not yet a part of the church.  But he made me wonder if it was also for my own ego.  It was like he was asking me, “Oh Brother, who art thou?  Who do you think you are, that you could manage that kind of growth at Lidgerwood?

In a way, this may be the most difficult sermon I have ever preached.  I am promoting the idea that it is a good thing to question my integrity, my motives, my intent – and for me, and others, to question yours!  But I am promoting this idea because the Bible itself tells us that this is the way people who love one another must treat each other – gently and lovingly, but directly.

This month we have been discovering some of what the Bible says about what it means to be the Church together.  And we’ve been made to realize that just the privilege of being called “church comes with some highly valuable responsibilities of the church’s membership – and biblically, I think that includes anybody and everybody who involves themselves in any kind of “regular” way in the life and ministries of a local congregation.  So, unless you are brand spankin’ new to these pews – this means you!

What does it mean to be the church together?  There are lots and lots of biblical ways to answer that question – from the Great Commandment to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself” to the Great Commission to go out to the world, making disciples of all nations, and baptizing in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; from worshiping God in Spirit and in Truth to fully trusting and obeying God to the very end of life; from coming and following Jesus to being a people against which the gates of Hell will not prevail.  But the most common description of the Church in Scripture is that we are a people who love one another.

Jesus said, “Love one another, as I have loved you.”  He also announced that the worldwould know us by our love for one another.”  And throughout the New Testament we find teachings, instructions, descriptions, and proclamations of how the Church is to love one another.

One of the things it means to love one another is to watch each others’ backs, and to hold each other “in line”.

Paul told the Church in Ephesus, Ephesians 5:21, “SUBMIT to one another out of reverence for Christ,” but I think there is some misunderstanding about what it means to submit to each other.  The word “submit” comes with some hang-ups, doesn’t it?  [1.To yield or surrender (oneself) to the will or authority of another.  2.To subject to a condition or process.  3.To commit (something) to the consideration or judgment of another.Who wants to do that?

But, what is does it mean to understand “submission … out of reverence for Christ”Ephesians says to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”.  This suggests that submitting to one another becomes a joy-filled opportunity rather than a miserable requirement.

I believe that following this biblical command to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ has the potential to influence and transform EVERY relationship in our lives!

Paul tries to describe the Church of Jesus Christ using metaphor and simile, comparison after comparison in his letters to the churches of the 1st century.  But they generally boil down to four illustrationsPaul says the Church is:

The FAMILY of GOD – the Church loves, supports, disciplines, helps, coaches, mentors each other

The BODY of CHRIST– the Church works together, is nourished together, exercises our faith together

A BUILDING – the TEMPLE of the HOLY SPIRIT – the Church has a Foundation, integrity, trust ; and

The beloved BRIDE of CHRIST – the Church knows the love of the Groom, and loves Him back, fully.

Today, we conclude this short series by reading from Proverbs 27:5-6…. —-

Better is open rebuke
than hidden love.

Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
but an enemy multiplies kisses.

 I can hear some of you asking right now – “This is a series of sermons on the Church – a New Testament phenomenon.  Why is Wheeler preaching from Proverbs – an Old Testament book?

There are actually a couple of reasons for this: first is that when Paul was writing the letters to the churches in his day, the only Bible his “audiences” had was what we call the “Old Testament”!  So when Paul tells Timothy (II Tim 3:16) that “all scripture is God breathed and useful for teaching and rebuking, for correcting and training in righteousness, so that the person of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work”, Paul was talking about the Old Testament!

Therefore, and this is my second reason, this part of the Bible is not just for the Jews!  It is OUR Bible, too.

The book of Proverbs, I find, is generally difficult to preach from, though.  Unlike almost the rest of the whole Biblecontext is almost impossible to determine.  These 31 chapters of proverbial statements are collections of (mostly) King Solomon’s wisdom sayings – they’re like his fortune cookie sayingsNot every verse is followed by another verse that connects them together. Sometimes, but not always.  So we have favorite little Proverbs like:

God helps those who help themselves.  – Not in the Bible!

If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.  If Gramma ain’t happy, run! – Not in the Bible, but should be!

It is more blessed to give than to receive. – Ok, this one’s in the Bible, but not in the book of Proverbs. (Acts 20:35)

Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”

Proverbs 13:24, “Whoever spares the rod spoils the child; but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.”

Proverbs 31:10-31, which describes the perfect woman of God.

But there is no story line, so to speak.  So the contexts under which King Solomon wrote these proverbs is more difficult to determine.

Let’s look at today’s proverb, and apply it to being the Church together, today.

Proverbs 27: Better is open rebuke     than hidden love.     Wounds from a friend can be trusted,                         but an enemy multiplies kisses.

 The quick and easy understanding of this Proverb is that friends who love us will confront us when we look or say or do something foolish or stupidFriends who love us are less afraid of losing our love than they are of being bold in helping us become better people.

So, when all we ever hear from someone is sweet compliments, we have the right to be suspicious that they are just trying to butter us up for something later on.

What are some examples of an “open rebuke” being a good thing?  When your friend points out the piece of spinach caught between your front teeth before you g up to speak in front of a group of people.  When your friend tells you, “C’mon man, take a shower. Or wash your clothes.”  That can sting, right?  But how much better than just letting you stink it up so that no one wants to sit near you.  I’ll bet everybody here has personal examples.

So let’s take this to the next level, with a little shout-out feed back.

Name some ways your “family” rebukes out of love: [clothes, discipline, chores, …]

Name some ways your “body” rebukes out of love: [sleep when you’re exhausted, nauseous when you eat too much, fever when there’s an infection …]

What are some biblical stories where rebuke happens in the “Temple”:  [Jesus and the money-changers, Pharisee and tax-collector prayers, widow’s mite, …]

Is there a time when a “bride” is appropriately rebuked?  [This is much harder, isn’t it?  How about: when she is unfaithful to her groom, when she ignores her husband’s voice or his needs, (in human terms – these go both ways – we could substitute groom for bride and wife for husband), …]

How is “rebuke” an act of love?  A “rebuke”, as difficult as it is to give (and to receive), is an act of love when the goal of the rebuke is, as Paul says in II Timothy 3:17, “so that the person of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work”!

Being the Church together means asking the hard questions, like, “Oh Brother/Sister, Who Art Thou?”  Thou art a child of God, a daughter or son of the King, co-heirs with Christ!  If there’s a rebuke, it’s because we love each other and want to help each other grow into the best person s/he was made to be in Christ. 

Friends, let’s be the Church together!  Amen.

Resources:

Mohrlang, Roger; Paul & His Life-Transforming Theology; Wipf and Stock; Eugene, OR; 2013; P. 120-131.

Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Faith Alive Resources; 2012; P. 305.

Wilson, Scott; This Will Transform EVERY Relationship You Have – No Kidding; http://www.churchleaders.com; November 2013.

 

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“Being the Church Together: Oh Brother, Why Art Thou?”

Mark Wheeler

January 19, 2014

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Hebrews 10:19-25

Being the Church Together: Oh Brother, Why Art Thou?

King of all creation, we wait for the day when, with all the hosts of heaven, we will sing: ‘The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever.’  Until that day, receive the praise of our hearts and direct the pattern of our lives, so that in word and action we may exhibit Your kingdom to a watching world. Amen.”

As I stated two weeks ago, one of the unwritten, unstated, unrecognized traditions at LPC is that every January we remind ourselves, through God’s Word and in worship, about some aspect of what it means to be the Church – most often that means we look at different ingredients that go into worship – prayer, music, preaching, offering, Communion, Baptism, and how we spend our days Monday through Saturday.

This year, in some of my readings and a few conversations with people here at our church, I’ve been made to realize that just the privilege of being called “church comes with some highly valuable responsibilities of the church’s membership – and biblically, I think that includes anybody and everybody who involves themselves in any kind of “regular” way – actual “active members”; ordained leadership; children; seniors; and all those folks who never “join” a local church, but who do participate in worship, small groups, out-reach and ministry opportunities.  So, unless you are brand new to these pews – this means you!

What does it mean to be the church together?  There are lots and lots of biblical ways to answer that question – from the Great Commandment to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself” to the Great Commission to go out to the world, making disciples of all nations, and baptizing in the name of the Father and to Son and the Holy Spirit; from worshiping God in Spirit and in Truth to fully trusting and obeying God to the very end of life; from coming and following Jesus to being a people against which the gates of Hell will not prevail.  But the most common description of the Church in Scripture is that we are a people who love one another.

Jesus said, “Love one another, as I have loved you.”  He also announced that the worldwould know us by our love for one another.”  And throughout the New Testament we find teachings, instructions, descriptions, and proclamations of how the Church is to love one another.

Paul told the Church in Ephesus, Ephesians 5:21, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” but I think there is some misunderstanding about what it means to submit to each other.  Let’s hear some shout-outs about what the word “submit” means? [1.To yield or surrender (oneself) to the will or authority of another.  2.To subject to a condition or process.  3.To commit (something) to the consideration or judgment of another.]

But, what is does it mean understand “godly submission”?  Ephesians says to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”.  How does that change the definitionWho is the authority we’re ultimately to yield or surrender to? Christ! To what condition do we subject ourselves to? God’s WordWho is the Judge we commit ourselves toChrist, the one who has the right to condemn us, but who has freely offered up His life for our sakes!

So, submitting to one another becomes a joyfilled opportunity rather than a miserable requirement.

I believe that following this biblical command to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ has the potential to influence and transform EVERY relationship in our lives!

Just looking at Paul’s writingsPaul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, wrote far more New Testament books than anyone else, tries to describe the church of Jesus Christ using metaphor and simile, comparison after comparison.  But they generally boil down to four illustrationsPaul says the Church is:

The FAMILY of GOD – the Church loves, supports, disciplines, helps, coaches, mentors each other

The BODY of CHRIST– the Church works together, is nourished together, exercises our faith together

A BUILDING – the TEMPLE of the HOLY SPIRIT – the Church has a Foundation, integrity, trust ; and

The beloved BRIDE of CHRIST – the Church knows the love of the Groom, and loves Him back, fully.

Today, we continue this series by reading from Hebrews 10:19-25…. —-

19 Therefore, brothers and sisters[family?], since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body[the Church?], 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God[building?], 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

This book of Hebrews is written by an anonymous author, we’re not sure what kind of genre it is (letter, treatise, sermon, …), and we’re not convinced who the intended original audience was.

What we do know is that it does a perfect job of proclaiming God’s authority over all of life, Christ’s distinguished place of honor above everything else, and the Holy Spirit’s role in calling us into relationship with God and each other; and we know it has been  preserved these last 2,000 years for our benefit.

This particular paragraph is so full of power for us –

Verse 19 – we can confidently approach God the Father because of Jesus Christ!

Verse 20 – the Body of Christ (the Church?) opens the way into His presence!

Verse 21 – the greatest Priest, ultimate highest honored priest over us, is Christ Himself!

Verse 22because of all that you, and I, are invited right into God’s holy presence!

Verse 23because God is always faithful and trustworthy, we never have a reason to doubt or wonder!

Therefore – the author of this portion of God’s Word challenges us with verses 24 and 25.  They are written there in your Sermon Notes page.  What, do you think, is the key word in verse 24?

Verse 24 reads, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.

This sentence is jammed packed with powerful verbs, meaningful nouns and a couple of important adjectives.  Which ones stand out to you as “key”?  [us/we/one another; spur[jingle, jangle, jingle … as we go strolling merrily along? NO – kicking in the horse’s hide!]; toward; love and good deeds – and talk about why/how those particular words might catch our attention]

Since I have the microphone (although I really do have to submit to Ken who has control of the microphone), I get to expound on my key word in this verse.  While all those other words we just talked about certainly carry the weight of the passagethey are the reason we ought to be asking each other things like, “Seriously, brother?  Why?  Why did you do that? Why did you go there?  Why did you skip out on this?

Last Wednesday I went to a 50th birthday party of a friend – a former pastor who now teaches at EWU, so the gathering was pretty eclectic – churchy friends, friends from his children’s high school, and friends from EWUI happened to sit at a table with a long-time acquaintance of mine (since my days in Tacoma almost 24 years ago), and across from us was a religious studies prof at EWU.  The professor told us how he challenges his students to find “community” in whatever religion they profess, and he went on to say that today’s 18-22 year-olds don’t seem to understand the deep value of “community”.  So my friend asked the professor what church he currently is a part of; and his answer“Oh, I’m not involved in a church.” WhatSeriously?   “Oh Brother, WHY aren’t thou involved in ‘community’?”  And he gave some lame excuses for how he has never found a church that is perfect.  He was “selling community” to his students, but not self-involved?

This passage almost commands us to hold one another accountable to church attendance, at least – and perhaps to church membership and roles in some kind of church leadership.  So, we “encouraged” him to not be in the habit of avoiding churchas some are in the habit of doing”.

But for me – while I agree that every word we have talked about is more potent and carries more theological weight – for me, the “key word” is “consider”.  “Let us consider how we may spur one another on ….”

I am drawn to the word “consider” because it invites us to be creative – to seek opportunities in the midst of life events – to use liturgical seasons of the year, to find people’s hurts and fears, to look for people’s needs to find purpose, to create events and programs that will attract someone to a relationship with Christ (or at least will welcome someone into Christ’s presence).

The sky becomes the limit on “considering how we spur one another on” – for some it may indeed be a kick in their backside, but for others it may need to be a warm, fuzzy.

But we are called to ask, Oh Brother/Sister, Why Art Thoudoing that, avoiding this, going thereWhy? When God has so much to offer, and never lets us downwhy would we give up meeting together – especially when we see the Day approaching?

Before you watch the game this afternoon, or eat dinner this evening, or go to bed tonightname one person, and one creative way, you will challenge that person to grow into the person s/he was made to be in Christ. 

Friends, let’s be the Church together!  Amen.

Resources:

Mohrlang, Roger; Paul & His Life-Transforming Theology; Wipf and Stock; Eugene, OR; 2013; P. 120-131.

 Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Faith Alive Resources; 2012; P. 294.

Wilson, Scott; This Will Transform EVERY Relationship You Have – No Kidding; http://www.churchleaders.com; November 2013.

Being the Church Together: “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?”

Mark Wheeler

January 5, 2014

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Galatians 6:1-2

Being the Church Together: Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?

We praise and worship You, O God, because You are with Your people; powerfully and miraculously You defend Your church and Your Word against all fanatic spirits, against the of hell, and against the assault of flesh and sin.  All glory and praise to You, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and forevermore.  Amen.”

One of the unwritten, unstated, unrecognized traditions at LPC is that every January we remind ourselves, through God’s Word and in worship, about some aspect of what it means to be the Church – most often that means we look at different ingredients that go into worship – prayer, music, preaching, offering, Communion, Baptism, and how we spend our days Monday through Saturday.

This year, in some of my readings and a few conversations with people here at our church, I’ve been made to realize that just the privilege of being called “church comes with some highly valuable responsibilities of the church’s membership – and biblically, I think that includes anybody and everybody who involves themselves in any kind of “regular” way – actual “active members”, ordained leadership, children, seniors, and all those folks who never “join” a local church, but who do participate in worship, small groups, out-reach and ministry opportunities.  So, unless this is your first time sitting in these pews – this means you!

What does it mean to be the church together?  There are lots and lots of biblical ways to answer that question – from the Great Commandment to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself” to the Great Commission to go out to the world, making disciples of all nations, and baptizing in the name of the father and to Son and the Holy Spirit; from worshiping God in Spirit and in Truth to fully trusting and obeying God to the very end of life; from coming and following Jesus to being a people against which the gates of Hell will not prevail.  But the most common description of the Church in Scripture is that we are a people who love one another.

Jesus said, “Love one another, as I have loved you.”  He also announced that the worldwould know us by our love for one another.”  And throughout the New Testament we find teachings, instructions, descriptions, and proclamations of how the Church is to love one another.

Just looking at Paul’s writingsPaul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, wrote far more New Testament books than anyone else, tries to describe the church of Jesus Christ using metaphor and simile, comparison after comparison.  But they generally boil down to four illustrationsPaul says the Church is:

The FAMILY of GOD

The BODY of CHRIST

A BUILDING – the TEMPLE of the HOLY SPIRIT, and

The beloved BRIDE of CHRIST.

Which of those four illustrations do you like the best?  Any “shout-out” answers?  Which feels closest to right for you, and why?

Looking at each of those four descriptors, what makes them “healthy churches”?

What makes for a healthy FAMILY?  Love, support, discipline, help, coaching, mentoring

What makes for a healthy BODY?  Working together, diet, exercise, rest, play

What makes for a healthy BUILDING?  Integrity, trust, support

What makes for a healthy BRIDE?  Knowing the love of the Groom – in every endeavor

Today, we begin this series by catching Paul’s words to the Churches in the Galatian area of TurkeyGalatians 6:1-2…. —-

1Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.  But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted! 2Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

 Some would say – I know this, because some have told me directly – how very difficult this is to do.  “Carry each other’s burdens” seems like a nice, polite, chivalrous thing to do – like holding the elevator door open for the person stepping in right behind you.  When Andrew asks his Mom if he can carry in the groceries for her, he is carrying her “burdens.  But is that what Paul is talking about here?

In the context of this Galatian passage, what does Paul mean when he says “burdens”?

He says that if a brother is caught in sin, those who “live by the Spirit” should “restore that person gently.” This requires more than just a simple rebuke.  This requires walking with a person through their trial, mourning with them as they mourn, celebrating as they celebrate.  I admit that I have been on both ends of this directive – I’ve been the brother who needed restoration – and I’ve been the brother offering the restoration. Neither side if this equation is fun.  And neither side is easy.  I believe I have done a decent job of helping some who needed the help, and I believe I have done a really lousy job of “restoring others of those people gently”.

Some of us get really uncomfortable because we are quick to the “judge not lest ye be judgedBible verse.  But Paul is not suggesting anything like “judgment” here.  “If someone is caught in a sin” implies that there is no need to “judge” the sin – the sin has happened.  But the sinner, who is a member of your Family, a part of your Body, a piece of your Building, and in fact is the beloved Bride of Christ requires restorationWill we restore this member of our Church?

What does Jesus say and do for the “woman caught in adultery” in John 8?  He forgives her her sin, and tells her “go and sin no more”.  He restores her to full fellowship!

Judgment is easy – and almost always wrong.  Friendship is hard – and is always right.

Carry each other’s burdens, and you will (as Paul says in Galatians) “fulfill the law of Christ.”

Often, we sharpen each other simply by being in relationship and staying in relationship.  The people who drive you crazy at work, who rub you the wrong way at church, and the child who gives you the most griefthey’re sharpening you (and you’re sharpening them) simply by loving them the best you can – and relying on Christ’s love when you just can’t take it any longer!

Stay in relationship with people, even when it’s hardHow many people, over the 107 years LPC has been in existence, got up and walked out when something didn’t go their way?

We need to look to Jesus for strength and wisdom. This is, in part, what it means to be the Church!

Tertullian, a late 2nd century, early 3rd century historian, wrote, when observing this new religious order called “Christian”, “See how they love one another!

When Adam and Eve sinned, ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they realized what they had done and they hid.  After Cain had killed Abel, he hid.  After David slept with Bathsheba, he tried to hide the fact by calling her husband home from the battlefield; but after that tact failed, and after he had her husband killed, David still tried to hide the truth from God and from himselfOh Brother, Where Art Thou?  C’mon!  You’ve been caught in sin.

Nathan seeks David out, and gently restores his king and friend into full fellowship with God and with his people.

Jesus catches us in our sin, and Paul says, while we were yet sinning Christ died for usHe restored us into full fellowshipNathan carried David’s burden, and Christ carried ours.  And Christ asks of us, to help carry one another’s burdensrestore each other to right relationship, to full fellowship, with God and with each other.  Let’s call one another out of hiding, and help carry each other’s burdensOh Brother (or sister), Where Art Thou?

Look around you – not right now – consider, who from among your friends and associates in this church, who from among your peers and colleagues, who from among your brothers and sisters, needs this kind of a “burden” carried?  Does she need to be gently restored into full fellowship with God and with His churchDoes he require restoration back into relationship with His Lord and Savior?

Write down one way you will reach out and “carry her/his burdensthis week.

Resources:

Mohrlang, Roger; Paul & His Life-Transforming Theology; Wipf and Stock; Eugene, OR; 2013; P. 120-131.

Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Faith Alive Resources; 2012; P. 282.

Wilson, Scott; This Will Transform EVERY Relationship You Have – No Kidding; http://www.churchleaders.com; November 2013.