January 26, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
“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 world “would 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 illustrations. Paul 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…. —-
5 Better is open rebuke
than hidden love.
6 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 Bible – context 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 sayings. Not 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: 5 Better is open rebuke than hidden love. 6 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 stupid. Friends 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.
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.