January 5, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
“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 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.
Just looking at Paul’s writings – Paul, 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 illustrations. Paul 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 Turkey – Galatians 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 judged” Bible 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 restoration! Will 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 grief—they’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 hard. How 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 himself. Oh 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 us – He restored us into full fellowship. Nathan carried David’s burden, and Christ carried ours. And Christ asks of us, to help carry one another’s burdens – restore 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 burdens. Oh 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 church? Does he require restoration back into relationship with His Lord and Savior?
Write down one way you will reach out and “carry her/his burdens” this week.
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.