January 19, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
“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 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.
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 definition? Who is the authority we’re ultimately to yield or surrender to? Christ! To what condition do we subject ourselves to? God’s Word! Who is the Judge we commit ourselves to? Christ, 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 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 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 22 – because of all that you, and I, are invited right into God’s holy presence!
Verse 23 – because 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 passage – they 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 EWU. I 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.” What? Seriously? “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 church “as 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 Thou – doing that, avoiding this, going there? Why? When God has so much to offer, and never lets us down – why 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 tonight – name 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.
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.