Audio version of this message is HERE.
The Six Great Ends of the Church: “The Promotion of Social Righteousness”
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Lord Jesus, open our minds and hearts to Your truth, through the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God. Amen.
I Googled “jokes about injustice” and what pops up is a lot of reasons why it’s just not funny to joke about how people are mistreated in our society. That was the point I was trying to make, but I wanted to make it with a joke! So I went to my old brain-files and remembered these:
What did the lizard say to the snake? [“Need a hand?”] That’s cute, because it picks on a snake….
What do you call a man with no arms or legs in the water? [“Bob”] We’ve all, perhaps, laughed at that … unless we actually know a person with no arms or legs.
A couple of weeks ago we elected a president who has made promises and has been recorded making statements about different types of people that have truly scared a bunch of them. This is not a sermon about whether or not Donald Trump was the right choice or is a legitimate victor – this is simply a commentary on the world in which we live.
On the day after the elections I heard from people rejoicing over the results, from people saddened by those same results, and from people who are honestly afraid of those results. I am not taking sides on those issues here, I just want to explore with you how we move forward together.
Today we are looking at the fifth of the Six Great Ends of the Church, where the word “Ends” means “purposes, or reasons for existence” – we discover more about what the Church is for! These Ends have been true almost since the founding of this particular church.
LPC was chartered in 1907 under the denomination called the Presbyterian Church in North America which adopted the Great Ends in 1910. In 1958, when that denomination united with the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, giving rise to the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America; this is also when this church’s denomination decided to recognize the giftedness of women in different roles of ministry, and these purposes were incorporated into the new constitution. And when the UPCUSA united with the Presbyterian Church in the United States in 1983, healing a rift that had lasted since the Civil War era, recognizing the sin of prejudice and racism, and the Great Ends were made part of the Constitution (in the Book of Order) of the PC(USA).
These six statements describe a healthy church – one which realizes that not only must the Gospel be preached to all, but that the people who have responded need to be nurtured, that worship correctly done is as important as preserving the truth, that justice for God’s people cannot be ignored, and that our individual lives and our corporate actions should show the world what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. (If you listened closely just then, you heard all Six Great Ends mentioned.)
So far we have seen that the first, and the foundational, End/Purpose of the Church is The Proclamation of the Gospel! And the second End/Purpose of the Church is The Shelter, Nurture, and Spiritual Fellowship of the Children of God! The third End of the Church is The Maintenance of Divine Worship! Last week we looked at the fourth End of the Church as The Preservation of the Truth.
Listen with me as the Apostle Matthew tells the story of Jesus’ teaching about how we might Promote Social Righteousness. Listen for this fifth End of the Church. Matthew 25:28-40 ….—-
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
I don’t know about you, but for me this is one of the absolutely most difficult teachings of Jesus in all the Gospels.
The reason it’s difficult is that it is not just about Jesus loving me / taking care of me / what a friend we have in Jesus / saving me – what this passage is about is how all of that effects the rest of my life!
Historically there has been a big divide among Christians and Christian Churches maybe some of you will recognize the divisive words between the evangelical strive to share the Good News of Jesus and the progressive endeavor over what was called the Social Gospel. One wants to tell people about God’s salvific love through Jesus Christ and the other wants to feed the hungry and right the societal wrongs – both, it seems, to the exclusion of the other!
But, these Six Great Ends of the Church, correctly tell us that it is both! Proclaim the Gospel AND promote Social Righteousness! The Old Testament Pentateuchal book Deuteronomy and Jesus both tell us to Love the Lord your God with everything you’ve got AND to love your neighbor as yourself! BOTH!
In the Call to Worship this morning, Dick read the passage from Isaiah 61 that Jesus read in the story in Luke 4. Certainly that describes something of our responsibility, as followers of Christ, as well.
Today’s reading from Matthew 25 takes place in Jesus’ final week before He is crucified. In this passage He describes His return some day, as King of all kings and Lord of all lords. And as King and Lord He will judge according to what He sees us doing!
This does not mean that we are saved or damned based on how well we obey or how much we deserve one ultimate destination or the other. But it does mean that, as one can tell a tree by its fruit, our actions will reveal something about how seriously we say we are followers of Jesus.
God, in His perfect righteousness, demands our obedience. “Be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” And, God in His amazing grace, offers forgiveness. “For God so loves the world that He gave His one and only Son, so that all who believe in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life!”
In my own daily devotional reading, I’m in the Letter from James chapter 2, where this Apostle talks about “faith without works is dead faith.” We are not saved by our good deeds, but our Christian faith should be visible by the good deeds we do. He says it’s not good enough to wish hungry people a good day and hope they can fill their bellies. If we have food we can share, we are expected to share it!
The Union Gospel Mission preaches this lesson in countless ways. The scriptures are so full of stories describing how much God expects His people to take care of the poor around us.
The question we are forced to ask today – on the liturgical calendar today is called Christ the King Sunday, it is the last Sunday of the liturgical year (next week is the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the next liturgical year) – is Jesus King? Is He my King? Is He our King? Is He our Lord?!
We answer that question, in part, by how well we obey this demand on our resources!
Some of you have a cartoon on your bulletins this morning: Pontius Puddles. (Tell the cartoon – the pray-er says, “I wonder if God can really hear me … God, what should I do with my life?” God says, “Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the lonely.” The pray-er says, “Just testing.” And God says, “Yup, me too.”)
The last question on the Sermon Notes page asks about how we serve the King well by serving “the least of these”. That question is meant to ask about how LPC does this; but let’s personalize it, too. How do I serve Jesus by serving the least? How do you serve Jesus by taking care of the least?
It isn’t enough to only believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God; or even to believe that and tell that Good News to others. Our faith is measured by the practice to which we put it. An oversimplification of the difference between the liberal and evangelical churches is that the liberals tend to concentrate their efforts on social issues while evangelicals tend to concentrate on preaching the Gospel.
My own personal sense is that this is not a useful distinction between liberals and evangelicals. There is a distribution of beliefs and practices in all churches, and I suspect that there is more overlap than most of us think. Both sides of these discussions need see that it is not simply either/or – it is both/and. Scripture makes this crystal clear.
But what makes this teaching of Jesus even more difficult is that it’s not simply about feeding this hungry person, or clothing that naked person – it’s really about fixing the societal systems that force people into these dire straits. The Church – not just LPC, but the capital C Church – needs to step into the systems that put people on the streets and imprisons people for their faith.
Rise up, O saints of God – His kingdom’s task embrace;
redress sin’s cruel consequence; – give justice larger place
Give heed, O saints of God! – Creation cries in pain;
stretch forth your hand of healing now, – with love the weak sustain
The 1st, and most foundational, Great End of the Church is the Proclamation of the Gospel – if there is no Gospel being proclaimed any Social Organization could suffice our church-needs (and maybe even better). Jesus often criticized church-leaders as hypocrites, two-faced, fake.
The 2nd, and right on the heels of the 1st, Great End of the Church is the Shelter, Nurture, and Spiritual Fellowship of the Children of God – if we fail at helping each other grow in our faith & our Christ-likeness, we fail at actually being church!
The 3rd Great End of the Church, the Maintenance of Divine Worship, is what fuels us for righteous living. Do we “worship in spirit and in truth”?
The 4th Great End of the Church is the Preservation of the Truth – Jesus is the (only) way, the (real) truth, and the (eternal) life and no one comes to the Father except through (faith in) Him.
And the 5th Great End of the Church is the Promotion of Social Righteousness – What does the Lord require of you? Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with the Lord your God. Failure to work toward making a more just society, where people are treated with equality and love, calls into question our loyalty to the King of kings and Lord of all lords.
Friends, let’s live like we believe what we say we believe! Our Mission Statement declares that we are a people who:
Know the power and love of God, and
Grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, compelling us to
Go in the footsteps of the Holy Spirit, loving and serving others who do not yet
Know the power and love of God….
Did you hear the promotion of social righteousness in that? Let’s be that kind of Church!
Forness, Norman O.; Rise Up, O Saints of God; 1978.
The 6 Great Ends of the Church: Leader’s Guide; Episode 4; The Fellowship Community; 2016.