“Who’s In Charge?”

A Sermon for 9 August 2015

A reading from Colossians 1:9-20. Listen for God’s word to us.

“For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from God’s glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

And one more reading because today we are continuing with our look at the Foundations of Presbyterianism from section F of the PCUSA’s Book of Order. . . . Remember Foundation #1: God has a mission: the transformation of the whole creation! A re-created world where all is at one with God! . . . Foundation #2 has five points and is entitled: Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church. Listen.

“(Point 1): The Authority of Christ. Almighty God, who raised Jesus Christ from the dead and set him above all rule and authority, has given to him all power in heaven and on earth, not only in this age but also in the age to come. God has put all things under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and has made Christ Head of the Church, which is his body. The Church’s life and mission are a joyful participation in Christ’s ongoing life and work. (Point 2): Christ Calls and Equips the Church. Christ calls the Church into being, giving it all that is necessary for its mission in the world, for its sanctification, and for its service to God. Christ is present with the Church in both Spirit and Word. Christ alone rules, calls, teaches, and uses the Church as he wills. (Point 3): Christ Gives the Church its Life. Christ gives to the Church its faith and life, its unity and mission, its order and discipline. Scripture teaches us of Christ’s will for the Church, which is to be obeyed. In the worship and service of God and the government of the church, matters are to be ordered according to the Word by reason and sound judgment, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (Point 4): Christ is the Church’s Hope. In affirming with the earliest Christians that Jesus is Lord, the Church confesses that he is its hope, and that the Church, as Christ’s body, is bound to his authority and thus free to live in the lively, joyous reality of the grace of God. (Point 5): Christ is the Foundation of the Church. In Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Christ God reconciles all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of the cross (as we just heard in Colossians 1:19-20). In Christ’s name, therefore, the Church is sent out to bear witness to the good news of reconciliation with God, with others, and with all creation. In Christ the Church receives its truth and appeal, its holiness, and its unity.” (PCUSA 2015-2017 Book of Order, F-1.02).

Do you remember the What Would Jesus Do craze of a few years back? I think it started with woven bracelets to wear around your wrist. And I believe it was a movement primarily targeting youth – at least initially. WWJD was right there on your arm as you went about your day. The theory was that whenever you ran into some sort of situation in which you didn’t know what to do, WWJD would be your guide. Like a moral compass. So say the mean girl at school got knocked down in gym class and was struggling to get back up. WWJD: What would Jesus do? Turn around and run in the other direction? Pin her down further, then point and laugh? Or walk right up to her and offer her a hand? . . . Maybe it was about the big test on which you really needed an A if you were going to be able to graduate. As you walked down the hall past your teacher’s classroom, you noticed she dropped the answer sheet right there at your feet. WWJD: What would Jesus do? Pick it up, shove it in his backpack before anyone noticed, and hurry away to memorize all the answers? Choose not to cheat and just quietly walk away? Or maybe go find the teacher to let her know the test had been compromised? WWJD? What would Jesus do? It’s not a bad reminder – even if it first was a bracelet fad for youth. Because as we move through the stages of life it seems the situations get a little more complicated – the stakes, higher. The ethical dilemmas when trying to live faithfully in this world seem to grow more complex each day. WWJD? What would Jesus do? What shall we? . . . What would Jesus do? Because the Christian life is not just about what we think – even if such right thought has been our Presbyterian hallmark through the years. As our theological forbearer John Calvin taught: it’s about right thought that leads to right action. Just as Foundational Principle #2 proclaims.

Under the authority of Christ, “the Church’s life and mission are joyful participation in Christ’s ongoing life and work” (F-1.0201). We are called and equipped by Christ “for mission in the world – for sanctification,” or being in the process of becoming holy, more like Christ, “as we are in service to God” (F-1.0202). Joyfully: as a privilege we get the opportunity to fulfill. Christ gives us our life as a church – our unity, our mission and we are to obey his will (F-1.0203). As our hope, (according to point 4 of Foundation #2) “we are bound to his authority and thus free to live in the lively, joyous reality of the grace of God” (F-1.0204). What a powerful witness a lively, joyous response to God’s grace would be! We are sent out to bear witness in the world to the good news of the reconciliation of all things (F-1.0205). . . . All of these: participating in Christ’s ongoing work; being in mission in the world; obeying Christ’s will; living freely in a lively, joyous reality; and bearing witness to the reconciliation accomplished in Christ. All of these are about DOING – not just sitting around thinking or just believing certain things. But getting up and getting out there to BE as Christ would be in the world. Asking ourselves in every moment: what would Jesus do? Because he is the One in charge. How does he want to live through us?

It’s like Colossians reads: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him all things in heaven and on earth were created” (Col. 1:15-16). In the words of Presbyterian Foundation number 2: he’s the Lord of it all – yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He is the head – not the session, not the pastor, not the biggest financial backer, or even the members who do the most work. Jesus Christ is the head. And you and I, the church, are his body – his hands and fingers and feet. . . . Think about the metaphor literally. Our head is the brains of the operation that is each one of us – at least most of the time I hope! For the most part, our body moves and does its thing because our head tells it to – sometimes consciously; sometimes just automatically. In the same way, with Christ as the head, we – the body of Christ – participate in Christ’s ongoing life and work today according to him – our head. Sometimes automatically, but often times consciously we must stop to consider: WWJD? What would Jesus Christ, our head, have us do? . . . In case it’s ever extra difficult to discern, the final point of our denomination’s statement on The Understanding and Use of Holy Scripture gives a clear guide. It’s a helpful little document for those who need a reminder of how Presbyterians approach it all. The statement culminates in the Rule of Christ – which is the Rule of Love. We believe we read all scripture through the Rule of Christ – the way of Love; for Christ is the definitive revelation of God’s infinite, unconditioned love. Christ has called us into being. He is with us always as the Risen Christ. And he gives us all we need for our mission of love in the world today.

One fiery commentator forcefully proclaims of the church that: “the purpose of the Church is not to be a place of entertainment where persons . . . come to be spectators while leaders . . . ‘put on a show’ using whatever gimmicks and novelties they can pull out of their bag of tricks so that everyone has fun. . . . The purpose of the church is not maintenance – to be a safe place, a refuge for its members – until Christ comes again. . . . The purpose of the church,” the commentator continues, “is not fellowship where the entire energy of the congregation is focused on its social relationships so that each person feels as if he or she belongs.” The commentator clarifies that “fellowship is an important dimension of the church, but it is not the church’s central purpose.” . . . Neither is the church’s purpose “protection, where the community, terrified of the world beyond its walls, invests all its energies in constructing a safe place where its members can dutifully worship, study, and enact their sacred rituals. The real purpose of the church is clear – to be the community of disciples of Jesus Christ and as such, to proclaim Christ” daily in word and in deed! (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 3, Rodger Nishioka quoting David Ng, p. 258, 260, 2010). Living as he lives. Doing as he charges. Being his body in the world today because we are “bound to (Christ’s) authority” (PCUSA Book of Order, 2015-2017; F-1.0204). And if we are not, we’re something other than the Church of Jesus Christ. . . .

With him in charge, obedient to his will; may the life of the Risen Christ be seen in us each day!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)

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