“Church”

A Sermon for 23 August 2015

A reading from 1 Corinthians 12:27-31. Listen for God’s word to us, church:

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.”

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

You remember we’re working our way through the Foundations of Presbyterianism this summer. And today we’re on principle number 3 in section F of the 2015-2017 PCUSA Book of Order. We started with God has a mission then moved to Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church. And today it’s all about us – finally! The Calling of the Church. Except, as the church, we don’t really get to focus all on ourselves. And we’re certainly not left on our own. Which is a really good thing when you hear what I’m going to read in just a moment from the Book of Order. Because if it really is all about us, then we’re in big trouble!

We’re supposed to be unified – one whole Church of Jesus Christ. United in and by Christ. Of course, it’s easy to doubt our unity as one WHOLE Church. Too often we see it’s that denomination calling that denomination not a true church. Or this faction of the denomination calling the other faction not Christian enough. Our fractious nature certainly must break God’s heart. . . . We’re marked by holiness – being set apart. Not just the pastor, or even just the pastor and the ordained ruling elders. ALL of us Christians baptized into Christ are to be about striving “to lead lives worthy of the Gospel we proclaim,” as mark of the church letter b states (F-1.0302b). . . . We’re catholic. Which means universal – not Roman Catholic – but lower case c catholic. “Catholicity is God’ gift to the Church in Jesus Christ” the Foundational Principles state. Which means: “Because in Christ the Church is catholic, (we) strive everywhere to testify to Christ’s embrace of men, women, and children of all times, places, races, nations, ages, conditions, and stations in life” (F-1.0302c). With a net cast that wide to catch us all, we’re supposed to be a sign of deeper faith, larger hope, and: “a more complete love” that exemplifies God’s grace (F-1.0302c). Look at F-1.0302d, the next mark of the church listed on the insert in your bulletin. I stumble over the pronunciation of this word every time. And you know: if we can’t even say it, how in the world are we gonna live it out! . . . The “A-pos-to-lic-ity of the Church.” Unfortunately, the doing of it’s a whole lot harder than the saying of the word! A-pos-to-lic-ity is the word apostle; made into an adjective. I hope you recall that apostle is a Greek word that begins to occur in the gospel texts only after Jesus looks at those gawking around him and basically says: “Enough now.” . . . You see, up until a-pos-to-lic-ity in the New Testament, Jesus is just a really great teacher. And a really great healer and preacher and Messiah and I’m guessing an all around really amazing person to be around. You know, inspiring, fun-loving, someone who you just feel would really have your back. A kind man. A true gentleman, in the meaning of the word that’s unfortunately quite fleeting today. He’s a really good guy with whom you’d enjoy sitting down to a good glass of whatever. Unless of course you’re a Pharisee. Or a Sadducee. Or a High Priest. Or a king, or emperor, or any number of those wanting to retain the status quo to control the notion of God for their own benefit. . . . Until a-pos-to-lic-ity in the story of Jesus being in the world, everyone’s just a disciple. A student of the Greatest Teacher ever. Student: that’s the meaning of the word disciple. The meaning of the word apostle is one who is sent out. On a mission. Everyone’s got disciples, students. Jesus has apostles. Those on a mission. Ones sent into the world to put into practice the lessons he’s been teaching.

So in the gospels we learn of twelve men being sent out (Mark 6). The first apostles of Christ – whose choosing doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with them or their individual ability. They’re going to be remarkable despite themselves – just like us, the rest of the church. Jesus suddenly matches them up two-by-two and sends them out into the villages and countryside. Armed with nothing but the authority of his sending – just like us, the rest of the church. And they go about two-by-two, just opposite of the animals that once came into the shelter of the ark. Instead, Jesus makes twelve of his disciples the first apostles and they go about healing and teaching and showing the unlimited, unearned, unleashed favor of God on all creation (Mark 6:6-13). To this day, that’s us. The church. Individual members, all of us: sent out to bring others in as we share and care and bear witness to our Head Jesus Christ while we participate with him in God’s mission.

Now that you’ve got some background on Foundation number 3, listen at least to a portion of Presbyterian Foundation number 3. It’s a long one so some of it you’ll have to read for yourself – not now, but later – much of it is on your bulletin insert. And if you want to read the entire section, I can get it for you from the 2015-2017 PCUSA Book of Order.  Listen to the Calling of the Church (2015-2017 Presbyterian Church U.S.A. Book of Order, F-1.03).

Point 1, “The Church Is the Body of Christ: Christ gives to the Church all the gifts necessary to be his body. The Church strives to demonstrate these gifts in its life as a community in the world (1 Cor. 12:27–28): The Church is to be a community of faith, entrusting itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its life. The Church is to be a community of hope, rejoicing in the sure and certain knowledge that, in Christ, God is making a new creation. This new creation is a new beginning for human life and for all things. The Church lives in the present on the strength of that promised new creation. The Church is to be a community of love, where sin is forgiven, reconciliation is accomplished, and the dividing walls of hostility are torn down. The Church is to be a community of witness, pointing beyond itself through word and work to the good news of God’s transforming grace in Christ Jesus its Lord. Point 2 (F-1.0302), The Marks of the Church: With all Christians of the Church catholic, we affirm that the Church is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.” First, The Unity of the Church: Unity is God’s gift to the Church in Jesus Christ. Just as God is one God and Jesus Christ is our one Savior, so the Church is one because it belongs to its one Lord, Jesus Christ. The Church seeks to include all people and is never content to enjoy the benefits of Christian community for itself alone. There is one Church, for there is one Spirit, one hope, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:5–6). Because in Christ the Church is one, it strives to be one. To be one with Christ is to be joined with all those whom Christ calls into relationship with him. To be thus joined with one another is to become priests for one another, praying for the world and for one another and sharing the various gifts God has given to each Christian for the benefit of the whole community. Division into different denominations obscures but does not destroy unity in Christ. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), affirming its historical continuity with the whole Church of Jesus Christ, is committed to the reduction of that obscurity, and is willing to seek and to deepen communion with all other churches within the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Second, The Holiness of the Church: Holiness is God’s gift to the Church in Jesus Christ. Through the love of Christ, by the power of the Spirit, God takes away the sin of the world. The holiness of the Church comes from Christ who sets it apart to bear witness to his love, and not from the purity of its doctrine or the righteousness of its actions. Because in Christ the Church is holy, the Church, its members, and those in its ordered ministries strive to lead lives worthy of the Gospel we proclaim. In gratitude for Christ’s work of redemption, we rely upon the work of God’s Spirit through Scripture and the means of grace (W-5.5001) to form every believer and every community for this holy living. We confess the persistence of sin in our corporate and individual lives. At the same time, we also confess that we are forgiven by Christ and called again and yet again to strive for the purity, righteousness, and truth revealed to us in Jesus Christ and promised to all people in God’s new creation. Third, The Catholicity of the Church: Catholicity is God’s gift to the Church in Jesus Christ. In the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, by the power of the Spirit, God overcomes our alienation and repairs our division. Because in Christ the Church is catholic, it strives everywhere to testify to Christ’s embrace of men, women, and children of all times, places, races, nations, ages, conditions, and stations in life. The catholicity of the Church summons the Church to a deeper faith, a larger hope, and a more complete love as it bears witness to God’s grace. And fourth, The Apostolicity of the Church: Apostolicity is God’s gift to the Church in Jesus Christ. In Christ, by the power of the Spirit, God sends the Church into the world to share the gospel of God’s redemption of all things and people. Because in Christ the Church is apostolic, it strives to proclaim this gospel faithfully. The Church receives the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ through the testimony of those whom Christ sent, both those whom we call apostles and those whom Christ has called throughout the long history of the Church. The Church has been and is even now sent into the world by Jesus Christ to bear that testimony to others. The Church bears witness in word and work that in Christ the new creation has begun, and that God who creates life also frees those in bondage, forgives sin, reconciles brokenness, makes all things new, and is still at work in the world. To be members of the body of Christ is to be sent out to pursue the mission of God and to participate in God’s new creation, God’s kingdom drawing the present into itself. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) affirms the Gospel of Jesus Christ as received from the prophets and apostles, and stands in continuity with God’s mission through the ages. The Church strives to be faithful to the good news it has received and accountable to the standards of the confessions. The Church seeks to present the claims of Jesus Christ, leading persons to repentance, acceptance of Christ alone as Savior and Lord, and new life as his disciples. The Church is sent to be Christ’s faithful evangelist: making disciples of all nations in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; sharing with others a deep life of worship, prayer, fellowship, and service; and participating in God’s mission to care for the needs of the sick, poor, and lonely; to free people from sin, suffering, and oppression; and to establish Christ’s just, loving, and peaceable rule in the world.” . . . Section F number 3 goes on with The Notes of the Reformed Church: the true Church is present where the “Word of God is truly preached and heard, where the Sacraments are rightly administered, and where ecclesiastical discipline is uprightly ministered” (F-1.0303). . . . And finally number three ends with: “The Great Ends of the Church are: the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind; the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God; the maintenance of divine worship; the preservation of the truth; the promotion of social righteousness; and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world” (F-1.0304).

It’s the calling of the Church, fellow members of the Church. I guess you can see it’s not at all about us – even though it is all of us. A community of faith, hope, love, and witness. The body of our Head, Christ, that is unified because of him. That is holy – set apart – by him. That is universal – catholic in that everyone is embraced by God to be a part of us. And finally: sent out – our a-pos-to-lic-ity – our work. The whole reason we exist. . . . Thanks be to the love of God known to us in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. . . . Empowered by the Holy Spirit for each day of our lives, may we ever strive to fulfill our grand call!

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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