Tag Archives: Purpose of the Church

“Being Light”

A Sermon for 5 February 2017

A reading from the gospel of Matthew 5:13-20. Listen for God’s word to us in this continuation of Jesus’ infamous Sermon on the Mount. Listen.

“’You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. 14You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. 17Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’”

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

 

Three years ago on my first Sunday as your interim pastor, the lectionary brought us together around this text; the very same part of Matthew’s telling of the Sermon on the Mount. . . . You may not remember it. But on that Sunday, I pulled out this prop (a container of salt) – I even told you I’d give you some at the sanctuary exit to keep in your pocket as a little reminder. . . . In a riveting sermon entitled “Salty Light,” I told you how difficult the winter of 2014 was around this country. Several states got hit hard with mounds of snow until many of those very same states – New York, Illinois, and other Northeastern and Midwestern spots – were in the middle of a salt crisis. They had put down so much salt to keep their roads safe and the snow melting for life to go on as usual, that salt supplies were dwindling away. If you’ve never lived in a state where snow covers the land from November til sometime around May, then it may be a bit difficult to understand the crisis of trying to live in winter without any salt! . . . Jesus knew the importance of salt – how treacherous life would be without it! One translation of Matthew 5:13 puts Jesus’ words this way: “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be the salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage” (Eugene Peterson, The Message). . . . Jesus preached about the importance of salt because he knew it is essential. Not just for keeping life moving along smoothly in the dead of winter, but even more so for bringing out the flavors of this world – things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Salt long has been a part of our faith ancestor’s life together. The traditional Jewish Seder includes a bowl of salt water on the table. Salt was to be a part of the sacrifices commanded by God. Leviticus tells of salt to be added with grain offerings (Lev. 2:13). And flesh offerings spoken of in Numbers remind of the covenant of salt – the sign of a perpetual covenant – the everlasting promise of God (Num. 18:19). Salt symbolizes a bond with the LORD God that stands forever. Salt was mixed with the people’s offerings as a pleasing reminder to them all. Not to mention that before refrigeration, salt was key for life – bringing the blood out of meat to ensure it was preserved; so, in turn, the people would be able to survive. O yes: Jesus knew, salt is essential to physical life even as it was a sign to God’s people of their everlasting spiritual life with their Maker.

Perhaps to a crowd that was tired of dreary winter days that can drag on and on to weary your soul as your body yearns for just a little bit of sunshine, Jesus puts the words of Matthew 5’s next verse this way. According to the same translation quoted earlier, Jesus says: “You’re here to be the light, bringing out the God-colors in the world” (Matthew 5:14, Ibid.). Allowing the best of God’s Spirit that is in each of us to be seen. . . . In this light metaphor, Jesus was referencing the covenant God cut with Abraham. That his descendants, as numerous as the stars of the vast night sky, would be the light to all nations. . . . Israel constantly was reminded of being light. We heard it in Isaiah 58. That beautiful promise that if the people would serve the interests of those in need, instead of just their own self-focused ways; then “your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly . . . if you remove the yoke from among you” – in other words, that which weighs one another down . . . “If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted; then your light shall rise in the darkness, and your gloom be like the noonday.” You again shall become the light you were intended to be. As the prophet writes, “you shall be called the repairer of the breach (or that which is separated); the restorer of streets to live in” (Isaiah 58:8, 9b, 10, 12b). You shall be those who create communities of peace – that’s what the light of the world does as it shines in the darkest of places.

Three years ago in my first sermon among you as your interim pastor, I told you that Jesus’ words aren’t just for those up on that mountain. His words are for you. For me. For every one of us baptized into his mission as followers of Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. . . . We are the salt of the earth. We are light for the world! . . . We watch the news. We know a little salt certainly is needed now. The seasoning in our families and communities and nations that will bring out the God-flavors of this earth: a little love. A little joy. A little peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The blessed fruits of the Spirit! A true taste of godliness. . . . And light? Dark places of life yet exist – seem to be growing more each day. Someone, and it might as well be us, needs to shine a little so the vibrant colors of this world can be seen. . . . I heard the other day that there are 9,000 children in Davidson County who are on a waiting list for food through Second Harvest Food Bank. They truly need the food they get through public schools – and the donated extras received for weekends and holiday breaks. When you bring a pack of snacks to be boxed up for Tulip Grove Elementary students, you’re being salt. You’re bringing light. . . . When you give a case of water for the homeless who are served through Room in the Inn, or for a family gathering at Hermitage Memorial Gardens to receive visitors prior to a service celebrating their loved one’s life; the God-flavors of generosity are tasted. The colors of compassionate care are seen. . . . When you stand at the sanctuary door to genuinely welcome someone who hasn’t dared entered here before, when you show kindness to the stranger at the grocery store. Maybe even, wherever you might be, you practice patience with a struggling mother whose hands are full with two fussy little ones. That’s being salt. That’s being light. That’s taking seriously Christ’s command for something beautiful to be taken in in this world. For something gorgeous to be seen. God’s ways.

About us, the church; one archbishop says: “The church is the only organization on earth that exists for those who are not its members” (William Temple as quoted in Feasting on the Word, Yr. A, Vol. 1; Charles James Cook, p. 336). . . . The only group who gathers together to grow in giving ourselves away. . . . Since my first sermon as your interim pastor three years ago, I’ve seen that in you. The ways you continue to give yourself away. We certainly have had our times together of worshipping and learning and serving for the gracious love of God to be experienced among us. But we’ve kept to it always – at least I hope we have – so that we can get up from these pews at the end of Sunday worship to head out into the world to be salt. To be light. To give of time and energy and efforts for a homebound person in Hermitage to get a meal once a day. To be joyful and filled with hope among our neighbors even in the midst of health hardships, divided worldviews, and terrible difficulties around this globe. To be those able to speak a word of comfort among colleagues and cultivate inner peace for our calm to ripple out to soothe the troubled with whom we come in contact. Not for ourselves alone, but for all in this world who need to taste. For any who need to see. That’s what Jesus told us. It’s what we’ve been up to together these past three years and what we shall continue to be about wherever our paths shall lead . . . because we are salt for the earth. We are light for the world. . . . May it ever be so.

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

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (All rights reserved.)

“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.)