GOSPEL LESSON: Luke 4:14-21
EPISTLE LESSON Acts 2:36-42
SERMON: “Becoming a Blessed Church”
Did you know that today is the Church’s “un-birthday?” Remember Alice in Wonderland? When Alice went down the rabbit hole and found herself at the Mad Hatter’s tea party, she found a rather odd group of creatures celebrating an “un-birthday.” “A very merry un-birthday to you, to you,” they sang, in the original Disney adaption. Any day that is not your birthday is your un-birthday. Today is [ ] birthday. Happy Birthday, [ ]! To the rest of us – a very merry un-birthday.
We celebrate Pentecost as the birthday of the church, the day when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and all who heard them preach the good news about the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Acts 2:41 tells us that when Peter got done preaching, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” The Day of Pentecost comes 50 days after Easter, so it usually falls in May, sometimes in early June. Definitely, not in January, so today is an un-birthday for the church. A very merry un-birthday to us!
How many of you have ever attended a presbytery meeting?
Only with great reluctance did I used to ask any elders to give up a day to go to presbytery meetings. But I have to give Lake Michigan Presbytery a pat on the back for recent changes that make those meetings both interesting and informative. At the September meeting we were privileged to hear Landon Whitsitt, the author of a very interesting book called “Open Source Church.” I believe he was just completing his term as Vice Moderator of General Assembly, and his ideas are fascinating.
At the November meeting we heard Graham Standish, pastor of Calvin Presbyterian Church in Zelienople, PA, speak. He too has a book published: Becoming a Blessed Church. As I told the session Monday evening, Rev. Standish spoke for close to two hours, without a break, and never lost my attention. Double fascinating.
Don’t worry, I have no intention of speaking for two hours this morning, but I do want to share with you a bit about what Rev. Standish suggests for how churches like ours can become a blessed church.
First of all, Standish writes, “The blessed church sees itself as the Body of Christ. . . . To do so the church, and its members, must quit considering itself to be something akin to a business, an organization, or even a family. The church has attributes [italics mine] that are similar to a business, an organization, and a family, but it is unique. Nothing else in the world is like a church.” Standish then quotes Rick Warren, a leader in the church-growth movement: “The church is a body, not a business. It is an organism, not an organization. It is alive.”
Last week we heard the Apostle Paul’s words, recorded in I Corinthians: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.” (I Corinthians 12:4-6)
Had we continued reading Paul’s letter we would have heard him add, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body. (vv. 12, 13a)
Paul writes about the different parts of the body, and then states, “ But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. (vv.18-20)
And a little further on: “ . . . there should be no division in the body, but [that] its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (vv. 25-27)
The blessed church must understand itself as part of the Body of Christ.
“The leaders of the Body know that Christ is the head, and so they continually and prayerfully seek Christ’s guidance,” writes Standish.
As a part of our Annual Meeting today we will be electing officers to new terms of service. Notice I didn’t say “new officers,” for each of the people who have been nominated have served before. A good thing. We benefit from having experienced leaders. Once you have elected these elders and deacons today, we will install them in their offices during worship on February 13th. And the first question we will ask them in that installation service is this:
a. Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledging him Lord of all and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit?
“Lord of all and Head of the Church” I didn’t write that. That’s Book of Order.
Skipping down to the sixth question, we will ask:
f. Will you in your own life seek to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, love your neighbors, and work for the reconciliation of the world?
A blessed church will take all of the ordination/installation questions seriously, but perhaps these two most of all.
“On a practical level,” says Standish, the meetings and matters of the blessed church are grounded in prayer as its leaders seek what God wants over what they want. Dying churches are ego driven. Blessed churches are Christ guided. Blessed churches root their ministries and mission in prayer, act confidently on what they hear, and let God take care of the results. They don’t achieve these practices perfectly by any means. Faith is always sprinkled with fear and doubt in even the most faithful leaders. Still in the end, they do their best to act in faith rather than fear.”
I didn’t write that either. . That’s Standish, whose church, by the way is one of the growingest churches in the country..
As we move forward into 2013, seeking to be a blessed church, we will do better, – we will be better, – we will have better, – if we practice and grow in seeing ourselves as the Body of Christ, making decisions prayerfully as we seek to do his will.
On the night Jesus was arrested, the Gospel of John tells us before they came for him, Jesus prayed for the disciples, saying to God, “they are still in the world, and I am coming to you.” Then he asked of God, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11).
Understanding itself as the Body of Christ results in becoming a blessed church by actively seeking to do our best, through prayer and thoughtful reflection to be and do what God in Christ is calling us to be and do. How do we know what Christ is calling us to be and do? As Presbyterians we understand that we may not always agree about that, but a good place to start is in the gospels, studying what Jesus taught. Narrow it down? You might start in Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount, the stories he told, or the great commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your hear and with all you mind and with all your soul, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
Now “it is possible to have union without unity,” as that great author A. Nony Mouse said. “Just tie two cats together by their tails and throw them over a clothesline.” We don’t want that kind of unity.
By contrast, think about the snowflakes that surround us. Individually they are one of nature’s most fragile things, but look what they can do when they stick together!