This is the fourth and final sermon in our series on Tough Questions. What is the Big Deal about Church? In an age when more and more people choose to disengage from organized religion and would rather be considered spiritual, but not religious, how should we think about the church? What is it, and why should we care?
We were able to use this animation that I did last October as a way to engage with 1 Corinthians 12.
This is the PowerPoint for the sermon:
OK, everybody, I’m going out to the car. We have to leave right now if we’re going to make to church on time.
Dad, do I have to go to church?
I can’t find my shoes!
She’s touching me?
Stop that yelling.
You get in the car, be quiet, keep your hands to yourself…we’re going to praise Jesus.
I’m sure a scenario like that has never happened in your home.
Today we are looking at the fourth and final tough question that you asked back in September. What’s the Big Deal about church.
Why should we take time out of our busy schedules to attend a worship service and be involved in an organized institution called the local church?
I think it’s ironic that we are addressing this question on Labor Day Weekend; one of the weekends of the year that is historically the least attended.
It’s a really good question, because there is a growing number of people in our country that identify themselves as “spiritual, but not religious.”
People who study church demographics call them the “none” zone. That’s because when they take the census and come to the question for religious affiliation, they check “none.”
Things have been changing for the past few generations, and have accelerated in the last 30 years.
200 years ago, in Europe, being a Christian was not a private matter of choice. It was a fact of birth. Your faith was determined by where you were born. If you were born in Norway or Sweden, you were Lutheran.
If you were born in some parts of Germany, you were Lutheran, and in other parts of Germany, Spain, or Italy, you were Catholic.
If you were born in England, you were Anglican, and so on.
It was only the strange and outcast who rebelled against this and became the separatists, Baptists, and Congregationalist.
Those are the ones who fled Europe and settled in colonies in the New World.
The United States bred this strange notion that an individual could choose his or her religion. Eventually, people began to realize that they could choose to be something other than Christian, or choose to have no religion at all.
Behold, the “none” zone.
It is not hard to understand why people want to separate themselves from organized religion.
This thing called Christianity became the mask for European cultural conquest.
Millions of people have suffered and died at the hands of angry and violent Christians.
So, what do we do about it?
Look what Jesus said when he prayed for the disciples. This prayer happened immediately following the Last supper, right before he was arrested. He prayed for you and me, and said,
“That they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
Jesus wants the church to be one body. Why? Because we are the only Jesus that the world can see.
How good do you think we’re doing?
We must ask this deep question. What is the church?
Each week we have taken time to dip into the deep end of the pool and get some theology behind these questions.
I want to do this today, and come back, again, to why the Trinity is so important in understanding this question.
The church is the body of Christ.
Let me walk you through this.
First, we need to think about the first person of the Trinity. The infinite, almighty, creator and giver of life. This is the transcendence of God. God is so not us that we can’t even conceive of God.
Then, the third person of the Trinity is the Spirit of God. The Bible describes the spirit like wind, breath, water, and fire. The Spirit is the animating force of life.
You can’t hug wind, but you can respect its power.
Then, the second person of the Trinity is the Word of God. Genesis says that God spoke, and all things came into being. The Word is the governing principle, it’s like the operating system of a computer. It is the operating system of the universe.
Now, let’s be honest. How much of what I’ve said so far makes any sense to you?
In reality, none of it does.
There is no way that we can understand this stuff, because there is nothing in creation that is like God. There is nothing with which to compare it.
Human knowledge has to begin with what we already know, before it can move beyond it to something unknown.
We know what it means to be human, because we are human.
And, even more specific than that, we know what a man is, as opposed to a woman.
We have those categories in our mind.
That is why the Word had to become flesh.
The only way we can begin to know God is if God reveals godself to us in a category that we already know.
Jesus was a human. That means that Jesus was just as limited as you and me. To be human means you live one life, in one body, in one moment in human history.
Jesus was a Jewish male who live for 33 years in the land of Israel under the oppression of the Roman Empire.
Jesus’ showed us the character of God in a way that we could finally connect to it, because it was human.
If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. Don’t look at religion, or theological and doctrinal statements. Look at Jesus. How he lived, what he cared about, and how he connected to God.
Here’s the problem.
You and I can’t see Jesus. He isn’t on the earth, because he was human and he’s not physically here any more.
So, how can we know Jesus?
That is why we have the Bible. The reason Bible study is one of the seven habits of discipleship is because, without the Bible, we would not know Jesus, and without Jesus we would not have a clear picture of God.
The more we study Jesus, through the study of the Bible, the better our understanding of God becomes.
There is one other piece to this. We need help to understand the Bible and to be connected to God. That is what the Holy Spirit does.
Jesus poured the Holy Spirit into the church, because now we are the physical body of Christ in the world.
That’s what Paul was telling us in the 1 Corinthians passage.
Once we thought we were individuals who called our own shots.
Now we realize that we are parts of the body of Christ: The church.
This is what baptism signifies. We are saved, born again, washed, quenched, and empowered through the baptismal work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
We are all part of something bigger than ourselves.
When one part hurts, we all hurt.
When one part rejoices, we all rejoice.
You see, we don’t attend church. We are church.
So, what’s the big deal about attending worship services?
It’s because we have to gather to be the church. I am not church. We are church.
We come together to gather around the body of Christ in the Word, and in the Sacrament of the bread and wine, because, when we do, we are the body of Christ.
Then, we are sent into the world to be the hands and feet of Jesus. We are called to walk in the way of Jesus. To heal the sick. To love the unloved. To stand with the oppressed and speak truth to power. And to lay down our lives for friends, and love our enemies.
I want to leave you with a simple video that I made a couple years ago.