How do we define church? The author of the Message Bible, Eugene Peterson recalls the sermons of his youth and how the pastor tried to put enough stuff together to make a case for defining church through Song of Songs 6:4. But, the pastor or pastors never seem to be in his little home town church long enough to accomplish the intended preaching experience to discern and teach from Song of Songs and define church. As times goes by the frustration of the pastors of his youth dropped the process of defining church through the Song of Songs and turned to the church in Ephesus.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was the only letter that did not originate out of church conflict like the Corinthians or the Galatians were experiencing. Even though the church in Ephesus was rocking and rolling and could be held up in example for being the good church of the 1st Century. Peterson argues that the church in Ephesus should not be granted a medal for being the perfect church or the church that we should model our own churches after. It was far from being perfect. After Paul’s ministry in Ephesus he later sent Timothy there to pastor and thirty years later in the Book of Revelations tells us that Ephesus has lost that loving feeling.
I am not going to go out on a limb and say the present-day church is perfect and doing what it is supposed to be doing? We have too many voices and too many experts telling us what we should do with our churches to not only survive but increase attendance, membership and discipleship. Just in the last month I was in a meeting and there was some talk about worship styles and how it needs to be reformed to bring in the post-moderns and the gen-x people. I seemed to have made the mistake of saying we need to not forget the liturgy of the church. I was laughed at.
That’s when I remembered Brian McLaren’s talk about a watered-down Jesus. Without liturgy we water down a whole lot of things. I have been at enough contemporary services where we sing for 20 minutes supported by a praise band and praise singers and a charismatic pastor preaches for 40 minutes. An offering is taken, and we go home. I also remember a time when pastors would take one verse out of the Bible and preach for 40-45 minutes. What is the context! Is there a theology or do you get to preach whatever you want to preach Accountability!
So how do we define church? What is it? How do we project ourselves as the Body of Christ?
Eugene Peterson draws correlation between Mary being overcome by the Holy Spirit and the disciples being overcome on Pentecost. The church is born in much the same way as the Jesus is born. We remember the Magnificat and the words of Mary as she gives vision to Jesus’ ministry. He will feed the hungry and the rich will be driven away. At these times I like to turn to our Communion service and read the words “he came to heal the sick, free the oppressed and lift up the lowly.” Jesus mission was precisely all about that and he even let a few of the elite come and join his group of followers.
So, a Messiah that reaches out to the poor, the disenfranchised and those who live in the margins of our society. Why wouldn’t we think the church should be about them and embrace the unfortunate. But sometimes we don’t do very well at being who we were created to be by God. Dorothea Soelle gave a great case that we have become apathetic as we lift ourselves above the suffering of others for our own comfort. If the church is to be the body of Christ then how can we ignore the fact that Jesus did not discriminate but gave freely his love for us all.
Paul in his opening lines of Ephesians tells us that we all have been selected before time began to be God’s children and receive God’s love as a parent loves his children. To be church we need to be inclusive of all God’s children. Jesus fed the 5,000 and did not reject anyone. While on the cross only the thief who mocked him on the cross on Good Friday who did not get his freedom the same time the other thief had received his.
So, what God intended is that all of humanity would be reconciled to God in one community under one umbrella. That God loves God’s children and it is God’s desire that we all spend life eternal in the arms of our Creator. So much so is God’s desire that God with God’s Son would break the power of sin and death through sacrificial love and suffering of God and God’s Son. Through God and God’s Son we are given a pathway to the home that is waiting for us all if we choose. So come join us and join us in our journey to become the church that God created us to be!
See you Sunday,
Rev. Dennis Hopes