God’s Gift of the Church

Ephesians 3: 10

January 5th & 6th, 2007


            The Christmas message of the angels to the shepherds was a personal one, applied not just to the world, but to the shepherds and to us personally.  “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord    Today we hear the account of the wise men who,  brought their gifts to Jesus some time  after Jesus birth.  “While the Christmas gospel message is about you personally, Epiphany is a reminder it is not  JUST about you”.   In Epiphany God reminds us that the gospel is lived within a community of faith.   The good news of Christ is to spread to others from that community.          

            God has always been in the business of creating community.   It wasn’t good for Adam to be alone, so from his rib he created a partner and soon a family.  From this family he would create a people called the Israelites.  Today he still has his own “family”, and it is called the church.  It is important to remember that it is not our creation, and we also do not keep it going.  Jesus alone creates the church, and he alone keeps it going.  In today’s reading the church is given a very important role.  In Ephesians it says “and to bring everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages to God who created all things, so that through the church  the manifold wisdom of God  might be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.”   According to Ephesians God uses the church to show the  manifold wisdom of God.

What is the church?    The word for church here simply means “called out ones”.   That is, the gathering of those who have been called out of darkness into the Savior’s marvelous light.  The church is made up of those who hear Jesus voice.   Jesus says “that my sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me”.    The church is where the called out ones gather together. Jesus says in Matthew 18   “Where two or three of this called out ones are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them”   The church is where God’s people proclaim to one another that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of the world.   In response to Jesus question “Who do people say that I am” (Matthew 16) ?  Peter responded,   “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”.   Upon hearing this Jesus states  “upon  this rock (on this statement) I will build my church and hell itself will not be able to prevail against it.”   It is through his called out ones,   the ones who confess he is the Christ the Son of the Living God, that the mystery hidden for the ages is now revealed.  It is in and through his church that the unsearchable treasures of his powerful forgiveness and grace are found in Christ Jesus.

                   One author observed this about churches in America.   “I often visit newcomers in town and find them to be church shopping. They want to know what they can get out of church. Churches are one more consumer commodity. Worship services are not a place for us to serve God and neighbor but a place where people expect to purchase the best: inspiring worship, good music, moving sermons, quality child care. As if we buy God and not vice versa.

In reality who is doing the buying?      God or us?      The church is where God purchases us.   It is helpful to note a distinction made in the catechism, that the church is both invisible and visible.   While faith in the heart5 may be ultimately invisible to us, it is still visible to Jesus.   That is the church is a building or part of a church structure.      This church is  found throughout many Christian denominations.   The church is where faith is found, and the words of the gospel are administered faithfully.    Visible in the tools it uses to bring forth the faith, but the faith in the heart is ultimately only visible to God.   

However, the church is at the same time visible.  Visible , in the sense of its clear teachings.  In other words we are to be part of a church that publicly teaches the true Word of God, and we are to be part of the body of Christ, ie a congregation.  This visible part of the church is assumed when Jesus warns against false prophets, and that there will come a time when people will not put up with sound teaching, but rather gather around them teachers who will say what their itching ears want to hear.   The assumption here is that the people of God will be part of the church.   The church is both invisible, and visible.  We to are to trust in God’s word by faith, and participate in the worship and sacramental life of the church.

            The church’s exalted status in God’s eyes.   May the Lord help us to see the church not just from our view but from  God’s perspective.   To often we see what is not right with the local church or even larger church.  We see  hypocrites in the church.   At times money is not well spent, andthe greed of the world easily seeps into the church.   We often see that leadership in the church is not what we think it should be.   In the church people do not always  treat each other well.   To often those in the  church disappoint us (frankly we may also be a disappointment to others).   However, in God’s eyes the church is exalted.  Listen to this Ephesisan 5 says “Husbands love your wives, just as christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her, washing, her with water and the word.   How about this from 1 Peter.     “You are a a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, so that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.   Our human eyes can fool us so may the Lord help us to put on biblical eyes.  Eyes that see Christ’s work not only for us, but also his work for the church as a whole.

            On this Sunday when we install officers   it is good to be reminded what our calling is as part of the church.  This calling first includes unity.   Romans 12:5 says “So in Christ we who are many form one body, and each belongs to all the others.”   In one sense we are already one in Jesus, and the prayer is that when it comes to his teachings we are to strive for true unity.  Jesus in one of his prayers said” May they be one as we are one”.

            Another calling of ours in the church is to “Spur one another on to good works.  In the book of Hebrews it says this “And let us consider how we may spur one another on to love and good works”.   Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing”.    We are called not only to help build each other up in the faith, but to be embolden to help each other in our lives of service, our lives of good works.

            We are also called to hear the truth.  Jesus says you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.  We are to  hear the truth of God’s word in regards to our failures (sin) toward him and others.  1 John says   “If we say we have not sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us”, but if we confess ours sins God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness”.    Our first response should not be whether we like a particular service  or no .  For as mentioned earlier the temptation to hear what we want to here is oh so great.

            We are also called to bear burdens.  In Galatians Paul says bear each others burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.   Jesus came down to bear our burdens, and our sorrows.  Having been set free we are called to do the same for one another.  Just as Jesus washed the disciple’s feet so we are to wash one another feet.   It is a beautiful thing to see burdens being lifted by fellow believers.    Again, does this take place on a regular basis?   Probably not.    Yet this is another reason why the church is so important, for it is there we hear God’s Word which gives us a fresh start again. 

            Finally this morning our calling in the church is one of  outreach.   Outreach is not an option for the church, it is the glorious calling of Jesus  himself.  He says in   Matthew 28 “Go ye therefore into all nations”.  Can we do this ourselves?   Probably not, which is why God gives us the church.   On a congregational level this calling may be advanced  financially, and prayerfully.   May we also see our lives as part of this calling.   That our   families, school, and work environments become outreach  venues for his mercy.     

            God has given each of us the gift of his church.  O Lord help us to treasure it!.  Amen.