A Case for the Church
August 22nd and 23rd, 2009
According to recent reports the church is in trouble. While many surveys say that church attendance on a given Sunday is around 40% of the American population, a percentage that has remained steady for many years, most believe the more accurate number is around 25%. David T. Olsen in another study says that if present trends continue, the percentage of the population that attends church in 2050 will be almost half of what it is today, around 13%. For many children here today, should weekly worship still be part of your life in your fifties and sixties, you will be in a distinct minority.
The Church is also in trouble because it is not grounded on solid biblical truths like it should be. According to a 2009 Barna report, 1/3 of Christians believe that Jesus sinned, ½ do not believe Satan exists, 30-35% do not believe the bible is true in all it says, and 40-45% of Christians believe that if one is a good person then he or she is heaven bound. Whether this is poor teaching, by leadership in church’s or simply worldly influences overwhelming what one is taught about Jesus, his Word, and the way of salvation, one cannot easily say. Yet it is clear, that at least according to these indications, the church is in trouble.
I know that the main focus in this Ephesians text is the relationship between husband and wife. While this would be a worthy topic for a sermon, and certainly is helpful for us to understand . This central focus of this message is what God is saying to us through Paul concerning the church. It is his secondary point in his discussion of marriage, but it will be the primary point for us today.
First we need the word “church” needs to be understood. It is a word used five times in these ten verses. The word literally means “called out ones. “ A people called from something to something else. Luther in the large catechism writes..” God be praised, a seven-year-old child knows that the church is: holy believers and “the little sheep who hear the voice of their shepherd.” We often think of church as a place, something we go to or something we attend. Yet, in the bible the phrase is more about the voice of Jesus, and followers who believe it. Both are necessary for the church. Our calling as Christians isn’t so much one to “go to” church, but rather to be the church. Our starting point is not, whether I should be involved with the church or not as a Christian. Rather, it is to see how I am to be church which Christ has called me to be. How can I be the sheep who hears Christ’s word with fellow believers. The church isn’t merely a building, rather it is something God calls us into through baptism. The question for us is? How can we be the church.
We see a number of things in our text today about “being” the church. First, Christ is the head of the church. To say I don’t want to be connected to other believers and hear the voice of the Savior, is like the arm to the rest of the body, and to the head let me separate myself from you. I can really function as an arm, apart from that which makes the arm continue to function. Christ is the head of the church. Colossians 1:18 says” he is the head of the body, the church, is is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremecy.” Earlier in Ephesians he says “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.” That is everything exists, and everything he does is for the church. The assembly of believers, listening to his voice is the reason this world exists. The Pastor is not the head of the church, the President of the Synod is not the head of the church, the Pope is not the head of the church, nor are you and I the heads of the church. Christ is the head, and his voice, his Word, his love, his hope, his peace, are what direct the church.
Secondly, he says the church is his body. He goes on to say, that this body needs a Savior. What is the assumption? The church is an imperfect place! It only has significance and purpose and meaning because Jesus has cleansed it and keeps on cleaning it up. We are gathered here today, not because we have it all together or even are better than others, rather, it is under his Word and in receiving his gifts we have the medicine of Christ’s immortality. Jesus says “Come unto me , all you who are weak and heavy laden, and I will give you rest”. Jesus says “it is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick.” Luke 15 in the parable of the lost sheep there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents then over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” So Jesus is our head, we are his body, cleansed and saved by him. The church is headed by Christ, and the church is in constant need of cleansing. Thanks be to God Jesus is in the cleansing business.
Next, we hear in these verses that the church is called to submit. Notice that this “submission” is not done in response to authoritarian rule. Rather it is a submission based on the love of Jesus our head, who has seen fit to call us his body, and cleanse/save us along the way. Submission isn’t based on “I said so now do it”. Rather it is based on, a love we have already seen. One commentator writes about submission. It is not a “harsh or even strong word”, but rather a very mild and loving word. It is based on a loving relationship, Christ and his church and wives to their husbands.” Submission flows from a love that is like no other. Christ as our loving head, means we are called to submit to him. When he says we sinners are forgiven, we are forgiven. To submit is to believe that what he says is ture.
This past week we did a skit in confirmation/religion class. The first group came out and chanted “We’re number one” over and over again, and the second group changed that to “Your number one”. While this second phrase “your number one” sounds a bit strange it expressed the point that jesus is our head, and we are called to submit to him. It is humbling to submit to Christ and his will, but we do it knowing that his will is better than our own.
Husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the church. As Christians, we need a Savior who loves the church, because frankly the church, his sheep, need a whole lot of loving. For example… “A man was rescued after 20 years on a desert island. His rescuer is astonished to find that the castaway has built several imposing structures. Wow! The rescuer says. What’s that beautiful stone building overlooking the bay? This my home, the castaway says. And what about that building over there with the spires? That, the castaways says, is my church.” But wait! “The rescuer says. “That building over there. With the bell tower, What is that? That is the church I used to belong to”. Our natural tendency is not unity, but separation when it comes to the church. Our tendency is not to submit to Christ and his will, but rather retool it to our own ideas. We look at the church, and sometimes don’t see it through Jesus eyes, but rather through our own eyes, and what we see or think we see, we don’t like. Sometimes we might see it as controlling organization, merely concerned with power. The sheep who listen to the voice of the shepherd, tend to wander a bit on their won. We tend to only see what is wrong with this church. With our eyes, we don’t always see the church being the church. Yet, it is not through our eyes it looks good. Through his eyes, he loves it.
He loves not only you and me, but all of the ones he called out of darkness into his marvelous life, by “giving himself up for her”. He spent every last portion of his being unto death, even death on a cross so he could have him a people. Yet, he didn’t just do that in the past. He loves his church so much he cleanses her and makes her presentable through the washing of water and the word. He uses bridal imagery, wedding imagery to speak about how he will present the church on the last day. One commentator noted that in all the weddings he has performed he has never seen an ugly bride, but he went on to say that “sometimes” before and after the wedding the same bride didn’t look quite as good. Jesus is preparing and sanctifying us, and will present us to the Father on the last day as a people without blemish, and holy, without spot. How do we as Christians get this way? Not by thinking we look good, not be trying to change ourselves, but solely and completely because of Jesus who is fixing us up and making us just right, so that we will be presentable and whole to our Lord. As the hymn so beautifully says “Jesus our blood and righteousness, thy beauty is thy glorious dress.”
In many ways the church looks to be in great trouble. We to may be tempted to think that somehow someway we are better as single sheep with the shepherd then as a part of a flock hearing from the shepherd. Yet, Jesus who has invested everything he has into his tattered sheep to make them presentable to God, seems to think differently. May God help us always treasure the church by seeing it through Jesus eyes.