To Be Church
It’s tough to be the church these days. Financially, most churches are living on the edge. Attendance is shrinking, and those that do show up mostly have either gray hair … or no hair.
And what happens is that people start to worry—Will my church still be here in 10 years? How long have we got until we close the doors? What can we do to turn it around? How can we attract new people? How can we attract younger people? What do we have to do to start growing?
As a result, churches try all kinds of gimmicks. Let’s get a worship band. Let’s make our worship services more attractive, more glitzy, more entertaining. Let’s make people feel good in worship. Our preaching should help people improve their lives. Skip the negative, and accentuate the positive. Let’s develop lots of programs and groups so that there will be something for everyone in our church. Let’s put in a coffee bar.
One of my favourite cartoons is “Doonesbury”. In one cartoon, Mike, the central character, is looking for a church. He interviews a pastor, “How did you get your church started?” The pastor says, “I took a survey in the community; they all wanted aerobics, so we started an aerobics class. Then they wanted basket weaving, so we started basket weaving. Then they wanted jogging, and we started jogging. And the next thing we knew, we had a church. It’s getting so big now that we have a whole denomination.” In the last frame, Mike, who knows nothing about the Gospel, scratches his head and said, “So that’s how religion is spread.”
It should come as no surprise by now that Paul disagrees with this.
Throughout his ministry, Paul was criticized by his opponents. Some said he was too easy on the Gentiles; they should become Jews before they could become followers of Jesus. Others said that he was a lousy speaker. Others said that he had no sense of presence, nothing that would attract people to the gospel.
Paul insists again and again that the only foundation for anything in the church is Jesus Christ. He says he was a skilled master builder, a wise builder who built on the only foundation that is possible for the church. “No one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.”
Now there’s nothing wrong with programs. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to appeal to different kinds of people. If it all points to Jesus Christ, then it’s a good thing. But if we do it just so we can grow, then we have a problem.
The church is being built by God for one purpose, and one purpose only—to point to Jesus in all that we do. To live with the grace and compassion of Jesus. To reach out in love to heal a broken and hurting world. That’s what it means to be church.
We are followers of Jesus Christ. As disciples, we are called to shine with the love of God in everything we do.
That’s partly what our Vision Statement captures when we say that “Christ Church … follows Jesus compassionately and faithfully.”
Here we are, like the church in Corinth. Let me use some of Paul’s language. Not many of us are wise. Not many of us are powerful. Not many of us are noble. But God chose us. God chose what is foolish … God chose what is weak … God chose us—retirees and widows and students and workers—to live as people who have experienced God’s love and who want above all else to share that love with the world. God chose us to share God’s love with our families, our neighbours, our co–workers, our friends.
God chose us …
As we live out the ministry God has given to us, I believe we are living out that difficult saying of Jesus at the end of our gospel reading this morning: “be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect.”
We read that and think, “We’re not perfect! How can we be perfect?” But the Greek word telos (τέλος) doesn’t mean moral perfection. It means to live out the purpose for which God created us. It means to be what God created us to be.
For example, to use Thomas Merton’s wonderful lines, “A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God intends it to be, it is obeying God.”
Or again, the telos of an arrow is to hit the target. The telos of a car is to get me safely from here to there.
Jesus’ words, then, are not a ridiculous command we could never achieve. Instead, they are God’s promise to us. You can be the person God created you to be, just as God is the One whom God is supposed to be. Or even better, since it is plural, you can be the community God created you to be, just as God is the One whom God is supposed to be.
Paul and Jesus urge the church in Corinth—and the church in Cranbrook—to be the church God created us to be. God uses us to tell the world about the incredible love of God. God invites us to work in partnership with God for the healing of creation. God invites us to work with Jesus to help create a different kind of world —
• a world where we refuse to build walls;
• a world where violence doesn’t always kindle more violence and hate doesn’t always kindle more hate;
• a world where we live in the light to chase the darkness away;
• a world where we love our enemies;
• a world where we embrace the outcast and welcome the stranger;
• a world where we stand up to leaders who appeal to the lowest in us and in which we show the potential when we become the people God has created us to be.
God has chosen us to be the church. We are built on the foundation of Jesus.
Now we can be about our job—which is to live like we really believe Jesus is actually bringing in God’s kingdom. Now we can be about our job—to live like we really believe God has chosen us to practice living in this kind of world.
Jesus calls us to be more than we ever thought we could be. This is who we are: God’s chosen and beloved people. This is our work: to live in the world as people who belong to God.
Our Vision Statement captures that, I think: “Christ Church Anglican, a progressive, inclusive and vibrant community, follows Jesus compassionately and faithfully. All are welcome!”
Now all we have to do is practice living it out day by day. Now all we have to do is practice our telos as God practices telos.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
February 19, 2017
7th Sunday after Epiphany (Proper 7)
1 Corinthians 3: 10–11, 16–23
Matthew 5: 38–48