Monday, October 6, 2008

Sermon: The Uncomfortable Church

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Download "Sermon: The Uncomfortable Church" in MP3 format

Text: 1st Corinthians 12:11-20

By Matt Kennedy

October 5th, 2008

I hate going to the DMV. If you’ve been here a while you’ll remember that for my first three years in Binghamton I was driving around with Texas plates. Partly that was due to the fact that I love Texas and couldn’t bear parting with my Texas driver’s license and plates. But mostly, it was due to the fact that I can’t stand the DMV. The long lines, the strange people, the unhelpful civil servants. You don’t see happy smiles at the DMV. You see blank stares. Or you see rage when someone waits for two hours only to be told that they don’t have the right paperwork. But there's one interesting thing about the DMV. If you want to drive legally you've got to go there. So at the DMV you'll find rich people, poor people, every ethnicity and color and background all brought together, unified as one body, by the need to drive legally in the state of New York.

Philip Yancey wrote that a congregation should, if she's doing her job right, look like the DMV. Rich people, poor people, respectable citizens, dropouts, people who know all about Jesus, people who’ve just met him or who are about to meet him all crowded in together every Sunday morning. Of course there should be differences. The unity of the DMV is a false one. You’re only there for a few hours at most and then you leave and you may never see anyone you saw there again. But the unity of the church is eternal. You'll never get away from the people sitting next to you. We're bound to each other forever.

This binding has nothing to do with how long we’ve known each other. It has nothing to do with how well we like each other. It is just a fact. Jesus lives in me through the Holy Spirit and he lives in you through the Holy Spirit. We are, therefore, related to one another spiritually—at the soul level. The believer you meet here for the first time is bound to you more closely than even your blood relatives who are not believers. Blood may be thicker than water, but the spiritual bond between believers is thicker than blood. Your blood passes away. You're spirit lives forever. Your blood connects you biologically to blood relatives temporarily. The Holy Spirit binds you to God and to all who are called by his name eternally. God knits our spirits together by his Spirit.

Let me try to illustrate what this feels like because I think we experience this sort of spiritual unity here in a visceral way but we may not recognize it. I slammed the car door on my fingers the other day. Before I did that I was perfectly healthy and feeling fine. When I slammed the door on my fingers, technically speaking, the rest of my body was still fine. My legs weren’t damaged, my face was fine, my toes, my internal organs…every other part of my body was just fine technically speaking, but at the same time pain ripped through all the way through me. Everything in my body and mind cried out with pain? Why is that? Because even though the parts of my body are distinct and separate they are not independent. They are deeply connected by nerves and blood vessels and all the rest. In the same way, believers in the Church, the body of Christ are bound together. What you do, what you feel, what goes on your life, has a ripple effect throughout the body. What happens here at Good Shepherd when someone’s marriage breaks apart? What happens when someone dies? What happens when people are fighting? What happens when people are gossiping? What happens when people leave? Every believer here feels the loss. Why? The Church is a body and you are bound to it. We are not only called to suffer when our brother or sisters suffer, we do suffer. You can’t help it. God has wired you to the body through his spirit.

“The body” Paul says, meaning the Church, “is a unit though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body.”

Paul is not speaking about water baptism. We’re not all bound together because we’ve been baptized by water. Look at that again, “For we were all baptized by One Spirit” Water Baptism makes you a member of the visible church, the church you can see. It can also do more. The Anglican Articles of Religion, Article 27 on baptism states that at baptism: “as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed...” But the “instrument” is not instrumental if it is never received “rightly” And how is it received rightly? Faith. Water baptism means nothing, nothing at all, if it is not preceded by faith if you are an adult or followed by faith if you were baptized as a child or infant. If you’ve not surrendered your life to Christ, then you may be a member of visible congregation by virtue of your baptism, but you're not a member of the invisible universal Church, the eternal Body of Christ, which is made up only of those who’ve surrendered themselves to him. It's only when that happens that you’re baptized or indwelled by God's Holy Spirit.

But when it does, you're immediately bound to a new family and it's a whacked out family. Look at the rest of verse 13:

For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free, and we were all given one family.”

The good news of the gospel is that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him. And so Jesus’ last words before he ascended into heaven were not that his disciples were to hole up and make nice little white chapels for themselves and hire kindly pastors who'll say nice things every Sunday until they die, but that they should go out into all the world making disciples of all nations. This is why a visible congregation, a local visible manifestation of the universal invisible church if she's doing what she's called to do, should be a strange place, a chaotic place, a changing place. Some congregations specialize in stagnation. Change is uncomfortable so they expend a lot of effort to ensure that no one different comes and that everything stays just how they like it. That is not the New Testament model.

The New testament model for the church is the body and bodies change. The only time the body stops changing is when it's dead and the flesh rots away to the dry bones. The Church, the body of Christ changes too. It changes, but it never dies. The bible never changes, the truth never changes, but body that lives in the truth does.

Why? Because if we're proclaiming the truth of Jesus Christ to everyone everywhere then God will add people from every imaginable background and experience to our body and this necessarily means change. If you took a snapshot of this congregation 6 years ago and compared it with the church today, you'd see a completely different body. Same truth, changing body. That’s good. The Church is a living body. If it is not adding members, then it is not changing and if it is not changing then it is dead. Dead things never change because they never grow.

Jesus commissioned his disciples to go out and make more disciples. At first the church was made up only of Jewish Christians. Then God commissioned Paul to preach to the Gentiles. If you think Good Shepherd has changed in the last 6 years, you should've been around back then. God was not content to have Jewish Christians just sit fat and happy in their synagogues. He wanted people from every family language people and nation. He knew very well that that would mean a lot of tension.

I think God has a great sense of humor. If you tried to pick a group of people the Jews despised more than any other, it was the Greeks. And so where does God sent the apostle Paul? To the Greeks and Greeks soon make up the majority of the Church. God loves to bring people into the same body who would otherwise be enemies. He does it on purpose. Not only does it bring him glory, revealing the power of the holy spirit, but I also think he gets a kick out of it. Several times now at Good Shepherd, I’ve seen people get saved and then a year or so later, their worst enemy walks through the door. “Well, Matt, I'm not sure I can come to this church anymore now that so and so is coming. I just can't stand that person and I'm not going to be able to sit in the same building. Its best for me and the church if I go.” I've had lots of conversations like that and if you feel like that this morning about someone here let me say, yes you can. In fact, if that person is a believer, you'd best stay and get used to him now because you're going to be with him forever.

God doesn’t want you to be comfortable in church. He doesn’t want to fluff your pillow. That's not why he puts his people in Congregations. He plants you in a fellowship, in a body, because he wants to make you holy, he wants to turn you and me from selfishness and and self-centeredness to the point where we put him first, others second and ourselves last and part of that means planting us long term in a congregation of people who are different, people who make us uncomfortable, people who are not like us so that we can learn to love, accept and forgive and to be loved, accepted, and forgiven, so that over time we'll learn selflessness and sacrifice and humility, and though we're different over time God will make us one body.

But if you bolt every time someone comes in who makes you uncomfortable, if you leave every time something changes, if you constantly hop around trying find a church full of people who look and act and think just like yourself then not only will you never break free of self-centeredness but you'll never be happy in heaven. Heaven, according to Revelation 5, is made up of “people from every tribe and language and people and nation.” I don't think that heaven will be full of people just like me. I might as well get used to that now.

God tries to ease us into it here on earth so that when we die it won't be all that great of a shock. A congregation that proclaims the gospel everywhere to everyone and makes disciples out of fall who believe will then necessarily be a weird, whacked out changing place with people who dress differently and act differently and talk funny. And naturally there will be a lot of tension. But then God adds to this divine comedy by commanding us to love each other like he loves us. And as we do the small congregation on earth begins to look more and more like the great big congregation in heaven.



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