Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Fulfilling God's Vision of the Church

(Read James 21:14-24 and John 2:13-22)

Driving up to the cream house with brown shutters at the end of Andover court, it looked like any other house. There was nothing special about it, no real personality to set it apart. In fact, if one didn’t know better, you might assume that no one lived there, so barren was its yard. Only a black van filled with a carpet layers tools sat in the driveway from 5 in the evening until 7 in the morning. Maybe these were the first clues that the people who lived inside this house were so unhappy.

Upon walking into the house, the air seemed stale. The house felt empty even though two adults and two teenage boys lived there. The kitchen was the saddest part. A wooden cabinet door was missing next to the stove, and two of the other wooden cabinet doors were half open, revealing a jar of peanut butter, some saltine crackers and a few spices. The wooden drawer housing the silverware was missing as well. Had they just fallen off and never been replaced? A table with paper plates, a toaster and a bunch of crumbs sat opposite the cabinets, and underneath the table was an overflowing garbage cans and a bunch of plastic bags like the kind you bring groceries home in. The kitchen smelled of neglect, which is exactly how the people who lived in the house felt.

You see, this house came into being accidentally just like the family who lived in it had. In high school, the homecoming king and queen were sweethearts, and right before graduation, they accidentally became soon-to-be parents. Three more children followed, and the king and queen did what they had to do to get by with resentment in their hearts. They never had any intention of creating a home and a family together, and there was certainly no intention of creating a loving home and family, so there wasn’t one. As the third youngest child told me, it’s not that our parents beat us or anything, they just didn’t raise us.

And so you have it. A sad family tale whose kitchen revealed their life story, a story of neglect and lost cabinet doors.

Having intention in life is important. If we don’t intend to do anything particular, we just stumble around doing whatever it is comes our way, like the family I just described, an unhappy and unfilled family. But if we do intend to do something particular, then that intention guides our actions, and those actions often lead to the attainment of a vision, realization of a goal, satisfaction in life, purpose, fulfillment.

God had a clear intention for the temple. God had a clear vision of what he intended the temple to be and how it would function in the lives of his chosen people. You may recall that God gave elaborate instructions to Solomon for how the temple was to be built. God did this because he knew what he wanted it to be. God also gave clear and detailed instructions for how one was to enter the temple, for the types of activities that were to be performed there, for what the acceptable sacrifices were.

When Jesus walks into the temple in Jerusalem and sees his Father’s house being disrespected, degraded, made into a mockery, he gets angry. Instead of finding people praying, discussing the scriptures and making sacrifices to God, Jesus walks in and finds “the temple teeming with people selling cattle and sheep and doves. The loan sharks [are] also there in full strength” (John 2: 14). The vision that God had for the Temple was being compromised. So, “Jesus put together a whip out of strips of leather and chased” those dishonorable and unfaithful people out, “stampeding the sheep and cattle, upending the tables of the loans sharks, spilling [their profits] left and right. He told the dove merchants, ‘Get your things out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a shopping mall!!” (John 2:15-16).

It’s easy to see why he was so angry. It would be like if you walked into your own home and someone had turned it into a drug den or a brothel. Zeal for your house would consume you.

As clear of a vision that God had for the Temple, God has for the Church. In the most basic terms, God intends the Church to be the body of Christ. We are meant to perform the ministries that Christ performed. To be Jesus’ arms and hands, his legs and feet, his ears, his eyes, his mouth. Jesus preached how to live our lives to honor God and bring forth God’s kingdom on earth. He taught the laws of God and instructed us to love one another. He healed the sick, offered compassion to the outcasts, and forgiveness to the sinners. We know what he did, and now we are called upon to do likewise.

The Korean Methodist Church’s affirmation of faith (#884 in the Hymnal), says this about the Church: “We believe in the church, those who are united in the living Lord for the purpose of worship and service.” Very simply and clearly, we are told of God’s intention for us as the church. We are to be a people united through Jesus with the common purposes of worshiping together and serving together. How we worship and how we serve, that is up to us. We have the freedom to choose the specifics based on our gifts and passions. It only takes two people to bring new forms of worship and service into the life of our church.

Our local church is nothing like the Temple was when Jesus cleared it out and rebuked the people there. In fact, we have much to be proud of because we are worshiping and serving God in many life-giving ways. But just like a human being’s potential is never exhausted, so to, is the Church’s potential never exhausted, and in particular, our church’s potential is not exhausted. The Church is a living organism that is able to meet the needs of people as they present themselves. The Church is a work in progress so we can always refine or redefine how we worship the Lord. It is us, the people, that are the church, and if one of us becomes inspired by the Spirit to serve or save or worship in a new way, it is that conviction and the help of our brothers and sisters that can actualize another piece of our potential as the body of Christ.

As we recall the life and death of Jesus Christ in these 40 days of Lent, let us renew our conviction to be his body in the world, and especially in our community. Let us reclaim the vision of God for us the people of God, and be intentional about realizing that vision to the best of our abilities. Let it be our intention that if Jesus himself walked into this church, he would be proud of it. Instead of creating a whip out of strips of leather, let’s pray he would extend the peace, his peace to each and every one of us.

I started this sermon by talking about intention, or the lack thereof. That house, that family I described did a poor job of being intentional, and the whole family suffered. What is hopeful though is that the four children who grew up in that house, all became more intentional about their lives than their parents were. The oldest and the third child made family a priority and bought houses next to each other. The second child chose to pursue a career in music and has worked hard to achieve that goal. The youngest, as far as I know, is still a bit lost. But if we are not clear about who we are and what we want to do, how can we ever expect to achieve great goals, kingdom goals? Or how will we know when we have gone astray if we aren’t even sure what we are supposed to be doing? It is to everyone’s advantage, the individual’s, the family’s, the church’s, if we are intentional, if we know who we want to be, where we want to go and what we are called to do, so that we can live out our calling and actualize God’s vision/fulfill our potential”?.
James 2 was chosen as a text for today as a means of encouragement. The life of faith includes works. Last week I preached on how important it is to have faith, how important it is to believe even when hope seems lost. And today, I am flushing out what that faith looks like besides saying the words, “I believe.” “Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove…[they] are yoked partners…faith expresses itself in works…and works are works of faith” (James 2: 18, 22) To believe includes action!

I made a list of some of the things I believe we are called to be and do, with some concrete ideas of how we might live into our calling. These are meant to get us thinking, but if one of them catches your attention or creates a flutter of inspiration, I need you to act on that. Tell me about it. Tell a friend here about it. Bring it up at Ad Council or Trustees or SPRC. All of us are responsible for the ministry of this church, and I think this church is so awesome and you have so many gifts, that I want us to keep going further, deeper into the heart of God.

This is not to overwhelm you. This is not to add to your list of things to do. But if you have inspiration or compelling compassion or a great concern, it will enrich your life and the life of the kingdom and the life of the church if you have the opportunity to see it through and to see it make a difference. Worship and service can happen in small clusters of 2-8 people or the whole body can get on board. It’s up to us so let’s be intentional about it.

A place of equality and inclusivity, where all people are welcomed – join MIND, our conferences advocacy group for the rights of homosexuals, or take one of our church cards and invite a person of a different color or ethnicity to church, maybe the lady who does your hair, or the man who helped you take your groceries to the car.
A place of learning. We need opportunities for the children, the youth, the adults, the older adults to learn.
A place of belonging and fellowship. . We need opportunities for the children, the youth, the adults, the older adults to have fun and have people to talk to
A place to grow spiritually. Attend bible studies or other events offered. Or create your own group with like-minded church members
Service to people who are suffering. The Children’s Home of Kingston. Those in nursing homes. Those in jail.
A place of celebration. When someone goes through a right of passage or gets a new job or does well in school, we should celebrate with them.
A place of health, in mind, body, spirit and relationships. Each member must work towards his or her own health, and we should also offer opportunities to help each other grow more healthy.

Let the Spirit come into your heart and inspire you. This church is relevant. Let’s keep doing things that Christ would be proud of !

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