Don Ackerman--Coming In to Go Out

“Coming In to go Out”

What are you doing at Church?  Even better, why are you here?

Tom Raines (President and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources) conducted a Twitter poll of church leaders and church goers from around the country asking them to share some of the reasons people give for not going to church.  Some were ones that you’d might expect: “The church is full of judgmental hypocrites,” “they don’t sing the music I like,”  or “the church is not relevant to my life or the world today.”  But others were perhaps more interesting:

-        We were out of peanut butter.

-        My wife cooked bacon for breakfast and the entire family smelled like it.

-        We got burned out on church so we’ve been taking a break for the last seven years.

-        Both my girlfriends attend that church.

-        I couldn’t get the lid off the peanut butter.

Before I get back to the question I initially posed I would like to address first, what or who is the church?  There are no shortage of opinions on this topic.  Some vary in forms that make the church out to be a voluntary organization or a group of superstitious people with likeminded superstitions.  St. Paul addresses this question extensively beginning in 1st Corinthians 1:1-2 St. Paul writes, “to the church of God in Corinth, to those that are sanctified (growing or becoming) in Christ Jesus, called to be Saints, together with all those, in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ.”  In Galatians 1:2 Paul writes to all of the churches in Galatia where he refers to an assembly of people, not a building or structure where they gather.  Is this an image that initially comes to your mind when we think of Church today?

More often in scripture the term is used more broadly, referring not only to a small subset or congregation but all Christian congregations across the earth.  It is in this sense that we understand it in our liturgy today.  When one is baptized into the church the pastor states that “according to the grace given to you, will you remain faithful members of Christ’s holy Church.”  This is also how Paul refers to it in Acts 20:28 where he says we are to, “shepherd the Church of God that he ordained with the blood of his own son.”

Again in Ephesians, Paul addresses the church in Ephesus calling them “the saints (or holy persons) who assemble themselves to worship God the Father and his son Jesus Christ.”  The point here is that Paul is referring to the universal church who finds its identity in Jesus Christ and purpose from the Holy Spirit.  He is not referring to one family or congregation, or dare I say denomination to use a modern term, and instead through all of Paul’s letters paints a picture of an assembly where there resides:

-One Spirit who brings life to the church (Romans 8:9)

-One Hope, that in all who receive this Spirit, know that to die is not to be lost, and to know the certainty of Christ’s presence in our world today. (1 Peter 1:3-4)

-One Lord who has taken possession of our lives and lives in our hearts (Ephesians 2:6)

-One Faith that enables every Christian to testify with Paul that, “the life which I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

-One Baptism, washed of our sins and born of the Spirit

-One God who is Mighty to Save and lets us know that we are his children.

To sum up the answer of who is the Church, we see in scripture that the Church is all people whom God called out of this world, who responded in faith to his Son and live with the promise of salvation both now and to come. 

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “I’ve been to church, and all of that sounds nice, but it does not reflect a reality that I know.”  I ask you again, “what are you doing here?”

During year A of our lectionary we focus on Mathew’s Gospel and as we have seen over the past weeks you can start to pick out some themes as we progress through the year:

  1. Jesus us the fulfillment of Israel's scriptures.
  1. Jesus is the new authoritative new teacher of the law: Mathew states the upholding of Jesus and the Law.  In MT's gospel Jesus gets mad at the Pharisees not for following the law, but instead they didn't follow it well enough and is the new authoritative source for reading the law.  Jesus wants us to read the law but in Mathew's gospel trough Jesus as the new teacher of the law.  Not to dispose of it.  As Pastor Glenn has shown us, Jesus has a perspective on the world where weeds are permitted to grow with grain, where seed is scattered with reckless abandon, and abundance abounds.
  2. A third theme focuses on the coming Son of Man and judge…from a perspective only Jesus could show us.

Matthew chapters 9-13 in particular center on Jesus ministry as a healer and include:

  1. Jesus healing of a paralytic man
  2. Jesus “calls” Matthew
  3. The healing of Jarius’ daughter
  4. The healing of the two blind men
  5. And where Jesus heals the hand of a man

Our Gospel reading today (Matthew 9:9-13) is the second story in the sequence I have listed and at first is seemingly out of place. It is a story about a man that is “called out.”  The truth is we all have a call story. A binding element in Matthew’s story and Jesus’ healing of the paralytic man is 9:12, we see that sin is at the heart of Jesus’ healing ministry.  In the case of the paralytic man, sin was likely associated with the man’s physical condition.  In the case of Matthew it was his profession.  In either case they receive forgiveness from Jesus is spite of how they felt or what they were told, not because of something they did but instead because of what Jesus saw in them.  Moreover, for the tax collector, this acceptance by Jesus was not just extended to one of Jesus’ many followers but to one of the twelve.  In other words, among those commissioned by Jesus to heal others is an individual who was once “sick” and in need of a physician.  Could it be that Matthew truly knows what it means to be healed?  It is in this context that it makes complete sense that Matthew’s “call story” is placed in the middle of Jesus healing ministry.  This makes Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:8 even more real for Matthew and us today, “you received without payment, give without payment.”

Perhaps now you are asking, “what is it you want me to give?  Money, time, mission work; do you want me to volunteer for something?”  To these notions remember that “volunteers, volunteer for voluntary organizations.  Disciples of Jesus Christ offer themselves to the Holy Spirit to be used for the mission of God.”

As members of Christ’s holy Church we come into this place to see what God has for us and in turn share our story with others.  When we look at Matthew’s “call story” in context we see it is truly a healing story.  The truth is that all of our “call stories” are healing stories in some way.  We were all broken and then made whole in Jesus Christ.  Knowing now what it means to be called we can now see ourselves as a church as a people that are healed or called out, not because of what we have done but because of what Christ has done and what the Spirit continues to do through our church.  Freely we have received, so freely we share the hope, faith, and love we have as members of the Church of Jesus Christ. 

We are called to live intentionally about how we point to and reflect God’s love as people who are brought into this building to be sent out to offer healing and forgiveness to all of God’s people.  Who is the church?  We are called, we are healed, brought together in the name of Jesus Christ and sent out into the world to share God’s forgiveness with a hurting and broken world.  Share love today, tell your story…Invite someone to church.    

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