What do you think of when you hear the word church? Your mind might turn to thoughts of buildings and services, robes and sermons, tea and buns. For some, it might be something that you have to get through for an hour or so once a week then you’re free until next Sunday; for others, they don’t even make it - church is what ruins a Sunday morning lie in.I’m glad you’ve decided not to have a lie in this morning!
Since I’ve arrived, I’ve been trying to get to know you, trying to discover what you think of church and how we can continue to be and do church here in this part of Fermanagh. Each of us will have particular ideas and preferences on how things should be done. This morning I want us to discover what God thinks of the church.
The first thing to see is that the church is God’s idea. It’s not that the first disciples sat round thinking, what can we do - I know, let’s start a church. The church is God’s idea - we find that in our gospel reading. Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus says he is spot on. It is on this truth, that Jesus is the Christ/Messiah that Jesus says ‘on this rock I will build my church.’ See how Jesus describes it? My church. Jesus founds the church, his church, but he doesn’t then abandon it - he makes a promise: ‘on this rock I will build my church.’ As people come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, they are added to the church - Jesus is still building his church.
That’s a great relief, knowing that Jesus has promised to build his church - not a building of stone, but a building of people. But just because Jesus is building his church doesn’t mean we can sit back and say, well, he’s doing it, we don’t need to do anything. Remember that Jesus sent out his disciples to proclaim the gospel - it’s as we share the good news that Jesus builds his church.
This gathering of people isn’t my church, nor your church - it is Jesus’ church. He is in charge, as we seek to obey him through his word. Are we helping to grow the church through our words, our welcome and our witness?
The church is God’s idea. But more than that, the church is also God’s people. To help us grasp this point, the apostle Paul in our first reading gives us the picture of the human body. He says that the church is the body of Christ: ‘For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.’ (1 Cor 12:12)
Just think for a moment of your body - there are lots of different parts - hands, feet, eyes, ears, nose, legs, arms and so on. Each is different from the rest, yet each is needed for the special thing only they can do. Paul says it is the same in the church. Though we’re all different, each of us come together to form the body, the church. Each of us have gifts, things given by God to be used for his glory and the good of others. But what if everyone only had the one gift?
We’re just past Hallowe’en, but as Paul describes these freaky bodies, it’s the stuff of horror movies: It would be like the whole body being an eye. Just one big eye. It would be great for seeing, but it wouldn’t be able to hear or speak. Or imagine another body made up of just one big ear. The hearing would be great, but it couldn’t smell anything.
In our bodies, God has arranged all the various parts to work together, and it’s the same in the church. God has brought each of us here to be a part of this church so that as we work together, we can glorify God and help each other live for God. We need each other, serving and working in so many different ways - each playing our own special part. So are you playing your part? Are you using your gifts and talents and abilities through the church? It might be in reading the Bible clearly, so that we share in the readings; it could be in singing; or praying; or hospitality; or visiting someone to read the Bible with them; or encouraging people; or teaching the Bible to the children and young people; or administration; or wisdom in decisions and serving on vestry... we could go on and on...
We’re in this together - as someone once said, church is not a spectator sport. ‘If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.’
The church is God’s idea; the church is God’s people. Finally, we find that the church is also God’s purpose. Every so often we hear some shocking statistics - church attendance is down; few young people attending church; and church buildings closing and being sold for carpet warehouses or restaurants. You could be left wondering - does the church have a future?
If we fast forward to the very end of this world, at the very end of the Bible, we discover that the church is very much part of God’s purposes. The church is described as the bride of Christ - the one for whom Jesus died in order to save, so that the hope of heaven is described as the wedding feast - heaven as an endless party celebrating the unity of Jesus and his people.
So in Revelation 19, the great multitude cries out ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready; to her it has been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure - for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.’
The church is there right at the end, made holy by her husband. This is the future that awaits the church, endless bliss in glory with the Lord Jesus. It’s as if the wedding invitation has arrived with your name on it; or better yet, the proposal of marriage has been made. I’m sure many of you watched the royal wedding back in April - when Prince William married Kate Middleton. Kate’s life has been completely changed by her marriage as she became a Princess, living in a palace. King Jesus comes with this proposal, this invitation - to be united to him, part of his bride on that day, to spend eternity with him somewhere even grander than Buckingham Palace - in the new Jerusalem. Will you accept his invitation? Will you be there on that day?
The church is holy - made pure by Jesus’ death for the forgiveness of our sins; the church is catholic - as men and women, boys and girls from all over the world come together as members of the one body. God’s plan for the church is beyond what we could possibly imagine. Will we be a part of it?
This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 6th November 2011.