Do you remember two weeks ago when we talked about the story of Doubting Thomas, how I wished that the crowds we had on Easter Sunday had hung around for one more week? Do you remember that? I wanted them to hang around for one more week just in case – just in case any of them had and doubts whatsoever – or were skeptical about Jesus and the resurrection. I wanted them to hear that all of us have our doubts from time to time – and that a solid faith can actually be fed by healthy doubt. That it’s okay to question faith – and the reality of God – and the resurrection. And then – to hear how to handle those doubts based on the overwhelming evidence for God and the resurrection.
Do you remember that? Now if you weren’t here two weeks ago – or if you want to hear that message again – you can find it on our website. And that’s not to say that the messages you hear every week from pastor Becca or me aren’t important. They are. But it’s just that some need to be heard by people who – well – by people who just aren’t here all that often. They are still our brothers and sisters in Christ – I just have this tremendous hope that we would see them more often.
And let me tell you why. Today’s message is one that – again – I wish that our Easter Sunday crowd had hung around just a little longer to hear. I’m going to talk about the church – and why we need the local church – and why the local church matters. And when I preach a sermon like this – sometimes I feel like I’m – well – like I’m preaching to the choir. Again – the people who probably need to hear this message the most – are those who are not here. For those of you who are here all the time – I want you to hear that I appreciate the fact that you already understand why the local church is important.
And yet – there just might be someone here today who needs to hear this. Maybe you’re new to church. Or maybe you once had a bad church experience. Or you found it boring or irrelevant. Ok yeah – I know. Smetimes that happens. But thanks for being here – and for giving us another chance.
Now you know that the church is more than just this place – this body of believers – gathered together as Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church. We are part of a larger church body called the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, otherwise known as the ELCA. And the ELCA is a part of the larger church – what we can call the universal church – which is made up of Christians – disciples of Jesus Christ – of every denomination – all around the world. So we are a part of this universal church precisely because we are a part of the local church here at the corner of Clarence Center Road and Elm in the heart of Clarence Center.
Now – I want you to consider for a moment – consider what your life might be like if this church – if Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church were not here. That it simply did not exist. That the Clarence Center United Methodist Church down the street did not exist. That Epiphany UCC church down the other way down the street did not exist. That none of the local churches that you know of – that you’ve ever been a part of – what if – what if they did not exist.
What if a whole generation of believers – from years and years ago – had suddenly decided that they could be believers – but who also believed that they did not need to be attached to a local church!
Now let’s take that thought all the way back to the beginning. What if those first disciples had felt that way? What if they thought, “We don’t need to write any Gospels. We don’t need to write any letters to churches – ‘cause there aren’t any local churches to write letters to. No – we’ll just sit around and wait until the Lord returns.”
Do you see? Do you see why the local church matters? Of course you do! It has always mattered. And why you matter. Why just the fact that you are here matters. To make sure that the Good News of Jesus Christ is passed on to the next generation. What if we weren’t here to do that?
You know that I am fond of saying – that the church is always just one generation from becoming extinct. If we were not here as a church for the next generation of believers – if we were not here as the local church – then how in the world is the next generation going to hear about and know about and experience the love of Christ? Because it is precisely in the local church that we learn about who God is as He has revealed Himself in the person of His Son Jesus Christ. It is precisely in and through the local church that we see Christ in action in the world.
Now – to be sure – I believe that this also happens in the home. In fact – it needs to happen in the home. I am convinced that faith is caught and taught most often in the home. But you need – I need – the local church to be partners with parents – with grandparents – whoever it is in the home who is responsible for passing on the faith to the next generation. And what that faith looks like – what the love of Christ looks like – when it is experienced first-hand in the home AND in the local church.
It’s kind of a worn out phrase by now – but when it comes to passing on our faith – it takes a village to raise a child – it takes a village called the local church to help family members pass on the Christian faith to the next generation.
Well – I love – I absolutely love our reading today from Acts chapter 2. These six verses from the end of the second chapter of Acts are THE best description of what the local church looks like that you will read anywhere. Churches that model themselves after these verses are what I like to call an Acts 2 church. In fact, I love to say that we are Romans 12 Christians living in an Acts 2 church. And the last time I preached on Romans 12 I asked you to make a copy of Romans 12 and tape it to your bathroom mirror. I won’t ask for a show of hands to see how many of you have done that, but if you’re not sure what it says, write it down now so you can look it up later. Romans 12. How are you going to remember that? First, you’re going to take a Roman holiday. Then, how many eggs in a dozen? Twelve. So you’re going to take a Roman holiday with a dozen eggs. Hey! That’s just how I remember things. And now you won’t forget either.
But see if these things form Acts 2 describe us here at Zion. See if you agree with me that we are an Acts 2 church.
The first thing you should see is that each week we gather for worship. It is here – in the local church – that the Lord is worshipped. One of the primary tasks of the local church is to provide opportunities for worship – to worship together as a body – to worship together as brothers and sisters in Christ – to worship the One Lord who is the God and Father and Savior of us all. Worship by the way is one of the six marks of discipleship that we hold up as being of primary importance for those who would call themselves disciples of Jesus Christ.
Then there is instruction. Verse 42 of Acts 2 tells us that the church – the worshipping community – “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” One of the pitfalls of do it yourself religion – or do it yourself Christianity – of what’s called the Lone Ranger approach to Christianity – is this. How do you know if what you believe is true? How do you know? When we participate in worship – or in a Bible study group – or a confirmation class – we are being instructed. We are learning what the Scriptures have to say about faith – about Jesus Christ – about the things that matter to God. And this is best done in and through the local church.
Then there is fellowship. Not only did those first Christians devote themselves to worship and the Apostles’ teaching, but they also joined in fellowship. Again – thank God for the local church. You know by now that I think that the church – the local church – needs to be a fun place to be. We need to laugh together. I think we Christians don’t spend enough time laughing with each other. Notice I didn’t say laughing at each other, but with each other. But in order to do that, we need to spend time together. Work with each other. Study with each other. Serve with each other. Just find ways to get to know each other. That’s what the local church is for.
And finally there is Evangelism. Read the book of Acts and just notice how many times it says that the church grew in numbers. Our job as the local church is to reach out with the Good News of Jesus Christ – through what we say – and quite frankly – how we say it – but perhaps more importantly – by how we live our lives. By what we do. Quite frankly – this is where Romans 12 comes in. And you’re going to have to look it up. But here in the local church is where we learn what it means to be sincere, authentic witnesses to the community for Jesus Christ. Showing what the church – the body of Christ looks like, and what it is really all about.
So there you have it. Why we need to local church. Worship. Instruction. Fellowship. Evangelism. If you take the first four letters of each word – it spells wife. Worship. Instruction. Fellowship. Evangelism.
Folks – there are too many people out there who want and need a place to call their church home. Whether here – or in some other local church. Even though I think this is a great church – I can’t and I won’t even begin to pretend that this is the only place where people are going to be fed. But people are going to go where they are fed. This is not the only place where people can find what they’re looking for in a local church. You know that I don’t care where people go as long as they go.
But it is my firm belief that churches that are modeled after the Acts 2 church model – churches where worship, instruction, fellowship, and evangelism are valued – where children are treasured – where our elders are respected – where all are welcome – these are the churches that make a difference. And that’s the kind of church that I want to be a part of.
If you’ve come here today wondering why you’re here. Or if you’ve ever contemplated going it alone – or perhaps you’re content with taking a seat on the sidelines – I hope if nothing else –I hope today I have given you reason to stop – and to think – and perhaps even to pray – about your life as a disciple of Jesus Christ within the body of Christ in the local church.
I hope you see why we need the local church – and why church matters. Without the local church – Christianity would have withered and died centuries ago. So thank you for being here today. Thank you for helping to make this church what it is. Amen