John 17:13-24; Ephesians 5:25-32; Ephesians 2:19-22
If you recall from sometime last spring, I let you know that it was my intention – in fact – I think I made it something of a promise to you – that I would deliver a sermon series focusing on the church.
And if you’re keeping count – you’ll know that this is just the second sermon series I have ever worked on in 21 years. The second one! The first one – I hope you remember it – the first one was this summer when I did a sermon series on the book of Ephesians. So sermon series are a new thing for me – well – for all of us, I guess.
But why a sermon series on the church? Glad you asked. You see, I have a concern. It’s a concern not only for this church – this congregation – but for the church as a whole. And it’s because of all the things that are going on in the world today – all of the things that are going on in the culture of America today. I see certain trends that have been developing now for quite a number of years that I think we should all be concerned about.
Certain trends are emerging in our American society – trends that polling data confirm. Now polls tell us that somewhere between 87% and 90% of all Americans say they believe in God – or a god. But a growing number of Americans – especially younger Americans – who say they believe in God – perhaps they might even say that they follow Christ – but when asked which church they are affiliated with – a growing number respond “none.” None! Pollsters lump these folks together and call them “the nones.” N-O-N-E-S. We’re not talking about certain women who serve the Lord in the Roman Catholic Church. No. The nones I’m talking about have no religious affiliation. Some of the nones – some not all – will also tell you that they are “spiritual but not religious.” And as you’ve heard me say before – I have a big problem when people describe themselves with that phrase.
Now it’s interesting, when Nancy and I tell folks that we are both Lutheran pastors, can you guess where the conversation immediately turns? That’s right. Church and religion. So we weren’t surprised when our traveling companions on our recent trip to Africa started talking about church and religion. One of our co-travelers described himself to us as spiritual but not religious, saying he was a recovering Presbyterian, and that he believed in reincarnation. I asked him by what authority he believed what he believed, but he never did answer me. And just as an aside, I want you to know that resurrection – which is what Christians believe – is totally incompatible with reincarnation. I just want you to know that.
Folks – this is an example of the trend that I see developing in our country. For that reason, I want to talk with you today and the next five weeks about why church matters. Because I am convinced that it is through the church – and only through the church – that we can come to know who God is – specifically who God is as He has revealed Himself to us in the person of His Son Jesus Christ. Those who classify themselves as a “none” – N-O-N-E – when it comes to church affiliation – those who say they are spiritual but not religious – well – that kind of go it alone religion just isn’t going to cut it.
For that reason – I am here to tell you today that church matters. So I want to talk to you today about the church – and how it is that the Lord regards this thing that He calls the church.
Now – I am sure that many different images come to your mind when you even hear the word “church.” Most often, people think of the church as a building. And you would be right in thinking that. We are sitting inside a building that people call a church. But it is also my experience – that many of you understand that the church is more than a building. More to the point – the church is people. In fact – the best definition of the church I ever heard is this: The church is what is left over after the building burns down.
Another way to put this is to say that we – the church – we are the body of Christ. We are a body – a body of believers – and we belong to Christ. And certainly – when we talk about looking at the church from heaven’s perspective – one of the images that the Bible uses to talk about the church is as the body of Christ.
If you’re taking notes – you are taking notes, aren’t you? – if you’re taking notes – the reference here is I Corinthians 12:27. Where the Apostle Paul writes: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”
In the entire context of chapter 12 – I Corinthians chapter 12 – Paul is saying that just as your body – your physical body – is made up of many parts – you know – hands, feet, eyes and ears – and each part of the body plays a specific role in how the body functions – Paul is saying that we who are members of the church – disciples of Jesus Christ – we all play a role in the body of Christ just as the parts of our physical bodies play a role in how our bodies function.
He’s talking about spiritual gifts – and how we all have spiritual gifts that were given to us by the Holy Spirit at our baptisms. SO just as our bodies are made up of many parts – hands, feet, eyes, ears – and just as each of the parts of our bodies have a different function – so it is with each one of us. We are a part of the body of Christ. And each of us has an important role to play in making sure that this body that we are a part of – this body the church – functions – for God’s glory – for the benefit of others – and for our own good.
So what happens when one part of the body is missing? We suffer, right? The whole body suffers. That’s why I have a problem with “I can go it alone,” “spiritual but not religious,” believers who say church is not important. They’re wrong. Church is important. Church does matter!
So one of the ways in which the Lord looks at us who make up the church – one of the ways the church is viewed from heaven’s perspective – is that the church – and again, that’s you and me folks – that we the church are the body of Christ.
Another way that the church is looked at from heaven’s perspective is as the bride of Christ. That’s what we discover today in our reading from Ephesians chapter 5. The Bible calls the church the bride of Christ. Now I know – that the concept of the church as the bride of Christ may not be too appealing to most of us men. After all – a bride is someone who is – well – someone who is a woman – a woman all dressed in white.
But let me work through that with you for a moment. For those of us men who are married – or who someday hope to be – but for those of us who are already married, do you remember the way you looked at your wife – your bride – on that day you were married? Now I have been married to my bride for just over 30 years now – and I have more love and respect and concern for her now than I did 30 years ago when I said those words, “I do.” I did? Yes, I do. All I will say about that is that, it is just getting a whole lot better – especially after the kids left the house!
But to be quite honest – not that I wouldn’t be honest – but to be quite honest, I had no idea what I was getting into on September 5 of 1982 – but I remember Nancy walking down the aisle – escorted by her Mom and her Dad – all dressed in white. And I loved her.
So guys listen – and everyone else listen. Here’s what I want you to understand. When Jesus calls the church His bride – what He is saying is that He has tremendous love for His church. And it is His church. It’s not my church. It’s not your church. It’s His church. And He loved the church enough – He loved you and me enough to die for us – His church. He loved US enough to go all the way to the cross for you and for me – His church.
So Christ looks at the church the same loving way – with the same loving eyes – that a groom looks at his bride. And that’s a wonderful thing.
That’s why I also chose our reading today from John chapter 17. Read it again sometime this week and notice that Jesus prays for his followers – his disciples – AND all “…those who will believe in (Him) through their word.” That’s you and me folks. Jesus is praying for you and me. He prays for us because He loves us. And then He prays, “…that they may all be one.” Jesus prays for us that we might be one – one body in Christ.
So we are the body of Christ – we are the bride of Christ. And then there is another way that the church is seen from heaven’s perspective. The church is seen as a building – a temple – a temple made of living stones. Did you know that you are a living stone? That’s right. Mick Jagger may be a Rolling Stone – but you are a living stone!
The Bible tell us in I Peter, “…like living stones, let yourself be built into a spiritual house.” The book of Ephesians calls us “…a holy temple in the Lord – in whom you also are built together into a dwelling place for God.” John 1:14 says, “And the Word – Jesus – the Word became flesh and lived among us.” The Greek here means “to tabernacle” or “to set up a tent.” So Jesus sets up His tent among us. He chooses to live among us – in this temple – this body of believers that He calls His church.
So from heaven’s perspective – we are a temple – a spiritual house where God Himself lives – a building where Christ is the cornerstone – built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets.
Well – what does all of this tell us? I hope you are seeing by now that we are a part of something that is bigger than ourselves. And that something bigger is the church. And that’s why church matters.
We are the bride of Christ. And when we understand what that means – we’ll come to understand just how much Christ loves the church. He loved the church enough to go all the way to the cross in order to reconcile us to God the Father.
We are indeed one body – one body in Christ. Linked together as brothers and sisters in Christ. So do you know what that means? It means we’re family. And therefore – we need each other. Do it yourself religion – or even do it yourself Christianity fails on this one point alone. As Martin Luther said, “He who would find Christ must first find the church.”
And that’s why church matters.
I’m Pastor Randy, and I approved this message.