A week from today we will be celebrating a birthday. Bet you didn’t know that. No – it’s not my birthday. We’ll be celebrating the birthday of the church. The official name for this birthday is Pentecost. Every year we celebrate it 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
We call Pentecost the birthday of the church because it was on that day – nearly 2,000 years ago – that the Holy Spirit first came to the disciples. And it changed them. And they began to preach and to proclaim the Good News of Jesus – crucified and risen from the dead.
So we celebrate the birthday of the church next week. And I want to invite you to join in the celebration by wearing red when you come here for worship next week. It’s okay if you forget – I promise not to single you out if you forget.
But I think it’s important that we talk about the church. So that’s what we’re going to talk about today. What it means to be the church –– what it means to be the church on purpose.
So let me ask you. Does church still matter? Anybody? Yeah. If it didn’t then I don’t think I would be here. I don’t think any of us would be here today if the church didn’t matter.
But the truth is that the church does matter. And I think it is a joy and a privilege to be a part of Christ’s church on earth. And quite frankly – I want you to know that I am particularly thankful to be here at this congregation – Zion Lutheran Church. It’s hard for me to believe, but I have served among you as your pastor for 23 years now. We have been partners in ministry for 23 years. Wow! That’s how long some of you have put up with me. That’s a long time. I know this isn’t a Baptist church, but can I hear you say, “Amen” to that? It’s okay. I know, we’re Lutherans. That wasn’t too hard now, was it?
So we’re all in agreement. The church still matters. Touching hearts. Changing lives. Making a difference. All in the name of Jesus. After all, we are his hands. His feet. His voice.
One of the concerns I have is that in the United States, Canada, and Europe, there seems to be a decline in the number of people who still think church matters. In places like China and Africa, the church is exploding – just growing like crazy. But in our own country – attendance is down. And it’s not just us Lutherans. It’s across the country – across all denominations.
And I find that phenomenon amazing. I find the statistics amazing because we have a message to proclaim – we still have the same Good News message to proclaim that those first disciples of Jesus proclaimed following the day of Pentecost. This almost sounds like a Pentecost sermon, doesn’t it! But I want you to know that our message is the same. God is love. And God showed his love for us by sending His Son Jesus to live among us – to die on a cross – in our place – so that we might be reconciled to God.
So through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – we are forgiven – and we have the hope and the promise of eternal life with God forever. That’s Good News! That’s THE Good News! And though we may change how it is that we get that Good News message across – we will never mess with the message.
So – now that you’ve heard this Good News – what are you going to do with it? What are we as a church going to do with it? How can we be a church on purpose?
In our Scripture lesson from John’s Gospel, Jesus prays for the church. He prays that we might all be one – that we might be unified in the work to which we are called.
So first – being the church on purpose means that our leaders are people of faith. Men and women who know Jesus Christ – not just know about him – but people who know him in a very real and personal way.
And what is true of our leaders is also true for all of us, wouldn’t you agree? If we’re going to be a church on purpose, well we all need to be people of faith. People of genuine faith. 24/7/365. People who know Jesus in a very real and personal way.
Folks – the church still matters. That statement is as true today as it ever was. If we are going to be the church today – if we still believe that church still matters – then we need to be the church on purpose. And remember – remember – the church is not a building. Like that old Sunday School song tells us, “I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together.”
We don’t just go to church. We are the church. And quite frankly, that’s why I don’t like the phrase, “See you in church.” People of God, hear me out. You are the church. And we need to be the church on purpose 24/7/365.
Eight years ago, I was in Los Angeles doing continuing education through the Beeson Institute. I had the privilege of spending a day and a half at Saddelback Church with thousands of others listening to Pastor Rick Warren. Some of you know that name. He is the author of The Purpose Driven Life. But before Warren wrote the Purpose Driven Life, he wrote another book called the The Purpose Driven Church.
A lot of pastors have that book sitting on their bookshelves. I’ve actually read it. It’s been a while, but I’ve actually read it. Rick Warren discovered in a variety of Bible passages – what he calls God’s five purposes for the church.
Here at Zion, we like to talk about the six marks of discipleship. Now I know that you know what those six marks of discipleship are. I’m sure if I were to ask you – you could tell me at least three of them. We print all six every weekend in our Mission Minutes, and every month in our newsletter.
The six marks of discipleship overlap with the five purposes. But the five purposes of the church are somewhat different. So let me ask you – again, it’s okay to talk to me now – let me see if you can guess what any one of the five purposes of the church are. Now, before you start shouting out answers, I know I may be asking for trouble, but I want to know what you think. (Worship; Ministry; Evangelism; Fellowship; Discipleship).
Okay. Not too bad. The five purposes of the church – again, according to Rick Warren – are:
1. Worship. This is also one of the six marks of discipleship. Worship weekly. That’s w-e-e-k-l-y not w-e-a-k-l-y. Worship every week.
2. Ministry – or serving others. (This also is one of the six marks of discipleship.)
3. Evangelism – in other words, telling others about Jesus.
4. Fellowship – having fun together. By the way – how many of you think that among everything else – the church ought to be a fun place to be?
5. Discipleship – teaching folks what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
This fifth purpose is pretty broad, and I will suggest that it includes all of the marks of discipleship not yet mentioned, in other words, reading the Bible every day, praying daily, developing spiritual friends, and giving of time, talent, and treasure.
Now there’s not enough time for me to unwrap each purpose in detail for you today. But let it be enough for us to know today that it certainly is important for us to be a church on purpose. It’s important for us to be Christians – disciples of Jesus Christ – on purpose.
Remember what I’ve told you before? Being a Christian is more than just going to church on Sunday/Saturday. Being a Christian – a disciple of Jesus Christ – is something that you are – something that you practice –every day – again 24/7/365.
So as we move through the season of Pentecost between now and the end of November – depending on the lessons for the day – I want to hi-light how it is that we can be the church – how it is we can be disciples of Jesus Christ – how it is that we can live out the Good News message of Jesus Christ on purpose.
And before I say Amen, and finish this sermon, let me just bring you back to the prayer that Jesus is praying on behalf of his disciples in our Gospel reading today. I hope you noticed by extension that Jesus is praying for you and me as well when he says, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word,…” That’s you and me, folks. So Jesus is also praying for us. For you and me.
So let’s listen for the five purposes in this prayer that Jesus prays.
In verse 4 he prays to the Father, “I have brought you GLORY on earth.” That would be what? Worship, right? Worship is giving glory and praise to God.
Verse 6: “I REVEALED you to those whom you gave me out of this world.” That’s evangelism.
Verse 8: “I GAVE THEM THE WORDS you gave me.” That’s teaching or discipleship.
Verse 12: “While I was WITH them, I protected them, and kept them safe.” That’s fellowship. Being together for each other – and yes – having fun together at the same time.
And Verse 18: “As you sent me into the world, I HAVE SENT THEM into the world.” That’s ministry.
Folks, Jesus prayed for us, the church, that we, the church, might learn the purposes of the church. That we might be the church on purpose. I want to learn more about what that means. You with me? I’m hoping this summer we can go deeper together in what it means to be the church.
Why? Because the church still matters. Because the Good News message of Jesus Christ still matters. So – let’s be the church. Let’s be the church on purpose. Let’s be the church together.