Today is the 3rd in a 4-part series entitled “Why Church?” Because many Christians are uncomfortable inviting others to worship, the aim of this series is to help us become a more invitational congregation by equipping us with an understanding of why it is important to invite others as well as a some practical ways to issue an invitation to people we know.
Sermon #1: “Do You Know Your Own Story?”
Sermon #2: “Sainthood: Being an Everyday Christian Every Day” (All Saints Sunday)
Sermon #4: “Welcome!”
Scripture: Ephesians 3.2-12
Two weeks ago I encouraged us to be prepared to have an answer to the question, “Why should I go to church.” In that message, I recommended putting pen to paper and writing down the reasons you yourself remain connected to a community of faith such as this one. This morning I’d like to take a few minutes to look at one reason that Paul gives us.
But before jumping into that, let me ask the same question I asked last week. By show of hands, who here has been praying for someone specifically in regards to inviting them to worship next week? (show of hands) OK, by show of hands, who has extended that invitation? (show of hands)
Last week I told you that I was going to invite my barber sometime this week. As you can tell, I paid a visit to him this week. And I can tell you that I did invite him. But I have to confess that it didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. Nothing bad happened; he didn’t resist me or turn me down. In fact, if anything, he may not have even known he’d just been invited! My confession is that my invitation probably wasn’t the most obvious invitation that’s ever been given. I tell you this because I want you to know that just like most of you, this isn’t something that comes naturally for me, and because I’ve never done it before, I’m still trying to figure out how to do it in a way that feels unforced or weird. Regardless, though, I’m committed to figuring it out because I still think it’s what God calls us to do as part of our own discipleship.
Another aspect of our discipleship—or our personal walk with Jesus Christ—is understanding the fact that God has chosen the Church to be the vehicle through which he reveals himself. It’s the Church through whom God reveals himself to the people of this world. The Church is, after all, the Body of Christ, right? When Jesus walked the earth, was he not literally the face of God? Isn’t that what we celebrate at Christmas – God becoming human; God taking on human flesh and blood? Jesus once told his disciples, If you have really known me, you will also know the Father. From now on you know him and have seen him (John 14.7) How? Because they were looking at the face of Jesus. So, Jesus was the embodiment of God the Father, and it was through him that the Father revealed himself and his will to the people.
And today nothing has changed. God still reveals himself to our world, but it’s no longer through the person called Jesus of Nazareth. Rather, it’s through those in whom his Spirit lives and dwells. You and me. The Church. The Body of Christ.
Now, let’s be very clear about something: the fact that God has chosen to reveal himself through the Church is not because we’re somehow better or holier than everyone else. Not at all, because we know that’s not true. In fact, it’s been observed by more than one that there are a lot of non-Christians who are a lot more Christ-like than some professed Christians we know. So God hasn’t chosen us because we’re always the best example of a godly person, but simply because it’s what he’s chosen to do.
Does he reveal himself in other ways? I’d say he reveals his handiwork in a myriad of other ways, yes. Just look around creation and you’ll see evidence of God at work. But a revelation of himself—I believe it’s through his Church, Body of Christ, that God makes himself known.
God revealing himself and his will is at the heart of our reading this morning from the book of Ephesians. Listen again to v. 2, where Paul is writing to the new Believers in Ephesus. He writes, You heard about the responsibility to distribute God’s grace, which God gave me for you, right? Paul reminds them that God laid upon him the responsibility of “distributing God’s grace” to anyone who would listen. That is, to give, to show, to teach, to impart.
And starting in v. 3 he brings up the idea that what God had revealed to him, which he was to distribute to everyone he met, was previously a secret, but had been revealed to him. In other words, God revealed to truth about his Church to Paul, then told Paul to go out and tell everyone. Earlier generations didn’t know this hidden plan that God has now revealed to his holy apostles and prophets through the Spirit. This plan is that Gentiles would be co-heirs and part of the same body, and that they would share with the Jews in the promises of God in Christ Jesus.
Whether you realize it or not, that was a significant and extremely controversial proclamation to make. He’s saying that all along, from the moment God first called Abraham, from when he brought Joseph to Egypt, from the time he called Moses to lead his people out of Egypt, from the time he gave Moses the law and called them his Chosen People—from as far back as all that, God’s plan was to include non-Jews as part of his special family.
This is very similar to what Jesus himself said that tax collectors and thieves and prostitutes—those who don’t even try to pretend to be good—are closer to the Kingdom of God than those who wear their religion on their sleeves. And to the Jews in Jesus’ day, this was blasphemous. Gentiles part of the Chosen? The Church, Paul says, is the new vehicle through which God would reveal himself…AND through which the truly Good News would be made known to anyone who has ears to listen and hear.
After Paul met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus—where he was going to persecute Christians—he came to realize the depth of his own depravity. For as religious as he was as a Pharisee, for as much as he WANTED to please God, he knew that in reality he was far from God, and was the last person whom God would likely choose to build the Church. And yet he says, God gave his grace to me, the least of all God’s people, to preach the good news about the immeasurable riches of Christ to the Gentiles. And then he comes back to the revealed secret of God’s: God sent me to reveal the secret plan that had been hidden since the beginning of time by God, who created everything.
And then in v. 10 he says something I find very significant: God’s purpose is now to show the rulers and powers in the heavens the many different varieties of his wisdom through the church (vv. 8-10). Let me read that again: God’s purpose is now to show the rulers and powers in the heavens the many different varieties of his wisdom through the church. God’s purpose is to reveal to everyone—from the least person in this world to the most powerful entity in the spirit world—“the many different varieties of God’s wisdom.” How? Through the Church! You and me. And everyone else who calls on the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Why be a part of the Church? Because the Church is where God is working to transform our broken and hurting world. The truly Good News that transforms lives comes out of the Church. Where else will people hear:
- That broken lives can not only get better, but become fully restored and healed?
- That every person is created with a unique purpose that goes way beyond earning a wage, and that when they discover and live into that purpose they will experience a kind of joy that’s nearly indescribable?
- That there is a power available to them to accomplish things far greater than they ever imagined, and that those things can have a tremendous impact not only on a single person, but the world?
- That mourning is real, but that it will give way to joy?
- That a day is coming when all tears will be wiped away and all sorrow will turn to gladness and joy?
- That they can be forgiven of their worst offenses—and we mean their WORST offenses?
- That their identity is not based on what they do—neither their job nor their accomplishments nor the bad things they do?
- That they can be happy and fulfilled even if they’re not wealthy?
- Where else are people going to be told that they are loved tremendously regardless of their life situation or the choices they make or the trouble they’re in?
Sure, there are people out and about who have no need for the church. They’re fine as they are. They’re self-sufficient. Self-made. They were around in Jesus’ day, too. And do you know what Jesus said about them? He said, I didn’t come for them; I didn’t come for those who don’t need me. I didn’t come for the healthy, I came for the sick.
I can say for myself that I’m not one of those people. I do what I can to be as good a person as I can, but I’m all too aware of my shortcomings and my sins. I for one know that I need a Savior, because every time I try to live a pleasing life in God’s eyes based on my own strength and know-how, I fall and fail. Every time! And I believe there are lots of people like me in our community. The biggest difference is that by God’s grace, somewhere along the way somebody invited me to give Jesus Christ a try. That is, to REALLY give him a try. To REALLY hear the Good News. To be a part of a movement that’s committed to sharing this good news with others, so that they might experience the joy and life God’s shown to me. And to you.
We believe and know that Jesus Christ is the true source of life. Someone else not believing that doesn’t make it not true. A person who’s never seen an airplane in their life may look upon one and not believe that it can fly through the air like a bird doesn’t mean it can’t fly through the air like a bird. We believe and know—not because we’re better or more deserving—the truth that Jesus Christ is the source of life. There is no entity in this world other than the Church who is proclaiming the truth of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the foundation of none but his Body, the Church. As good as other organizations and entities are, they are not eternal. But the Body of Christ is.
That’s why the Church.