The Anatomy of the Church

    Jan 24, 2016

    Passage: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31

    Preacher: William (Tex) Culton

    Detail:

    I’m going to try to weave these three scriptures together into an understanding of what we are as an institution and what we should never be as a church.  I’m also going to refer to a couple of other scripture passages (the Epistle for today, 1Cor. 12: 12-31), but what I’m going for here is the continuous message of God’s presence and promises and the many different ways we respond.

    Nehemiah gathered the people together who had traveled back from their Babylonian bondage into the square by the Water Gate in Jerusalem.  They told Ezra, the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. (They wanted to hear it presumably because many of them had no access to it when they were in slavery.  They didn’t know exactly what it said.  Their knowledge consisted of what people remembered from the book and passed on orally.

    Let me suggest that this afternoon or early evening over lunch or dinner before you get involved in another activity, begin sharing the stories and teachings you remember from the Bible with one another.  You will be surprised at how many stories you remember and yet how little you remember of the specifics of the stories. 

    If I had the nerve, I would take time to run that exercise here and now. 

    When I was in high school we had a youth group gathering in the basement of our church and made believe that we were in a communist country where the Bible was banned and meeting as a Christian group was against the law.  So we sang our hymns softly and tried to reconstruct the Bible from our memories; sharing verses we knew and stories and the life and teaching of Jesus.  It was humbling and pretty pathetic to consider that the future of the faith depended on our knowledge of the Bible.  We all pledged to read it more and memorize more of it and be grateful that we could worship freely.

    So the people gathered: men and women who could understand.  Ezra opened the book and all the people stood up.  Ezra read from the book and gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. 

    Do you know what the people did when they heard the words of the law?  THEY WEPT!

    It’s hard to imagine a bunch of Presbyterians weeping after listening to the morning readings, but then we have not had the truth banned from us for forty years.  To hear that God really had chosen them (these slaves, despised and rejected and held in bondage) and that God would be with them and that God was mightier than the idols of their captors and would surely bless them.  To go from no people to God’s people brought tears to their eyes.

    Nehemiah, the governor and Ezra the priest and scribe and the Levites who taught the people said, “this day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.  (Perhaps they were mourning all they had missed or all the laws they had unknowingly broken in captivity….I have a friend who says, “Don’t cry over skim milk”)  Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the JOY OF THE LORD IS YOUR STRENGTH!”

    Celebrate! ...but share your celebration with those for whom nothing is prepared.  Joy, Joy, Joy!  It will make God glad and your celebration witnesses God’s joy and knowing God is pleased will give you strength!

    What if you vision of God is that of a very angry judge just waiting to punish you for any infraction of the rules?  You would hardly celebrate.  But rather than feel guilty of breaking the law, and the covenant that put them in slavery in the first place.  Rather than feeling grief over the laws broken out of their ignorance, they were told to celebrate.  God was happy with them, they were forgiven, and they were honored and highly regarded and trusted and loved!  God was revealed as the creator, savior and sustainer of the chosen people.

    Here was the father welcoming back the prodigal and throwing a party! 

    The response to worship is celebration.  Even if, in the process you realize that you have been negligent in following God’s will, celebrate that your negligence has been revealed.  Truth from God is worth celebrating.  It is always Good News! 

    “Whomsoever” it is not always received as good news.  Fast forward to Nazareth where Jesus was raised by a local carpenter, Joseph.  He had left the business when he was 30 and went off to Galilee and the word that came back from there was that he was quite a preacher and healer.  So when he came home he was invited to speak at his home synagogue. [Local boy makes good!  Come hear our favorite son wax eloquently on the prophets, and perhaps he’ll work a miracle for the home town crowd]

    Instead he read from Isaiah 60: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free. To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

    Then he rolled up the scroll and gave it to the attendant and sat down. That’s what the teachers did when they were about to comment on the Holy Scriptures. 

    If I had been poor or blind, I would have been making my way to the front of that meeting room hoping that Jesus would have some $ or a healing for me. If I owed a lot of money I would have been waiting for the Jubilee to start where all debts were cancelled and land redistributed!

    They all waited.  Not a sound was made.  Not a movement discernable.

    Jesus said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

    I don’t know what they were expecting, but I do know that people come to church expectantly.  We all are seeking something (unless we are being dragged by our parents) form the worship.  In a way we all challenge the church to fulfill our expectations without saying as much. 

    If we are in grief, we are looking for comfort.  If we are worried, we are looking for encouragement.  If we are sad, we are looking for sympathy.  If we are angry we are looking for affirmation.  If we are afraid, we are looking for protection.  If we are happy, we are looking for someone to share our joy. 

    You tell me how any church can meet those expectations every week!  (I have expectations also as a pastor)

    So the people of Nazareth waited for Jesus’ explanation of his first statement.  They did not get Norman Vincent Peale’s “the Power of Positive Thinking” or Joel Olstien’s smiling Prosperity Gospel.  Instead they received a rebuke.  He was not a circus act who would perform miracles in order to be accepted as the Messiah.  And if they couldn’t accept him at face value, God would visit his favor on the Gentiles!

    To say his message was not well received is an understatement.  They angrily rose up and took him out to throw him off a cliff!

    Those who heard Ezra read the Torah wept, those who heard Jesus read the prophet, called for a lynching.  We never know quite what to expect when we interpret the Holy Scriptures.

    So how do these two scriptures weave together into a garment that we might be able to wear as a church?

    What do they reveal about God’s expectations of our behavior after we are presented with a message? 

    First, I must go with the celebration expectation.  God expects us to celebrate God’s love and share it with those for whom nothing has been prepared.  That can be a neighbor, a “none”, a poor family, a friend who did not get to worship, and a colleague who is without family and would enjoy a happy meal with you.  Celebrate what you have discovered of the love of God and reflect that love to one another and the stranger within your gates!

    Secondly, we must take the teachings of Christ seriously enough to put them into practice.  To live as though Jesus is coming again to claim his kingdom and prepare the way for him. 

    Jesus said that he would give us the power to be the “sons of God!”  We would do mightier works than he did when he walked among us in the flesh.  We are to believe what he said and seek how we might live as the sons and daughters of God.  We are to fulfill TODAY, the promise of Isaiah….

    Reach out to the poor, the captive and the blind, and proclaim a jubilee!  That seems to mean be FORGIVING!  What did Paul say to the Corinthians? “ If you have a grudge against your neighbor, go to him and solve the problem before coming and receiving communion.” (Have to look this up)

    In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians in the first century of the life of the Christian church, he urged UNITY!  Here was a church filled with gifted people, and the gifts they had were from God’s Holy Spirit!  And they were not using them but criticizing one another.  He told them and us that they were the “body of Christ.”  They were all different, but NEEDED ONE ANOTHER!  They couldn’t function as individuals, but only as a fellowship that acted as a body acts to bring the Spirit of the Lord’s love alive.  The world is to look at us and see Jesus!

    He was not an exclusive club.  He was not stingy.  He was compassionate to a fault!  He was respectful of everyone.  He was inviting.  He was joyful.  He was forgiving.  He was truthful.  He was healing.  He was passionate about revealing his Father to the world as God really was.  He was life giving.  He was caring.  He was the embodiment of God’s grace and that is what we are to be!

    He didn’t read from the law, but the prophet who came closest to describing the suffering servant son of God.

    The garment I am weaving is a robe, a coat of many colors, an image of Christ that is who we are as a church.  The anatomy of the church is the “Body of Christ” with every part working in UNITY to reveal God’s love to the world.