Sermon: "A Vision of the Church"


First in "Share The Vision" Series,
Delivered October 24, 2004 by Rev. John Schmidt.
Other sermons in this series - 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5
See also the Share the Vision campaign.

Theme: The goal of being faithful with what God has given isn't a new building, or even new ministry, but the moment in history when the bride of Christ, forgiven and pure, is presented to him by God.

audio The audio file of this sermon is available for download and listening in MP3 format.
Sermon Text: Revelation 19:6-9,21:1-5 and Matthew 13:44-46

Okay, many of you have received this already. It's no news to you. It's the brochure that has to do with the campaign. Inside there are all kinds of pictures of the new building and it gives all kinds of explanation about why we are doing it and then right there on the inside cover there is my picture, okay? And it's my 10:00 look. I've got a tie on and a coat. You received this in the mail and it's a good thing, but it's not me. This is not my basic idea of the church. You know if you go and talk to people on the street, a lot of them will say yeah, their idea of a church is a building, you know they got in mind if they live in a urban place some kind of a stone building. If they live out in the countryside they might have an idea of a white clapboard building in the midst of all kinds of trees changing in the fall. Picturesque, but still a building. But that's not what motivates me for ministry.

I started official ministry in Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship, which like Campus Crusade and Young Life are ministries that don't need buildings, because we see ministry as being lives being changed by Jesus Christ working in them through the power of the gospel and then as people's lives change you impact the lives of other people, you share the gospel with others so they can benefit and enjoy the richness of what God has shared with you and all of that happens without a building. In Japan, my building for ministry was a home office that was 7 x 10 and all that was in there was my books, my computer and my desk. That was it. And so you can even ask Debbie, we haven't had many conversations across the last 30 years of you know "wait until we get to the point that we have a capital campaign and raise money and build a new building." It just hasn't happened and yet if you take a look at this brochure when you get it, my picture is inside and I am going to be talking to you for several weeks about why I am passionate about this step this church is taking.

So I guess I owe you a bit of an explanation. Bricks and mortar, that's one image of the church. One vision of the church. Let's take a look on this video at another vision of the church.

(video slideshow plays - photos of people around the church and outside projects)

Well this is a little more like it. Because here is a picture of the church being people. Most of these shots were taken on just one Sunday here at Central and there is so much that's not up here. The work of the deacons as they go in to people's homes, the people that are a part of Angel Tree that go and share the gospel as they hand out presents, the people that are part of Habitat for Humanity working down in Sandtown. There are all kinds of things that are nowhere on this video, but what it does capture is that it's us. It's people. It's people who have gathered together because of their response to Jesus Christ because of the work of what He has done in their lives and so we gather together, we support one another, we go in to small groups together to encourage each other to grow and we have this intimate relationship with each other, we celebrate together on Sundays in worship, we help each other step out in to service. That's an image of the church that's vibrant. It's personal. And I can get excited about that kind of vision. And I am even willing to make a sacrifice for it. I am not willing to do that for a monument or a building, but I think I would be willing to sacrifice for you, for us. But that's also not why my picture is on this brochure and that's not why I am sharing with you today. As wonderful as it is to have this vision of a church being the people of God, being us assembled here, it's not what motivates me.

I want to read to you from the Book of Revelation. I am going to go in to the 19th chapter and then look at the 21st chapter. Just a few verses from each. The first will be in Revelation 19 and we will begin at the 6th verse.

"Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder shouting:
Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him the glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)
Then the angel said to me, "Write: 'Blessed are those who are invited
to the wedding supper of the Lamb!'" And he added, "These are the true
words of God."

Now the 21st chapter, beginning on the 1st verse.

"Then I saw a new heaven and new earth for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men and he will live with them. They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."

In these passages we have the end of history, as we know it. There has been a prayer that has been going up to God from the dawn of human history. How long O God until you establish your justice on the earth and vindicate the name of your people? And now finally on this day that moment has come. God's judgment has come upon the earth. Human pride has been flattened. Evil is crushed and now all of creation has to deal with God face to face. As the smoke clears in chapter 19, we see a bride standing before Jesus Christ. The bride is talked about as being a multitude. It's a diverse group of people that come from every nation, every language group, every kind of tribe or division among people, God's word has somehow gone out among all of them. There has been those who have responded and these come together as this bride presented to Jesus face to face, a bride that is spotless and pure, a bride that is clothed with the righteousness that's come from Jesus' own sacrifice and this bride is beautiful not just in physical ways like we associate with brides now, but deeply because the hearts have been transformed and here finally and eternally this bride is offering herself to Jesus Christ forever. And we move in to chapter 21. In chapter 21 it talks about this multitude, this people being presented by God as a bride. And these people now are being described as a group of people that God is going to dwell among them and be their God forever. God dwells among them, not like he is now. He dwells among us now in a tent sort of fashion. Invisibly. But here's a situation where it would fully and totally and forever and as close as it can possible mean it face to face. And then it describes in chapter 21 of God going around to each person and wiping the tears from each eye because in that kingdom and in that future there will be no more pain. There will be no more dying. There will be no more sorrow. There will be no more mourning, because God has put an end to it. "I have made all things new for you".

In Hebrews 12, verse 2 it talks about Jesus, to the joy set before him, being willing to face the cross. Now for a long time I thought about this verse and I pretty much thought about it for a long time as being Jesus looking forward to things returning to the way they were before, getting back to God's fellowship, getting back to heaven, getting back to the fullness of what belonged to him before. But as I have grown more mature and thought about it more, I don't believe that that's it. It's not what he is returning to that is bringing him joy. It's what is brand new because of the cross. I believe that what's bringing joy to Jesus' heart as he faces the shame and suffering of the cross is his wedding day. He's looking forward to the day that his bride is presented to him spotless, pure because of the sacrifice that he made on her behalf, given to him as a gift by his father. I believe that that is what motivated Jesus Christ. That love, that love for you, that love for me and that love for people who have not yet responded to the message of Jesus Christ.

God has a passion for reaching out to people in love. We can't escape it. The whole Bible start to finish is talking about God reaching out and God enlisting his people to be part of that effort of reaching out, blessing in order to be a blessing and so that means that God is passionate about what He is doing here. He is passionate about you. He's also passionate about calling out to your neighbor. He wants you, but he also wants the person you jog with. He wants you, but he also wants the person who bags your groceries. He wants us all to hear about and to respond to his love. God is out there and at work and he wants to reach those people. And so that means that there is a call upon us to join God in what he is already doing. And so when we look at this whole building program, we are not looking at this as a place for us to fill, or a place for our use. This is because we feel like participating with God at this point means that we have got to make more room now for people to worship. We have to have more room to train and teach people. We have to have a place to take care of their kids. We have to have more room in order to be a resource to this community so that we can partner with them in things that we are doing in this area of Baltimore. And we need space to see that happen.

Now I want you to know that the Session, the people in the Session are people a lot like me. I don't know that anyone on the Session began by saying, "Oh boy what a thrill. Let's build a building." It didn't start that way. This has been a long process, a prayerful process. This has been something that has been going on about 15 years in the life of this congregation and it's the second part of a two-step plan that started about 9 years ago. Even 8 or 10 months ago we were having discussions in the Session about whether maybe we should be church planting and we really believe that planting a church is in our future. But we believe that God's call upon us now is to step forward here.

Now a lot of families in this church, particularly in this service, have just had the joy of having their first child. Okay? And it is a joy to be a part of that, getting a chance to dedicate or baptize those babies. One thing you've got to face though when you have a new child, particularly a first one, is that it changes everything. Yeah. I see people sweating at the thought of it. It changes everything. You know, you take a look at your house and you say all of the sudden this room you know it was fine as a study, but this room has to become a nursery and so all of sudden the color is wrong and you got to paint it. The furniture is wrong so you got to get new furniture. You got to do this and you got to do that. You take a look at that car. Oh man, that's a great two-seat sports car, but it's got to go. You got to get that van. Your whole image changes and then some of us have struggled with the fact that we actually don't have enough room and so the coming of a child can actually lead families to the point that they add to their homes or they actually sell a home and move to a new one. And there are some of you in this congregation that have had to make that kind of move. Doing all of this preparation, making all of these changes in order to receive the gift that God is giving you. That's what this new space we want to build is. We are building new space to receive the gift that God wants to give Jesus Christ. Not us. Jesus died for people who can't fit in to what we are doing now. Jesus Christ died for things that are bigger than we are willing to try right now. And what God is asking us to do is to step in and to be part of what he wants to do for the glory of the name of Jesus Christ and what he wants to do for the joy of our savior Jesus Christ, and that is why my picture is on this brochure. That is why I am passionate about what we are doing, is because I want to do anything I can to bring joy to Jesus Christ. I want to do anything I can to bring glory to his name. That is the only motivation big enough for the kind of sacrifices that God sometimes calls us to do.

God is at work in the world and the things that God is doing in the world, it's very important for us to remember, It's not little things; you know little things around the edges of the world. The real important stuff is this election of a new president. The real important stuff is what is happening in Iraq or happening in Russia. No. Jesus talked about what he was doing as being a kingdom. God is turning the world upside-down. He is moving towards a day that every human power is destroyed. He is moving towards a day that all of the things that charm us, that we put our energies in to, that so many of these things are going to evaporate and what endures is a community, a bride that he is going to present to Jesus Christ. It's a big deal. That's why he calls it a kingdom and its not a little kingdom. It's the kingdom that will embrace all power, all authority, visible and invisible, now and forever. And so when Jesus talked about what it meant for us to respond to this kingdom he used some parables that challenge our willingness to give everything we are. I would like to go to Matthew 13 and go to verse 44 and 45. It talks here about the kingdom of heaven.

"The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, And then in his joy he went and sold all that he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it."

In the first parable, the guy finds this treasure of value and he is so convinced of its value that in joy he goes and sells everything that he has and buys the field. In the other parable it's a pearl merchant, someone who knows quality when he sees it and he finds a pearl that's of such great value that he liquidates everything else in his business and his home in order to purchase that pearl. Now, it's absolutely clear that the pearl of great price and this treasure in the field is not a building. It's a kingdom. It's a kingdom that is going to end all kingdoms. And what Jesus is saying here is that when we really appreciate the magnitude of what God is doing, then we should be ready to sell everything that we are in order to enter that kingdom and give everything that we are in order to serve it. It's of that great value.

And so what's of value is the kingdom. It's the ministry that happens as an expression of that kingdom. It's the ministry that happens that calls other people to be part of that kingdom. It's the changes that happen in peoples lives because they are now members of that kingdom. That's what's of value, that's what worth giving for, that's what's sacrificing for.

So what I am asking you to do is to have a conversation with God, to have a conversation that goes something like this. "God what are you doing in the world and in Central Presbyterian Church and how do you want me to take part?" That's what I want you to pray and if you really wrestle with God on this point, it's okay if you make a mature spiritual decision not to take part in this capital campaign. If you really dealt with God and the answer is no and God is instead leading you to invest yourself deeply in other ways or in other places, that's okay, because I believe that God will call us in sufficient measure to achieve the things that he is calling to. But what I don't want to happen is for you to not pray that prayer and not to be serious about Jesus. You've got to be serious about the kingdom of God. It is worth giving all to. Don't miss out on the blessing that can come as you get serious with what it means to respond to the greatness of God.

So that's what I am asking you to do, but I am not asking you to do something that I haven't struggled with myself. Debbie and I have been praying for months about what our roles should be in this particular capital campaign and we have prayed for it, prayed about it and thinking specifically about what our financial commitment should be and as we were praying I couldn't get out of my head a tape that I listened to just a few months after I came here to Central Presbyterian Church. It's a tape of Murray Smoot talking to a new member's class. It's a dangerous thing to do,to listen to Murray Smoot, because as Murray shared, he shared the fact that in the first campaign, or one of the first campaigns, he felt that God was calling himself and his wife Dottie to go from 10% to 13% of their budget in order to support the new building. In addition, over the following years instead of backing off after the building campaign they kept on adding to it and I don't know exactly where it ended, somewhere over 15 or 16% or more they were giving to the Lord. And I couldn't get that out of my head as Debbie and I were praying about it and so finally we made a decision that we are moving in this campaign from 10% to 15% in order to respond to what God is doing. That's just about the amount of a car payment that we had just finished making because we just finished paying off our Mazda, okay? And it's a little less than the car payment that we were anticipating because we were planning to buy a new car. But that car will have to wait because we found something more important to invest in. That's the decision that God led us to. What excites me in this is investing in people's lives, people that belong to Christ, people that are coming to Christ, changed lives, new ministries and believing that enlarging our facilities is an important part of making that happen.

Now when we talk about what God is doing among us, I don't want any of you to think that we believe that we are the only church that God is using here in Baltimore. Far from it. There are churches all over that God is pleased to dwell in and to use. And we actually want to be in partnership with these other churches in order to have a greater impact on this city, but we've got to admit that God is doing something special among us. This evangelism candle is lit again today. This time because of the Alpha course. At least two people. Amen. At least two people gave their lives to Jesus Christ because of the Alpha course and others recommitted their lives because of the impact of that ministry in their lives. Now I came from a church larger than this one and we were excited if we saw 8 or 10 people come to Christ in a year. Here, near as I can tell, over 50 people have come to Christ already this year, through this church, and that doesn't count what's happening through the many missionaries that we support all around the world. God is using us and that's an exciting thing.

But with that comes a responsibility. If we care deeply, then we've got to respond with commitment to what God is doing. Now let me tell you, I don't like that in some ways. I can't tell you how difficult it has been for me to kind of shift gears. You know I come in to a brand new church. I don't even know the names of the people, except the people on the committee that called me, okay? I knew those names. And I come in and then in the first year I am struggling with oh we are going to change the whole footprint of the facility. We are going to add buildings and change buildings. In addition, we are going to have to call people to new sacrifice and on top of it all, let's raise five million dollars. Yeah, thank you God. That's just what I had in mind. So God, what have you gotten us in to? I really struggled with that. I struggled with that for months and months. You know, I don't come in to the pulpit and say, hey folks this is what I am struggling with, but now that I have struggled through, I can tell you where. One night, as I was praying it came clear. God had led Central Presbyterian Church to this moment. And because God called me here, God had called me to this moment. And so what I had to realize and what gave me release, it that five million dollars, new buildings, this and that, this is God's plan for what God wants to do in people's lives and this is a gift that God wants to give Jesus Christ, not the building, but what will happen because we take this step. That is what God is doing and so what it reminded me was it's all about him. It's all about what he is doing and it's not about us. So we need to make room for what God is doing. Let's step up to the challenge.

Let's pray. Gracious God, we thank you for challenges. We thank you for things that shake us up and make us do things that we didn't imagine we were called to do, but we thank you that we are safe in it as long as we are listening to your voice. And so help us each now to struggle with hearing your voice for us personally, so that we will know what it means to step in and join you in what you are doing in this world, for we ask it in Jesus name. Amen.

© 2004, Rev. John Schmidt
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145
www.centralpc.org