Committed to Community

Eighth in a series: God’s Mission; God’s Method,
Delivered November 2, 2003 by Rev. John Schmidt.

Theme: Christian conversion is not just a move into a right relationship to God; it is a call to a right relationship with each other. We are organically related to one another so that as each of us uses our gifts, the whole body is made stronger.

In the series, “God’s Mission; God’s Method,” we will be looking at the Book of Acts to see God at work in the early church. The series will help us start our life together by looking afresh at what it means to be God’s people, caught up in the world-changing action of the Holy Spirit. I don’t want to “play church,” just going through the motions. I want us to be the church, the church God calls us to be. ~Rev. John Schmidt

Sermon Text:
Acts 2:42-47
and Ephesians 2:11-22

Well, I would like to shift gears a little bit now, and take a look at the scripture, and what it talks about concerning the community that we’re building together as a church. I first want to begin with the Bible verse that we’ve been reading again and again across the last few weeks in Acts 2. I’m just going to read verse 42.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Now, I would like to go into the Book of Ephesians and read to you a section from the second chapter. I’m going to read to you verses 11 to 22.

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision? (that done in the body by the hands of men_– remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins like this, “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” It’s a great statement. It’s a statement that has nurtured Presbyterians for hundreds and hundreds of years. It tells us a lot about the purpose of human life and yet if we only read that and don’t go any farther, then we can get a false impression of what it means to be a Christian. Because what that emphasizes is this vertical relationship that we have been reconciled to God and we are to enjoy God. What it doesn’t talk about is that we have also been called to a new relationship with one another as Christians.

God has created us to have a relationship with him and God has also created us to have relationships with one another. In Genesis 2, verse 18 it talks about the fact that it’s not good for man to be alone. Even in fellowship with God, it’s not good for us to be alone. We have this need for social connection and so God created humanity, male and female. He created the basic family unit, which is the basic social unit and out of that grows all that we know as society because this horizontal relationship between people is part of who we were created to be and it’s a good thing. So that means we are social beings. A huge part of what it means to be human has to do with relationships. You can’t define emotional maturity and stability without referencing a relationship to people. Our relationships are a big part of who we are. Relationships are so important that things like solitary confinement are considered punishment and long periods of solitary confinement can actually break you down physically, break you down emotionally, break you down spiritually and that’s because we were created that way. In the “Castaway” Tom Hanks is on a deserted island and after a short period of time he grabs a volleyball or a soccer ball and he paints a face on it and he begins to talk to it. And later in the movie where he is on the raft and he loses the ball, everybody is sad that he has lost a friend. It’s because we are so built for relationships that if we don’t have a person to talk to; we will talk to a volleyball. We are created for relationships and so what that means is when we become Christians; we are called back to a right relationship with God and a right relationship with one another. We are called back in to community

This is all over the New Testament. Jesus calls a group around him and they live together in community. We have seen it in this 2nd chapter of Acts, where again and again we have gone back to that second chapter and seen that God has pulled together a community that represents him and the world. And so they cared for one another. They tried to get to know one another. They supported one another when they had needs. And then the community around them God called people from the community around them into their midst and they became Christians because God has blessed and was pleased with who they were. When Paul writes his letters, he usually writes them to whole communities and not to individuals. He addresses whole churches. And then in these books, he fills them with practical suggestions and what it means to build a community. And so this book of Ephesians that we are looking into right now is that sort of book. Paul begins in the first chapter by saying in verse 10 that God is at work in this sovereign way to make, and He has made known a mystery to us, that is going to be put into affect when the times have reached their fulfillment to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head Christ. So, right here at the start of the book of Ephesians, Paul declares that God’s sovereign purpose is to take a creation that has been divided, a creation that has divisions that we see and divisions that we don’t see, and he has purposed something in Christ sovereignly that will unite that all under one head. Heaven and earth united again under Christ.

In chapter 2, it talks about how that works itself out among human relationships. And what we looked at today, it talks about this huge breach that has been pulled together, the breach that hasn’t been abolished by the blood of Christ, between Jew and Gentile, which was a huge gap in the mind of Jews, because the Jews were God’s people. They had received the word of God and all the rest of the world hadn’t. They understood what it meant to respond to the grace and love of God and others didn’t. In the mind of a Hebrew, all the rest of the world were idolaters and were displeasing to God. They were the only people that had a hope of pleasing God. And then it declares here that Jesus Christ has eliminated that difference between Jew and Gentile, the biggest breach they could imagine and God has done something to pull it together. And so in verses 15 and 16, it says this. Beginning at verse 14.

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”

Bringing the two together. Tearing down the dividing walls. Making one new community and reconciling that to God. That is what Jesus was doing in the cross. Verse 18 then says, “For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” And so then as one community indwelled by one Spirit, we all together have access to God. Every barrier broken down to create an eternal community.

Have you ever thought about what really lasts? What really lasts? It says there will be a new heaven and a new earth. So that means this building will go. This country will go. The earth as we know it will be remade. What endures? One thing that we know endures is human personality. That somehow even in resurrection, even in a new heaven and a new earth that we will somehow be who we are. We will be identifiable. That even though what rises up is not the same as what has been planted in death, what rises up is still us, so that is one thing that endures, human personality. But, another thing that endures is community. Because this one body that Jesus is building now is the same group of people that is presented to the Father. It’s the same group of people that’s the bride of Christ, that in the New Jerusalem assembles in eternal fellowship with God. So our community with God and our community with one another is also something that’s eternal. And so that means that it is incredibly important. It’s not something that’s an add on to Christianity. So Paul and his normal practical self, after he gives us all this enormous scope of what God is doing in the world and by chapter four is starting to give us practical considerations how to protect that community and how to make it work. And so in chapter four, verses 1-3 he talks about how we are called to protect the community, make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, because there is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism. There is only one and so we have got to protect that unity. Then he goes on in verse 7 and 11 through 13 in the fourth chapter where it talks about how we are supposed to then use the gifts that we have been given to build up that community, and so it says that God is given special people, evangelists and prophets and apostles, pastors and teachers to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up until we reach unity in the faith. You see that again? This idea of building up and moving towards a unity, because that is where God is heading.

In verse 12, Paul calls this thing that God is doing a body. So that the body of Christ may be built up. And I think that is something that we need to think about right now. The community that God is building is primarily an organism. It’s a body. It’s not an organization. It’s a body. It’s not an institution. It’s a living organic thing comprised of people from vastly different backgrounds, with vastly different gifts, different temperaments and yet we are called to this living relationship with one another and we are called and given specific gifts and specific roles to play. We matter. There is something vital that we can do.

So, when we were created by God, we were created for this kind of purposeful life and when he called you to himself, he gave you his Holy Spirit and united you in this body in order that you might be able to contribute something vital to what He is doing in the world. Something special. You have been created for something special along with the rest of us. And that’s a vastly different viewpoint than an institutional view of the church. In an institutional model, what happens is what happens inside the walls, what happens inside the machinery and so you come and you sit out and you kind of become an audience and what you do to be faithful to this whole institution is that you give the money to make it run. So, that they can hire professional people to stand up in front of you and do the public ministry and to pay somebody to do the visitation and to do the interpersonal relationships and ministry there. To do the teaching. And so in this mindset, in an institutional mindset ministry then for the average member becomes committee work and so what your role is, is to gather together as a group, to make rules, to make decisions about how other people are doing active face to face ministry with people. That’s what happens in a stereotypical institutional environment. But, that’s not what God is doing. It’s not the picture we get in the New Testament. In the New Testament we have a picture where everybody contributes, where everybody is gifted. Some bring gifts, different spiritual gifts. Some bring songs. Some bring wisdom. Some bring material gifts and all of them bring what God has enabled them to bring. And together that whole is ministry for Jesus. It’s a body where the eye and the foot might be very different, but each has something to contribute. And so then we are all on the front line of ministry. We all have something to do. We are not just sitting there and letting somebody else do ministry.

If we have this kind of view of the church, then the church is not where the pastor is, since the pastor isn’t the church. We are the church. The church is not where the buildings are, because we can be the church anywhere we gather. The church is not where the pastor is. The church is not where the building is. The church is wherever Christians gather, even only two or three of them. Why? What did Jesus promise? Because there He is with them. You know what? I would rather have Jesus and two other people than the pastor and the building any day. And that’s what has been promised. To gather in his name and Jesus is there with you.

Leith Anderson is pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota and he is a really wonderful man, although he doesn’t sound like this in the story that he told about himself.

He was tired. It was coming in on Christmas. His family had already gone down to Florida to go visit and to get ready for Christmas. He was leaving. It was Christmas Eve. He had to do funerals and everything else. He was absolutely exhausted. He is standing in a line trying to get back to Florida and then one of the people behind the counter starts talking to him. And she says to him, Oh I see you are going to Florida? Are you going to church there? Now this is the part where he kind of admits, he is truthful about what he really said. He’s tired. And his mother is Plymouth Brethren I think and so they don’t call it church. So to be different he says, No, I am not going to church. And she responds, “Oh you really should”. And so then she starts telling him about good churches down there in Florida, in Ft. Lauderdale. And so he is started to get fed up a little bit with this and so he decides that if you can’t end the conversation, at least take it over. So he asked her a question. And he said, “Well what about you? Do you go to church?” And she said “Yeah I do. I am a member of Wooddale Church.”

So at this point he suddenly becomes a lot nicer to her and she takes this change as being encouragement for her to continue her witness so she closes her line and tells the people to get in another line and pulls him over to talk to him. And so she is telling him about, “you know you really ought to go to church because you know this is a religious holiday, a spiritual thing, Jesus came to die for sin” and he is thinking in his head, “you know, I know this story.” So finally, he gets so uncomfortable that he says, “You know, I am your pastor.”

And at that point, she shares the rest of her story. You see, she had lived down in Ft. Lauderdale and her father was living up around Minneapolis and he was getting sick and as he got sicker she found it exhausting to try to go up to visit him and finally made a decision to ask for a transfer to go to Minneapolis. She gets up there and her father is getting worse and worse and the pressure is getting heavy upon her. And finally one of the people that she works with says you know you can’t handle this alone. I know who will help. Call somebody at Wooddale Church. So she made the call and somebody connected her with a small group and with a person that they thought was a stranger and it turned out that this person had actually gone to the same high school she did around the same time. And they built a relationship and this group helped her deal with the pressures of her father getting ill, getting worse. They helped her with the transition as she moved him to a hospice. Ultimately when her father died, they helped her with the funeral service. And these people had reached out to her in such a way that as she related to them, she not only started to understand the love of this community, but she started to understand the love of God. She began to realize what it meant to really be a Christian and so in this relationship, she had come to a full faith in Jesus Christ and then through their relationships with her, she got involved with the single adult ministry there at the church. She got involved in an evangelism training class, which she was using now on her pastor. But since she was one of the newest people there in the Minnesota office, she didn’t have the seniority to ever get off on Sunday.

So she had never been to church on Sunday and she had never seen the pastor. But she had met Wooddale Church. And more than that, she had met the Lord and Savior of that church. All because these individuals knew that they were gifted. They were committed to one another and committed to reaching out to someone else who had need. They knew they were on the front line of ministry and in that joy and power, reached out in Jesus’ name.

My vision for what we could be at Central Presbyterian Church is a lot like that. I would love in five years or ten years to be able to tell a story like that. Nothing would delight me more to know that someone had encountered this church without even knowing it, without me even knowing it and had come to faith and even to a measure of maturity in faith because of the ministry of what you are doing out there. We are not an institution of budgets, building and bureaucracy. We are a body. Gifted and empowered by Christ, each one of you and we need to be committed to one another, committed to using those gifts and committed to using those gifts to serve the people who don’t yet know Jesus Christ. Each member enjoying the gifts and each member convinced that they have a vital role to play. If we live like that, then no matter where we are, even if it is only two or three of us somewhere in a workplace, in some kind of organization, in the schools, if we live this way then people are going to experience the love of God and they are going to get to see Jesus himself in your face. I think that’s worth living for. I think that is worth striving for. It can be done. The early church did it. Other churches are doing it. What it takes is for you to believe it. To believe that even in two’s and three’s all over the city, that God has equipped you and empowered you to do ministry, really real ministry. Ministry that matters. Ministry that can change lives. Ministry that can change the world. God can do that through all of us, because each one of us is on the front line of ministry. And so what I would like us to do is that we pray together that God will make this happen.

Let’s pray. God this is one prayer among many that you will work in us in such a way that we will be your people and represent Christ well everywhere that we are, for we trust that you have gifted us and empowered us just for that purpose and so it’s in Jesus’ name that we ask. Amen.

Sermon Outline Notes:

What is the chief end of man?
–Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
Created for Community
Called back into Community
The Community is primarily an organism not an organization
–A body, not an institution
And we each have a vital role to play.