See also CPC Distinctives – Our Vision – A Church Without Walls.
Theme: This week we are focusing on the fact that the church is not defined by its property or by the walls of its buildings or anything else like that, but we are the church and we are the church out there where we live, where we work and where we play.
1 Peter 2:4-5;9-12
Clip from the movie “The Matrix:
The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work. When you go to church. When you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
That you are a slave Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind. Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself. This is your last chance. After this there is no turning back. You take the blue pill the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember, all I’m offering is the truth, nothing more. Follow me.
Neo senses there is something wrong with the world and a day comes when he is contacted, actually he is chosen by a group that then prepares to teach him some of the realities of the world around him. The ultimate truth that the world around is an illusion and that in reality humanity isn’t slavery. In this scene, Neo gets a chance to find out the truth about the Matrix. At this point, he has a decision to make. Red pill. Blue pill. If he takes that red pill, he will know the truth but his life will never be the same again because he will never belong any longer really to what people view as reality. In a way he will be an alien or an outsider, but he takes that pill and he commits himself to living a whole different kind of life that he can’t even imagine at that point and devoting himself to confronting the evil in the world. Think of what a different movie the “The Matrix” would have been if he had taken the blue pill. Okay? He wakes up the next morning, ” Ah” he goes to work, end of movie.
We are chosen too. The world around us is enslaved as well. There are things about our world that seem real that are actually illusory, and we have been called out of that sort of lifestyle and to stop being part of the problem and instead start being part of the solution. It’s far too easy to take the blue pill, to rollover and wake up the next day and just say you know my life is going to be just like it was before. I am going to have the same goals in life as the non-Christians around me. My business is going to be run the same way. My family is going to be every bit as frenetic in its activity. We are going to be involved in all the same things for the same reasons as all of the society around us. But we have been called to more about the net. We have been talking about our churches vision statement. We started last week. Last week we focused on the fact that our outward focus as a church comes from the very heart of God. We look out because God is passionate about people who are still separated from him.
This week we are focusing on the fact that the church is not defined by its property or by the walls of its buildings or anything else like that, but we are the church and we are the church out there where we live, where we work and where we play. In today’s passage that comes from the book of 1st Peter, we get some insight at what it means to be a church, to be Christ representatives where we live, work and play. I would like to read to you from the second chapter of 1st Peter beginning at the 9th verse.
“But you were a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you are not people, but now you are the people of God, once you have not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
The apostle Peter gives us some insight into what it means to be a church out there where we live, where we work, and where we play. And it gives us some images of who we are that we really need to take to heart, to understand something about our core identity. The first thing he says to us is that we are a chosen people. This gathering that’s here at this church today is not because someone decided let’s have a religious club. You know there are tennis clubs, let’s have religious club for people who need a little shot in their arm, you know to do nicer things during the week. That is not why we gather together. We gather together because God is at work in the world and God has touched each life, and we responded to that on some level and so it’s in response to God’s outreach, God’s love to us, that we come here together. So there is something that we have more or less in common. Those of us who have responded to Jesus Christ and that comes from the fact that we are a chosen people. We have responded to God’s initiative. And if you haven’t responded to Jesus Christ you are still here because God has exercised initiative to kind of draw you close so you can hear and maybe respond to His love.
It says here too that we are a royal priesthood. Priests are unique among societies because they have access to God. That’s why we use the word priest, because a priest is someone who can offer offerings to God that are acceptable, and then to hear things from God to speak to the people. And what it says is that we together are priests, a royal priesthood. Do you know that in scripture there are only two royal priests? Melchizedek in the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament. Because in Israel the priests and the royal line had to be kept separate and yet because we belong to Jesus Christ, we are not only royalty, but we are priests. We can offer sacrifices acceptable to God, including our lives. You know we walk around with this assumption that just being human means that we can offer acceptable things to God and have access to God. That’s not true because of our selfishness, because of what the scripture calls sin, our godlessness, the way we focus on ourselves. But in Jesus Christ and because of the forgiveness we have in Him, we can then come to God and offer up our lives, offer our time, offer of who we are and this is acceptable to God, and at the same time we get a message from God that we can proclaim, we can represent God to other people and it says you, plural, are a royal priesthood. It says too that we are a holy nation. Holy has to do with being set apart from normal use. We are a holy nation. It means that we have a citizenship now that’s bigger than our American citizenship. We are citizens of heaven. That means that to a certain extent we are not going to fit life here, just like Neo once he took the red pill, he didn’t fit anymore. Those of us who are walking with Christ on some level are living as aliens. In fact, he calls them aliens and strangers. There are some things that don’t fit.
I have lived in other cultures where I was the ex-patriot or the resident alien and even though you get used to it, there is still something different about it. You are the one that is fingerprinted. You are the one that has to stand in the longer lines. You are the one that every year has to register where you live and to a certain extent, there is that difference that’s in our lives because we belong to another nation. And then it says we are a people belonging to God. We have been bought with a price. When God released us from a selfish willful way of living, we weren’t then released to be independent and totally on our own. Instead we were invited into a new family. God’s family and God is the one that we look to, and God is the one we belong to. So we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation of people belonging to God and there is a purpose that comes up in this sentence then. That you might declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. This word declare is a strong word. It has to do with being a herald or publishing something out there. It’s not something that we do entirely just in a worship service. We associate our worship with declaring the praises of God. But this is a stronger word. We are to declare out there the praises of God who has released us from darkness and brought us into light. So that means that our faith can’t be an entirely private thing. Something that we only express when we are together here with friends or something that we do in our bedrooms with out young children, or that we do ourselves as we pray inside our homes. It’s bigger than that.
Our whole life people should look at us and see a certain reality about God working in us. More than that, if they get to know us a little better they should know a little bit from what we say, they should know enough to start interpreting what’s happening in our lives. What we do, how we live, what’s happening in our lives and what we say all work together to declare the praises of God. This happens in our families, in our communities and in our workplaces that we might declare.
Now Peter assumes that if we are out there living these sorts of lives, there are going to be people watching us. Take a look at verse 11 and 12. I want to look particularly at verse 12.
“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
Peter assumes that people are going to be watching and on top of that he assumes that some of them at least are going to be hostile. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t like talking to hostile people. You know, I am not cut out for street corner evangelism where people throw things at you while you preach. I would much rather be here, where so far nobody has thrown anything. But it’s inevitable. If we are aliens, if we belong to God and we are out there living a life that declares his reality, that there is going to be some hostility and people are going to be saying, oh yeah you are a Christian, well show me something Christian. The thing about Peter’s tone here is that he also seems to indicate that its okay that they expect to see something in our lives. You know so often we would like to say, “Oh please look at Jesus,don’t look at me,”as if there is a difference between the message and us living the message. Folks, if we can’t live the message, then maybe the message doesn’t work. People have a right for a reality check. And that’s what Peter assumes here. It says lives such lives in front of them that even though they begin in this hostility that they see your good works and they will glorify God on the day that God visits us. Are you ready to live that kind of life? Can we live up to that? I know it can be done because I have seen it in people’s lives.
I think of a woman in Japan that I knew, Mrs. Motzky (sp?). Her family, her in-laws, wanted their son to divorce her because she was a Christian. She lived under hostile scrutiny all the time. Finally, her father-in-law got sick and they couldn’t get him to the hospital through public transportation, and so in her 40s, Mrs. Motzky made the decision to go through the very expensive and frightening process, frightening for her because she hated driving, frightening process of getting her license so that she could drive him to the doctor. She did it. She got her license specifically so that she could serve her father-in-law. Under hostile scrutiny her life and her words declared the reality of a God that had reached out to her and had saved her and that witness has not been lost on her husband or her family.
I think of David and Leeann in Baton Rouge. Leeann is a dancer and she has formed a dance troop of half Christians and half non-Christians. And they build relationships continually with people who don’t know Jesus. In fact, David and Leeann use their home for all kinds of get-togethers, community events because they were serious about building this sort of relationship with the people around them. I remember getting a call one time from David and Leeann and they said, “John, come over. We’ve got somebody here and we would like you to take part in the conversation” ,and so I went there, and there was a woman that they were speaking to that had spent years involved in witchcraft. And they were sharing their faith and wanted me to share mine as part of a witness to her. And why did they even have this conversation, because they had been building a relationship across months, even years, living and proclaiming . In fact, David and Leeann’s witness has been so strong that another person in their church has moved from the suburbs back into the city to live close to them so that they can join in the ministry.
We have been brought back to God. We have been forgiven and given a new life. We have been called together into one body for a purpose that we may declare the praises of Him who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light where we live, work and play. But you might not feel ready to live like that. Life is complicated. Think of Loch Raven Village or Roger’s Forge 50 years ago. Single language. Mostly Christian, maybe some Jewish people. Interfaith marriage was considered Presbyterians marrying Methodists. There might have been some people who didn’t believe in Jesus, but most people went to church. You had some singles, a few divorced people, but the vast majority were probably couples or families, there were couples, male/female couples and in a context like this introducing people to Jesus Christ would require some boldness, but you could assume that they would have some understanding of the Bible. They would share the concept that there is a God and they would share a lot of the same moral assumptions. Let’s think of Loch Raven Village or Roger’s Forge now. A wide religious variety. Moslem, Hindu, people involved in Wicca, singles, families, a lot more divorced people, there are couples, straight and gay couples. There are several languages being spoken in homes and so sharing faith in this context becomes very complicated and challenging. They are second generation-unchurched people. People that not only have been to church, but their parents have never been to church. And so that means that you have got to explain that Moses came before Jesus to people like this. And when you start to share they don’t necessarily share the assumption that there is a God or that there is only one God. On issues of morality, whether its lying, cheating, stealing, sexual morality or marriage, their attitudes and basic convictions might be different and so if we are going to be faithful out there we have got to be prepared. And if we are going to be prepared that that means that there are some other parts of our lives that doesn’t involve a face-to-face conversation with somebody. You know its easy to think, oh the way I will get ready for that is I need to learn some technique on how to share in a multi-faith environment. You might need a little skill in that, but there is much more fundamental stuff that has to go on in your life if you are going to be ready for that conversation. We need to focus on gathering. We need to focus on growing, on giving and going.
Let’s first talk about gathering. Last year you were reading in part of the Life with a Purpose, 40 Days of Purpose, and one of the things that it says in there is that “you were formed for God’s family.” That’s this issue of gathering. We are aliens and strangers in this world and we need to gather together with people who share the same convictions and have the same call of God on their lives. And so that means that we need worship together, but it also means that we need something more, and one of the ways we do that is through small groups, where you get to build a relationship where people can actually know you and pray for you specifically. So there is that call to gather. We need each other.
The second call is to grow. “You were created to become like Christ.” There is no higher calling in life. There is no bigger goal for you than to be like Jesus Christ and that doesn’t happen automatically. You’ve got to give time and effort to this, to learn to pray, to read the scriptures, to journal, to be part of a small group or part of a class or to go to a conference. Sunday worship can’t do this all by itself. It takes effort. It takes time. Now I want you to raise your hand. Any of you got spare time? I have done this in three services. This is the only time that anybody has raised their hand. Okay? If you have spare time it’s probably not much. What it means is, if we are going to do these things, we have got to make time. For most of us it means that we are going to have to put something aside and make this a priority. We have to say that something in our life is not as important as becoming like Jesus Christ. Because this is the fundamental thing that has to happen in you if you are going to be God’s person where you live, work and play. It’s not the technique. It’s not the quick answers from scripture. It’s the Christ-like-ness and that’s going to require work.
We need to give. You were shaped for serving God. Service is part of our calling, giving of our time, our talents, our money, giving of ourselves. The people that we look up to as examples of this are people who have learned how to give, how to serve, how to be generous with themselves and with what they own. Sometimes the only time people are going to take us seriously as Christians is when they see some good works. It says that right here in verse 12. “That they may see your good deeds and glorify God.” That’s our morality, but that’s also our service.
Then and only then are we to go. You were made for a mission. Not only to serve, but to share the gospel and that’s the hardest part and that’s why it is last on this list. Because it is the hardest thing to really get a hold on, is that we have a mission to share Christ where we live, where we work, where we play. Now this includes mission work and includes the big vision things like Burma and Brazil and short-term teams and sending people out overseas. But it also includes your backyard, because sharing Christ today in your neighborhood is mission work.
Well, this gets to the heart of what it means for us to be a church without walls. We were made for a mission and that mission for most of us is in our day to day lives, right where we live right now. To live good lives in the midst of an evil world and to share Christ and to declare the glory of God right where we live. Now you might not feel ready to be on the front lines of ministry like that, but you already are. That’s the reality that we have got to live with. But maybe you don’t feel ready for it because one of these other things gathering or growing in Christ or the discipline of service, maybe those things aren’t in place yet in your life and that’s why it is so hard when you get into that moment where you step out to declare Christ. Well, one of the things our vision says is that we want to be the sort of church that is going to help you live that kind of life and provide those resources, places to gather, ways to grow, can encourage you to service and then give you the tools you need to do to go and declare Christ. It’s a high and difficult thing for us individually, but for us as a church too. Each of us has a role to play. There are some things in the community that only we can do. There are some people only we can reach and there are some words that only we are called to declare in this world.
And so we have got to decide what to do next. In the Matrix, Neo decides to take the red pill. To risk it all, to maybe even die for others as he gets closer to what’s real and takes a stand against evil in the world. What about you? What will your story be like? Are you going to take the blue pill and roll over and wake up tomorrow and say well you know I am going to live life just the way it was with the same goals and the same routine, just with a little bit of Christian flavoring on the top. Or are you ready to live like a royal priesthood, a holy nation of people that belong to God, a people with a purpose? Because that’s who you really are.
Let’s pray. Gracious God, we can’t live that alone. We need each other and so we pray that you strengthen this body so that we individually might be strengthened. We pray that we might grow so that there might be a real Christlikeness in us so that when people look at us they will see some reality there. We pray that we will grow in our generosity with ourselves and what we are. Learn how to give and learn how to serve. And then we pray for an eagerness to go out in to the world around us and proclaim your mercies and your glory. For we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.