God’s Church!  ALL WE CAN BE
Acts 4: 23-31
JOHN 14: 15-27

February 23, 2020

The church … all too often we talk about ‘our church or my church’ but the church Of God and Jesus Christ is not a building with a name created by humans nor a clubhouse that showcases a name used by groups of similar clubs created by humans that we call denominations … the church is the community of God and Jesus Christ throughout the world!

I am the church; YOU are all the church; WE ARE THE CHURCH TOGETHER.”  And, now the tough part … “All who follow Jesus, all around the world!  Yes, we’re the church together!”

That classic hymn written by Richard Avery and Donald Marsh in 1972 reminds us of 1st Peter 2:5, “You, yourselves are being built like living stones into a spiritual temple offering up spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”   Because the Christian temple of God … the Christian church that is acceptable to God doesn’t begin in a building because if it did … then we’d be in trouble because all too many buildings organized by people to fit their specific viewpoints with their structure and their desire to be places of exclusion rather than inclusion get taken over by those not willing to sacrifice themselves for love’s sake nor to give up their personal world of specificity for the sake of God by following Jesus Christ and accepting the call to love all.  All too many places calling themselves churches would rather close their doors than invite ALL in to participate as equally loved children of God.

And, church … this is not a reflection of the place we worship God at here in West Deptford because it is clear that our witness … your testimony … is to showcase God through Jesus Christ and through your love for any and all who come here. A witness that has been told by many visitors through the years.  In two weeks, Girl Scouts and their family members will join us for worship.  I have no idea how many of those families go to a place to worship each week nor do I know what name is on the place those who do worship go to.  What I do know church is that those of you who make up this place called St. Paul’s will be welcoming them all regardless of their church … regardless of their skin tone or accents … regardless of where they live or who they live with … children will not be pushed into a room separate from our sanctuary during worship because it is their time of worship too .. because church, you have proven time after time that what matters in this place is accepting God’s lesson to love all of our neighbors … equally … because Jesus taught us about that love.

I remember how confused I was when I was young by this one line in the Apostle’s Creed.  In fact, many printed versions include an asterisk because many adults obviously don’t always understand how English twists translations to imply more than one meaning to many of our English words.  It’s one of the reasons that there are many American church goers who latch onto an English translation claiming that God spoke English or Jesus spoke using the language of Shakespeare or King James rather than Aramaic.   That one line that we again stated is …. “I believe in the holy catholic church.”

Now, the lead in to this is “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church”… perhaps because the authors knew that the holy church of God … the church of Jesus Christ … was established on that day when the Holy Spirit came and changed the lives of all of those early believers who were in Jerusalem that day. The Spirit came not to divide followers of Christ into separate clubs designed to exclude people but the Holy Spirit filled them and all at once these people who once had differences were able to understand each other and speak together.   And, Peter in that moment remembered the prophet Joel and tied the loose ends together teaching that God had once said that “everyone who called on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  EVERYONE … ALL … communicating together … understanding each other in the midst of differences of culture and heritage … all because of God’s gift of love, Jesus Christ.

We are the church … we are the people … we do believe in the holy catholic church if we accept God’s teaching to love all of our neighbors to not set up exclusive rules that fit our fears and phobias pushing some out and away from our version of God’s love because they aren’t like us.  God’s church ultimately is ALL WE CAN BE for Jesus Christ not whether we can figure out a way to create comfort zones for those like us.

So, if we go to the dictionary and that is the place that provides the perspective of understanding for this particular translation of Latin to English … the word catholic is an adjective that means INCLUDING A WIDE VARIETY of THINGS; ALL EMBRACING.  ALL EMBRACING so when you and I state to the world and to God that we believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, and the communion of saints we are stating that we believe in the ALL EMBRACING … ALL INCLUSIVE … welcoming to people from a wide variety of backgrounds that might not be ours but are still humans who are all made in the image of God; the Holy One.  WE believe in God’s church … all inclusive and all embracing and thanks be to God something happened on this site in West Deptford New Jersey years ago that provides evidence of that truth week after week and month after month.

And, here’s where we have a responsibility … church fights and divisions over religion have caused all too many people to reject not just Jesus Christ but to be in denial of God.  There is a need for revival … there is a need for people of faith to step up even in our small circle of friends, neighbors and family members to make God’s Church relevant again.  Last Sunday, I was with a woman as she died at Inspira.  The first thing that her family told me was that she was a godly woman .. then they told me about their faith in God but shortly after they told me that none of them went to church … couldn’t remember the last time they went to church … didn’t know if the woman dying had read the Bible but pastor she was a believer a godly woman but a little later they told me how she had a temper and cursed people out all the time … but they didn’t need a church community … to have god. They were godly people … they had better use of their time.

And, in our reading from Acts today we heard how John and Peter spoke with the early believers after being released by the authorities.  They told of the threats against Christianity and how the leaders didn’t want Jesus truth to be spread to more people. So, these people of faith prayed to God for healing …. They prayed together and the place they gathered in was shaken and they were filled by the Holy Spirit and began speaking God’s Word with confidence.  We all need the Spirit and that confidence.

We heard from Jesus today.  Jesus teaching us church about our assignment, God’s expectations on those of us who believe.  “Whoever loves me … keeps my Word. Peace I leave with you.  My peace … do not be troubled nor afraid.”

Our Jesus … our Savior … all who follow Jesus all around the world!  Yes, we’re the church together.  Isn’t it time that following and accepting Jesus’ teaching became the reputation for the church of God.  That when people say Christian they immediately associate love with us.  Wouldn’t it be incredible to hear people say “Oh, those Christians … they love everyone and forgive everyone … why can’t they hate like us?”

In John 17, Jesus prays for you and me and all Christians to God saying, “I am praying for them.  I am not praying for the world but for those you gave me because they are yours. They are in the world I gave Your Word to them and the world hated them because they don’t belong to this world. I am not asking that You take them out of the world but make them holy in the truth; Your Word is the truth. I have sent them into this world.  I pray that they will be one.”

So, as we finish today I want to share another translation lesson this time Greek to English.  Buildings are important tools … church buildings are places we can worship and grow in faith; church buildings where God’s Word is discovered are obviously important places actually essential amidst the turmoil of the world but the Greek word ekklesia that is used more than 80 times in the New Testament and translated to the English word church actually means “CALLED OUT” into an gathering or assembly of people called together. But Jesus talks about something more it is His gathering … KURIAKON, which means belonging to the Lord.  My earlier reference from First Peter continues, “Once you weren’t a people but now we are God’s people!”

We humans Adam Hamilton writes, “we need community; we need to belong; we need others to encourage us, challenge us, care for us, and be cared for by us.”  He continues, “we are healthier, happier, and live longer when we are in community with others. We will never grow into the people God wishes us to be without the church.”

So our humanity creates a potential conflict but at the end of the day if we grow our personal faith and hold true to the commands of God taught to us by Jesus we can be difference makers not for the world’s causes but for Christ. Paul writes in Galatians, “Whenever we have an opportunity … WHENEVER … let us work for the good of ALL and especially for those of the family of faith.”  WE refer to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ … Paul also wrote, “carry each other’s burdens.

Your challenge and mine this morning begins with the people we are and the people we are willing to be.  Ash Wednesday is coming … a time to pause and consider our sinful nature once again … time out of a busy schedule to get ashes on our foreheads and pray with a church community.  Lent is upon us not to give up chocolate or to go on diets but to consider our need for Jesus Christ as individuals and also as a community … the living church of Jesus Christ.  Soon, the sadness of that Friday of Holy Week will slam into many of us remembering what hate can be generated by rabid chanting crowds inspired by those who want to divide and dismiss Jesus … but Easter awaits.

Jesus taught, “You are the light of the world!  A city on top of a hill cannot be hidden … LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE BEFORE PEOPLE so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.”  And, the trees of the field will clap their hands and this church will go out into the world with joy … let’s be the church of Jesus Christ each day … “I am the church … You are the church … We are the church together … WE believe in Jesus Christ the Only Son of God and we believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church; all who follow Jesus all around the world Yes we’re the church together!” 



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