Sunday, January 17, 2021

All Believers


The church is made up of everyone who believes in Jesus.

Today, we continue our series through Epiphany, the best part of Heaven, in a word, relationships. The Apostles' Creed has a statement, "We believe in the Holy Catholic church," and the Nicaean Creed has a similar statement, "We believe in one Holy Catholic and Apostolic church." These ancient creeds have been passed down to us through the generations and have these different statements that we share as Christians, but we don't always share the same understanding of those statements. In this case, in our United Methodist materials, the word Catholic is spelled with a lowercase C indicating it is an adjective describing the word church rather than they a proper noun as the name of the church.

Then also, it was attended by an asterisk in our official materials and there's a footnote that is linked to that asterisk with the word universal likewise in lower case, not referring to the name of any organization, but to the nature of the church that is universal, all encompassing, all inclusive. Merriam Webster further describes that word universal as including or covering all of a whole or collectively or distributively without limit or exception, and also available equitably to all members of the society, and also occurring everywhere, existent or operative everywhere under all circumstances and conditions.

Transcript of sermon
 Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on January 17, 2021
for Briensburg UMC

Our gospel reading for this week is from John 1:43-51, where Jesus called Philip and Nathaniel to be his disciples. That passage ends with this verse, verse 51: "Hereafter you shall see Heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the son of man." The words there of Jesus connect this back to the image of the event where Jacob was having a dream and in that dream, a ladder extended from where he was on the Earth to Heaven and angels were ascending and descending, hence the song that we have, "We are climbing Jacob's ladder."
Angels Descending
 Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. John 1:51 (KJV)
Also, that's alluded to in another famous hymn of Blessed Assurance With the verse, "Angels descending bring from above echoes of mercy, whispers of love." In our communion ritual, we have a part of the great Thanksgiving, the prayer, where we say, "and now with all of God's people here on Earth and all the company of Heaven, let us join their unending hymn of praise." There is a hymn by Charles Westland called Happy the Souls to Jesus Joined.
As we reflect on the words of this brief hymn, let's think about our family and friends scattered around the world, wherever they may be, whatever they're practices of the faith are, and all our brothers and sisters around the world with all their various different forms of worship and the organizations that they're a part of within the one body of Christ, and not only those on Earth, but those who have gone to glory before us, our family, our friends, our neighbors, and others who are a part of the body of Christ, the Heavenly part, the part that no longer has occupation in our body, but has laid aside the Earthly tabernacle and continues as one of our prayers says in strength to strength in service to the Heavenly kingdom.

1 Happy the souls to Jesus joined,
And saved by grace alone;
Walking in all His ways, they find
Their heaven on earth begun.

2 The Church triumphant in Thy love,
Their mighty joys we know;
They sing the Lamb in hymns above,
And we in hymns below.

3 Thee in Thy glorious realm they praise,
And bow before Thy throne;
We in the kingdom of Thy grace:
The kingdoms are but one.

4 The holy to the holiest leads,
From thence our spirits rise;
And he that in Thy statutes treads,
Shall meet Thee in the skies.

Jesus is Building

This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out.   Matthew 16:18 (MSG)

The church is all of us working together and in the building of the kingdom of God, but we're being built together by Jesus himself, who said, "This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of Hell will be able to keep it out." That's from Matthew 16:18 in the Message Translation. He goes on to give us His church, the kingdom, the keys to the kingdom, reflecting on it the various powers and authorities that are ours in the gifts of the Holy Spirit as the people of God, the church that Jesus is building here.
Paul refers to the church in that architectural sense of putting together a building, as having the various stones all assembled together. Each of us is like a stone in the building. When you think of that analogy, then we can think about that, not all the stones have been put in a place yet. It's still being built and the stones that may not yet be a part of the building are all being prepared to become a part in the building. They're being shaped and they're being brought into the location that they need to be in and getting prepared. The rest of the building is being prepared to receive those stones. We think of the stones as all the people. Then all the people that who are, who will become a part of this church are all being prepared for each other, for the relationship, to be each in their own place, in their own relationship, in their own place in the structure, in the church, in this spiritual entity that Jesus is building.

Gathered in the Name of Jesus

 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.  Matthew 18:20 (KJV)

We're gathered in the name of Jesus in Matthew 18:20 in the King James, it said, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them." Sometimes it's brought up that the context of this statement and perhaps with some placing some limitations there. I'd like to reflect on that just militarily, as we think of this church. The context of this gathering of two or three, where Jesus said that, begins as he's talking about some conflicts that people may have theoretically for seeing that we may, as the church, have conflicts to be resolved.

He says in verse 16 of this passage, this is in the Good News Translation, "But if he will not listen to you, take one or two other persons with you, so that every accusation may be upheld by the testimony of two or three witnesses." That is how that part of the conversation begins, with this a way of resolving conflicts. If you're not able to work something out with the individual that you feel is not living out the Christian fight properly, then take a couple of people with you and see if together you can work that out. If not, then perhaps with the whole congregation, you can work something out. If not, well, then you may have to go your separate ways.

That's not the end of the passage, and that's not all that Jesus is talking about here, because he builds on that. It's not a limitation to the two or three gathered in his name. It's just the starting point of this conversation. He builds on that and adds to that. I tell you in verse 18 in the Good News, "What you prohibit on Earth will be prohibited in Heaven. What you permit on Earth will be permitted in Heaven." To this conflict resolution, Jesus adds this authority to make decisions. If two or three of us are gathered together in anyway, we have authority to make decisions about what we're going to do in the name of Jesus. We don't have authority to make decisions for other people who aren't there, unless they've elected us as a representative and asked us to make those decisions.

We can't just like our church make decisions for what other churches are going to do. We make decisions for what our church is going to do, and we respect their decisions for what they do. If we're a small group or a larger group, we can decide when we're going to meet and what we're going to study and what we're going to do. If there is some project we're going to take up, or some somebody we want to help, or, or some type of thing that we want to do, it's all within the .... If there's any limitation to that, its limitations that we have set or have accepted for ourselves within the structure of other groups that we're a part of, or within our understanding of the scriptures and so forth.

The point I think, is that we have this authority and that this is in addition to this conflict resolution that began the conversation in the first place. There's another layer in there. While you're at it, let me just say that if two or three of you decide something, then that's a valid decision. Not only that, another layer is added. In verse 19, and this is also in the Good News, "and I tell you more. Whenever two of you on Earth agree about anything you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in Heaven." I like the word agree because it helps us to see that our gathering does not necessarily mean that we're physically in the same location, but that our thoughts are gathered, that spiritually we have gathered.

That really reflects a lot about the body of Christ. It's a spiritual gathering, it's a spiritual entity, it's a spiritual gathering of hearts and minds around Christ Himself, in relationship to Christ, and that puts us in a specific type of relationship with one another. When we are in relationship with Christ, we are the group heart, the body, the entity of those who are in relationship with Christ, no matter really, how good or bad that we're doing in our part of the relationship or how new, or how old that we are to that relationship, or whether that is a relationship that we enjoy while we're in the body, or whether is a relationship continuing after the physical body has been laid aside, we're all in relationship to Christ. That puts us all in relationship to each other, and if two or more of us agree within that relationship on anything, then we have a prayer. Then we have something that God will respond to.

Maybe He doesn't rule out our individual prayers, either. It just is adding this and it's adding it to the conversation that's already gone on, which admittedly is, it began with a conflicts, but it didn't end there. It was added on to that. It's another layer. If two or more of you agree on anything, it will be done for you. That brings us into some, think about like on the day of Pentecost when everybody was in one accord. That's when the Holy Spirit came in, and in such a mighty way.

We're invited to continue that today, to pray together, to join together in prayer. We still pray as Jesus did in solitude on the night He gave Himself up for us, "Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done." Again, I want to reiterate that doesn't exclude our prayers, our individual prayers. It just adds that extra layer of prayer and an extra identification as two or more of us, that Jesus is with us. I'd like to read that verse 20 now, in that context, from the Message Translation about the presence of Jesus. Hear this, "And when two or three of you are together, because of me, you can be sure that I'll be there."

One Foundation

God has already placed Jesus Christ as the one and only foundation, and no other foundation can be laid.  1 Corinthians 3:11 (GNT)

Paul in another place of describing the church and in the terms of building materials, to 1 Corinthians 3:11 in the Good News, he said, "God has already placed Jesus Christ as the one and only foundation, and no other foundation can be laid." Then right before that, he was saying how we each have to be careful how we build so we take care of how we build on that foundation, because if we build up some kinds of materials, then what we build will endure, but if we build with other kinds of materials, it may not last so long.

Just keep that in mind. That may be all right, but bear that in mind, when you select the materials, you're using to build in your own spiritual life and in the life of our corporate spirit, spiritual life together as the people of God, as a Bible study group, or a covenant group or prayer group, or some kind of team that we might be forming for various projects in the church, or as a congregation or a denomination, however, parts of it, whatever parts of the body of Christ that we're working on, that we're a part of, take care how you build. Make sure you're using the proper materials for what Christ has given you the opportunity to build

That beautiful Cathedral of Notre Dame as the way we say it back home, but Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Notre Dame, that building is in the process of being restored, and even after much of it was destroyed, it's still a beautiful edifice. Right now, they have been in the process of building these various bracings and all to keep what remains there from further damage or collapse. That bracing is itself a work of art. Parts of the building were completely destroyed by the fire and other parts were damaged or threatened, but they still remain in place. The materials and the money and everything that goes into all the craftsman and laborers and architects and engineers, and then everybody that supports all of them, is all being brought to place to rebuild this cathedral over several years. That's all been gathered together and materials are being identified for the replacement work that is to be done.

That's a beautiful analogy of all of this that the Bible is talking about, about the church and about building with the best materials and the appropriate materials for what we're doing, and of taking care how we build, and of some parts enduring and some parts, maybe not, of each of us having our role and our place in the building, but of Christ being the one who is actually bringing it all together and bringing us all together as the body of Christ, the building, the temple of the Lord. There is a certain foundation that can't be replaced, and that is Christ Himself. We're all built. Christ is the one building this church. We're all built on this one foundation.

We have a hymn, the Church's one Foundation by Samuel Stone: 

1. The church's one foundation
is Jesus Christ her Lord;
she is his new creation
by water and the Word.
From heaven he came and sought her
to be his holy bride;
with his own blood he bought her,
and for her life he died.

2. Elect from every nation,
yet one o'er all the earth;
her charter of salvation,
one Lord, one faith, one birth;
one holy name she blesses,
partakes one holy food,
and to one hope she presses,
with every grace endued.

3. Though with a scornful wonder
we see her sore oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder,
by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping;
their cry goes up, "How long?"
And soon the night of weeping
shall be the morn of song.

4. Mid toil and tribulation,
and tumult of her war,
she waits the consummation
of peace forevermore;
till, with the vision glorious,
her longing eyes are blest,
and the great church victorious
shall be the church at rest.

5. Yet she on earth hath union
with God the Three in One,
and mystic sweet communion
with those whose rest is won.
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
like them, the meek and lowly,
on high may dwell with thee.
We Are All the Church
All of you together are the one body of Christ, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it.   1 Corinthians 12:27 (TLB)
We are all the church. In the Living Bible chapter one, and then chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians, verse 27 says, "All of you together are the one body of Christ, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it." We are one single spiritual unity, the body of Christ, the church, regardless of what name that we may place over our particular part of it, what sign we put on the front of the church that we meet, where we meet, or what name we take for our particular theological approach to distinguish us from groups taking other approaches or involved in other projects, regardless of what organizational structure that we adopt for conducting what we feel that God has led us to do, we along with all those others who are doing similar things are all a part of the one body of Christ, all who believe in Jesus.

As the saying goes, "All means all, y'all." The great invitation was given this way by Jesus, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." The church is all of us in Earth and in Heaven who have accepted that invitation and have come on to Christ. May God bless you in your quest as you seek a deeper spiritual relationship with your creator, with your fellow creatures, as a part of the church of Jesus Christ. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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