What I Would Want to Know –The Role of the Church
- Prelude – “More About Jesus” Arr. Mary McDonald, Pauline Olsen, Organist; Donna Grubbs, Pianist
- Welcome – Pastor Brad Beeman
- Hymn – “I Love to Tell the Story” by Katherine Hankey, #156, Becky Morgan, Vocalist; Donna Grubbs, Pianist
- Special music – “You Are My Sunshine,” by Jimmie Davis, Gwen Westeren, Pianist; Donna Grubbs, Pianist
- Scripture – Mark 12: 30-31, Deacon Kathleen Charters
- Message – “What I’d Want to Know,” Pastor Brad Beeman
- Hymn – “The Gift of Love” by Hal Hopson, #408, Donna Grubbs, Pianist; Becky Morgan, Vocalist
- Postlude – “Let Praise Ring Forth” by Edward Broughton, Pauline Olsen, Pianist
The Role of the Church
So we’ve moved from how I see myself as a child of God, to how I view the role of the pastor. Today I want to explore how I view the role of the church in the world today. As you now know, I grew up in the church, the Methodist church, and over the years have watched as it has gone through multiple iterations. Like the whole idea of leadership, I believe the role has shifted and changed over time. What really hasn’t changed is how Jesus defined how we are to approach faith. For me, it really centers on the Greatest Commandment; loving God, and neighbor as self so we’ll talk about that a bit this morning. I also want to focus on another painting. It’s the third of the large pictures in my office. Nope, it’s certainly not the prodigal son returning home, nor is it my own drawing of the hands of the carpenter. This is simply a picture of a log home that sits on a quiet lake with three geese preparing to land. And again, as odd as it sounds, I’m not sure there is a better picture to describe the role of the church today. I’ll get back to that, but first, back to the commandment. Look back at the scripture for a moment.
Jesus does a really interesting thing with his response to the question about the greatest commandment. Surprisingly he doesn’t talk at all about any of the Ten. Instead, Jesus takes the Shema, that simple statement out of Deuteronomy that sits on the doorpost of every Jewish home. It is there as the primary reminder of what God expects of God’s people. The symbol on the Shema translates into: “Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all of your mind, with all of your soul and with all of your strength.” In other words, God absolutely comes first, before all other things. But then Jesus adds this really obscure, singular verse out of Leviticus. From the section that talks about God’s expectations within a community, a Jewish community, Jesus focuses on the whole idea of neighbor. Jesus takes it a whole lot farther than what was expected. So, love God first, and then love your neighbor as you love yourself. It sounds so simple. It’s not.
First, the three elements in this scripture do not carry equal importance. The first is primary, similarly to the beginning of the Ten Commandments. The second is secondary, and it is fully dependent on the first. Together we find God’s creational plan. Loving God first builds the foundation. Then, loving our neighbor will be defined by our love of God; our willingness to be filled by God’s Spirit, to choose to live the life of Jesus, and to see our neighbors as we see ourselves. So let’s look at how all of that defines the role of the church.
We are, as I said a few weeks ago, each miraculous creations of God; every one of us. But it’s when we allow God to enter and fill us; allow God to define us, that we really become whole as those children. Augustine called that which is within us at our birth, a “God-shaped void.” It is a void that God seeks to fill if we allow it. I believe filling that void with God first, completes us as God’s creation. It’s really only then that we can realize that we are miraculous creations of a loving and defining God. And then, it is within that relationship that we must see ourselves and our roles as a part of God’s ongoing creation. It is from there, and only from there, that we can understand our role, and the role of the church. The church helps us to find God, be filled with God, and be defined by God.
Then, as creations of God, we take responsibility for ourselves physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. It really is how we love ourselves as God’s creations. We have shelter, food, clothing, positive relationships, emotional support, and even a deeper sense of love. God seeks that for and from us. Now hang with me because that now brings us to loving our neighbor.
I think we often fail to realize that this second commandment cannot and should not be divided in two, as though loving ourselves is separate from loving our neighbor. This “commandment” mandates that if we see what I just talked about as priorities for ourselves, then, according to God’s plan, we are to offer the same (love) to our neighbor. In God’s community, we make sure that our neighbor has shelter, food, support, and a deeper sense of love. We seek to make sure they know they are loved by God. Taking those actions, providing those is what puts the gospel into action. Love God. Love Neighbor as we love ourselves. I believe it’s what completes us as Christian disciples. It is what makes us whole as God’s children. Then, if that’s not hard enough, Jesus talks about who our neighbor is. He shares the story of a hated enemy…a Samaritan. It’s not just loving those who are like us. It’s much more challenging than that. So specifically, what are we to do as individuals and as a church?
This is where John the Baptist helps us as he talks about, “In the wilderness (of life), we are first to make a straight path to God.” In order to do that for others, John talks about bringing the mountains down, lifting up the valleys, making the crooked paths straight, and the rough paths smooth. Isn’t that also the role of the church? We help others deal with the obstacles in their lives particularly those that seem insurmountable (mountains). We seek to lift those who are in the dark places of life out of those valleys; we help them see around whatever that next frightening corner may be; the corner they just can’t see around just yet (crooked paths straight), and in those rough times, we seek to love and support our neighbors so that the path forward will be smooth. It’s what we do. And as the Father did in the story of the prodigal, we run to help…we run. But how?
You may not yet be aware that my grandfather helped start Goodwill Industries. Then it was called “Industries of Goodwill.” Edgar Helms began the work in the late 19th century and into the early 20th, my grandfather continued it. Their catchphrase is one I’ve always appreciated, and I think it applies as much today as it did back then. It was, “A hand up, not a hand out.” To some extent, he saw it like the old adage of “giving a man a fish, and he is fed for a day. Teach the man to fish and he will be fed for a lifetime.” The design then was similar to the design today. Teach skills and offer a healthier future. And yes, I get that there are times when we absolutely need to feed the hungry, help free those who are under any kind of oppression, and confront abuse. We see Jesus doing all of that in the gospels. And that too is the role of the church.
Okay, that’s all well and good pastor, but what if we don’t all agree about the specifics; about who and how and what. And, by the way, we don’t all agree. The MAT Clinic is the perfect example. A mature and healthy church can disagree about the specifics of how all of this plays out. It can have an abundance of differing ideas about so much of this. But only a healthy church, one filled with God’s spirit, where each one seeks that infilling definition… only then can we talk about, laugh about, disagree about whatever the appropriate actions may be. But it doesn’t stop there. A truly healthy church will come up with a way where appropriate actions can be taken while continuing to stay at the table together; in love.
Let me close with looking again at this picture. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I noticed what was wrong with the picture; or for today, what is right with the picture when it comes to being the church. First, the setting is idyllic. There is a warmth in the home, a peace and serenity with the water, the reflection of the sun on the lake, and a path to the water that seems just right. I look at you, Trinity United Methodist Church, and see the same kinds of serenity. This is a place of peace, whether in the sanctuary or not…it’s just a place filled with an overwhelming sense of peace and love. A church needs to be such a place. But look closely. There is action happening in this picture as well. It is the geese.
There shouldn’t be three. Geese travel in pairs, bonded pairs, lifelong pairs, mated pairs. Geese most often live in community. They support one another by honking as they fly, or by honking warnings when on the ground. There are sentries as others eat. The group takes care of the young. They take turns leading while in flight, and when tired, one falls back, and another takes the front as the windbreak. That’s also a description of what I think God seeks from us as a church. But here’s the key. When one of the geese is injured, and here we have the picture…when one is injured and forced to land, the mate will follow it down to the ground. But they don’t go alone. They are accompanied by at least two others. Notice the focus of the heads of the three. They seem to be locked on something on the ground. I believe the artist intended this to represent all of that. The geese, like us as a church seek to offer support to those who are struggling. We are called to stay with the injured until they are able to fly again. Like the geese, we seek to provide food, and shelter, and emotional support throughout that difficult time. Isn’t that the role of the church?
So, there you have it, in a nutshell. Our role is, as Jesus said, is to love God first and seek to bring others so that they too can experience that love. It is out of our love of God first that we’ll know how to love one another, and that includes our neighbor. And the whole idea of neighbor expands from those we know and those like us, outwardly to those with whom we disagree, or even those who we may see as an enemy. To me, that’s what makes up a church.
So, your assignment this week is to do some self-examination. Are you loving God, opening yourself up to God’s infilling Spirit? It’s not hard. You just ask God to fill you.
Are you asking God who it is God needs you to serve; of finding those neighbors to love as we love ourselves? Are we continuing to do that as a church, especially in this time of challenge?
Who is it that needs you right now; to visit or protect or feed or nurture? Who can you take with you to support you and that one in need?
Who is it that feels as though they are dealing with insurmountable obstacles, or is in a deep and dark place, or who can’t see around the next corner for what may lay ahead, or whose life has entered a rough patch? I think we become Christ for them, helping them back to wholeness, whatever it may take.
I think we are seeking to do that on some levels, but might God be calling us to do more, particularly in this challenging time. Over the next seven weeks, I’ll explore that more fully as we move through the rest of the summer and into the fall. But for now, let’s pray…