Why Church? • Sermon • Submitted
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Has anyone here ever heard of the Pennsylvania Hermit? He is somewhat of a legend more specifically in south east, or even south central Pennsylvania.
Anyway, the man who would one day be called the Pennsylvania Hermit’s real name was William “Amos” Wilson.
William was born in Lebanon, PA in 1774. William also had a younger sister name Elizabeth. William eventually became a stone cutter while his sister moved to Philadelphia to be a house servant.
At the age of 18, Elizabeth became pregnant to a wealthy man from Philadelphia out of wed-lock. When she gave birth, her baby was taken from her, killed, and buried in a nearby grove in order for this wealthy man to hide his indiscretions.
Well, the body of the baby was found, Elizabeth was suspected of murdering him, arrested, and put on trial.
She was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. When William found out he did everything to he could to save his sister, but all of his efforts failed.
Then, on the day of her execution he managed to get a meeting with the Governor and convinced him to pardon Elizabeth.
William hurried to the execution grounds only to find that he was a few minutes too late and his sister had already be executed.
Well, this drove William into a state of delirium for several months. When he finally started to come out of the delirium he is recorded to have said that “the wound caused by his sister’s death would never heal, and that he would quit human society altogether.”
So William did just that. He left his job as a stone cutter and began to wander across the Pennsylvania countryside, eventually settling in a cave near Harrisburg.
That cave is now called the Indian Echo Caverns. Maybe you have visited them as they are are popular tourist attraction.
Anyway, William lived in that cave for 19 years before dying in 1821 at the age of 47.
His pain and his hurt that he believed society had caused him was so great that he spent the rest of his life in isolation.
Living, but never really alive. Alone and bitter, William spent his days believing that being a hermit in a cave was the answer to his hurt.
It is an interesting story for sure, and one many of us can probably relate to.
Some of us listening this morning have had an experience in our lives where we were hurt. Hurt badly enough that we felt like the answer was to isolate and stay away because we didn’t want to be hurt like that again.
This is certainly true of Church. There are a lot of people out there living as Church Hermits. You know what I am talking about.
People who want nothing to do with Church. They have no interest in being a part of one. They almost get defensive or even angry when you invite them or encourage them to come.
And when you dig a little bit you find that the reason there is so much opposition to Church is because at some point in their lives they were hurt.
And that hurt was bad enough that they believed that it was better to isolate and withdraw.
That it would be better to cut out Church or at best, stay as non-committal as possible.
And they feel like they are justified in doing so.
If you are just joining us I have been leading us through a sermon series called Why Church? where we are looking to discover why Church matters. Is it all that important. Do I really need to go to be a Christian?
So far we’ve said that..
What is your something?
And so if we are going to have a sermon series called Why Church? And if we are going to talk about why it is important that you go to Church, then we are going to have to address the elephant in the room; bad Church, more specifically bad religion.
We can point to many different causes of a decline in church attendance...
...but completely ignore how many of our fellow believers remain disconnected and lonely because of a bad Church experience.
Power in the Text
Power in the Text
Paul addresses some of this struggle in his letter to the Colossian Church.
Colossians 2:6-8 NLT 6 And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. 7 Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.
8 Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.
Here Paul points out how we distort what Jesus has done by inserting our own human thinking or tradition.
He says don’t do it. It’s difficult to foster connection and be your whole, vulnerable self in a room full of people who have different rules about what it means to be a Christian.
Paul goes on to confront the rulers and authorities and their rules regarding authority and allegiance.
Colossians 2:13-15 NLT 13 You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. 14 He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. 15 In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.
He says look, the only person who has the authority to tell you how to live is God. If God didn’t say it, or reveal it in his word, then it is man-made and it is human tradition and you need to not let it capture you.
He says here that he confronted human authority on the cross and shamed them by his resurrection? How?
Because the rulers in both Rome and Israel thought they had ultimate authority, not some nobody carpenter from Nazareth.
They thought they had shown Jesus’ followers who their failed king really was when they executed him only to have him come back from the dead 3 days later leaving both Israel and Rome without an explanation.
He is telling these believers that human authority will leave them disappointed, all they need is found in Christ.
NT Wright says it this way “All power structures, ancient or modern, whether political, economic or racial, have the potential to become rivals to Christ, beckoning his followers to submit themselves to them in order to find fuller security. The invitation is as blasphemous as it is unnecessary.”
What philosophies might take us captive and keep people from seeing Christ in church?
For Paul and the Colossians, the rulers and authorities were Rome and Israel.
They were the two powers that conspired to murder Jesus in an effort to hold on to their authority over the people, but that authority was never their’s to have, and the resurrection of Jesus only amplifies that truth.
But you know it wasn’t just these rulers and authorities the Paul was concerned about having a hold on the Colossian Church. He also turns his attention to the authorities within that same Church.
Next, Paul takes on those within the religious community who are questioning the salvation of others and excluding them from the people of God
Colossians 2:16-17 NLT 16 So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. 17 For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality.
You see they had forgotten the “Head” of the body, the head of the Church, is Christ.
There were leaders within the Church who had made themselves the head by creating rules about what people could or couldn’t do, even rules about what they could or couldn’t eat and drink.
Paul is reminding them that it isn’t the rules of the church or the penance we pay when we mess up or what we eat or drink that make us members of the kingdom of God. It’s Jesus.
Colossians 2:20-23 NLT 20 You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, 21 “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? 22 Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. 23 These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.
“Self-made religion” is useless in helping us overcome the temptations of this life and a barrier to the kind of community that encourages and fosters growth rooted in God.
Make no mistake about it, we certainly must deal with the sin in our lives and turn from the things that dishonor God.
Repentance is to be the practice of the believer. Pretending is not. If we must put on a show to be accepted, then it’s a sham.
Big Idea/Why it Matters
Big Idea/Why it Matters
For many, Church has been nothing but a place full of judgmental hypocrites who made being part of a church more like an HOA or homeowner’s association agreement than it ever was about being a community of believers who live life together, carry each other’s burdens, exhort one another and grow in their knowledge and understanding of the Lord.
Many times instead, Church has become a place where everyone has to put on the best version of themselves like a costume for fear that if they don’t have it all together or if they don’t follow all the “rules” they will be gossiped about, judged, and even condemned by others who are doing the exact same thing.
So they isolate themselves and cut Church out of their lives.
The truth is, the Church needs to take some ownership for that.
We need to acknowledge where we have complicated the gospel by adding conditions to it.
But at the same time, for those that given up on Church because of a bad experience, please understand isolation is not the way of God’s people.
By holding fast to the gospel and abandoning man-made rules, we find freedom to grow and flourish in a community of believers.
Healthy Churches are a gift
If you go out to eat at a pizza place, and if you have a terrible pizza, does that mean you are never going to another pizzeria for the rest of your lives?
Have you ever had a bad meal at a place that is generally pretty good? Does a bad experience mean you never go again?
Of course not! Why? Because you understand that just because you had a bad experience at one place doesn’t mean they are all bad.
Yet that is exactly what many of us have done with Church.
We had a bad experience, maybe multiple bad experiences and so we write off all Churches.
Maybe we still go and bounce around a little but don’t ask me to join or to get involved because it didn’t go so well before.
In Colossians, Paul is challenging the believers there, and us today, to disentangle the work of Christ, the gospel message, and the purpose of the church from the bad religion that we have experienced and even tend to embrace.
And for those of us that are still here, still doing our best to be the body, in spite of the mess we make of it sometimes, we too need to make sure we aren’t inserting our own ideas, traditions, and rules where scripture is silent.
We need to quit complicating things.
May our hearts be humble enough to recognize our own responsibility in the mess and earnest enough to press on in love with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
Why Church? because despite the mess we make of it sometimes, it is still the closest image of heaven we have on this side of eternity.