Brothers and sisters, I greet you!
I greet you in the name of our Father in heaven, in the name of Jesus His son and our Lord, and I greet you also as a family member, bound by our faith and love of our Lord Jesus.
What is Church?
And, do I have to go to Church to be a Christian”?
But, tonight, we want to look more precisely at What is it then, to be Church?
And that would include …how should I be, we be, to be Church?
But first, to set the scene, just a quick recap:
Paul calls the Church, in 1 Corinthians 3:16, “the temple of God,” in Galatians 6:10, the household of faith,” in 2 Corinthians 11:2, the Bride of Christ – and in all of these one may see a description pointing to the quality of something (or someone) being a precious possession of God or Christ.
And that is how we should be and should understand that this is how God sees us.
As Church, we are:- God’s temple; Christ’s bride (and keep in mind here the unity the bible emphasizes between bride and bride groom – “they shall be one”); we are faith’s household … and as such the church, by definite implication, has a purpose, a calling –
and our text will show us what that purpose is …. and how we may fulfill that purpose.
Reading all of Romans 12 it becomes clear that Paul is proclaiming an important truth: that truth is that, just like Jesus, we should be willing to give up our own bodies, our own lives, as a sacrifice for God’s church.
Why? Because we are members of God’s church.
And then Romans 12 spells out how we should do this.
1) By changing our minds drastically (verse two reads) to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” towards what God asks of us”;
2) Secondly, Paul says we should act In humble service of the Body of Christ, the church, by unselfishly presenting one’s God given talents to the advantage of the Body (Rom 12: 3-8);
3) Thirdly, Paul says we should serve each other in acts of kindness and hospitality (Rom 12: 9-13);
4) Fourthly Paul says we should desire to be like Christ in all of life (Rom 12: 14-21).
So much then, for the recap…
This evening, to understand the broader context of what it means to be Church, there are two concepts or motifs that run throughout the bible, that needs consideration:
The one is Covenant, and the other is Kingdom
And these two golden threads that run throughout the bible, are the all encompassing paradigm that explains why we are church and why we would want to be church.
First then, Covenant.
Covenant, is the promise that God made to His people that he would be God for them, that he wants them to be His people and as His people He will bless them and keep them.
Covenant, in short, is God’s plan for His people, and His promise to bless them and keep them.
The covenant that immediately comes up in most people’s mind is that between God and Abraham, where God says to Abraham, I will be Your God, and you will be My people. I will make you into a great nation, and through you, many will be blessed.
But there are other covenants equally important to the understanding of how we are part of God’s plan and, as we sit here today, His plan for us specifically as us God’s Church.
There is the Adam covenant, the unspoken (to mankind, in any case) covenant when God first decides to create us as His precious possession;
There is the Sinai covenant, when God gives His people His law and says to Moses that he is to pass on this law to the Israelites so that they might live their lives according to His law – God is saying “I will be your God, your King.”
Our God, it is clear, is very much aware of us and very mindful of His covenant with us…and he remains ever faithful.
But, we also know, from the Bible and from our own lives, how mankind relates to God’s covenants: no sooner had God created Adam; no sooner had he promised Abraham that he would turn the Israelites into a great nation; no sooner had God given Moses the ten commandments on Mt Sinai ….
or mankind stumbles and falls, failing miserably in his attempts to keep to their part of the deal – their part of the deal being living their lives as Gods possession and pride and to His commandments.
But for God’s grace, we should not be here this evening.
(And the really sad part here is that God asks but two commitments: to love God above all else and to love one another as you love yourself.)
And mankind fails miserably.
We become anti church…
And yet, throughout all of ancient Israel’s history, indeed throughout all time, God remains faithful:
Adam is expelled from the garden, yes,
but God does not exterminate mankind because of his sin.
Israel is carried away to Egypt as slaves, yes,
but God sends Moses to save them from slavery.
When Israel bow in praise to false Gods, to the Golden calf, God punishes them, yes,
(modern day false Gods)
but he does not turn his back on them.
In stead, He gives them His law and shows them the way and he continues to lead them into the promised land…
Lets just stop here for a moment: What is the main sin of the Israelites?
In short …self-importance! Their turning away from God.
They think they do not need God. They think that they are a kingdom unto themselves, their own Kings and rulers.
Those whom God entrusts with His love, feel that they might, as a favor almost, in return sort of trust God, but only when they can’t handle things themselves.
Like when Abraham takes the slave girl and sleeps with her to ensure he will have an offspring -
How, after all, would it be possible for God to do this at Abraham’s age!
Like when the Israelites bow before the golden calf when they doubt God will really lead them to the promised land.
(Never mind that He has just parted the red sea and destroyed the Egyptian army that pursued them; never mind that God has just fed them in a barren desert) no, God, the Israelites think, needs a helping hand,so they create their own god, a golden calf.
And this pattern continues into the Kings era, when Israel asks, through Samuel, that God give them a king to look after them.
They are no longer satisfied with God being their king, they want a king on a throne, a king they can see – and here’s the mindset of the Israelites – a king like the other nations surrounding them … the heathen nations, that is.
And this is where “Kingdom” comes into the picture.
In the Old Testament, Israel is the kingdom of God, which reaches its culmination under the rule of David.
In the New Testament, we, the Church, becomes the New Kingdom, with Jesus the King.
David only comes into the bigger scheme of things when God makes a new covenant: …the King that the Israelites asked for, Saul, was a truly disappointing, gutless king.
God told His people that it would be so and now Saul has proven it and the Israelites, their King and all, are under siege of the Philistines – their king, Saul, the one they trusted in, even above God, has failed them.
So God chooses a King of His own making – David, and what is more, God promises from the house of David another King will be born, a King that will rule over a new Kingdom, a Kingdom that will last ….forever.
We, brothers and sisters, you and I, the Church, through Jesus, we are that kingdom!
And that is where Paul picks up Gods promise, God’s covenant, and we are called upon to be worthy subjects of the New King, the King that would come from the house of David, our Lord and savior, Jesus the Christ.
How will we be worthy? How should we be …Church?
After I had written this sermon, I sat back in my not so easy chair, trying to think of a short summary that would cement the heart of this message into my mind.
I could not immediately come op with an answer or a method to achieve this … so I read the text one more time:
And then I was reminded of another text:
When Paul writes to the Corinthians, in 1 Corinthins 13, he goes to some length to describe what true love is all about.
He does so because he has taken issue with the Corinthians and is out to prove to them that love, true love, is more important even than faith, more important than the ability to do miracles or speak in tongues. For that is what they were focusing on – whose faith is strongest; who is able to speak in tongues…
Love, is what it is all about, says Paul. Love should manifest itself in the lives of Christians, in the deeds they do towards each other and to the glory of God alone.
And then, in concluding that section of his letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
And that, I thought, is it; That’s the summary!
Our text, Romans 12 verse 9-21, expands in a very specific manner on this truth:
Paul is writing, most likely at this stage, from Corinth, where he has experienced first hand what the church should not be.
1 Cor 13 says it quite clearly: Christians, we see, should not compete to see who has the best spiritual gifts, who is the best preacher, who is the most important.
They should …love one another, serve each other!
Paul says that love is the very essence of the life of a Christian, and as such, of those who gather together as a Church of believers.
They will be known by the love that they show.
And the love Paul is referring to here, specifically, is the love that should be shown between people.
This love, he says, must be sincere … and the next two commands underwrites this requirement:
Honour one another above yourselves; and, very importantly...
“never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.”
To serve one another is to serve the Lord, to be the subjects of King Jesus, doing his every bidding. And jesus bids us: “Love one another”.
We joyfully declare that we are Christians, that we are members of the Christian Reformed Church of Sydney. May I ask a question? How do we love one another?
How do we serve one another?
Without any expectation of a return?
Please let me share with you part of a story I once read.
In her autobiography, To my Children’s Children, written as a letter to her grand children, South African author Sindiwe Magona in the ending of her book looking back on the first 23 years of her life, writes this scene:
Describing how hard times had fallen upon her and her three children - and her siblings she had to care for - she recalls a specific evening:
How do we love?
How many Sindiwe Magona’s are there in our lives that we don’t even know about; don’t really want to know about?
Verse 12: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”
The joy this verse refers to finds its source in the Christian’s joyful end-time expectations, even against all odds! It is looking forward to be part of Gods New Kingdom – part of Jesus.
In Mark 13:13 we read “… and ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.
If we are the new Kingdom of God, will we show such patience, will we remain faithful?
Or will we, like Israel once, juggle God’s commands; like the Pharisees, self-righteously interpret Jesus teachings, all to ensure that we ourselves get the best deal out of our interaction with others.
Paul continues … our duty as Christians here on earth is: …Verse 13: … to “Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”
Who is God’s people? Surely, God does not expect us to heap love, unconditional love, on those who trespass against us? I can hardly mange to do good to those whom I love, why would I make the effort to do good to those whom I can hardly stand?
Oh, God’s people?
Yes, for them I might find the time of day, but those who are not God’s people, well, the devil take the hindmost?
Verse 14 says all of God’s people! Even our enemies!
Because that’s the Christian way, That is the way that we as church people, as covenant people, should distinguish ourselves. That is the way we should be Church! And in that way, we might even help grow God’s kingdom!
In Mat. 5:44 we read: But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.
And that, of course, sounds like an awful sacrifice, more than we can bear, perhaps?
Which should bring us full circle as to how we should be as a church –
Anyone can forgive their friends and loved ones, but only those who have received special grace can forgive their enemies.
Why should we forgive our enemies, those who wronged us?
Because we are different!
Because in Jesus we are already living in the new Kingdom and our King already reigns and our old selves are dead and buried.
Because we are new born.
From our text we may see that we are different to non-believers;
We are different to the Jews in the synagogue, who cursed those who were not Jews, who cursed all those who did not believe as they did.
And we are different, because we have a reason _ and proof _ that we are different:
And Jesus is that proof.
Through Him we may know that the promise of God to Abraham and Israel has been fulfilled and that we are already in His new Kingdom. Through Jesus our earthliness, our commonness, our sinfulness has been removed from us and we are no longer the same.
We are different because we have a Supreme King who rules over us, His kingdom.
And just see what our King does …..compared to what David and Solomon and the other Israelite kings did.
See what our heritage is….compared to the fruits of the kingdoms of the earthly kings of Israel – they were exiled to Babylon!
We do not have to suffer exile.
We are Christians, we are God’s Church, subjects of Jesus, new kingdom.
Now but not yet
And how will we show this? How may we show that we are Christians, members of Christ’s body? Members of Christ’s Church?
By becoming humble towards each other, by serving each other. By loving each other ….even when we have little reason to feel loving;
by giving our time and our effort and our money when we find the opportunity!
In other words … by being different to those who are not Christians, whose king is not Jesus. Different to people who’s lives revolve around themselves and their earthly pleasures and possessions.
It may mean that need to sacrifice something or, indeed, ourselves.
It may mean that we might have to offer our support when we ourselves are feeling down; that is what sacrifice is about!
It may mean that we might have to wake up in the middle of the night and get into a cold car to travel to and offer condolences to someone who calls in desperate grief after a loved one has died;
or to visit or speak to someone who calls at 2 in the morning because he or she can not stand a moment longer the loneliness and the silence in their life
or perhaps even something as simple as inviting that person you had the squabble with – yes, he was wrong, you were right – invite that person over for dinner and fix things up. Love one another!
It may even be …setting up and serving at the coffee and tea table after church, doing the dishes, even though you have a thousand important things still to do. Serve one another!
Church, true church, can only be, can only happen, when by God’s grace we, each one of us as Christians, become aware of our mutual faith and fellowship and our love for one another and our purpose to serve one another.
We are to love one another – just as God loved us by sending us a New King.
And God left us the ultimate example - It is for us that the King – His Son - was crucified.
But it is also for us that the King rose again, to establish His new Kingdom, His church. That has always been God’s plan!
When Jesus returns, it will be as it was in the Garden of Eden. That is God’s promise! That’s why we have the story of Eden; to show what God’s kingdom looks like.
Till we return to Eden, will we do what our King, our Lord, commands, here on earth already now, the already established (now, but not yet…) kingdom?
Will we serve our King…by serving each other?
If we do, we will surely share in God’s ultimate Kingdom, the new Eden,
and it will be wonderful. Amen.