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The Three Tasks of Hillside Church

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Sermon – “The Three Tasks of the Church”
Hillside Church of Marin – 12 August 2012
Let’s pray together: God, we adore you, we praise you, and we continue our worship this morning with the teaching of your word. May your Spirit fall fresh on us so that we may hear and receive your message of hope, redemption, and peace. May you transform my words into yours, and may you move us to become your people who take on your mission in Marin and beyond. Do something crazy with us. We’re yours. Be with us. In your name, Amen.
Last week I led our Anthem high school crew into a 5-day urban mission experience in the heart of the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. We partnered with an organization called City Impact, and I can safely speak on behalf of the students who attended, Nicki Clausen, Dylan and Lukas Finkbeiner, Kate Ludwig, Ryan Moore, and Ben Suliteanu, that it was an intense week– it was exhausting – it was sobering – and it was also good. We woke up at 7am every morning. We were allowed one shower every other day. Each morning, we woke, ran to breakfast, transitioned into a time of prayer, and then served until about 9pm. We made hundreds of meals, knocked on dozens of doors, and we hardly stopped for five days.
Yet, while our projects served an important function, we devoted much of our time simply walking the streets of the Tenderloin, and encountering the city with our eyes wide open. Our goal was to look at people in their eyes and see them for who they are, not just people living in total desperation, despair, and hopelessness.
And in doing so, we got to taste the essence of the Tenderloin – quite literally – the cigarette and the pot smoke, the drugs, the body odor, the exhaust. The air was so heavy with these smells and these odors that you could feel yourself walking through it like a fog. In the evening at the end of our work, we smelled like the Tenderloin, and we could feel the strain of the city hanging on us like a grimy funk.
In the evening as I laid in bed and wrote in my journal, I reflected over and over on a question that I want to pose to you this morning, and that is this: What is the nature and the essence of the Church in a world fraught with such injustice and systemic evil and brokenness? Essentially, what are the tasks of the church? … We bear the very name of our community in the name of our church, so how ought we to live as a church in Marin County and for Marin County and beyond?
Last week at City Impact, our team met a man named Sean Sanchez, and the first thing that I noticed about him – the first thing that anyone would notice about him – are his tattoos. And he’s literally got ‘em everywhere – on his face, neck, arms. He’s even got tattoos on his baldhead, which I ain’t gonna lie, made me kinda jealous. Every bald man thinks that it’d be cool to have a tattoo on his head, but very few have the guts and personality to go through with it. And so the fact that Sean’s got several should give you some insight into who he is!
He entered into the kitchen with this big, gnarly grin on his face, and gathers all of these white, middle class teenage kids together in a huddle… Just imagine this scene: a burly Samoan man tatted from head to toe huddled closely together with a bunch of white suburban kids.
What are you thinking about right now? What do you think he says next?
He says this, and I can quote it verbatim because I’ll never forget it. He says, “Hey, my name’s Sean, and welcome to my church. This kitchen is where I worship, where I pray, and where I serve. You and I are gonna advance the kingdom of God today by making hot meals for the hungry outside of that door. [And he pointed to the kitchen door leading to the streets.] And then he said, “So, let’s get ready to worship!”
During our week there, I came to see Sean as both a head chef and also the head Pastor of that kitchen. In a matter of days, he led a team of white suburban kids and cooked over 4,000 bbq chicken meals made with what I would argue the best homemade bbq sauce that I’ve tasted on this side of the Mississippi.
I completely mistook Sean and our role in the kitchen. I admit that I prejudged him, and I made assumptions about our tasks in the kitchen as menial, instead of an act of worship. I placed Sean into a box that I could label and understand, but my box completely collapsed after I saw his heart for Jesus and the church in the Tenderloin!
Likewise, I believe that we mistake the function of the whole church for how God intended and in turn, prejudge it, label it, define it, and use it for our purposes and intentions.
Therefore, I want to use our time this morning to outline three core tasks of the church that ought to guide the work of the people of God in the world.
Think of the church as a three-legged stool by which Jesus sits and governs. Jesus is the head of the Church, his body, and he uses us as a means to accomplish his work of redemption in the world. Each leg on the stool represents a task given by God for us to accomplish.
First, the church has been tasked by God to gather as one community. When we take a closer look at the term Church, we discover that it comes from a Greek word called Ekklesia, meaning a gathering or a community. And at the root of this term is the verb ‘kaleo,’ which means ‘to call.’ Thus, the word church literally means a ‘called community.’ You are called. We are called. And whether or not you were forced here or dragged here or coerced here or willingly came here – I do believe that you are in the right place – right where God wants you. We are tasked by God to gather people together into one community.
The second leg of this stool represents the task by God for the church to equip one another to become disciples and Jesus followers. We gather for a purpose. It’s for more than the sake of simply getting together. When we come together like this on a Sunday morning or for a community group or for an event, we do so in order to equip one another for the good work of God in the world.
Which then leads to the third leg of this stool: that God has tasked the church to send one another out to participate in his mission – in the great adventure of God taking place all over the world – like in the Tenderloin, at Casa, in Calcutta and beyond!
When the church lives into these tasks in a faithful way, we then receive the privilege of becoming the footstool, the vessel by which God redeems the world. None of these tasks are any more equal or important or systematically ordered in the church than these legs are for this stool. Each task is important and necessary in and of itself for the work of every church, including Hillside Church.
So let’s dive headfirst into this and explore each of these tasks together, beginning with our task: to gather.
When you observe our world, what do you see? Or perhaps a better question would be: what do you hear?
Any NPR listeners? Any fellow dorks at Hillside? I love NPR, and I’m not ashamed.
One, however, only needs to listen to NPR for a few moments – or read the newspaper – or watch the news – or talk to a friend – or come out of your cave – to realize that our world is not as it should be. Deep down, all of us can sense that something is awry our world. There are Wars, Dictatorial regimes, Oppression, Genocide, Famine. Our world is a broken place.
But brokenness doesn’t merely exist somewhere out there… in Egypt or Libya or Syria or in the famines of Somalia. Rather, it smashes right through our front door. It’s real. And it’s personal. The brokenness of our world extends far beyond governments out there on othercontinents or disasters that happen in otherparts of the world. We encounter it in such things like divorce, disease, depression, anxiety, addiction… you name it.
Moreover, it can seem like our brokenness and these things imprisons us. It can feel like the mistakes of our past or the victimization bestowed upon us by others takes away our freedom. You may have not ever experienced the plight of a dictator, but we know what the emotions of a broken friendship feels like, don’t we? Or the emotions of a lost loved one? Or betrayal? Or disrespect? We don’t need a test drive. We’re all very well acquainted with these emotions, aren’t we?
Yet in the midst of our broken world and broken lives, the grace and mercy of God calls a group of people, the Church, to gather in unity and love and peace with one another. Ephesians 4:2-6 states, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace! There is one Body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
Hear what Paul does in this passage: He commands the church to live in unity, peace, and love so that the church may be a community that completely contradicts every notion of brokenness across the board, for where our sin and brokenness incites anxiety, Paul says gather in peace; where there is hate, gather in love; and, where you find division, Paul says remain united together as one. Essentially, Paul asserts that God has tasked the church to gather together amidst the pain and brokenness of one another – of our community – and of our world in order that God may use the church – the gathered community – to make it right from the inside out.
The flipside to this coin, however, is that when we observe division and splits in churches because of conflict or malfeasance or for whatever reason, we can safely argue that these churches have misunderstood the meaning of living as a reconciled community. Sure, conflict happens. Absolutely. There’s no denying that, nor avoiding it. But when conflict becomes the sole focal point of attention over the task of gathering in unity and reconciling with one another, then my friends, we lose the plot.
It’s a tall task, but we can do it because of one reason and one reason only: God has reconciled us and restored our relationship to him through one man, Jesus Christ –through whom God broke into our world and rescued us by sheer grace. Paul then asserts that now you and I have that same Spirit in us. God draws us together in unity through “one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all” so that we may be a fresh word in a broken world. It’s in the very act of remaining united together – both in the church and in our relationships, despite whatever circumstances, even as impossible as it might seem, that we truly bear witness to the God who heals and reconciles. It’s the task of God for us: to gather others together and live as one.
The authors of the New Testament name nearly 100 images of what a gathered community of Jesus followers looks like. They’ve been compiled and described in a book titled Images of the Church in the New Testament by a man named Paul Minear. Do you want to know what you look like, Hillside Church? Here are a few. The bible says that you are:
The salt of the earth, a letter from Christ, a fish net, a boat, an ark, one loaf, a table of the Lord, an altar, a cup of the Lord, new wine, branches of the vine, a vineyard, God’s planting, God’s building, a building on the rock, a pillar and buttress, the bride of Christ, a wedding feast, the choice clothing of the King, citizens of Heaven, an ambassador, and the people of God.
Imagine a sea of chaos. For some of you, it may not be hard to imagine. You may feel like you are drowning in one right now.
And then hear that the word of God describes you – all of you – this community – Hillside Church – as a boat – a refuge for those drowning – a refuge for you drowning – a place where you can feel safe.
When I think about the gathered community looking like a loaf of bread, I think about Sean’s kitchen. He is the pastor of a church who provides food for people who literally go days without a meal, as well as for people who metaphorically hunger for REAL LIFE and SATISFACTION!.
I want to be a church that claims these images as part of our identity.
When the church remains united together, bearing one another in love, maintaining the bond of peace, then the world sees Jesus!
And hereafter, when the believers gather together in this way, we do so for the expressed purpose of equipping one another, which is the second leg of this stool.
The gathered community, the church, doesn’t exist merely for itself, but for a unique purpose. The author of Ephesians goes on to write in verse 11 and following, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then, we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
Notice that Paul describes several different kinds of offices within the community of the church. He calls them apostles, prophets, teachers, and preachers. Every one of these offices are unique, but are equal in accomplishing one task, which is to prepare and equip the people of God for service in the world.
Yet, in order for the church to live into its second task of equipping others, we must first become built up and equipped ourselves, and this requires preparation.
In the same way that a good athlete prepares long in advance for a race, the church, too, you and I must prepare in advance for our mission in the world. In Acts 2:42, after a person would become baptized and follow Jesus, that person would then devote her or himself to the teaching of the apostles, which for you and me would mean the study of the Bible – and also to prayer and fellowship. Thus, the witness of the early church provides the present church – you and me – with two simple guidelines on how to prepare ourselves for the task of equipping others: prayer and regular Bible study – simple as that, right? Well, not so fast… these two guidelines can seem insurmountable; so let’s first take a look at prayer and then we will briefly look at the discipline of regular Bible study.
There are many starting points with the topic of prayer, and for a well-rounded discussion on it, I really encourage you to take a look at Steve’s sermon series from about a year ago entitled, “Prayer.” You can find it online at
For our purpose this morning, however, I want to offer a starting place with which to begin cultivating a discipline of prayer, and a faithful rubric to use is the acronym A.C.T.S, which stands for: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.
First, we ought to begin every prayer by simply adoring God. God alone deserves our praise for providing us with unmerited salvation and redemption. Only God is worthy of our worship.
Second, our adoration of God leads us to confession. The holiness of God beckons us to strive for purity and to rid ourselves of our brokenness and sin. Moreover, how can we be a church that speaks a fresh word – a different word – about brokenness in our world if we ourselves have not yet dealt with this issue? It’s absolutely essential in the preparation for every follower of Jesus – and often it’s a step that we need to repeat over and over again. So here, I want to take a moment to dig into this for a moment longer…
I’m going to tell this story because my wife is in Miami this weekend, and she is neither here to defend herself nor give me the evil eyeball from the front row. However, I’m sure that after she hears this online, I’m gonna pay the piper.
A couple of months ago, our small group went on a white water rafting trip down the American river. It was a great time. We navigated treacherous class 3’s; we tasted death together; and then we stuffed our faces with pizza. Awesome adventure!
So while on the river, the rafting organization requires that all of the people who raft in their boats wear shoes so that no one tears up our feet.
Well, everyone knows that when you mix river water with old shoes, you get stank – nasty, juicy, foul, oozy, grimy, funky, STANK!
So Stacy for some reason decided with her sensible, logical mind that her stanky shoes belonged in a fresh and clean house. You know what happens next, and it didn’t take long – maybe 30 minutes, maybe – before that STANK laser beamed through every square inch of our 600 square foot apartment. The odor can only be described as an unstoppable beast, and we were the victims.
**And Stacy’ s gonna kill me – just so you know. This’ll be my last sermon at Hillside.
So in an act of desperation we moved her shoes outside in the sun, not imagining that it could cure whatever biological phenomenon was taking place.
Within an hour in the pure, hot California sun, her shoes not only dried up, but the stench odor disappeared.
I share this story with you because it points to confession. When you shed light on those dark things that you bury deep down away from everyone, especially often those whom you love the most, those deep, dark things no longer possess any power or control over you. In fact, when you cast light on those dark things, you see them for what they are, as powerless mechanisms that take away your life, not enrich it.
I’ll admit that just this past week, I had to confess to my wife a couple of dark things that have been buried for a while, and it was painful. There’s no doubt that my life would be easier right now if I hadn’t brought up anything and just continued burying the stench deep down.
But you need to understand that confession leads you somewhere… When you confess rightly with a pure and humble heart, the Spirit of God leads you to freedom – the very freedom that Jesus so longs to give you – the very freedom for which Jesus gave his life. Our act of confession invites the Holy Spirit to dwell in us and sanctify our lives, which thereby permits us to then walk with others in their brokenness with integrity and street cred.
And it’s in this freedom that we boldly equip one another. 2 Timothy 1:7 states, “for God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control.” Acknowledge your brokenness with confession and believe with courage that you are forgiven. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” I can stand here with a completely pure heart and clean conscience and tell you that this is true. Others of you can, as well. If you have something stinkin’ up the house, then I pray that you may confess it, become purified, and then live a life of love, courage, and self-control.
I’d rather follow Jesus and deal with any repercussions of my actions than live with buried crap that steals my freedom and intoxicates my marriage…
Third, we thank God in our prayers that his promise is true. In the acts of adoration and confession, we can thank God for his promise that God resides with us and in us and never lets us go.
And last, it is with a grateful heart that we turn to God with a humble and expectant attitude of supplication. Jesus tells us over and over again not to fear, for God will provide for us. Jesus says that God considers the lilies of the field, so how much more will God consider those created in the very image and likeness of him? …
The second guideline for how we may prepare to equip one other is regular study of the Bible. This goes all the way back to the earliest days of the people of God. In Deuteronomy chapter 6, the author stresses the absolute importance of meditating and studying the commands of God in the Bible, saying “The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” During this time, the word of God spread through the oral telling of the stories that we now have recorded in the Bible. And while our tradition still calls for sharing stories, we must also dive into the deep waters of study and devotion in order to understand our identity as followers of Jesus.
I want to recommend highly to you a book titled, How to Read the Bible Book by Book. I hate the title of the book because I hate “How to” books, and this is not a “how to” book. Rather, it is a guided tour through the Bible that has helped me immensely to grasp the large story of Scripture and the way that the dominant principles throughout the Bible connect to one another.
I actually tried to order this book for you, since I have recommended other books in the past but have not made them available for you. But as luck would have it, this book is currently on back order on a couple of different sites right now. In spite of that, I can share that Brian has been formulating a sermon that he will give in a few weeks that will address the topics of Bible translation, how to select the right devotional for your particular journey in faith, as well as other resources in the study and reading of Scripture. So, you can look forward to that at the beginning of September, along with, hopefully, a few copies of this book.
So now, I want to turn our attention to the final God-given task of the church. We gather together… and we equip one another… for the expressed purpose of serving Jesus and participating in the mission of God in the world.
At the end of the book of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Here, Jesus, tells all of his followers both then and now that you have one aim, one goal: and that is to make disciples. And the good news is that as we do so, we can know that we will not be alone, but Jesus will be with us as we embark on this task!
Furthermore, at the end of the book of John, Jesus says to his frightened disciples in 20:21, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
Here, Jesus again tells his all of his followers both then and now to go into the whole world, even the scary places, without fear and with the same Spirit that God sent Jesus into the world. Remember 2 Timothy 1:7 states that the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-control. This statement at the end of John is a culmination of what Jesus said earlier in John 14:12, saying “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.”
And we know why this is true because of what Luke records Jesus saying just before he ascended to Heaven in Acts 1:8, saying “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Jesus says that you will be his witnesses at home, in the places that you feel comfortable and in the places that you consider the other side of the tracks, and in the whole world.
You and I, Hillside Church, must carry forth our task as a sent community in the same way that reflects the character and nature of a missionary God, who broke into our world as a servant in order to display his love for us and restore it back to rights.
My mentor from seminary, a missiologist named Darrell Guder, wrote in his book Missional Church that the mission of the church ought to throw us out into the world like a centrifuge. Imagine what would happen if at the end of every Hillside worship gathering, the auditorium would start spinning around like a crazy out of control merry-go-round and fling out all of us in the building through the walls and the windows and the doors and the ceiling and into the world… to accomplish the mission of Jesus with the power and courage of the Holy Spirit! Imagine that, and then you will see a glimpse of precisely what God beckons each one of us to do.
If you claim the name Christian, then you bear the name of the one who rescued you and then in turn calls you to rescue others. Well-known pastor and author, Francis Chan, tells the story of a legendary interaction between Alexander the Great and one of his soldiers. The story goes that a soldier of Alexander’s appeared disheveled and slouched over with his armor hanging off his limbs. And so Alexander approached him and asked, “What is your name, soldier?” To which the soldier responded, “My name is Alexander, sir.” Alexander the Great replied, “You either stand up straight as a warrior, or change your name.”
I want to go into this world, bearing the name and identity of Jesus Christ.
Let me know close with this story. Last week at City Impact, in addition to serving, the students and I also attended their annual mission conference, which included worship and prayer with one thousand other Jesus followers from around the world, who also served the people of the Tenderloin this past weekend. It was insane to say the least.
During worship, we sang a Hillsong tune called, “Saviour King,” and I want to close with this lyric that describes the image of the church of which I long for us to become: It reads, “Let now your church shine as your bride that you saw in your heart as you offered up your life.”
When I sang this, I wept. I simply wept – never mind our students who stood next to me, and what they must have been thinking – because it didn’t matter. My heart broke and I wept because I want to follow Jesus, and I want to be part of this kind of church – the very one that Jesus saw in his heart as he offered up his life. I want to live a life of prayer. I want to live a life of devotion to what this book teaches. I believe with all of my heart that when Jesus offered his life on the cross for us, he saw this church – Hillside Church – he saw you, and he saw us gathering together this morning in unity and love, equipping one another for good work, and sending one another into the world for the sake of his mission.
So, may you Hillside Church, live into your God-given tasks. May you gather in unity, peace, and love, bearing the images of a loaf of bread, a boat, a body, and more. May you equip one another in prayer and devotion to the word of God. May you be flung out of these doors and into this great big world chasing after the mission of God. And may you, Hillside Church, come to know your identity as the bride for whom Jesus died and rose again!
Let’s pray together…
Peace be with you.
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