The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
October 2, 2016
Many older believers, who have lived out their faith through the church, are dismayed that the younger people they care about want little to do with the church.
Even when those younger people value spirituality, they don’t see how the church makes any contribution to it. They don’t see the point of church.
So are those who can’t see a life with Christ apart from a life with His body deluded, or are those who can’t see any connection between the two blind?
In his book Practice Resurrection Presbyterian pastor Eugene Peterson writes about a 40-year-old artist named Judith who first came to his church at the invitation of friends from the 12-step meetings she attended in order to cope with an alcoholic husband and drug-addicted son. Judith had never been to church before; and, though well versed in poetry, politics, psychology and the arts, she knew nothing about church. Everything there was new to her, but the community she found in it compelled her to keep coming back. After a few months, Judith committed her life to Christ. Her discovering the joy and empowerment of a shared life of scripture study, prayer, worship, service and fellowship filled her with excited enthusiasm. She exclaimed, “Where have I been all my life?…How come this has been going all around me and I never knew it!”
After Peterson moved across the country, the two of them kept in touch through letters. Judith wrote about how her church involvement bewildered her artist friends and caused some of them to worry she’d lost her mind – especially when she’d speak of how church was “now essential to my survival”.
She told Peterson that a long-time secular friend was appalled and asked in consternation, “What is this I hear about you going to church?” Another artist friend was aghast at hearing she was participating in a three-week mission trip. He cried out in concern, “You, Judith? You’re going to Haiti with a church group? What’s gotten into you?’” Judith noted that her friends would have had less difficulty in accepting her changed lifestyle if she’d gotten involved in black magic or levitation experimentation. “Going to church,” she sighed, “has branded me with a terrible ordinariness. But that’s what endears [church] to me…this façade of ordinariness. When you pull back the veil of ordinariness, you find the most extraordinary life behind it.”
For many church is a surprise “hidden in plain sight”, an extraordinary community that at first glance appears as ordinary and boring as a traffic sign. To the amazement of those who give it a second look, church turns out to be a real community that is “unreal” in its depth and extent of impact.
It all began one ordinary day long ago. It was just another yearly celebration of a second-level, centuries-old Jewish holiday called Pentecost. But the year Jesus died and rose again, that yawner of a day morphed into something “unreal”, with miracles on par with those Jesus performed, with more conversions in one morning than Jesus saw in three years of ministry, and with the birth of a wildly diverse family that is still transforming lives and uplifting communities two thousand years later.
Immediately upon the heels of that ordinary day turned extraordinary, the newly-formed followers of Christ “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” That is, they committed themselves to persist in learning God’s will and in helping one another to fulfill it. As a consequence of that commitment, they became a real family, with such unreal results that, the Bible says, “awe came upon everyone” – as people watched the apostles perform “signs and wonders” and, in perhaps the biggest miracle of all, the believers develop such loving concern for each other that “with glad and grateful hearts” they pooled their resources to provide for the neediest among them.
The believers, the Bible tells us, “had all things in common” and “day by day” they supported each other through shared worship, meals, fellowship and prayer – with the result that they revealed to those around them the “unreal” reality of a dream family so loving that all kinds of people wanted to get in on it, and “day by day”, the Bible repeats, they “added to their number those who were being saved”.
Of course, at times the church falls short of what it was made to be; but when it is true to itself and its Head, Jesus Christ, its community of caring becomes the means by which each participant comes to know Jesus better and to make Jesus better known. As the participants put up with each other in the long, often halting process of spiritual and moral development, as they hang in there with each other in a refusal to give up on anyone, and as they share their all with all their brothers and sisters, each gradually realizes the destiny for which God created and saved them.
It takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village to raise a Christian, of any age. None of us come into our own on our own. None of us becomes ourselves by ourselves. We learn to love by having to deal with each other. We learn humility by humbling ourselves before each other. We learn patience by having others put our present level of patience to the test.
So too, we experience God’s gracious love both by receiving it from others and by giving it to others. We build faith both by borrowing faith from others and by bolstering the faith of others. We develop the discipline of obedience by being held accountable to fellow broken and struggling people, who are also in the middle of the same gradual growth process.
Growing in Christ requires our interacting with people as ordinary and ornery as we, people as flawed, demanding and sometimes disagreeable as we. Christ brings us all together that each of us might become fully saved. By His choice, and by necessity, He sanctifies us in the church…that extraordinary, ordinary body…that “unreal” real family. Let us pray.