Sunday, September 4, 2016

I Need You, and You Need Me

What does it mean to be a church? I realize that that might seem to be an unnecessary question since many of you have been going to church for most of your lives. But it is a question that is good to ask from time to time. It is a large question. That means that an answer might have to be limited to one particular aspect. So, today we start what I plan to be a three-sermon series on one aspect of being a church. The aspect that I’m going to be looking at is the Church as a community.

There are lots of places in the Scriptures that speak about the Church as a community. I will use one that I’m sure is quite familiar to most of you.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 1 Corinthians 12:12-21
I want to focus on one piece of what Paul was writing about. There are two sides to this. Here’s the first. None of us can say to any other person here, ‘Because of the abilities that I have, I don’t need you.’ Or to use Paul’s words,
The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’
Here’s the other side of this. None of us can say to any other person here, ‘Because of the abilities that you have, you don’t need me.’ Or, again, to use Paul’s words,
If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.’
Based on what Paul wrote, here’s one thing that the Spirit wants us all to say to each other. ‘I need you, and you need me.’ It’s not just one part of that or the other. It’s both. ‘I need you, and you need me.’ That lies at the heart of what it means to be a community of Christians, the Church.

What I’d like to do now is to fill this out by asking some questions.

Here’s the first. We need each other for what? Being in community together makes it possible for us to do what?

Here’s one popular answer. We need each other so that we can do church things. You know, programs and ministries and that sort of thing. So, we need each other for what happens on Sundays and those other days when we do church things. We need each other so that we can have a successful church.

That misses something that’s really important. It misses a key part of how the Gospel works.  We need each other so that we can become whole people. That’s why Jesus came. And that’s what the Gospel is about. That we can become whole people. The community of the Church has a critical role to play when it comes to our reaching that goal.

Now, lots of folk don’t get that. The way they see things goes something like this. ‘If I want to enjoy what the Gospel has to offer I have to believe in Jesus. That is indispensable.’ And, of course, that is absolutely true. But this way of thinking doesn’t stop there. It goes on. ‘Whatever else may happen, like being part of the Church or of some group like a college ministry or some other Christian group, may be helpful for me, but such things are only of secondary importance. They are optional. Believing in Jesus is all that is really necessary for me to reach the goal that the Gospel promises.’

Paul disagrees. He reminds those Corinthians - and us - of something that the Spirit does. Listen again.
For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body …
What is Paul talking about? What is this thing that the Spirit does? He makes us a part of Jesus’ body, Jesus’ Church. And why does He do that? If all we really need is to believe in Jesus, why does the Spirit bother with making us a part of the Church, the body of Christ? Following Jesus, growing in our enjoyment of the benefits of the Gospel, becoming whole people is not something we can do on our own. It’s a group project, or maybe I should say it’s a Church project. That’s how Jesus designed the Gospel to work. So, the Spirit binds us together as the Church and tells us that we need each other. 

Let’s move on and look at another question. So many churches struggle to be what the Scriptures call them to be, places where the Spirit uses all of us so that we all can become whole people. Why do we struggle so? What’s the problem? Well, here’s one source of the problem: we have been taught to go it alone. So, coming to the place of telling yourself, ‘I really need other people if my life is going to work’, that just feels wrong. We just know, ‘I can do it on my own. in fact, I have to do it on my own since no one else is going to help me, not really.’ That’s what we’ve been told, and, sad to say, we believe it too much. As a result, we’re back to seeing the church as a nice optional thing, and our part in it limited to doing church things. When it comes to dealing with the real issues of living in this crazy world we have been taught to depend on ourselves with maybe a little help from someone in our family. But not those folk at church.

There is another reason why churches have a hard time fulfilling their callings. People understand that if they really give themselves to the group, if they commit themselves to the idea, ‘I need you, and you need me’, well, then, they are going to have to change. There are things that they do, ways of investing their time and energy, that will have to go. The group will need to become more important, taking more time and energy. Much will have to change. That’s hard. And who likes change?

So, folk relate to other Christians in their church in ways that are pretty limited. They’ll support the group to do churchy things. And there’s the help offered when a crisis hits. But to re-define their lives so that they are willing to say, ‘I need you, and you need me’, and live that out - well, that’s a bit much.

But Jesus says, ‘No’ to such an attitude. When He said, ‘I will build My Church’, He wasn’t referring to a group that just does churchy things together. He was talking about His body where each member of His body, whether an eye, an ear, a foot or whatever - each member has a role, an indispensable role, that the others in His body need to have fulfilled if they are going to achieve the goal that Jesus has established for His saints: to become whole people.

So, what are we to do with this? There are some practical skills that we need to work on so that we can do better at being Jesus’ church. Next week, I plan on talking about one key skill: how to talk and how to listen; communication. The following week the plan is to talk about how to deal with obstacles to being the church, and by obstacles I mean sin. We sin against each other. What do we do when that happens? That’s the plan for the next two weeks..

But there are some things that we can do today. Here’s one. This will work better if you are standing. So, if you are a member of Faith Reformed, I would like you to stand. Look around at the other people who are standing. You need these people. You need them for more than pleasurable friendships. You need these people so that you can enjoy more fully the benefits of the Gospel. You need these people so that you can become a whole person. Now flip it around. These people need you - yes, you. They will not be able to enjoy as much of the Gospel as the Spirit desires them to enjoy without you fulfilling your role. They need you just as much as you need them. That’s what it means to be a church. That’s what Jesus wants you to believe. And that’s how He wants you to live.

Here’s something else that you can do starting today. You can pray. Prayer is always key. My saying what I have will not make the changes in us that need to happen. But there will be change if we pray about the things that I have said to you. We need to pray for ourselves, and then for the others in this church. Barb sends out a prayer calendar so that you won’t skip anyone. You might find that helpful. And then, I think that it would be good to pray about the next two sermons where I hope to fill in some of the details of being a church: how to talk and listen, and then how to deal with the sin that inevitably comes.

The blessings of Christ on our church await us. All we need do is believe what He tells us about being His Church. All we need do is believe the Gospel.

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