Does the Church still matter?
Is the church really important? I mean, really, really important in the grand scheme of things?
When someone needs medical attention, they go to the doctor. When someone needs to learn to read, they go to school. When someone needs legal advice, they go to a lawyer. When someone needs water, they go to the faucet. Food? Head to the fridge or the pantry.
But where do we go when we need hope? Where do we go when we need spiritual guidance, or a renewal of faith?
This is a crazy world. It's a scary world, with threats of missiles and global conflict in Syria. It's a tragic world, with the horrible crash in Saskatchewan. It's a confusing world, where evil and selfish people seem to get ahead while honest, hardworking folks have to scrimp to get by.
Our world needs the church, because there are things only the church can provide for people: The church can be a source of hope for the hopeless. It can be a soft, quiet voice in a boisterous and screaming world. It can offer answers to questions that make us uneasy, or unsure.
I hope, than as we examine the question of the church's importance today, we can be reminded about why this place matters in our lives, and that we can use the answers to challenge one another to live more fully in our covenant with Christ.
The church is a place of refuge that we continually come to throughout our whole lives. We are baptized there when we are babies. We have the opportunity to attend Sunday school and youth groups when we're young. We celebrate love through marriage, and sorrow as we say goodbye to our loved ones who pass on.
The church us a place where we share and develop our talents: Maybe we sing as a member of the choir.... Maybe we play the organ (and, by the way, my son Quinn just played his first Sunday as organist at Dundee last week!) or share talents with woodworking or repair. Maybe our talents lie in the kitchen, and aren't these folks popular! Pies and sweets, church dinners, I'm hungry just thinking about it!
The church helps us to better know our community: Through pastoral care, and outreach in elderly care homes and schools, through card parties and sing-alongs, we meet and share with our neighbours that same love that we know and experience through our relationship with Christ.
The church is a place where we continue to learn what it means to be a Christian; what it means to serve Christ and serve others.
And as I said earlier: The church can be a refuge from a lost and broken world. The church CAN be a place free from the hatred and judgement by which we are sometimes bombarded. The church CAN be a place where ALL people are welcomed as children of God, despite what the outside world might think of them. The church CAN be a place a place where forgiveness is offered without cost. It's not always perfect, because WE are
not always perfect, but it CAN be a place where we aspire to bring closer the Kingdom of God.
We are all here this morning; every Sunday morning; at every concert, church dinner or other event, because the church means something to each and every one of us. And, as much as the church about affecting and changing the lives of we as individuals, it's also about affecting and changing the world. Here's why:
Christ is no longer here anymore. That is to say: He is not physically present on this earth as he was two thousand years ago. That means that if people are going to experience Christ, they have to do it in a different way.
Christ knew that his ascension was coming, so as we heard this morning, after his resurrection Christ went to his disciples and commissioned them. That's just a fancy way of saying that he told them to go out and continue the work he had started in His name. He sent them out into the world as witnesses to his ministry, to preach repentance and forgiveness and share the good news of the Kingdom of God. Once he had effectively assured his continuing presence here on Earth, the assurance of his continuing ministry, he left them and ascended into Heaven.
That was the very beginning of the church, and it is also the very reason that the church matters in this world. What might have happened if Christ had ascended into Heaven without sending his disciples out as witnesses and ministers? What would have happened if those disciples had decided that they had had enough of Jesus' ministry and that they should head back to their families?
That would have sealed the end of the church right there.
Christ would have spent his few short years on this earth living, teaching, healing, dying and being resurrected................ And then would have been forgotten within a few generations. The healing would have faded away. The promise of eternal life would have been broken. The hope that he stood for would have been lost in history. Christ's love and the promise of salvation would have been limited to those few people that he had encountered during his brief time on earth.
Another risk that the early church faced came from the fact that the disciples didn't seem to believe that Jesus actually had been resurrected. Our reading today tells us that, when Jesus appeared to his disciples, they were terrified! They thought that they were being visited by a ghost! A spector... An apparition!
And here's the strange part of this reading: Why did the disciples struggle to believe and understand? Had Jesus failed to warn them in advance about what was going to happen to him?
Actually, the gospels tell us that Jesus had been predicting his death and resurrection for some time before the actual events of Easter week. Sometimes he spoke in deliberately vague terms; it's perhaps understandable in these cases that the disciples wouldn't have picked up on Jesus' meaning without help. For example, Jesus predicted his death and resurrection early in the gospel of John using a metaphor:
Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." (John 2:18-19)
However, in other places, Jesus speaks plainly and directly about his imminent arrest, death, and resurrection: Matthew 16:21 tells us:
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (Matthew 16:21)
If they had been so specifically forewarned—and especially if they knew in advance that Jesus would rise from the dead—why were the disciples so confused and frightened during the drama of Easter week?
Ultimately, we don't know the answer.
Surely, much of their confusion was simply the result of their being, well, human—like everyone else, they were prone to doubting things that were beyond their earthly understanding.
And we might consider that Jesus' teachings profoundly challenged the religious assumptions they had grown up with. Because Jesus taught both in plain speech and in parables, the disciples might have had trouble understanding when he was speaking literally and when metaphorically. Perhaps, even though they'd seen him work many life-giving miracles, the disciples couldn't bring themselves to believe Jesus' most dramatic claim—that he would die and rise from the grave. And the events of Easter week were stressful, to say the least.
But fortunately for us, and for billions and billions of other people over the last two thousand years, it didn't happen that way.
The disciples got out, got busy, and took up the mantle of their role as witnesses and ministers. They kept his message alive by sharing the good news all across the world. And the new disciples that they made in turn insured that the church would continue beyond their lifetimes and into the future.
Today, we as members and disciples of the church can do no less! If we in the church don't continue Christ's ministry, no one else will. That.... That is why the church matters.
He helped the poor. He forgave those who sinned. He shared God's grace and God's love. He died on the cross so that we might learn the way to eternal life. That......................... That is why the church matters.
It is as fundamental as the difference between life and death, and it's the church's responsibility to get that message out to people and communities across the world. Through Christ's message of peace and love, lives can and will be changed. That That is why the church matters.
Paul said to the Colossians: "He is the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: Things in Heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together."
The church is the body of Christ, and the body of his teachings. We are his mouth, his ears, his hands and feet in this world. We are witnesses to the good news, and messengers to take that news across our communities and across the world. That is both a great responsibility and a great privilege. The church has the power to help and heal people across the world from now until the end of time, as long as we keep the message alive. Like those first disciples who came to believe in the resurrection and went out to bear witness, the church depends on us. It depends on us going out into the world and saying "You want to know
what the love, mercy, grace and forgiveness of Christ means? Well, take a look at this! Look at what's happening here! See these very lives being changed!"
The church really does matter. Look at the world today. Our world hurts. In Parkland, Florida where a shooting in a school cost many lives. In Humbolt, Saskatchewan where a community and the world were stunned by a recent tragedy. In Syria and other battlefields across the world where both civilian and soldiers die every day.
When the television is on and the news is all bad. Where relationships fail because we prefer to tap fingers to our phone instead of engaging in conversation. When there is never enough money to keep up with the bills we have to pay. When the stress of our lives leads to despair and disease.
It is easier to see the world as a bleak and daunting place than a place of beauty and light. it is easier to find apathy and fear than kindness and love. But, through the church, God in Christ Jesus is able to offer justice, peace and blessings. Christ is able to bring hope to the midst of hurt. Christ's love feeds the hungry, heals the sick and forgives the sinner.
Above all, Christ brings unconditional love and abundant life. Through his ministry and teachings, we can find the strength to make it through this world. Through Christ, we can find the joy of this life, and the life to come. Through our discipleship out in the world, the church makes it possible for people to have real encounters with Christ's love.
And that... That is why the church matters.