1 Thessalonians 2:1-9 (NIV)
1 You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. 2 We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. 3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. 4 On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. 5 You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. 6 We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. 7 Instead, we were like young children among you.
Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, 8 so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. 9 Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.
Acts 10:34-43 (NIV)
34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
One of my favorite things about our online worship has been the pictures you all have sent me of what worship looks like where you are.
I never imagined I would ask people to send me worship selfies, under normal circumstances it would be completely unnecessary but, as I have preached in this empty room, it has been really encouraging to see what worship looks like where you are.
In about 70% of the pictures you all have sent me, there has been at least one dog or cat worshipping with you all. When I see those pictures, it really is “All Creatures of Our God and King” worshipping together! (We may need to have a “take your pet to church day” after all of this.)
I have a question, if you have a dog near you, if you don’t have a dog near you , maybe think about a dog you have had, or a dog you knew, what has your dog been bred to do?
What kind of work was your dog, or the dog you are thinking about, built for?
I love learning about what dogs have been bred to do.
I love watching them do their thing.
Our beagle, Rosco, was an amazing squirrel and rabbit hunter … nothing could get past his nose. He was so loud, no one could miss that he found something. We’ve had an English pointer and she was a hunter too, but she had a totally different style. Rosco the beagle would flat out charge, never lifting his nose from the ground, braying and howling at that poor squirrel the whole way. Annabelle, the pointer, was so silent, and stealthy. She watched everything. The ground. The sky.
When we first adopted her, and when we would take her on walks, she would stop and point at pretty much everything. If a kid left a football in their front yard, Annabelle would stop and point it.
As we have thought about getting a puppy, actually I convinced my family to get a puppy, I talked to our vet and asked what their experience with some different breeds of dogs has been, and their response was, they are good, they just need a job.
That’s true with dogs, they just need a job, they were built to work and need some kind of work to do … its true with people (I am sure many of us are struggling right now to find something meaningful and purposeful to do), and it is also the case for the church.
The church was formed, the church was called together, the church was set on earth to do something.
As the church we have work to do.
My favorite theologian, David Bosch, a professor from South Africa, contrasted two different ways people have thought about the church. One is that the “Church is a place where something happens.” The second way, and the way he would argue is a more accurate and faithful way of thinking about the church, is that, “The church is a living organism doing something.”
Absolutely, this is a place where something happens. But now, that same stuff is happening in living rooms and around kitchen tables.
Whenever tourists and visitors want to look inside the church building, when they “ohh” and “ahh” over its beauty and history, I always point out (and I bet it is kind of annoying) that yes we have a really awesome building, but the best part of the church is the people … you all. I try to sneak something into the conversation about the way you all are so serious and intentional about loving God and loving neighbors; I want people to know about how you pay attention to each other, about your constant prayers for each other and the world; and about the ways you reach out beyond yourselves to share God’s love. I want people to know that you are a living, breathing, lively, and active community … the singing, walking, and working body of Christ … South Park Community Church is a living organism doing something. (Maybe that is why it feels so strange for people to talk about church being canceled. The church is people … a community … the church is like the sunrise, good luck canceling it, with or without anyone’s permission, together or spread out, it is going to do its thing.)
When we can’t be together in this space, when we are spread out, it is painfully apparent, at least for me, that the absolute best and most valuable part of our church, is you all.
Even when we aren’t physically together, the church, the living organism, you all, are still doing something!
We are a living community that is doing something … actually we are doing lots of things!
There are all sorts of things we have been doing and could be doing.
I don’t want us to be busy for busy’s sake of being busy.
So, how do we discern, just what it is we are supposed to be doing?
Way back, I think in 1910, the idea of the Great Ends of the Church showed up in the United Presbyterian Church of North America’s guiding documents. They weren’t attributed to a specific author, they seem to have been adopted without much controversy or fanfare. They have stuck in our church’s constitution through numerous mergers, breakups, and efforts to streamline and simplify our Book of Order. They are something of a mysterious gift to the church. The Great Ends of the Church are helpful when we think about, what exactly, the church, this living, breathing, organism is supposed to do.
Here is how they go, you can find them printed in your bulletin if it is helpful to see them.
The Great Ends of the Church are:
- the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind;
- the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God;
- the maintenance of divine worship;
- the preservation of the truth;
- the promotion of social righteousness;
- and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.
Over the next Sundays I want to look with you all at the Great Ends of the Church and how they can guide us as we seek to be a living and active, faithful, breathing, singing, praying, and working expression of Christ’s church in our day and time.
As Christ’s church, part of our calling, part of our work is, “The proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind.”
Gospel means “good news.”
The New Testament doesn’t understand the gospel as a written document. The New Testament insists that the gospel has to do with God’s saving action through the life, actions, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is the good news that because of Jesus the world is different … because of Jesus our lives can be different.
Gospel has to do with announcing that something has happened. Usually the good news means the future will be different and it invites the people who are hearing the announcement to respond, to live life differently in some way. We see this in our reading from Acts – the gospel, the good news of Jesus is bringing Peter and Cornelius together.
This calling to proclaim the good news of God’s saving action in Christ is something that makes the church different from any other organization we might encounter. Our life together as Christ’s church grows from this good news. Our life together is shaped by this good news. Our life together shares this good news.
Christ has come. Christ has died. Christ has risen.
The world is different because of this.
Hopefully this proclamation happens in sermons. Hopefully it is part of all of our worship. But this proclamation doesn’t just happen when we are gathered as the church in this building or when we are connected by the internet doing the same thing at the same time. This proclamation happens everyday in our lives, in our work, in our play, often it shows up in our words, often it shows up in the ways we help, even in the ways we treat people. Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica that sharing the gospel, also involves sharing our lives with each other. That is something you all are really good at. You have built these genuine, gospel sharing, life sharing relationships with so many people.
We have experienced God’s love in Christ … we have heard God calling our name … telling us we matter … reminding us that God would move heaven and earth to be in relationship with us … we have experienced the good news … and as Christ’s church, as this living breathing organism, we do something in response, we share that good news.
We proclaim the gospel for the salvation of humankind.