Get Your Butt To Church

Sermon Text – 09.01.2019
 
[Hebrews 10:19-25 and Colossians 3:12-17]
 
Do you have to go to church to be a good Christian? How many times? What’s the minimum amount of times I can go to church and still be called a Christian? Like, if I went as a kid – is that enough? What’s the limit for a good excuse for skipping church? Like, if I’m sleepy – is that a good enough reason, or do I need to be gushing blood with missing limbs to make it okay? What is this thing we do in this place, every single week? Today is the start of a new sermon series called The Shift. I think for a long time the church has pushed people towards a set of rules – do this, don’t do that, say this, don’t say that. And this set of rules has failed to capture the hearts of the people of God. And so this sermon series is about membership, about being a part of this family – but it’s about more than that. It’s about a mental shift, away from a set of rules towards an authentic faith. So for the next month we’re going to look at the big pieces of Christianity and ask why? Why do we go to church? Why do we read out bibles? Why do we give money or volunteer? Because if you don’t know the real reasons – you probably won’t do it. For the next month we are going to take a look at the reasons behind all the big pieces of Christianity – and hopefully we can shift our mentality about why we do what we do. 
 
So I wanted to start this morning by telling you the story of the little church that could. We’ll start at the beginning. Right after Jesus died, his followers, we call them the disciples, started traveling all around the ancient world telling everyone they could about Jesus. Now remember the climate – the Jewish leaders and the Roman occupation had just killed Jesus, and they were hunting these new Christians. The early church was an underground church. The beginning of the church was house churches, little gathering in people’s basement’s or living rooms – in secret, in the dead of night, they would get together to share the story of Jesus. To share communion and take care of one another. The early church was tiny and oppressed. To become a Christian meant a life of hiding and secrecy, pain and loss. But because of those difficulties – their community was amazing. They loved each other with a passion I’ve never seen in my life. Small groups of people working together to learn about Jesus and love each other and the world as best they possibly can. The early church was tiny and weak, but so real, so authentic.
 
Do me a favor and open your pew bibles to the table of contents, I want to show you something. In the very beginning of the bible, like most books, there’s a table of contents which details two testaments and all the books of the bible. Take a look at the New Testament. The first four books there – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Those are what we call the gospels. That’s when Jesus shows up in the story, it’s the same book from four different points of view. Same story, life, death, resurrection of Jesus Christ, son of God – told four different ways. Then you’ll see the book of Acts. The books Acts is the stuff the disciples did after Jesus went back into heaven. Mostly it focuses on two guys – Peter and Paul. Peter went to Rome, Paul travelled all over the ancient world starting churches. He would go in, start a house church and move on. BUT, almost immediately there was trouble brewing in these churches. People were fighting, disagreeing, arguing and bickering. Now, I know that this is hard to imagine, but I just want you to try and imagine people not getting along in the church. It’s been there from the very beginning. So Paul and a few others, developed a habit of writing letters to these churches to help them deal with drama. Except for the last book Revelation – the rest of the new testament is made up of these letters. They wrote a letter to deal with the problems in Rome – we call it Romans. They wrote multiple letters to the people in Corinth, we call it Corinthians. Some of the letters are written to specific people, and not churches – like Jude and Timothy. But what I want you to see is that from the earliest days – churches were bickering and fighting. They loved each other, but they also argued – a lot. Despite the church drama, it continued to grow. Despite the oppression and death and danger – Christianity thrived.
 
Now at this point, there was only one church. The only church, the universal church. Anybody know the latin word for universal? We called it the Catholic church. Whether you love it or hate it, the Catholic church is mother to us all. In the early days, it was the only Christian church. Fast forward another thousand years, to the late 1400’s. The Catholic church is the most powerful religion on the planet. But their power was not just religious, they also had control of governments and even militaries. And all that power, with no transparency, with no oversight, with no accountability – lead to terrible corruption. Have you ever heard that old phrase – “absolute power corrupts absolutely?” Well, for the church – that is very true.
 
Couple examples – in their worship services, the bible was always read in Latin, and only in Latin. But nobody spoke latin. Only the priest could read the text, and only the priest could understand the text. Now I like to think a lot of the priests were good honest workers who wanted to do what was right. But if a priest decided one day to add some stuff to the bible – like “the bible says every Thursday you have to bring pizza to your priest” – nobody would know. Now at this time, the Catholic church was building gorgeous cathedrals all over Europe, beautiful, towering, very expensive structures. And so a lot of their corruption was centered around taking money from people in church. Until one day, a young priest named Martin Luther stood up and said, “No. This isn’t right.”
 
Martin Luther was a German monk, and he could read in Latin. And he looked at the bible in front of him, and then he looked at the church around him – and he realized, this is not right. So he wrote down a list of 95 things the church needed to change. Stop doing this, start doing this – we can get back on track. He took his list of 95 changes and he nailed to the door of the church. Catholic Church was furious, they tried to prosecute him and kill him many times in his life. He literally went and lived in the woods for a while. The biggest thing he did was translate the bible from Latin to German. He gave the people a bible they could read in their own language. At roughly the same time, there was this guy Guttenberg who created a device to mass produce books – we called it a printing press, any guesses what his first book was? Mass produced, common language bibles created a revolution in the church. Martin Luther was not the only one involved, but he got something started, and the church split. Catholics and the protestors, or as we call them “Protestants.” Nowadays history books call it the Reformation.
 
Now, after that first split – there were more splits. There were some people who stuck to the teachings of Martin Luther – he was their guy. They’re still around today – anybody know what they’re called? Christians who follow the teachings of Martin Luther? Lutherans. But there was another group that argued with Lutherans and Catholics about the issue of baptism. They thought – no, no, no – you can’t baptize babies. You should only baptize adults. They really cared about baptism – anybody know what they’re called? Baptists. Now, please realize I’m WAY oversimplifying, broad strokes history, but basically that’s how it worked – but the reformation was the start of what we see in the modern world. Churches bickering and arguing over different things over history.
 
Fast forward to the 1700’s, here we meet a little Anglican priest named John Wesley. John Wesley was part of something called the Church of England. He was priest, but just like Luther there was a moment in his life when he looked around the church and thought, “is this what God had in mind?” It didn’t feel right to Wesley. So he and some friends got together, and started meeting during the week. They read the bible together, but their focus was on going deeper. They did communion together, visited hospitals, visited prisons, took care of people. They took their faith beyond Sunday morning. He created these little clubs, at first they were called “Holy Clubs” but John Wesley was a huge dork. Don’t worry, it’s not a bad thing. He was so organized, that these groups thrived – they were very well structured and spread like wildfire. People would make fun John Wesley and say, “you’re so methodical. You’re little groups should be called Methodists.” And Wesley shrugged and said, “Cool. We’re Methodists.” These little groups were part of the Church of England, but they were basically an echo of what we call Life Groups, which was actually an echo of the original house church way back in the ancient world.
 
After the colonies had a little disagreement with England in 1776, you might call it the Revolutionary War. Suddenly, we didn’t want the Church of England label – so Methodist Churches became a separate denomination. I should mention – John Wesley HATED slavery. 100 years before the civil war, he was preaching against slavery in very strong language. BUT, fast forward a few more years. In the new country of America, lots of wealthy, southern people join the Methodist Church. And so, before the civil war. The Methodist Church voted to change the policy to allow slave owners into the church. We changed our official position to say that slavery is okay. To which the black people in the Methodist church said, “forget that” and they got up and left to form the United Evangelical Brethren. I believe this is a black mark in our history. I can’t believe they did that – changed the policy the allow for slavery. Sold out for popularity and money. Fast forward again to 1968. After the civil war and the civil right movement, the Methodist Church repents of their mistake. We apologize and reunite with the United Evangelical Brethren. United Evangelical Brethren and Methodist came together to form the United Methodist Church. And since that day in 1968 the church has never had any problems or any drama of any sort in any way for all time right up until today. (dry laugh).
 
For those who have been paying attention, the modern United Methodist Church is in the midst of a massive argument and we are facing a potential split in the church of the issue of homosexuality. The current language in the Book of Discipline prohibits me from performing a same sex marriage. Can’t do it. Some people want to keep the language the same, some want to change it – and some just want us to split along those lines. We had a big thing about it back in February, and we’ll have another big thing next May.
 

We just covered 2000 years of church history in 15 minutes. But I want to point something out. No matter what time in history you take a look at in the church, from the earliest days all the way up to yesterday – there is always drama in the church. We are always disagreeing and fighting with one another about something. I didn’t even get to the crusades or the Spanish inquisition or the thousand other mistakes we have made over the years. There will always be a reason to hate one another, to attack and disagree. Always. Whether it’s the issue of circumcision in the ancient church, what language the bible should be in, the issue of slavery, who is allowed to be a pastor or who is allowed to get married – there is always something to fight about. When I say that the church has a messy, broken history – that’s what I’m talking about. So let’s go back to the original question – do I have to go to church to be a Christian? Do I have to be a part of this mess?  

Let’s see what the scriptures tell us. We’ll start with Hebrews. Verse 20, [read it]. Because of what Jesus did, there is nothing separating us from God. Let me say that again – because of what Jesus did, there is nothing separating us from God. He is right there waiting for us. Verse 22 says, [v.22a]. Since the resurrection of Jesus, we have the ability to enter into the presence of God at any time in any place. There are no limits on God. Scripture says, “let us go right in.” So some people say, I don’t go to church – because I prefer to experience God in nature, on the lake, on the golf course. God is everywhere, so I don’t have to go to a building to experience God. And they are right. You can experience God every single day, no matter where you are in the world.
 
But as we continue in the verse, we see that church is more than just the presence of God. It says, [v.23-25]. As Christians, we have this amazing promise from Jesus – a promise that God will forgive us, and give us a new life, and guide us and teach us – and we cling to the hope that comes from those promises – a hope of a better future, a hope of heaven. And we need to work together to motivate each other to love and do good works. Let us not neglect our meeting together – so yeah, you gotta go to church. We need one another. For motivation, encouragement, love and good works. But that’s not always what church is like – is it? Have you ever been to a church that seems more preoccupied with judgment and hatred, hurting and excluding? They care more about their bake sale or their favorite program than they do the visitors who come into their building. Some churches care more about the building than the people inside of it.
 

Hebrews tells us we need to meet together as Christians, Colossians tells us how. It starts, [v.12]. Okay, now just take a second and think. Think about the history of the church we just covered, and all the pain and argument and bickering in our past – and think about the features of Colossians. Tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Basically Colossians is listing all the stuff you have to ignore if you want to hate one another. If you want to hate someone, for any reason, you have throw away this scripture – you can’t be kind or humble or gentle or patient. But Colossians takes it even further, [v.13]. Did you hear what I just read? Make allowance for one another’s faults. Church is a place where we make mistakes, and that’s okay. We believe in repentance. We believe in forgiveness. We believe in trying again and doing better. Verse 16, [v.16-17]. You can experience God all on your own. You can pray and worship and sing and read scripture all by yourself. But when you let the message of Jesus fill your life it draws you to the people around you. You cannot love alone. We need each other. We need a place to come together to teach and counsel and love and sing and let our hearts be full. That’s what it is to be a Christian – to soak up the message of Jesus into our hearts and every part of our lives, like a sponge for God’s mercy.

 
 
Here’s what I’m trying to say – this is the shift I want you to make. The church is not a building. The church is not just the presence of God – it’s not just the worship experience. The church is the people. Flushing UMC burns down tomorrow, this church will live on. This building doesn’t matter, none of the buildings matter. The church is the people. Always has been. If someone says you don’t need the church, I don’t need to attend the church – they do not understand what the church is. You are the church.
 

The bible talks about a woman who is getting married. She was going to be a bride. She has been promised to a good man, but she runs away. She tears her dress, she does terrible things, she looks for love in all the wrong places. She makes a lot of mistakes. And when she is exhausted and broken and filthy – her dress practically destroyed, basically rags on her shoulders. Her husband comes for her. She doesn’t deserve forgiveness for what she did, but he wipes away her tears, lifts her out of the dirt, cleans her off, gives her a new dress and gets her ready for her wedding day. The woman the bible talks about is the church, and the good man is Jesus. In our history, we have made a lot of mistakes. We have torn our dress, done terrible things chasing other men, other gods. Money, power, you name it. We come to Jesus just as we are – a broken mess, and he washes us clean. Jesus wipes away our tears, lifts us out of the darkness, forgives our sins and lets us have a second chance. The church is not an institution. The church is not a building, or even a collection of buildings. The church is the people. The broken people who have run away from God, come home and been forgiven by Jesus. The Church is a picture of God’s grace.

 
 
I have one piece of application for you today. Be the church. Be together as broken people loving each other, encouraging and motivating each other to love God more. Live in the tension with one another, challenge each other, be challenged. Grow and learn and live together as the family of God – the bride of Christ. It doesn’t matter how many Sundays you are here or not here. Because it’s not about a building – it’s about you, and the people around you. Look, God is not going to ask you, what was your attendance ratio in church? But I think he might ask, “did you love each other?” And that’s really hard to do if you’re not here. Colossians verse 16, [v.16-17]. Just… just do that. Just do Colossians chapter 3, verse 16 and 17. Anywhere. Regularly. As much as you can get it. Be together as Christians – letting the message of Christ fill your hearts in every way and you’ll be just fine.
 

History shows us a long, long list of past mistakes – ways that we have failed to actually be the church. But if we pay attention to Colossians, I think we can move forward as the body of Christ. Filled with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. I’d go to that church every week, and every other time I got the chance. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you make allowance for each other’s faults. May you forgive anyone who offends you, just like Jesus forgave you, but above all May you clothe yourselves in love, that this place – no, that these people may live together in perfect harmony. Amen.


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