Monday, July 23, 2012

Sermon on Ephesians 2:11-22, for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, "What is the Church?"

Sermon Outline: 
1.      Monuments of time and history: Great Wall, Pyramids, or Brooklyn Bridge. Took a lot of “blood, sweat, and tears” to build them. Mammoth designs and dangers in construction often meant the injury or death of the workers. Impressive; standing many hundreds or even thousands of years, but time and weather endlessly wear away at them and age them. With ongoing maintenance the effects of time might be stalled—but eventually, even the great monuments of time will succumb to rubble and dust.
2.      Another structure: far surpassing all others in glory—the Christian Church. Built for the glory of God, not the glory of man. Stretching through time and to eternity—a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to build. Not talking about bricks, mortar, stone, and wood. Not about church buildings. That’s not the “Church” I’m talking about. Living structure, living stones, members of the body of Christ. Jesus’ blood, sweat and tears builds it. Different from earthly structures. Time, death, decay don’t destroy the building. Unique in that when Christian’s die, they don’t cease to be a part of the church! Alive and well in glory!
3.      So what is the church? At its heart and core; what is central to its identity? It’s not about a physical building with a sign out front that says “church.” It’s not any old organization of people united for any good purpose. It’s not a certain pattern of rituals or ceremonies followed in worship. It’s not official recognition by the government as a church or non-profit. All of these ideas could be mistakenly identified as the church. While some may or may not go along with the church, they all miss what is at the heart of the church. To clear up the confusion, and get at the heart of the matter, the church is a very simple thing. Luther said it was so simple that even a 7 year old boy knows what it is: “The holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd.” The church is, in its essence, in its heart and core, believers who hear and follow Jesus’ voice. Sheep and their Good Shepherd.
4.      So when Paul calls the church the body of Christ, or a structure being joined together, growing into a Temple in the Lord, why does this “spiritual structure” take Jesus’ blood, sweat, and tears to build? And who are the “bricks/living stones”? Not a simple matter of going to a brickyard and taking a stack of bricks to lay into a wall. Living structure, made of people. Enmity, hostility between the people—Jew to Gentile (all non-Jews). Why the hostility? Jesus “broke down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances.” The Law brought hostility, commands and decrees of God put a curse on all those who disobeyed. Hostility from Jew to Gentile, and from both to the law and ultimately to God. Rom. 8:7-8, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Jam. 4:4 “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God?”
5.      What kind of curse does the law set on people? Gal. 3:10 “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Cursed if you can’t keep it perfectly, and none can. Would that create some hostility? Resentment toward God? Toward those who think they’re pulling it off, and act self-righteous? Or in the other direction, resentment toward those who despise God’s commandment and blatantly disregard or defy it?
6.      Conscience stirred up and afflicted by the curse—left as strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. Such was our condition. All this hostility and enmity boils up within us and between us and others because of sin. Not because the law is evil or bad—rather it is good—unflinchingly good. It gives no relief for our error. The law gives sin its power over us, because it puts us under that curse. The law is no friend of sinners, and has no mercy on the disobedient. It is a taskmaster and prison guard.
7.      So it’s our sin, my sin, your sin that is the bitter root of all the hostility and enmity. And because it is pervasive, spread through every one of us, it took Jesus’ blood, sweat and tears to become our peace, to make us one in Him, in His holy Christian Church. In His human flesh, He came under the curse of the law for us. Died on the cross, under the full hostility of sin, so that He could redeem us from the curse of the Law. Nailed the demands and accusations of the law to the tree. Emptied it of its curse and power over us, end of hostility.
8.      Made peace with us and with God through forgiveness. He becomes the cornerstone, the Rock on which the church is built. Apostles and prophets surround Him as the foundation on which the church, this living, spiritual building/structure is built. Jesus went through this tremendous sacrifice and death, to make us members of His body, the church. Just as individual bricks laying on the ground are not yet a building, so also Bible doesn’t envision “Lone Ranger” Christians or “hermit Christians” who try to “go it alone.” We don’t find our greater purpose or sense of belonging apart from the Church, but as we are “incorporated” or “built into it.” “Incorporated” literally means “united in one body”—just as we all as separate people are joined into something greater than ourselves, the Christian church. Not to lose our individuality, but to belong, and to use our unique gifts and talents in service to others. No, we are called into community and fellowship with other believers. We need the mutual support, care, prayer, fellowship, instruction, rebuking, reconciling, and most importantly, Christ’s gifts of Word and Sacrament, which form and identify the Church. Reflect on this passage later today on how many phrases and works show the rich meaning of community that is found in the Christian Church. That Christ draws and joins us together in Him. He is our Head, He is our Cornerstone—our life and our peace flow from Him.
9.      Where on earth is this church to be found? If the Christian church is lambs who hear the voice of Jesus, their shepherd, how do I find it? After all, this “living building” of the church is not like the Great Wall that you can plan a tour to go see. Not a cathedral or a physical building that you can make a pilgrimage to. But then is the church an entirely invisible or internal thing, with no external marks to identify it? Faith in Jesus Christ alone makes one a believer and true member of Christ’s church. But only God can never be deceived, and only God knows truly what’s in each person’s heart. But this does not mean the church cannot be known.
10.  External marks: The first is the pure teaching of God’s Word. “Pure” because it is on the pure teaching of God’s Word that we are have healthy growth in faith. One would not knowingly give their child tainted milk to drink, saying “Well, it’s still milk.” Rather you would give them pure milk, so they would not get sick. So when God’s Word is taught in its truth and purity, this is one sure sign of the church’s presence. Secondly, the Sacraments, or Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are celebrated according to Christ’s command. These two are directly commanded by our Lord Jesus, and instrumental in His giving grace to us. Both visible actions, God attaches the forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ death and resurrection. And they too, like the Word of God, should be used as Christ commanded. They are not our ceremonies to do whatever we like. They are Holy and given by Him to be used as He instructed. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” “Take eat, this is my body, given for you. Take drink, this is my blood of the new covenant, shed for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
11.  Where these things are present: the Word of God and the Sacraments, the Holy Spirit is at work building His Church. With the Word of God, with Baptism and the Supper, we can be confident that here we are being “built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Eph. 2:22) Jesus died to make us what we are—the Christian Church. To join us together in His One body, to make peace with us by forgiving our sin and taking the curse on Himself. While we still labor under weakness and frailty, suffering, and even death, the Church might not look like much to the world. But when we join the heavenly host, we’ll truly see why the Church surpasses all the monuments of history in glory, and why Christ shed His blood to bring us near to Him—and to bring all glory and honor to God who fulfills all His purposes in Christ and in us. Amen!

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. What kind of “structure” does Ephesians 2 say that Christ is building? In what way could you say that it took a lot of “blood, sweat, and tears” to make it? Luke 19:41-44; 22:41-44; John 19:31-37. Read carefully in Ephesians 2:11-22. What does it say His blood and His death accomplished for His people?
  2. What is this “structure” built on? Eph. 2:20. How is it different from any earthly structures or physical buildings? Eph. 2:21-22.
  3. Use the analogy of individual bricks or stones compared to a structure of which they are a part, to explain why Christ puts us in community in the church, rather than leaving us in isolation. How do we “living stones” retain our individuality and purpose, while becoming part of a greater whole? Why does this truth lead Paul to mix metaphors between a building and a body? Eph. 2:14-16, cf. 2:20-22; 1 Cor. 12:12-31.
  4. How does this body/structure grow unlike an earthly building? How is it more like a living organism than a static structure? Col. 2:19; 1 Pet. 2:4-5 How does the (physical) death of individual Christians (amazingly) not lead to the gradual decay and decline of the Christian church? Rom. 8:38. How do they remain part of the body, as it continues to grow through time? John 11:25-26
  5. What “hostility” or enmity did Christ have to overcome by His death and blood to make us all members of His body, this “structure” the Church? Eph. 4:18; Col. 1:21. Reduced to its simplest definition, what is the Christian Church, as every 7 year old (should) knows? “The believers and lambs who hear Christ’s voice and follow Him”. John 10:1-18
  6. Though the Christian Church’s true membership is hidden from our eyes, what outward signs serve as identifying “marks” so that we can recognize where the Church is here on earth? John 8:31-32; 14:23-26; 20:21-23; Matt. 28:18-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26. 

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