Here is an extended version of David’s sermon:
Some of you may remember what I spoke about in August when I led the service? I was enthusing about how this is an exciting time for the church because we are faced with difficulties and challenges, – a post modern culture which in general dismisses the Christian Faith as irrelevant, or at best – OK if you want to believe that stuff. Falling numbers of people engaging with the traditional church and so fewer people attending and also, the age profile rising, as we all get older.
But, this is so much of an opportunity for us to really get to grips with what we believe, why we believe, why do we look to Jesus Christ as “the way” to live, and to reconnect with a creator God.
Essentially, what is this Church thing all about – and how can we share this effectively with others in this current society – in Argyll, our populations of North Knapdale and Glassary, Kilmartin, and Ford.
I asked the question – What are the marks of a Church – what makes a church different to a club – or a society – or a local pub?
I suggest four aspects of church which describe who we are and define our raison d’etre –
Worship, Community, Discipling, Mission
If we are actively involved in these activities, I believe we are effectively operating as a church of Jesus Christ. Take away any of these and that leaves us deficient –
Without Worship – we remove our expression of belief in and love of God – Father of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.
Without Community we fail to express our love for one another, and for all people
Without discipleship, we do not grow others in faith and so populate our church,
Without Mission we do not share our understanding of the Good News of Jesus Christ and our invitation by Him to know God.
Last time I spoke about Worship – “..We believe that worship is a core, indispensable, and non-negotiable function of the church. … Worship is an irreplaceable function in the Christian experience. We should worship because our God is worthy to be worshipped”
Worship is not necessary for God – but it is necessary for us. It rises up from us in awe and thanksgiving as we contemplate this complex and wondrous being.
Today, the theme is “Community”
What is community?
Mutual concern and care.
Sharing Strong relationships
Now you can say that these features are apparent in many organisations, or people groups. Hippy communes, the Israeli Kibbutz, the Rotary club, or the Masonic lodge.
We can look at our own local villages – we see and experience these features on a daily basis. The well known West highland hospitality, the local population’s ever readiness to help out neighbours and friends.
Why pick this as a fundamental mark of the church?
Firstly because I think that actually the church set up the first and most enduring community in which a common interest was wedded to mutual a care and concern, resulting in emotional attachment and strong relationships.
Jesus said – love one another – by this all men will know that you are my disciples, by your love, one for another.
The early church picked this up from the start – look at that reading we had from Acts – Jesus had finally left them by being “taken up” – and they returned to Jerusalem – and stayed together. – the disciples, the women, Jesus mother, and his brothers.
They have a common interest – all knew Jesus and heard Him say – go and wait in Jerusalem til I send the holy Spirit, they were all uncertain of what would happen next – but they had sufficiently strong relationships to get together – as Luke says – with “one accord” – they knew trusted and cared for one another. – and they continued “in prayer and supplication”
Interesting that Luke has two words here – prayer and supplication. – what is the difference. Prayer is communication, correspondence, talking to God – and supplication – well that means, entreating, or making requests – sounds to me a bit like intercession – asking on behalf of self or others. So maybe there were two types of prayer going on here – prayer as praise and worship to God, and prayer of intercession, for themselves and others.
I think we can be sure that they were giving thanks for Jesus presence, his life, and His resurrection – and giving worship to God His Father, and I am sure they were also praying – “What are we going to do now! How should we continue our lives,? Is Jesus coming back? How long should we wait here as Jesus told us to? And were they also praying for protection from the authorities, from Rome, from the Pharisees? – They were in fear of persecution and crucifixion. – so they were a community – brought together by their common exposure to life with Jesus, staying together to work out a way forward with God, worshipping together in a radical and reputedly blasphemous way in the eyes of authority. In accord with one another.
And as they considered their situation they were not frozen into inactivity – but started to look forward – what is next – how do we move forward. This was quite a gang – about 120 of them – men and women – all disciples of Jesus, all wanting to follow Him – all seeking to live in His way. And they say – well we need to get organised – one of our main leaders – one of the twelve closest to Jesus is gone – Judas is dead and we need to appoint someone in His place to take up the role of being a witness to Jesus resurrection – we need another apostle.
Isn’t this a tremendous model for the church – a community of lots of different people, all who know Jesus – all who committed to following Him – being together waiting as Jesus asked them to – not sure why, or what will happen – all aware that they are at risk with the authorities – worshipping, praying, staying together “with one accord” – sharing together and discussing what is happening around them – and they are looking forward – they start to plan for the future – they say come on – we need to regroup, to organise and appoint another apostle, we can’t stand still, or worry about the past – we need to look forward and be ready for what is going to happen next.
The community of Jesus – the church – responding to changing circumstances, holding on to their core values – worship, prayer, care for one another, developing relationships with one another and with God, following Jesus example – and looking forward – what is next, we need to respond, change, organise, not looking back to what has been, but planning for what is coming next.
And why then did we have this other reading, this passage from early in Jesus ministry of Jesus calling Levi to be a disciple?
Well, this shows a different aspect of the impact of community in the life of the church. How?
Levi, a tax official, sitting in his tax office – getting on with his work. Jesus passes by, sees him and says “follow me” – so he does – wow, simple as that. We don’t know what was going on in Levi’s life at that time, we don’t know what else Jesus said to him – but the upshot is that everything came together at that point for Levi to respond positively to Jesus and decide to follow Him.
Now what was Levi’s community at that time? Who were his friends, who did he hang out with. With whom did he have a common interest – who did he relate with in society.
Well as a tax man he would certainly not be welcome mixing with the zealots and nationalists who wanted to overthrow the Roman occupation – to them he was a quisling working for the enemy. As a Tax man he would have been shunned by the respectable citizens who wanted nothing to do with these collectors who took their money for the hated Romans, and as a tax man he would have been excommunicated from the religious establishment for both cheating and stealing through corrupt tax collections and also for collaborating with the blasphemous and pagan Roman army.
So his community was made up of similar people – of other tax men, of those shunned by society, blasphemers, cheats and thieves – Roman collaborators – or as Mark simply puts it – Tax collectors and sinners.
And here is an interesting thing – Jesus says to him “Follow me” – and the next place we find them is in Levi’s house – having dinner with him and all his friends – all his community of tax men, cheats, blasphemers – sinners – the community of Levi – and what is more, Jesus disciples were there as well! Jesus doesn’t take Levi out of his community of friends, of like minded people – Jesus goes with him, leads him, back into his own community – to meet his friends, to share food together, to talk and discuss and get to know them – and he takes His disciples with him. How else would Jesus have met all these people? He could have sat in the synagogue all day long and none of this community would have come near Him.
Jesus does not call us to come away from our communities, away from our friends and interests – he calls us to go with Him to our communities, to be his disciples where we are, in our interest groups, to be with our friends, who don’t know Jesus – but as we follow Him – so He is with us in our communities. Isn’t that great.
Communities – we have our church – our Body of Christ as Paul described us – a community of trust, of friendship, of sharing and caring, of being in “one accord” as Luke puts it – and also of worship, of prayer, of looking forward and asking – “what is next, let’s get ready, get organised – an exciting community where we experience and share Jesus love and his leading. We talk of community being founded on relationships, of getting to know and trust and care for one another – and for the Christian Church this is founded on Jesus statement:
What is the greatest commandment – Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength and the second – “love your neighbour as yourself”.
We reach out in love to our neighbours – we build our relationships with our friends – and for us – that relationship is amplified, it is grounded, it is inspired by our love of God – as we grow to love and trust and understand him, then can we also grow in love trust and understanding of our neighbours in this community – as one grows, so does the other.
And as we agree to follow Jesus, we allow him to lead us into those communities around us, Jesus takes us with Him to meet our friends, our colleagues, the members of the communities in which we meet day by day or week by week. His disciples go with Him, and so the Kingdom of God is shared with those who would not contemplate joining us here in this community of church.
So – we are a church community – a community which does not have barriers to others , but rather flows into all aspects of our lives around us – sharing love and concern, sharing trust and understanding – our horizontal relationships with others, inspired by our vertical relationship with God.
The community in Jerusalem was the start of the church around the world.
With prayer, and supplication, in trust and friendship, through growing and sharing our faith, the community of this church can also be the start of a new development of church in this part of Argyll. Amen