The Creed: Week Four - "The Church & Communion of The Saints"
This is our fourth installment of the sermon series, "The Creed" a series focused on the basics of Christian belief as outlined in the Apostles Creed, the oldest statement of faith in the Christian tradition.
Today we're going to be focused on the part of the Creed that speaks of our belief in the Church. But before we dive into that, let me take you on a quick trip down my memorly lane---the church version.
The first church I remember attending when I was a kid was the Fairfield Road Baptist Church in Greenville, SC. Here is a photo of it:
This tiny little church was where I first learned what it meant to be part of a church family. I knew everyone and everyone knew me.
I remember sitting on hard wooden pews, smelling that old musty church smell, walking super slow to the bathroom in the middle of the service to try to make the one visit I was allowed last as long as I could.
When I was a teenager I attended the Calvary Baptist Church in Winter Garden Florida. I mostly endured the church services there, but it was the place where first started to ask questions about my faith---it was also where my high school was located, and where Merideth and I went to school together so there's that...
And then there was the church Merideth and I attended when we were first married--the first church I attended in a very long time where I felt like I was experiencing God.
Then the little church we joined in Tallahassee Florida where I eventually became the youth director and also became overwhelmed by the vision to go to seminary and become a pastor.
Maybe you have memories of all of the churches in your life--the ones where you felt at home, where you grew up, where you were launched into the world. You can remember how they smelled, the faces of the people you did life with while you there.
We all have these kinds of memories, don't we?
And some of us have memories of how we were hurt by our church communities. We remember the way that someone said something to wound us. We were snubbed, neglected, offended or downright disillusioned by our church experience.
Because we all know that church isn't perfect. Mostly because it's full of people like us, right?
Church---what does that word even mean? It is derived from the Old English word circe which in Dutch is kerk. These words both have their origins in the Greek word kuriakon, which means "Lord's House."
But this word doesn't really appear in the New Testament in all of the places where it talks about the Church. That word was actually the word ekklesia, which literally means a gathering of those who are "called out."
Isn't it interesting that by the Middle Ages the meaning of word church had shifted from a called out group of people gathering together wherever they happened to be... to a place, a location, a building?
And now people have come to equate the church not as a group of people who are called out into the world to bear witness to Jesus, but as a bunch of people who gather together in a place, isolating themselves from the rest of the world.
Which is why so many people who really like Jesus, don't want to go to church.
I need to tell you something important now. Don't miss this---this gathering, this being in community, this thing that we call church, is not an add-on to your faith. It is vital to the formation of your faith, and it's worth sharing.
There are people outside of these walls right now who are craving community, longing for connection and we need to be sharing what it means to have both, and to have Jesus, who calls us into this community, and is the reason we do what we do---or should be.
We need to live what we believe about the church.
But in order for us to live what we believe about the church, we need to know what we believe. Let's say the Apostle's Creed once again, and focus on the portion of the Creed that mentions the Church.
Here's what I want us to hold on to today as we focus on the part of the Creed that says, "I believe in the Holy catholic Church."
We show our belief in the Father, Son and Spirit when there is unity in our diversity.
Jesus declared this very thing in his prayer for his disciples in the Gospel of John.
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me.
The Early Church Fathers and Mothers who read these words of Jesus believed some important things about the Church. They saw that Jesus was essentially lifting up four marks that the Church needed to have in order to be the Church. Otherwise it was just a nice group of people who said nice things, and maybe did some nice things once in a while.
First, the Church is one. Jesus wanted this most of all. He declared that it was through our unity that people would know that Jesus was who he said he was---the very Son of God. The problem with most of Jesus' followers is that they have come to mistake uniformity for unity. Unity is possible without uniformity---we don't have to look, sound and believe alike to be unified.
Second, the Church is holy. The church is holy not because of us, because we are as far from holy as you can get. The Church is holy because of who calls us to be the Church--Jesus himself.
Third, the Church is catholic. This is catholic with a small "C" which essentially means universal. But there's a deeper meaning to this word--at least in the way that the Apostle's Creed defined it. This means that in every age, in every time the Church has something to say that is relevant and life-giving for that age in that time.
Lastly, the Church is apostolic, which simply means it continues to demonstrate the kingdom of God and to proclaim the Lordship of Jesus year in year out, age to age.
When the Church doesn't get these things right---it fails at being the Church, the community of the called out.
So how do we keep from falling down on the job so to speak when it comes to being the church? How do we demonstrate to the world that we are one as Jesus desired us to be one? How do we show that we have a relevant word for our age? How do we show we are striving to be like Jesus, who calls us into this community?
It comes down to asking the right question.
The question we should not be asking is, "What do we want our church to do for us?"
The question we should be asking is "What does God want his church to do for Him?"
I know that sounds like the John F Kennedy speech, but it's straight up truth.
That first question---"What do we want our church to do for us?" is completely connected to the notion of church as a building---a place you go. When this is our approach to church we have no problem going to another place when the place where we happen to be isn't giving us what we want.
But if our questions center around what God wants us to do together, that's a huge shift away from selfish, consumerism and toward true, called out community.
Speaking of words that sound like community----it's time to address the phrase "communion of the saints" as we wrap things up today... and hopefully circle back around to where we started.
How do we know what all of this looks like? What sort of sign or symbol do we have that can help us keep all of this in our hearts---to show our unity in diversity, to be the called out community of Christ?
There's a Greek word that helps us---the word koinonia, which can mean sharing or divine community. Used in the context of the Church, koinonia lifts up the notion of a Church that is exhibiting all of classic Four Marks.
This is why we share the Eucharist each week---the Lord's Supper. When we come together, when we come to the table we come as a unified body, all of the labels affixed to us fall off, the divisions that are placed upon us disappear, we are connected, we share the elements, we lift up Christ and take Christ into us and then carry Christ out into the world.
Koinonia happens each time we do this---and we are connected to one another and in a very mystical and awesome way we are also connected with the great fellowship of believers in every time and space.
And then... and then... we are sent out into the world to be the church.
We believe that the very embodiment of the koinonia that we experience each time we share from the Lord's Table is the vision we have embraced as a church. This vision comes from Jesus' own words. This vision is to Love God, Love Everybody. Jesus told his followers: "Love the Lord your God with all of your heart soul mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself."
In so doing we are unified in purpose even if we aren't uniform in everything else. We might have differences of opinion about a lot of different things, but we all affirm that as the church we are called to Love God and Love everybody. The church is not a place we go, the church is who we are.
Pope Francis: “We cannot be Christians who continually put up ‘do not enter’ signs, nor can we consider that this space is mine or yours alone,” he said. “Everyone has a place, everyone is invited to find here, and among us, his or her nourishment.”
You and I show our belief in the Father, Son and Spirit when there is unity in our diversity. When we are asking not "what can this church do for me?" but "What is our church called by God to do for Him?"