We’re continuing our series on church membership. A series that’s kind of weird and kind of dangerous to talk about. If you know anything about me you know that I met the real, living God outside of church. And so this topic of church membership has always been a tough one that I struggle with regularly. I mean church is good most of the time, it’s nice, but sometimes I wonder if I actually need it. I wonder if I’d be better off spending my Sundays resting and preparing for encounters with God during the week. The same way you guys feel every Sunday morning or Saturday night, thinking, “Do I really need to go to church? Can’t I just watch a sermon on the computer or read my bible or go be nice to someone? Won’t that do?”
We don’t need church, we just need Jesus
We don’t need church. That’s what most of us think these days. We don’t need church, we only need Jesus. Can I get an Amen in the building. Salvation does not come through the church. Salvation comes solely through the blood of Jesus Christ. Churches do a good job of hiding this fact, though. Of making people do everything but look upon and rely upon Jesus Christ. Rather churches do a good job of making you rely on the church!
That’s why so many times at church we’re just playing church and acting like we’re worshipping God, when really, all we are doing is worshipping ourselves. We sing these songs only to get some spiritual high or comfort. We write down the sermon on a notecard because we ultimately just want, I don’t know, to live a good life. To not feel guilt. To be happy.
So we pretend that we are glorifying God while we turn our cheek to the kid in the corner by him/herself, while the choir director sleeps with someone’s wife, and while we know we come to church just use others to fill our loneliness.
This is why the whole “spiritual but not religious” movement is growing in the world. And they have a point, don’t they? We don’t need church, we just need Jesus. Isn’t that what it’s all about? About loving Jesus, obeying His commands, and following Him wherever He goes, no matter what. Even Jesus says, “whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, cannot be my disciple.” Right? Nothing is supposed to get in the way of our walk with Jesus Christ. Amen? Not our friends, not our family, not even ourselves! We’re supposed to leave everything and follow Jesus and make it into the kingdom. That’s why we walk around saying, “I’m saved, are you?” And we could care less about everyone else’s faith in Jesus, because all that matters is that we, is that I make it to heaven.
Trash. Brothers and sisters, that is absolute garbage. That whole, “I don’t need church, I can just pray and read the Bible on my own”, that is total rubbish. That is nice that you’re fooling yourself in thinking that you’ve got your spiritual priorities straight, but that is not the Christian faith.
YOUR DREAM VACATION—ALONE
Let me ask you a question, what is your dream vacation? If I gave you a 1st class ticket, fully covered the best meals in all of [Paris], free passes to all the attractions… but made you go alone, and told you you can’t tell anyone, would you still want to go?
The problem is most of you would say yes. But the few of you who know how much it sucks to travel alone and to eat good food at nice restaurants alone and to go to a good movie all alone, know that it’s no fun. The problem is we’ve become so individualistic, so worried about just “getting mine”, so selfish and self-absorbed, that we can’t even answer questions the way we know is right. I guarantee you that if I gave you your own private island and it be just that, private, just you and no one else and you had no way of contacting any other human, you’d go crazy. Your life would be miserable.
ETERNAL LIFE BEGINS NOW
Another problem is that we view eternal life as something only for the future, for something only after we die. But there’s nothing further from the truth. Eternal life begins now. Wake up people! When Lazarus died, everyone was crying except for Martha, because she was a woman of faith. She knew, she trusted that Lazarus would resurrect at the end times. So when Jesus came, and told her that her brother will rise again. She replied, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” And Jesus cries out. She just doesn’t get it. Jesus says don’t you get it woman? I am the resurrection and the life. Not later, but now! I am the resurrection and the life. I have come to bring life and life abundantly. And I am here. I am come into world right now! Here I am! I am Immanuel. I am God with you. Friends, following Jesus is not about what happens later. It’s not about making sure your soul is saved and that you go to heaven. Forget that! You know what, if I’m the only one who makes it to heaven, I don’t want to go. If my mom, my dad and everyone I know who has suffered so much, is not going to be with me in heaven, then I don’t want it. I want all my friends and family to be with me in that kingdom, in paradise, worshipping and praising our God. And I’m sure that God wants that to.
You can’t follow Jesus by yourself
We don’t need church, we need Jesus. But who is Jesus? Jesus is one person of the divine Trinity. We have been shown the great mystery that God in God’s self, is not just some old guy with a white beard hovering over us. No! God is three in one. God is the divine community. The divine fellowship. So if we really want to follow Jesus and be like Jesus, we must do it in community! Think about it. If Jesus just wanted you to be holy and to pray and to read your bible and to not get mad at people, and all that really mattered was that you did your share—Why did Jesus call 12 disciples? Why 12? Why not just one? One disciple could have easily spread the Gospel and made disciples and it could’ve multiplied the same way it did now. So why 12? I mean I can’t even believe that I have to preach on this stuff. It makes me so mad some times that I have to talk about this. Jesus calls twelve because they represent all twelve tribes of Israel. That is, all of the people of God. Jesus doesn’t call you into discipleship. Jesus calls all of us into discipleship. Jesus calls the entire world. We cannot follow Jesus apart from one another.
We follow Christ as Christ’s body
We are all called and we are called to be a part of Christ’s body. Now whenever we think about ourselves as the body, for some reason we always think of a decapitated body, that is, a body without a head. We talk about the arms, the hands, the feet, blah blah. But why is it that the church always talks about being the body of Christ without ever talking about how Christ is the head of this body? That the one in control of this body, the one who has authority over this body and commands it what to do, is not the pastor, is not some sort of reflex, but is Jesus Christ who graciously gave up his body for us on the cross.
Let’s slow down for a second. Christ is the head, and your head sends signals, commands to your body and tells it what to do. But what happens if a head sends out a signal, a command and a certain body does not respond? Well, we can know then that that body doesn’t belong to that head. Because if it did, it would’ve responded to the command that the head sent out. So if Christ is the head and the church is the body that is to follow Christ’s commands, but if we as the church do not obey, maybe we’re not being His body. We are only the body of Christ to the extent that we are connected to Christ and following His commands.
The Ministry of Reconciliation
And what does Christ command? What does Christ want His body to do? I tell you plainly, if we are the body of Christ, our job, our ministry is reconciliation. Reconsillywhat? The Dictionary defines the verb, reconcile: to restore to harmony. To settle or resolve.
And we know that we were once separated from God that we sinned directly against God, but that the blood. That the blood of Jesus made us right again with God. 2 Corinthians 5:18 says: All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ. Friends. We broke our relationship with God through our sins, but God, by dying on that cross, reconciled us to Himself, and made possible a new, right relationship with God.
But the passage is not done. 2 Corinthians 5:18 ends by saying, “God reconciled us to himself through Christ, AND has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.
God reconciled the world by Christ’s body being crucified. Now we are the body of Christ, and we are called to be that body that is reconciled.
But catch this, God has already reconciled the world to Himself. ON the cross, it is finished! No longer do we have to worry about being reconciled to God, about fixing our relationship to God. God has taken responsibility and has reconciled us to Himself. So when God gives us the ministry of reconciliation, it is not so that we can just sit around thinking the resurrection will come when I die. No! We must be the body of Christ, reconciling the world to God and to itself! We must reconcile the differences with our neighbors. We must reconcile our differences with our parents. We must heal the hate we have towards the Japanese!
Matthew 5:23-24 says:
“When you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; FIRST be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift."
Man, we take this verse so lightly, but this is such a serious thing. Jesus is telling us, no reconciliation no worship. Until you are reconciled with that person who wronged you, there is no worship. Until black lives are reconciled to white lives, there can be no worship. Until south and north Korea are reconciled to each other, there can be no worship. Until the world can put away its bombs and live in peace with one another, there can be no worship. Until the economic disparity between the poor and the rich are reconciled, there is no worship.
What in the world are we doing? Prancing around to bible study and coming once a week on Sunday, giving a few bucks here and there, serving here and there, is not worship. No. Far be it for Christ’s body to be a body of indifference and inability. Christ’s body can never be a body that sits around as people are being killed, being thrown into jails and being abused. That’s not a resurrected body, that’s a dead body! Christ’s body is and must be the body of life. The body of life that goes into the world and reconciles pain with the love of God and reconciles injustice to the justice of God. Only then are we the church, the body of Christ. But you can’t do it alone. We must remember that we are only a part, one piece of a larger organism. By itself an arm can do nothing, by itself a leg can do nothing, you yourself can also do nothing.
But why church? Can’t we do all of this in a social justice group? Shouldn’t we just go and join a non-profit? No! God is reconciling the world IN Jesus Christ. True reconciliation only happens in Jesus’ body. Only through the body of Jesus Christ that was slain on that cross can the world be reconciled. And that body of Christ is that body that has been holding on for centuries, this church, Christ’s church.