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“Community – Part 2”

EMC – August 13, 2006

TEXT: Matthew 23:23-28

Across our nation we find very diverse communities. We have small ones and large ones, we have hamlets and mega-cities, we have ones that are isolated in the middle of nowhere, others that are isolated, some intentionally built that way, and we have others that seem to be surrounded by even more communities so you can’t tell where one stops and the other begins.

As we look at the divergent nature of the communities in our land we also discover how each community wants to be known for something that defines her as being unique. Last week I showed you some of the places across our land who have tried to stamp out for themselves a unique niche in the Canadian mosaic. And there are more who have tried to stamp their community with an image they want everyone to remember them for.

In looking at the communities of our land, I have been asking myself, what kind of community do we want to be known for? Roblin has Jewel of the Parkland, but what about EMC? What do we want to be known for? What billboard would we put up or what kind of symbol would we erect to define who we are? You see as I think about community we are a community. We are a group of people who have chosen to work together in order to see the Kingdom of Jesus Christ realized and growing in this part of the world. We have chosen to do life together here so Jesus Christ will be exalted and lifted up.  

If we are community, than what is it that we are known for? What is that we want to be known for? For the next couple of weeks, as we prepare to go into this fall season, I have been sensing that it would be good for us to identify afresh just what it is that we are here to be. For us to take some time to remind ourselves or clearly state the kind of community that we are choosing to become as we work and live together under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Churches can get known for a number of things. They can get known for their activities, the events they put on either for themselves or for their community. They can be known for their music or their preaching or their ministry to various age groups or interest groups within the church, a youth, kids, seniors, single parent, etc. ministry. They can get known for the kind of people that come. An older church a young church, a wealthy church, a poor church, churches can get known for lots of different things.

They can also get a reputation based on people’s experiences with them either with them or with churches in general – either good or bad. They can get known for something that has nothing to do with the church at all. I know people who think churches are always after your money, but I haven’t been in one that is. I hear that often when people find out that I am a pastor, that all I must be concerned about is the offering plate.

And the list could go on and on. However, we don’t want to be known for things that we aren’t concerned about, or those things that we do as good as they may be. We want to be known for what Jesus has purposed His church to be about.

And so, as I have been thinking about community, I began to think about what it is that Jesus saw the church, His church to be like? What did He intend the church to be known for?

It should be an easy question to answer. But I would dare say that if we were to gather the various views in our community about what the church is here for, or should be known for, we would get some pretty interesting responses. And that might be expected. However, I would guess that we would also get quite a variety of responses if we were to ask the same questions here today in this room. There might be a different list, but it would be pretty varied. 

In my 20 years of service as a pastor, I have found that our concept of what the church is about or should be about becomes rather distorted from the intent. I have found that as I have talked with different people inside and outside the church as well as in the leadership roles that I have served in giving support to a number of churches in various places.

What I especially found and continue to find, is that if I were to ask what the church should be known for, or what are the characteristics we should possess, I would receive not only a diverse response, but often the answers would be things that would be the least relevant or important aspects of the faith.

As I have contemplated what we are to be known for as a community of faith, I realized that one of the constant struggles we have to gaining clarity on this issue is with ourselves. We see the church being different than what Jesus intended the church to be. We see it being something other than community. We see it as being something other than the people we are to live life with.

We seem to see the church as being optional. We seem to see it as being an institution that we can take or leave. We even seem to see it as being somebody else’s responsibility. We are just here to be part of what we want to be part of and we leave the rest.

As I watch our response to the church, I find we seem to see the church being present for my own, personal, benefit. It is here to meet my needs. The church, it appears in our culture, has become the same as Wal-Mart. It should be a predictable place where it is easy to find everything you are looking for, just like Wal-Mart. It should have enough variety that everybody who shows up can find in stock exactly what they are looking for on any particular day. You shouldn’t have to take a rain check; you should get exactly what you need in the shortest time possible. And of course it should have the lowest price.

Sometimes it seems to me that the church gets so intent on meeting everybody’s individual needs that we end up meeting none. We spend so much energy in trying to have everyone’s tastes satisfied that sometimes we really don’t meet the deeper needs of people. We don’t focus on creating community and so we don’t see community being created as Jesus saw it. Our emphasis becomes centered on those things that don’t matter very much all the while missing the things that really do matter.

Sadly, its not that our intentions are wrong or that we don’t desire to follow after the plan Jesus has for His church, its just that we get pulled in so many directions we miss what matters most.

You see the church after all was Jesus idea. It wasn’t ours. In Matthew 16:18 we find Jesus making that great statement about the church. He said,

(ESV)  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

It was not some human concept or astounding plan that someone devised as to how to win the world and influence nations. It was flowing from the heart of Jesus as He talked and demonstrated the kingdom of God.

So what does Jesus see His church, this community of faith looking like? And what do we then, in 2006 do to demonstrate and reveal the true nature of this community to the area we serve?

As I have been dwelling on this sense of community, there are four aspects that I find rise to the surface for me. They are: Authenticity, Love, Worship, and Passion.

This morning we are going to focus on the first two.

Authenticity.

When Jesus walked on this earth He cared for people. He touched them where they were hurting, where they were in need and transformed their lives. He embraced the downtrodden and the outcasts and brought them hope. He reached out to little children and widows. He embraced those who had lost their way. Almost everyone Jesus encountered He had words of life that lifted them to new heights as He brought encouragement to their souls. Almost everyone received the words of Good News.

There was one group however that didn’t seem to be in line for this caring kind of response by Jesus. One group seemed to miss Good News, although the words Jesus spoke were intended to bring good news to them, even though the message seemed harsh and critical.

Who am I speaking of? Of course it was those who were in charge of the synagogue and the worship of God. They are referred to as the scribes and Pharisees, the elders and rulers of Israel.

When Jesus spoke to them He reserved for them His harshest rebukes. We find them in several places, but in Matthew’s Gospel it says this,

Matthew 23

23 “How terrible it will be for you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest part of your income, but you ignore the important things of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but you should not leave undone the more important things. 24 Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat; then you swallow a camel!

25 “How terrible it will be for you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! You are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! 26 Blind Pharisees! First wash the inside of the cup, and then the outside will become clean, too.

27 “How terrible it will be for you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. 28 /You try to look like upright people outwardly, but inside your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.[1]/

Jesus blasted the Pharisees for basically saying one thing and doing another. They made themselves out to be something they were not for the purpose of impressing the people they were supposedly serving. These religious leaders of Jesus' day were so focused on the traditions they had formed around the heart of God's message that they were neglecting the things most on God's heart.

This chapter is full of rebukes. “How terrible it will be for you…” is said over and over again. Jesus was upset with what He saw. He was upset with them because what He witnessed in them was a lack of authenticity.

The very first thing about this new community Jesus was creating was that it was to be a community that was authentic. It was genuine. It was real. The people who made up this community of faith did not have to pretend to be something they were not. They were to come to Jesus just as they were. No pretenses, no religious rule keeping was required to impress Him. Rather what Jesus saw in His kingdom was for people to be authentic.

And so when Jesus encountered the Pharisees He saw the exact opposite of what the church He was creating was intended to be like. The church, as Jesus community of faith was to be a group of people who didn’t need to pretend to be something they weren’t. They didn’t need to pretend in order to please or impress the people around them.  They didn’t have to be hypocritical.

It was quite a contrast to what the Pharisees displayed and it seems to be quite a contrast to what people see the church being like. Have you ever heard someone say, maybe you have even said it yourself, that the church is full of hypocrites. We are looking for the real thing, even if we don’t know what the real thing is.

People around us want to see a genuine faith that works for less-than-perfect people before they are willing to trust. They want to know this God thing is more than talk, talk, talk. They desperately want permission to be who they are with the hope of becoming more. They aren't willing to pretend, because hypocrisy repulses them. Most have yet to realize that every person is a hypocrite to some degree-the only question is whether we realize it and are honest about it.

All of us, to some degree or another are hypocritical. We want to be this way, but we aren’t always. However, the difference Jesus saw for His church was that the church was to be the place where hypocrites could admit it. Honesty could be at the forefront. Those within the church would be real.

Jesus was basically saying, Lose the religious pretense; it's destructive to authentic faith. Shed the mask of hypocrisy you hide behind. I want honest, authentic people-not hypocrites who pretend to be something they're not.

 

"Can we be this kind of a church? The kind where people don't have to pretend? Where we can be ourselves and stop pretending we're more or less than what we are right now? That's the only way we can really help each other grow to be all God intends us to be. If we can't do this, we're just playing church!" Actually we aren’t playing church, for it is not what Jesus intended for His church. We are playing something else.

He wants authenticity. But to be authentic is hard work. It begins with the inner life being authentic with God. And it spills over into our lives with others as we live life together. It involves vulnerability and transparency. It allows others a view into an authentic spiritual life of a real human-not a religious salesperson. Finally, it becomes something that becomes embedded in a culture so that authentic, growing communities of people can be formed and transformed.

It involves living life together rather than apart. Choosing to be in community rather than isolated from one another it involves being connected to one another. For that to occur we need the second quality of the church. If the first quality the church is to possess is for her to be an authentic place. The second quality the church must possess is that of love.

Love. What is love? There are all kinds of definitions of what love is. Needless to say, love has become pretty distorted hasn’t it? 

Yet, when Jesus was preparing His disciples for the role they would have in leading the church, He gave them a new command. It was a command of love.

In John 13 we read,

34 /“I give you a new command: Love each other. You must love each other as I have loved you. 35 All people will know that you are my followers if you love each other.”(NCV)[2]/

Again in John 15 He reiterates the command, but this time He goes farther and defines love. We read,

12 /“This is my command: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 The greatest love a person can show is to die for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know what his master is doing. But I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything I heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me; I chose you. And I gave you this work: to go and produce fruit, fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you anything you ask for in my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other. (NCV)[3]/

What Jesus looks for His church to be known for is love. But for love to be demonstrated there has to be authenticity. And for authenticity to be displayed you have to know you are loved. The two go hand in hand. You can’t pretend to love. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t last. You can see through those people who may seem to love you only to get something and those who really love you. If someone just appears to love you, you aren’t going to be very real and honest with them. You are guarded at best. You don’t become very vulnerable because you aren’t sure what their reaction will be.

At the same time, it is hard to love someone if they aren’t being real or honest with you. However, the church of Jesus Christ is to be a place of love. It is to be a place where people love one another. Where they are real and honest with one another and demonstrate love. 

Love is to be a central component of the life of the church. But it only can really be seen when we are open and honest with one another. How do we do that? By living life together. By being in community with one another. That was the pattern Jesus established for His church. It was about community.

In Ephesians 4 we read,

2 Always be humble, gentle, and patient, accepting each other in love. 3 You are joined

/together with peace through the Spirit, so make every effort to continue together in this way. (NCV)[4]/

 

Again in Colossians 3 we read

14 Do all these things; but most important, love each other. Love is what holds you all together in perfect unity.

/(NCV)[5]/

We can only see love displayed as we live in community with one another. We have to be close enough to each other to love and be authentic with one another to really be the community Jesus looked for His church to become. So are we?

Are we community? Are we living life together in such a way that community is created? You have heard me refer to our small group a number of times over the past few years. And I have done so, not just because I want you to be part of a small group, but because they are vital to our learning what the church is to be like. We can come together on Sunday morning, when ever body puts on their Sunday best, not only their clothes, but their attitudes and expressions.

But what about when they aren’t in their Sunday best? If you spend enough time with someone you will eventually discover who they are, especially if that relationship is one where there is real love and care for one another. If you know you can be honest and open and still be loved you will be. If you sense love and acceptance for who you are and you don’t have to pretend to be something you are not, then you can actually grow from where you are to who God is forming you to be.

But for that to occur it takes more than Sunday morning. It takes relationship with people for a longer period of time. Caring relationships that something like a small group can bring. Being part of a community of faith requires us to be part of a community, more than just ourselves, more than just Sunday morning, being part of a community that can spend time together growing relationship with one another. 

The church is to be a place of love and authenticity. It is the kind of place we are choosing to create here. Will you join the pursuit?  Will you become part of community?

If you want to be part of this kind of community we will be beginning again this fall some small groups where this kind of community life has the potential to be created. I encourage you to become part of one.


----

[1]Holy Bible, New Living Translation, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1996.

[2]The New Century Version, (Dallas, Texas: Word Publishing) 1987, 1988, 1991.

[3]The New Century Version, (Dallas, Texas: Word Publishing) 1987, 1988, 1991.

[4]The New Century Version, (Dallas, Texas: Word Publishing) 1987, 1988, 1991.

[5]The New Century Version, (Dallas, Texas: Word Publishing) 1987, 1988, 1991.

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