Let’s Be His Church

14448974_1276282955724086_3347127139475043555_nGod’s kingdom is not the Republican Party. Or the Democratic Party. Or the Reform or Green or Libertarian or any other political party. God’s kingdom is not the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines or National Guard. His kingdom is not a treaty with Mexico or an alliance with Israel or an agreement with NATO. His kingdom isn’t headquartered in Wall Street or Hollywood or Washington, D.C., or even Rome. He doesn’t bow to the pressure of the best seller list, Tommy Hilfiger’s buyers, the youth culture’s habits or the population’s demographics.

His kingdom is what he’s building in the church. “In William Hendrickson’s summary, before we knew Jesus, we were ‘Christless, stateless, friendless, hopeless and Godless.’”[1] What a dramatic change in the story! That’s some freedom! That’s some status! That’s some redemption, reconciliation, rescuing love!

God has done all the work to make his blended family. He’s adopted all these kids from all over the world and stuck them together. This is all for the church. The mystery is he’s bringing all things to himself. He’s put all things under his feet and gave Jesus the head over all the things to the church, which is his body.

It’s about the church. Peace comes in Christ and his church.

His last analogy in Ephesians 2:11-22 is to call all of his people not only a household but also a building. There’s a foundation of the apostles and prophets. It’s built on the history of the church and God’s word, the Scriptures. It’s got a content and a people. The cornerstone is important. It sets the direction and holds the weight. These must be properly aligned and they set the course for everything that comes afterwards. Jesus is the cornerstone of the holy temple.

The dividing wall between Jew and Gentile, indeed even between men and women, was taken down. There was a sign that said Gentiles couldn’t enter the temple in Jerusalem but by punishment of death. It was offensive but accurate. Someone did die so both Jews and Gentiles could enter, and his name was Jesus. He died for unbelieving Gentiles and unbelieving Jews. Then he tore down that temple because sacrificial death was done. He paid it all. He shed the blood.

He has built and is building a new living temple with his people. We’re the very living stones of this temple. God doesn’t dwell in that building in Jerusalem any longer. He dwells in us. We’re his place by his Spirit.

These stones are chosen and shaped by God. It is his temple. He is the architect.These stones are placed in their position in relationship to Jesus Christ. They are attached to him. These stones are of different shapes and sizes, material and for different functions. These stones are linked to each other, but may not be able to see the other stones.These stones are there to draw attention to the temple, not to themselves.The placing of these stones began thousands of years ago and will continue until the end of the age.

We are all united, but we are not uniform. We’re different stones coming together to make the holy temple of the Lord. We’re united by the good news that Jesus rescues sinners like you and me and unites us to himself and to each other in his work of reconciliation. This is a gospel issue. It’s not political correctness. It’s not communism or Marxism or liberalism. It’s the church. It must be the church.

What would this look like? Sadly, I can’t tell you. I haven’t experienced it very often.

But if you look at our congregation at City Presbyterian Church in Oklahoma City, one way to consider this is to think about what would happen if we went backwards. Considering what forward might be could be helped by looking backwards.

What if we separated our worship service by age? What if we removed all the babies? Many churches do. They don’t like the distractions, the fussing, the crying. What if we insisted all the kids under ten had their own time, their own service, so we can leave “Big Church” to the adults?

Or what if we had men’s church and women’s church meet at different times or in different rooms? What if we separated by highest degree attained? What if we did an extroverts church or an introverts church and didn’t let them mix? What if we further subdivided by Myers Briggs personality types and removed certain ones so there would be a majority and a minority? Lefties? Gingers? Shorts and flip flops verses suits and ties?

What if we decided to sort our church by zip code? Oh wait, we do that already…

You see, the homogeneity principle is strong, strong in this one. That’s the principle that says you’ll be more successful if you go with the natural tendency for people to associate with people just like themselves. In fact, you should target that and try to do it. The more diversity you try to have, the less successful you’ll be.

I hear it all the time. I’m not trying to make you feel guilty. I’m pointing it out. We walk into a room and instantly assess how many people are just like us. Young marrieds want to see other young marrieds. Single people want to see other single people. Grey hairs want to see other grey hairs. It’s the way we work. It’s the way we’re wired.

But there are at least two big problems with this.

The first is how far down do you want to go with this? How homogenous are we going to be? So it’s one thing if you’re young married, but then you want to know if there’s anyone else who has babies. Or young married without kids yet. Or young married with adopted kids. We can get really tight with our homogeneity.

The other problems is how in the world does this ever stop? If we can’t break the cycle, then how will the cycle ever be broken? If you can’t be in a group that doesn’t look just like you, then where does that leave everyone else who isn’t just like you?

There’s one more problem. This isn’t the way the gospel works. The homogeneity principle might describe pragmatics, but it doesn’t describe the radical rescuing reconciliation that Jesus brings and Paul talks about. It confirms the dividing wall. It calls it good.

It’s not good. It’s one of the reasons why we’re struggling as the church in our nation and world. We have not lived out a true love for others rooted in the true love of Jesus.

So might it be rather incredible to a watching world to see friendships that can only be explained by Jesus and his church. Only. There is no other reason Joe and I are friends. There is no other reason Jamie and I are friends. It’s not race or class or zip code or education or a common love for trucks or meeting in an interest group for crochet. It’s because of Jesus and his church. The gospel has set us free to love with this uncommon love, this family love, this welcoming passion of walking together with the one who has loved us both.

The gospel of peace then sets me free to care about righteousness in this world, about justice for my brothers and sisters, for mercy and care. It makes me mad as a hornet when I see dividing walls go up instead of being torn down. I get upset when we’re pulled apart as two when we’ve been joined together as one. I celebrate where God is at work, in all of our sameness and all of our differences. I grieve when evil seems to win and we’re torn asunder by war, famine, poverty and violence. I’m thrilled to learn your song and hear your story, and you’re thrilled to sing and hear mine. Your prayers are mine. Your load is mine. Your tears are mine. Your joy is mine.

The National African American History Museum just opened in Washington, DC. That’s been a long time coming. Most places in America barely mention the history of slavery or lynchings or Jim Crow or the brave souls who fought against it. This one tells the full story, including the hope of peace and justice.

Our first African American President Barak Obama introduced Ruth Odom Banner, a 99-year old woman.[2] Ruth’s father, Elijah Odom, was born as a slave in 1859 in Mississippi. There is a woman alive in our nation in 2016 whose father was a slave. Think about that.

This history is ours, all of it. So we all share the responsibility. We share the sorrow, but we also share the glory and joy or redemption. A story of rescue means we had to be rescued from something.

That’s true for the history of our nation and its people. It’s true for Jew and Gentile. It’s true for Blacks and Whites. It’s true for men and women. It’s true for all of us. We don’t just care about ourselves. We’re in the family now. We’re citizens of God. We bear his mark, his name. We’re on in him.

The dividing wall of hostility has been torn down in Jesus and needs to be torn down in Jesus. We have a story of rescue, redemption and reconciliation to tell. We have artifacts in that history. We have sad parts and good parts. We’re the stones that build that building. Jesus is our Redeemer. He’s our Cornerstone. He’s our Head. He’s the One we’re in. He’s the Law Keeper and the Abolitionist. He’s the True Humanity. He’s the Hostility Killer. The Wall Breaker. The Rescuer. The Welcomer. The Greater Brother. He is our Prince of Peace.

Let’s be his church.

Doug in library

 

 

[1] Hendrickson, found in Stott, 96

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2016/09/25/descended-from-a-slave-this-family-helped-to-open-the-african-american-museum-with-obama/