Joined with Christ

Scriptures: Psalm 89:20-37; Ephesians 2:11-22

I’ve met people who say they can just sit at home and worship by watching a preacher on TV or listening to one on the radio. Now, I listen to WDLM most of the time, and I listen to good sermons on the radio. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But if that is all you do, if that is all that person does and they’re not an active member of a church, they’re missing out.

I realize that I’m preaching to the choir here, in many ways. But every one of you knows at least one other person who probably should get that message.

I wonder if some of these folks get up after hearing the sermon and give their radio or TV a big hug after worship. Others may pick out a church based on what they can get out of them.

In the current culture, we have conditioned ourselves to be selfish and narcissistic We live in a society where it’s all about me.

According to Bob Hyatt, pastor of Evergreen Community Church in Portland, Oregon, in an article entitled “Escape from Consumer Church,” he said, “If you consider yourself a follower of Christ, you need to know this. The church is not here for you. You are here for the church, your community, and your family.”

The church is here for the world. Jesus did not die to make you into a sanctified consumer. He died to bring you alive to God and to a desperately needy world. And if you really believe that, it’s going to change everything – both the way that you do church, and the way that you live every moment of your life from here on out.

Being a participating and involved part of the local body of Christ is essential to our spiritual life. I would note that even while you are hopefully edified and informed because of the preaching that goes on here, and the reading of the Scriptures, and that you are lifted up in your faith from the music that we have and the songs and the theology that’s in them, when it comes to church worship, in reality, you’re not the spectator. As he noted, you’re not the consumer.

God is the one who’s watching. You are the actors. I’m the prompter. I”m the guys that sits below the stage and looks out the little and whispers lines to guide you.

When we do that, when we remember that God is the focus, then I believe that God’s Spirit is present with us. And He can touch your hearts. And what we do, no matter what our size, no matter what our style, is a sweet incense in His nostrils.

The background that I briefly referred to is important to our passage, although I’m going to cover it quickly, because I want to focus on verses 19-22. In that day and in that culture, segregation of all sorts was rampant.

Jews, in particular, had nothing to do with Gentiles, or as little as possible. Every morning when a Jewish man would get up, he would say a prayer to God. He would say, “Thank you, God, that I am not a dog, a woman, or a Gentile.” Sorry, women. You were better than dogs or slaves, but you were also second class then as well. I’m so glad we have gone beyond that, in Jesus Christ.

The Gentiles were not allowed to approach the main part of the temple. There was an outer court where they could look up at the temple, but there was a big four-foot-thick wall that prevented them from going in.

And in fact, part of the problem after Ephesus, when Paul went home to Jerusalem to make his report, and he spoke with a Gentile, some of the Jews thought that he had taken this Gentile into the inner court. And they were going to lynch him. But the Roman centurion came and arrested him instead, because he claimed his right to due process as a citizen of Rome.

You didn’t get in there if you were Gentile. Not even if you were God-fearer. They had a separate court for that as well, in the temple. There were walls that prevented you from approaching God. There were walls that prevented you from approaching each other.

Has anybody ever seen The Jazz Singer with Neil Diamond? If you like Neil Diamond’s music at all, you should try to find that movie. Neil Diamond was Jewish, and he married a Gentile. And just like in those days back in Jesus’ time, up to this day, among Orthodox Jews, if you marry a Gentile, they have a funeral service for you. They tear their clothes and they wail and consider you dead. This barrier was absolute to them.

There were other separations as well, not just by the class of who was one of the people of God and who wasn’t. There were of course barriers for being a woman, slave and free. In Galatians, Paul talks about how in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, because we are all one in Christ.

So you had all these barriers. Paul is writing to the Gentiles here, and he says, “Remember, you who were called uncircumcised,” because they weren’t circumcised on the eighth day like all Jews were. That was done by man, though, not Christ.

And he says that you weren’t citizens of Israel and the covenant that they had through Abraham and Moses. The covenant of the kingdom and the law.

He says, “But in Christ, you have been brought near.” What that means is not that you’re not there, but you have brought been brought into the fold. It speaks of access to God. And he’s telling them that he – that is, Christ – has made the way open for us, even as Gentiles, to come into God’s presence.

Then he notes that Christ tore down the wall of hostility and abolished in his flesh the law, and his purpose was to create in himself a new man out of the two, making peace, reconciling us to God.” As long as we were in Christ. Again, we spoke of that last week.

In the body of Christ, there are no strangers and foreigners. In the Body of Christ, and in Christ, we are a singular people, whose primary relationship is one of blood. Not our blood, but the blood of Jesus. And we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.

We are all part of one greater family. Paul, in verse 19, speaks of us no longer being foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people. So we have all the rights of the citizens of the Kingdom of God We are members of God’s household.

That means, as I said, we’re all brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. We’re to care for each other. And I want to point out, this is something that I love personally, because I have to admit that sometimes I have a strong sense of irony.

When you love someone that’s family, then you support them, even if you don’t like them very much. My brother and I love each other dearly. But he’s in upstate New York, and I’m here in Iowa, and it’s probably a good thing.

There are a lot of things about his lifestyle I don’t like. And there are things about mine that he doesn’t care for either. As boys growing up. there was quite a rivalry between us. (It was never on my part, because I was the eldest.)

But when the crux comes,when there’s a need, when there’s a place where we have to pull together, even when we were growing up, as much as we fought with each other, don’t ever let any outsider come and try to hit one of us or take advantage of one of us. The family would pull together.

There will be people that you disagree with in the church – the broader church as well as this particular church. That’s why we have denominations. But we need to love one another, because of Jesus Christ.

We’re being built together. That’s what he notes next, “a building joined together to rise and become a holy temple in the Lord.” We’re joined to Christ, and that was covered by Jesus’ death and resurrection.

And so he moves at this point to talking about God’s people. We are being joined together as God’s people, because we are joined to Christ.

We’re built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. That would be the apostles in the New Testament. The prophets gave the word of God. You notice that none of these folks had a Bible with them, at that point in time. There was no New Testament.

They were the spokesperson for God. The foundational authority of the New Testament community is vested in those whom Jesus gave authority to be his spokesman. So therefore the foundation which we’re built on is not men, but the Word of God, given to men.

The body of Christ is built on the Word. Now we do have the Word today in the Bible. So the foundation of the church as a building is the Bible itself.

Paul goes on to say that Jesus is the Chief Cornerstone. Does this church have a cornerstone? It probably does. Does anybody know what corner it might be on? This corner over here? There’s usually a date carved in it.

The use of a cornerstone dates all the way back, pretty much to the beginning of people building structures. It was critical in ancient structures, because they didn’t have the surveyors and the ways that we have of keeping lines straight.

No, they were much more like me when I’m trying to tack a picture up on a wall or something, or a series of pictures, and you know, it might go down, or it might go up.

The cornerstone was what they lined up on. It was usually bigger than all the other stones. And without it, the building could not be aligned, and therefore could not be completed.

Sometimes this word that’s used for cornerstone here is translated as “capstone,” and then it speaks of an arch. It’s the last stone that’s put in there that holds the whole arch together, and if you take that capstone out, or that keystone, then the whole arch falls apart.

Paul says Jesus is that Chief Cornerstone. So Jesus is the beginning, and the most important stone of the building, and Jesus is also the end, the capstone that holds us all together. And in between, we are being built as living stones, into a structure that lets other people know who God is and what it means to be a follower of God.

Everything that we, the church, the local body of Christ, says and does is measured from the Chief Cornerstone, that is Jesus, and everything that we do reflects back on him.

Now as we’re built together, we grow together. We’re the building blocks of God’s new temple. And I would go so far to say, because I’ve said it before, that while you don’t need the church to be saved – all you need is to believe in your heart, confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father, you shall be saved. It says that in Romans.

But I believe that you will not grow in your faith and mature in your faith without the church. Without the church, with all of its problems all of its failures, which so many people like to point out. How does that saying go? “I can’t go to that church – they’re a bunch of hypocrites.” Look in the mirror.

We grow as we pull together. Your faith matures as you hear the Word of God preached, as you go to small groups or Bible study, and you learn the word of God and you study.

You grow as you walk your life of faith, being supported by others in the family of God here, and being held accountable by those same people, for those times when you might be doing your own thing instead of God’s thing, and you’re walking in a way that dishonors Him.

And without you, without you in the church, one of those living stones, the building can’t be complete either. You’re not complete without the church. The church can’t be complete without you.

You’re never too old to participate in the activities of the church, the ministries of the church, the leadership of the church. You’re never too disabled. Even if you’re at home, you can pray. Even if you’re in the nursing home, you can be praying for people. You can be calling people, you can be continuing to read and reaching out to people.

I know most of you know this well, because you’re a small community, a small church in a small community, and that’s one of the things that small communities do well. But it’s important to remember. It’s important to remember not to write folks off, because we won’t grow without them, just as they won’t grow without us.

Let me ask you a quick question. If a brick was missing from the outer wall of the church, what would happen? It would probably get leaky, right? Water would seep in, go through the walls, destroy the dry wall, and begin to create cracks.

Maybe the mortar around that hole would begin to soften, and then another brick would come out, and then another brick come out, and then another one, until finally the church is no longer safe to be in, because the structure may fall. Without you, the church fails.

Researchers have long spoke about a 20/80 mix in the church. Twenty percent does eighty percent of the work. Twenty percent gives eighty percent of the budget. These are not exact numbers, but they are in the ballpark, and they are consistent throughout all the studies that are done.

The problem found in most churches lies in the fact that not everyone carries their share of the load. Many are not employing their spiritual gifts. It’s a supernatural gift, not a talent. And it may not be just one trait, but a unique blend of traits that are exercised as we minister to one another.

We need to be functional. We need to be useful. We’re not called to be a sponge and soak up the resources.

We need to be joined to Christ. And Christ did not join us to him for no purpose. We talked about that purpose last week. When we are in Christ, it’s who we are, whose we are, and why we are. That goes for the church as well.

So let me close by asking you a question today. How do you see yourself? Are you someone who goes to church? Or you someone who is the church?

There’s a big difference. There are people who just go to church. They talk about attending. They warm their pews. They have their specific pew that they sit in. They enjoy fellowship when we have it.

But when it comes time to ask for Sunday school teachers, when it comes time to ask for nursery attendants, when it comes time to ask for people that are to help with the sound or tech system, when it comes time to ask for various ministries that might be in the church – not just giving money or goods, which is a wonderful thing to do, but actually reaching out in person – they’re not there, or they’re rarely there.

I would also note, because I have an older congregation here, Moses was eighty when God called him to leave the children of Israel out of Egypt. Just sayin’. God uses everyone. We belong together and no one can do it alone.

Any time I think of that, I think of this story. The church that ordained me had a man whose name was Tom. Tom was eighty-four years old. They had a big cross, much bigger than this cross, because it was a bigger church. And one of the things that he did was, he took this telescoping tool and he would hang the drape the cross.

He would drape it in purple during the Lenten season, then he would change it to black on Good Friday, and he would change it to white on Easter Sunday. It was one of those things that nobody is assigned. The custodian didn’t do it. It was just something that he did, because he really liked doing it. It made him feel part of the church.

He did other things as well, but that was the one thing that I remember, because on Easter morning once, when he was putting the white drape up, he died. And what was fascinating to me was the lack of grief. Not that there wasn’t grief, but there was much more celebration.

His son said, “Dad died as he always wanted to do, working for Christ and the church.” Add he died on Easter morning, which was the resurrection. And the pastor noted, “I guess if you have to die, that dying on the day of resurrection is a pretty good day to die.”

Age doesn’t matter. Sex doesn’t matter. Economic status doesn’t matter. We belong together. No one can do it alone.

May you consider your family here, and maybe you help it to grow, and yourself as well, bringing glory to God, and praise to the Father.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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