One Church In Christ

'One Church in Christ' is the title of our sermon for today, but I thought it might be good for us to look at the Gospel story of the landowner who planted a vineyard, which I'll paraphrase quickly. The landowner buys land, plants a vineyard, and hires tenants to care for the vineyard and reap the harvest. At the time of the harvest, he sends servants to collect the produce from the field, but they kill these servants. So he sends even more servants and, again, instead of doing what they have been contracted to do, they kill those servants as well. So the landowner says, "I'll send my son; surely they will respect my son. I'll send him to collect the produce from the harvest." When he sends his son, they realize, "This is the master's son; if we kill him then we can take the inheritance for ourselves." So what do they do? They throw him out of the vineyard and they kill him.

Jesus turns to those he is speaking to and says, "What will the landowner do when he comes back?" "Well, surely he will put them a torturous death and put someone else in charge of his vineyard." Jesus turns the tables on them and they start to understand that they are the tenants of the vineyard. So if we look at who Jesus is supposing the characters in this story to be, the landowner is God. And God has given a part of the creation to some tenants, and that would be the Israelites. And they haven't been faithful to what God has asked them to do so God sent prophets. And they ignored and killed many of the prophets, and God sent more prophets. If you want to skim through the entirety of the Old Testament, this sums it up very quickly. The people reject the prophets again and kill them off. So the landowner, God, sends his very own Son to teach them the real and truthful news of the Kingdom. And instead, the tenants who have made this vineyard into what they want it to be instead of what God wants it to be, kill God's Son. It's a very simplistic story of Jesus that Jesus himself tells, the story of the landowner and the wicked tenants.

Now, Jesus' death had not yet come to pass at this point. Did they understand that or did they not? But the stone that the builders rejected has become something of a song for us in the way that we stand on Christ, our rock and our foundation for the church. So there is much richness in this particular parable that Jesus told, talking about his life and giving us a greater perspective of God that encapsulates the entirety of Old Testament teachings and stories into a very succinct story: the rejection of God's prophets and the rejection of Jesus. And these Pharisees and leaders convict themselves saying, "The landowner should put these tenants to a miserable death and then give it to someone else." When they figure out what Jesus is talking about, they realize, "He's talking about us." So here is part of our Christian confession in a nutshell.

And we, as the Christian church, would declare that, "Yes, God has given us a new covenant. We live under the new covenant in Christ and we are the Kingdom bringers." And we faithfully confess that we are one body in Christ, the entirety of the Christian church. That may seem odd, especially in these times. In these times, the Christian church has a range of perspectives on many things about God. There is constantly an argument between conservative Christians, liberal Christians, and moderate Christians. And everybody is fighting and saying, "We know what the truth is." "No, we know what the truth is." "But we're following Jesus." "Yeah? We're following Jesus too." "Well, look at this story." "Oh, yeah, well, look at this story." And it's back and forth, and back and forth.

It sounds like a dysfunctional family. Maybe you've seen some of these things in your families or even amongst your children. Is that a parallel to what we have become as the Christian church today? When you look at the energies and resources expended in proving, "We were right and you were wrong" on either side of the aisle, we miss the fullness and the fundamental teachings of Jesus as to what we are to be about and what we are to be doing. When we hear parables about the end times and people being brought before the throne, it's the sheep and goats. Goats to one side, sheep to the other. "My flock has heard my voice. My flock has done what I have asked because when I was hungry, you fed me; when I was naked, you clothed me; when I was in need; you helped me; when I was in prison, you visited me." These are the fundamentals of our Christian faith, the fundamentals of what Jesus taught us to do and to be.

Now, by God's divine spirit of inspiration, all sides of the church are doing these things. We don't do these things together. We still bicker about who's right and who's wrong about different passages of Scriptures, even some really obscure things, and they sort of take on a life of their own. But it doesn't mean that we're not still one body in Christ. And as Jesus looks upon us, he asks, "My children, can't you all just get along? Just do what I've taught you to do and everything will be okay." I would love to have Jesus come back and appear to us as the one body, the Christian church, all of us, all the different denominations, and tell us that. And then remind us what we're actually here to do. We're not here to argue over semantics. We're not here to argue over different transliterations in Scripture. Yes, there will be difficulties in that particularly because we find our mission based on those transliterations, on those different theological perspectives.

But when we hear the words of Jesus and what Jesus is asking us to do as his body, it is very clear: care for the least of these amongst you, love one another as I have loved you, help the widow and the orphan, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, provide healing for those who are dying of sickness and disease when there are cures for these things. These are the basics of the Christian understanding of our mission. And yet how often does that mission become a sideline to our arguments and our bickering? It prevents us from bringing the Kingdom in its fullness to all of those who need it right now while we sideline ourselves in bickering. We sideline ourselves in arguments over this or that. People are dying. And when Jesus says he brings life to us and brings it fully, he expects us to do the same. And so the meal that we provide for the people who are hungry and starving saves their life. It gives them life for another day. And it lets them know, "Gosh, maybe my prayers are being answered. Maybe God is in this world because I have food. Someone cares." The same for those who find themselves without a place to live when someone is working with them to get them into a shelter or a place where they can be safe. "Gosh, maybe it isn't all just a lie. Maybe all those Christian people aren't just hypocrites. Maybe there is something to what God has said. Maybe God does exist."

Wouldn't it be profound if we spent more time in mission doing the things Jesus asks us to do rather than trying to prove our side of the story to justify ourselves when grace is the only thing that justifies any of us? How much better off would the world be if we focused our energies there? How much better off would the world be if we realize that we didn't need all the things that we have or want and we spent more time channeling these resources to those who really do need it and who literally will live or die based upon what we decide? How different would our world look? Could it look more like the Kingdom of God that we read about and we pray to come? I think it might.

We're in the midst of an economic meltdown; no one can deny it. Many of those who disagreed are now agreeing and saying, "It was outright greed. There was lots of money to be made. So what about the people who get hurt, that's their problem." Those are the kinds of arguments that went on prior to the upheaval that has come. I thought, "How tragic it is for what our nation is facing." And then about a week later, I realized, "This is going to affect the entire world." Not that we are the center of the world, but we spend more money than the rest of the world on things we don't need, must have, and buy on credit because we don't have the money to buy them now. Greed is pervasive in our culture, and we are taught that from children up. If you don't think so, watch Saturday morning TV and see the number of commercials for toys and things that you've just got to have. "Your life's going to be better if you have this." And the infomercials do the same. You say, "Yeah, I need that." No, I don't need a quesadilla maker or a pasta maker. The pasta from the store is just fine. It fills the void and it's probably as good as pasta from Ron Popeil's pasta maker.

How different would the world look if back when the folks who invented TV for the sake of pushing advertising…and that's the truth of TV; it's not to give us great shows, but to bring advertising door to door without having all the people go door to door. I learned that in business school, a very eye-opening experience. What if the airways had taught concepts that are part of our Christian heritage and values instead of things being about us. What if we constantly had in front of us the number of people who die from starvation every day or the number of people who die from simple diseases that penicillin can cure but are not available? What if we saw all these things and had a mind frame of, "We are all God's creatures. And if we are all God's creatures and one family, and it's about us, shouldn't we do more? Doesn't God expect us to do more than we do?"

What would the world look like if back in the '50s that had been the perspective of television that generations were raised on instead of the 'me' which has been the focus of television? When people in other countries watch shows like The Jerry Springer Show, they think, "That's the average American." But we know that's not who we are. We know we're better than that. But maybe there is some truth in that. Maybe there's some truth in the faults we have, and perhaps we should re-examine ourselves and our lives a little bit more to understand that God is expecting more of us. Jesus gave us some very simple things to do. They can be overwhelming, but if all of us work together, all of us, one church, one Christian church - conservatives, moderates, and liberals working together to do what Jesus said to do - the body would be a lot more whole, the human family would be a lot more whole, and life would be very different and have much deeper meaning for us than it currently does. And wouldn't that be a blessing?

Today is World Communion Sunday. It is a time for us to remember all the people in the human family, to realize that in different countries, some in Central American, some in African countries, people will be coming to makeshift tables. The Communion that they celebrate might be their meal for the day, but with the same faith and trust in God, they come, just as we come. We are connected, and we are one body. Praise God. And may we understand that and embrace that, and be changed by that today.

October 5, 2008

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