What if Church Were a Verb?
Grace United Methodist Church
May 30, 2010
Matthew 5: 13-16
13“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. 14“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Despite all appearances and evidence to the contrary, I was not always a perfect young lady (ha); not even close, really. And one of the phrases that sometimes got tossed in my direction in those less-than-perfect moments as a child was, “Act your age!” Now, it was never the case that I was acting too refined and mature for my age, and was being told to live like the child that I was. No, no. When my parents told me to “act your age,” they were sending a clear message that I was not being who I was; I was acting contrary to my nature by being ridiculously immature. My parents might have just as effectively said, “Be who you are!” And this is precisely what Jesus is saying to the disciples in this passage from Matthew, “Be who you are!”
In order to convey to us the idea of what it means to be who we are, Jesus talks to his disciples about salt and light. How many of you like salt? I know some people who really love salt, they pour it over their food with such fervor it sometimes leaves me wondering whether they are eating an entrée supplemented with salt, or salt supplemented with an entrée! I prefer salt in moderation because, in my opinion, too much salt takes away from the taste of the food…not to mention that it makes you really thirsty! It’s not that salt is bad, it’s just salt, and salt is, well, salty. Saltiness is essential to salt, and in just the same way, shining is essential to light. For salt to be what it is, it must be salty. For light to be light, it must shine. And for believers of Jesus Christ to be the church, we have to follow his work in the world. Jesus is not telling the disciples that they have to try harder to be salt and light, but that as followers of Jesus, they are salt and light for the world. The church is the body of Christ, and as such, we are by nature his hands and feet in the world today. This is who we are, and this is what Jesus is calling to be!
The lesson that Jesus teaches the disciples as he talks to them about salt and light is a lesson that extends through the ages to every believer and even to the body that we call the church today. “Be who you are!” So what is the church to be? “Who” is the church? What is the character of “church”? There’s a common hymn, with which I’m sure many of you are familiar. One part goes like this: “The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people! I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together!” I think it’s fair to say that we have a grasp on the fact that the word “church” refers to much more than a building or meeting place. But that doesn’t change the simple reality that the word “church” is a noun, and often when we speak about church, we are talking about what the church is. But how might the conversation be different if we talked about what the church does? What would church be if “church” were a verb?
The word “church” comes from the Greek word, ekklesia. Ekklesia is two words combined: ek, which means “out,” and klesia or kaleo, which means called. Thus, the church is those who are called by God out into the world to serve God and to be God’s people, God’s assembly, those called by God to a mission. God always wants us to do something as his people; it’s not enough to simply be a follower of Christ, we have to be out in the world; preaching, teaching, and helping others become Christ-followers. This is who we are called to be; the gospel always turns us outward to the world. To many, the Christian faith seems dull and boring, not relevant to life. But that is not the gospel at all, that is not the good news of Jesus Christ! The Christian faith is to be bold, to go out and share light in a world of darkness! That’s not dull and boring at all. We can and should be excited and passionate about our role in the church and the church’s mission in the world; it’s in the very fiber of our being as Christ’s body in this world today!
But the simple fact of the matter is that there are many Christians in the world today for whom the excitement and passion of the gospel has not really come alive, or once burned brightly and has now flickered away. There are those that are like flashlights with dead batteries. Do you know what I’m talking about? A few weeks ago, I was connecting some wires behind my TV, and I went to get my flashlight so I could make sure everything got plugged into the right socket. I went to the utility room and grabbed my flashlight, but as I walked back to the den trying to turn the flashlight on, I discovered that there was no light. The batteries were dead. Now, I use rechargeable batteries in this flashlight, but I obviously hadn’t been keeping the batteries charged. And as I continued to do the guesswork of getting the wires hooked up without the helpful light of a flashlight, I thought about the fact that this is what a lot of Christians are like. We are called to let Christ’s light shine through us, but we haven’t been recharging the batteries.
Now, one of the primary ways we recharge our batteries is that we gather together in the church. The church is like the battery charger for those rechargeable batteries. When we gather here for worship, we come and we place ourselves in a position to remember who we are, to be recharged and renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit, and to go out inspired, encouraged, and equipped to be Christ’s light in the world. This is why it is important that we gather every week and this is what’s supposed to happen as we engage in worship together as the church.
The flashlight with dead batteries is a whole lot of potential for light without the power that goes with it, and that’s true of us if we do not recharge. And once we are recharged, we, the church, also have to be Christ’s continuing presence in the world. Christ reminds us of this as he speaks to the disciples in this morning’s gospel reading. And we are reminded of our identity when we come together for worship. We gather here in worship to remember who we are and what we are called to be. We gather here to sense God’s presence, to hear God’s word, to be recharged and refreshed so that we can go out and let our light shine together for Christ. Church, you see, is not just about what we do in worship, it’s about what we do beyond worship! The job of the church is not to impact the church, but to impact the world!
There are those that say that Christianity only need consist of communing with God in our hearts, and not worrying about outward things. But if this is all we do, then the rubber never meets the road. Christianity is by nature a social religion, and to turn it into a solitary one is to destroy it. The church cannot be concealed; to be what we are, we have to put our faith into action in our communities and in our world. And this is precisely what Jesus did in his time on earth; he walked to the fringes of society, he shined the light of hope into the dark places of the world, he lived and conversed with the rich, the poor, the sick, the well, the sinner, and the skeptic. Then, he commissioned us to do the same thing, “to go and make disciples of all nations.” If we Christ-followers in the world today fail to follow this example and this call, then we simply are not being who we are.
Now here’s one of the most amazing things about the church as Christ’s body in the world. If we are really “being who we are,” then we will see Christ transforming the world around us; we will begin to see God’s kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven. Already the church is transforming the world! Just think about it for a moment. Do you all remember that John Lennon song, “Imagine”? In the song, Lennon suggested that the only way to real peace is to imagine that there’s no heaven, no hell, and no religion too. Could you imagine what the world would be like with no religion and in particular no Christianity? There would be significantly fewer hospitals and universities. There would be no missions to homeless people or orphanages. We would need new meeting places for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, for AA, and other support groups. Through the power of Christ, the church has already been transforming this world for thousands of years, and our task as disciples today is to continue that work. But not just to maintain the status quo, we have to think about how we can step it up a notch. We have to look at the needs of the world and consider how the love of Christ can answer those needs through our ministries. Our role is first to know the love of God in Jesus Christ in our hearts and then to live that in the world. And it is never more important than now to show people the transforming power of the gospel, because people want to be a part of changing the world!
Are any of you Titans fans? I’m a Colts fan myself, but for fear of appearing too biased, we’ll talk about the state team. Every time the Titans have a home game during the football season, roughly 67,000 people will pay at least $25 a piece to watch that game. Now, people don’t pay 25 bucks a pop to watch the Titans huddle. What if you went to a Titans game and for two and a half hours you watched 11 men stand in a circle and talk? That’s not what you pay for! 67,000 people pay $25 a ticket to see what difference the huddle makes. What they want to know is, having called the play in secret, does it work in public? The challenge for the church is not what we do when we call our Sunday morning huddle, but what we do when we break our huddle and head out to our Sunday morning assignment. When we are out in the world, what difference does it make that we are Christians? If we live “church” beyond the walls, if we “do church,” it makes all the difference in the world. And this is all that Christ is asking of us as he talks about the saltiness of salt and the brightness of light; if we are Christ’s followers, then the world will know Christ’s love!
You are the light of the world. We gather here to remember that and to be renewed and recharged, and to break the huddle and go back out into the world and to let Christ’s light shine before others. Now, this might be a little bit risky, but let’s pull out that flashlight again. Those batteries have been charging for what, about seven or eight minutes. I wonder what would happen if we took the batteries out and put them back in the flashlight right now. It’s been here, in the midst of our worship, in the charger for several minutes. Even five, ten minutes of worship, what does it do? (Put batteries in flashlight and turn on.) That is awesome! So, let’s gather for worship each week, let’s make it a holy habit to come to this place where we are renewed and recharged, and then let’s go out into the world and “let your light shine before others, so that they may see his good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Let’s be who we are!