Relationships, Unity & Today, Grace: a trinity of foundations on which we have built:
Matthew 16: 13-20
We don’t all believe the same, we don’t all understand completely what it means to be a Christian, we aren’t all in the same place on the Spiritual Journey: but we choose to love one another, and walk together in unity because in one way or another (spoken or unspoken) we love Jesus and know deep down in our being that He is Good News and the only hope for our community, city, nation and world.
We refuse to pass judgment on others: whether their faith or their actions because we know that it is only by Grace that we stand. We refuse to define in our terms who are in and who is out, hoping against all the evidence that ‘none will perish but all we come to repetence’ (I Peter 4:12).
We are glad to be named among the Body of Christ across God’s World (the marginalised, criticised, persecuted, whipping boy of every secularlist’s fantasy, and every fundamentalist’s butt). We stand in the flow of the ‘Idiotes’ men and women scattered at the beginning of Acts 8 with the Gospel: Idiots: nameless Fools for Christ. We grow by the Hand of God who in Philippi drew together a dealer in purple cloth: Lydia, a demonized slave girl, and a failed jailer and formed a local church that transformed a city for Christ. That’s grace community!
You see we have sussed out a fundamental Christian truth: it’s His Church and not our’s!!! We don’t need to protect Him or His Church or His message. And talking of fundamental: let’s stop throwing that one around as a kind of comfort blanket to stop God really getting hold of out life! The word, which has been highjacked, has honourable roots. At the height of the 19th century liberalism a believer stepped forward and said these are the truths that make me either a Christian or not, and he listed some pretty basic beliefts like the Incarnation (Jesus special birth), the full divinity and full humanity of Christ (his amazing life), His death on the cross paying for my sin and gifting me salvation, His incredible death defeating resurrection, His ascension into heaven, and His return one day to earth to judge and reign. Now if these make me a fundamentalist then I declare myself guilty with every orthodox believer in every generation since Jesus walked Planet Earth. If, however, you mean those Christians who condemn just about everyone apart from themselves, who won’t have anything to do with anyone unless they are perfect (like themselves), and who have ghettoised the Church into a private holy club then you have a right to be concerned. But the church with ragged edges, this grace community, whilst believing fundamentally that Jesus is the only way, truth, life and only hope for our city, will not flaunt that, push thatm or dumo it’s religious baggage on you if you have another view.
Ragged Edges are defined in the dictionary as ‘the edge of a cliff’ or a ‘dangerous precarious position’. Elijah lived on the ragged edge of faith and negotiated a course between victory and despair: he learned that God does not often herald his arrival but more often speaks on the still small voice of calm. Solomon also knew about days of trouble on a ragged edge. He’d left God behind to explore the world’s ‘holes’ for meaning: money, education, sex, power, drinking, building projects – you name it. He not only came up empty, but also got stuck. Near the end of Ecclesiastes, he spoke of many ‘days of trouble’ and ‘years’ that bring you ‘no pleasure’ (12:1). Solomon urges you to grasp that even if you had – or could do – anything you wanted, life would still be an empty, wind-chasing marathon where nothing ultimately satisfies!
Perhaps you see yourself as hanging on the ragged edge with a crushed soul, pinned between the rock of your sins and the hard place of your mortality and there’s no getting free? So when are you going to admit that you’re hemmed in…stuck…no way out…death won’t budge, even if you cut off your right hand! You’re not only living on the edge, you’re dying a slow death on the edge. How many of us put out of our minds surrendering to God until we grow so hard over time that we couldn’t make the choice if we wanted to! But there’s one hope!
If Golgotha was the skull-shaped ledge where Jesus was crucified, then Jesus knew some dark days on the ragged edge as well. Pinned to a cross, wedged between the love and justice of God, Jesus didn’t just cut off his hand , but cut off his life to drop all the way to the canyon of hell – for you and me. He took the death that we deserved and we will get if we don’t accept what he did for us. He ‘was crushed (bruised) for [our] inquities’ (Isaiah 53:5).
Jesus Christ hung on Golgotha’s ragged edge because God doesn’t want us to plunge into the canyon of hell! Because if we do, we aren’t coming out…ever. Instead, God wants us out of here…alive. Christ came into our empty world and dropped into our hole to be crushed by the boulder of death we deserved so that we could be free? Really? Because time’s running out. We have more to lose than our right hand and more to gain than our freedom.
So let’s take one last look at it: I will build my church and the Gates of Hell will not overcome it (16:18). For this grace community is Jesus shaped. But first who is the rock on which Jesus will build His church? Is it Peter: an ordinary man, or is it the rock of revelation of who God is, that Peter had just affirmed? Surely it is the later and not the former for why would Jesus rely totally on one fallible human being, however capable! And it has been to the Church’s detriment that we ever taught otherwise requiring theological cartwheels to shore up a doctrine of infallibility, and create a hierarchy that Jesus never intended, for he alone is Lord of His Church.
And so to the words of Jesus: I is pretty clear, it not delegated to another it’s speaking about himself! Will is a fairly clear statement too: not I might, nor I could do, but I will! Build: here the OT and Psalm 127: 1 helps us out: ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, it’s builders labour in vain. So Jesus is the builder and in that sense too we are His building material. We say that Job Bulman built many of the central Gosforth houses but it was actually his workers that did the hard work: so it is with Jesus’ building firm: we are his workers but he sets the building plans otherwise we are wasting our time!! Abraham in Hebrews 11:10 goes even further seeing God not only as the builder of a new ‘heavenly’ city but as its architect as well.
My is the next affirmation, which shows who is Lord of the church and if we ever forgot that woe betide us. Jesus is the only one person who can truly say: it’s my church. When we try and take ownership of a local church it ceases to be the Body of Christ and turns into a religious club of no benefit to anyone.
Church: a difficult translation which in the original which is better translated as ‘household’ (of God). Church is a description eventually given to the growing numbers of Christians and was only used widely in the fourth century onwards. You see, the early Christians did not seek to take over the task Jesus had: they simply shared and lived the gospel and Jesus built His Church. I will build my Church is the method Jesus choose to transform the world through the sharing and living out of the gospel by His followers. It has remained the method and there is no plan B as Paul affirms in Ephesians 3:10. ‘His intent was that through the church the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” But we stop there with Jesus’ words at our peril: what’s the purpose of the Church Jesus is building? Answer: And the Gates of Hell will not overcome it. Now to comfort-zone Christians this is the point when they breathe a long sigh of relief: all the powers of Hell ranged against the Church will not overcome it. Phew!!! Safe! Secure! We can create our holy huddle, our religious ghetto, and see our time out till he takes us home. Again such a group has ceased to be the Church Jesus is Building and become an introverted sect. No the purpose of the Church Jesus is building is Mission. It may seem to us as ‘Mission Impossible’ but not to Him! The Church like a Body is built for movement (not “Like a mighty tortoise, moves the church of God, brothers we are treading where we’ve always trod”), and the movement is forward! Onward Christian Soldiers for there a promise in this statement of our Lord, and its this: advance into the enemies’ territory and his gates (the gates of hell or Hades) will not overcome you. What does this mean? Simply stated it means that our purpose as the Body of Christ is to go into places where evil has done its worst and bring hope and healing to the worst of sinners.
When the Church Jesus is building goes into such places it is supercharged by the Missionary Holy Spirit and spectacularly can see enormous breakthroughs as it challenges the work of hell and brings heavenly grace to bear. That’s why in Revelation the two churches that Jesus had good things to say about were Sardis and Philadelphia, both of which could be described as surviving in Satan’s backyard, whilst the comfortable Laodicea made Jesus sick, and the hardworking Ephesus made Jesus sad that they had lost their love relationship with Him.
That’s why when as Christians we go into the tough and hard places and share Christ in relevant ways among needy folk (and especially when we do it as the whole Body of Christ) Jesus says: Yes! And blesses the work! And that’s why when we don’t do that and look inwards, that’s why when we are more concerned about survival than sacrifice, that’s why when denominational agenda takes precedence over Body of Christ action in unity: Jesus says ‘enough!’ And leaves us to get on it!!
The context of this passage is about who Jesus is, and that’s the key issue for us as individuals and as congregations: if we think Jesus is just here for the converted, the healthy and the found, then he becomes a conservative figure in whom we can take refuge, but if we think he is here for the whole world, the sick and the lost, then He is who He is: as radical a revolutionary as you will find, challenging to the core our whole way of living, thinking, and loving. Our own testimony is that as we stepped out in faith and took a young family into London’s East End, Jesus said “great” and poured out His Spirit as He built a new kind of Church.
The Church Jesus was Building is like a Bride being Prepared for Her Marriage; it’s not the usual kind of marriage though, its one where the Bridegroom not only chooses His Bride but beautifies Her in readiness for His return. So when Jesus chooses to encounter sinful human beings on Planet Earth, He does so to woo us back into the divine marriage drama as was always intended. He becomes a visual aid of the Fathers Love, and reunites us into the Family of God. All the things the Enemy of our Souls has stolen (innocence, purity, relationship, holiness, hope, faith & love) He restores not in some individualistic crusade to create a super-race but to a collective representation of redeemed humanity called the Body of Christ which then can reach others and serve His purposes here on earth, sharing in the “good works He has prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10).
That’s why you need to love the church Jesus is building: that’s why you need as labourers or workers to come under His gracious direction today. Jesus says: “ I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not overcome it.” And I for one choose to trust Him 100%. So the world needs to see a church that looks like Jesus. We say Jesus is Head of the church: so what do we mean by that? Well finally I think that we need to have His look: of mercy and grace, of new beginnings and fresh starts. A look that corrects yet holds out a better way. Eyes that speak volumes of grace and forgiveness. The look of Trinity needs to be one that communicates hope and a future. Then we need to have His heart: a heart that breaks when faced with broken humanity yet doesn’t despair because the price has been paid and the prince of this world dispatched. A heart that loves with a pure agape love, which is divine, and therefore makes everyone around feel loved too. The heart of Trinity needs to be one that says to all: you are precious. Then we need to have His mind: the mind of Christ. Church with a big ‘C’ is into democracy. Church with a small ‘c’ seeks not mans opinion but the mind of Christ. A mind which comes as we follow and get closer to him, and are transformed by the Holy Spirit and gradually given renewed minds. The mind of Trinity needs to go against the flow of the world and embody Christ’s values and way. Then we need to have His voice: a voice which can still storms, command demonic forces to flee, and declare God’s healing over a life. A voice which brings light and renews our relationship with God, which does not hesitate to declare God’s values and way even if it fly’s in a different direction to the majority, and which winsomely calls people out of darkness into His marvellous light. The voice of Trinity needs to be God’s voice speaking clearly, winsomely and yet prophetically and practically calling all to a new and living way.
So we say Lord Jesus build your church today and put to death in us any residue of religiosity, realised or hidden. Build your church today and so fashion our lives by grace and through the Holy Spirit that religious Temple is replaced by my life becoming a temple of the Holy Spirit. Build your church today and may the plea of sincere seekers be heard and heeded in chapel, church and cathedral: homes and hearts, wherever people gather in His name and plead: Sir we would see Jesus.
January 29th 2012.