Seward United Methodist Church
Thursday, July 09, 2020
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May 10, 2020

John 14:1-14 and 1 Peter 2:2-10

Jesus said a lot of things that should give us pause, and one of them is right there in John 14. Jesus says, “Anyone who believes in me will do the same works I’ve been doing, and even greater works.”

That sounds impossible. Jesus healed people. Jesus did miracles. Jesus cast out evil spirits. Jesus fed 5000 people with a couple fish and pieces of bread. How could he possible say we would do greater things? How could we ever measure up?

Well, because he is going to the Father and he will send the Holy Spirit. And it’s the same Spirit that filled Jesus all through his ministry. The Spirit brings the presence and the power of God into our lives and into work. As long as Jesus was here in the flesh, his work was limited to what he himself could do. But when he ascends, the Spirit brings the presence of Jesus to every place where there his followers are.

And the Church has done greater works than Jesus did. Jesus fed thousands. The Church has fed millions. Jesus healed maybe a few dozen, maybe a few hundred people. The Church has built hospitals and clinics all around the world and brought healing to millions. And how many have been healed miraculously through the Church’s prayers? I do believe miracles still happen. How many miracles have happened through all the prayers of all the believers throughout the world down through the last two millennia? Jesus raised the dead, three times that we know of. But the Church has raised millions and millions to new life in Christ by preaching the gospel. The Church has done greater works than Jesus did, not because of our power, but because of the power of God at work through the Church.

Look at the words Peter has for the Church: “You are a chosen people, a kingdom of priests.” Those same expressions were used in the Old Testament, in Exodus 19, for example, to describe Israel. Now they are applied to the New Israel, the Church, a people defined now by the indwelling Holy Spirit through faith in Christ, rather than an ethnic identity.

“We have been called out of darkness to show others the goodness of God, out of darkness into wonderful light.” The same phrase was used by Hebrew people to talk about the Passover and the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. But now they are used to describe our exodus from spiritual death in sin to new life in Christ.

“Once you were not a people. Now you are God’s people, having received his mercy.”

Christ is the cornerstone of this new people. That image of a cornerstone is found in the Old Testament prophets, in the New Testament, and in Jesus’ own words about himself. A better translation than cornerstone, which is typically a symbolic stone in our understanding, might be foundation. Jesus is the foundation of God’s new people. The Church is built on Christ.

“And God is building you into a spiritual house.” The word “house” in Scripture can mean a house as we know it. It could also be used for a household, for a temple, the “house” of a divine being, or even for a nation, such as when Israel was called the “house of Jacob.”

God is building a temple, and we are each the living stones being built together into this temple. Together we are holy priests who offer spiritual sacrifices. Our witness is related to our corporate identity. For good or bad, our witness together is the witness for Christ.

It can be good. Over the years, I’ve had numerous occasions where people find out I’m a pastor and then relate a story about how such and such a church was a blessing to them.

But it can also be bad. People carry bad experiences of the Church with them. And sometimes Christians give a bad taste. If someone experiences a judgmental attitude or self-righteousness from the Church, they’re likely to think all Christians are hypocrites. We’ve probably all seen examples of what some people think of Christians. And it’s easy to say, “Well, they’re just wrong.” Yeah, but I think it’s likely they’ve gotten a bad taste from someone who was supposed to be like Jesus and was not.

They’re not in the news much anymore, but a decade ago, the Westboro Baptist Church got a lot of attention for their protests and their hate-filled rhetoric. And most Christians were quick to distance themselves from that group. Here’s the thing, as much as we might not want to be associated with them, we are. They have the word “church” in their name. Our witness is going to be hurt by some who claim the name of Christ.

We’ve all heard the expression that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Well, the Church’s witness is hurt by those who haven’t grown into the likeness of Christ. They are like a weak link, weakening the whole chain.

“You must crave pure milk so you can grow into the fullness of your salvation.” In first century Judaism, new converts were referred to as “newborn babies.” The image carried over into the Church. A new believer is like a newborn. They need to grow into

what God wants his people to be. And babies need milk. This is the first century world. There is no “formula” available.

So what is the milk? Most Bible translations render it as “spiritual milk.” But the Greek word used here is LOGICON, related to the word for word, LOGOS. “Milk of the word” might be a better translation. Word of course referred to God’s word, Scripture, and it also refers to Jesus, the Word. We need to feed on Jesus and on God’s Word to grow into maturity in Christ.

And we should grow into maturity. We should not be content to have a weak and immature faith. And certainly there are some who are content, who don’t avail themselves of the opportunities, the “means of grace,” as John Wesley called them, to mature. They don’t read Scripture regularly. They don’t attend worship regularly. They don’t study God’s word regularly. They don’t fast and pray regularly. They don’t engage in acts of service regularly. And so on.

We shouldn’t be content with an immature faith. First of all, an immature faith is not going to stand up under the trials of life. And the trials will come. If our faith isn’t strong, it will fail when hardships come.

And it hurts our witness, and the witness of the whole Church, when someone who is called by the name of Christ doesn’t resemble Christ in their words, actions, and attitudes.

But there’s something else: If we don’t grow into maturity, we are denying ourselves the fullness of all God has for us. We won’t know all the riches or all the blessings of knowing God and being formed into the image of Christ. There is great joy, peace, hope, and purpose to be found in Christ. But we won’t know it if we just “dip our toes” in the edges of our faith. We need to dive in to know the depths of God’s goodness.

The Church can do amazing things through the power of God and the Spirit of God indwelling us. But for the Church to reach its full potential, each of us as individual believers must also grow into the maturity that God wants us to have in Jesus. Only then can we really experience how God can do “even greater works through us.”

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