Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, January 25, 2022
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Fixing Church: Beginnings

Acts 4:32-35 and Matthew 5:1-12

There is tendency for people in the Church to long after the good ol’ days, when the churches were full, especially the 1950s and 60s.

But why were the pews full then? Certainly, there was a stronger expectation in society at large that people should go to church. Today, society at large is perhaps a little surprised when people go to church. But was there actually more commitment from people in the good ol’ days?

Maybe not. Fifty or sixty years ago, we had a lot more “blue laws” on the books. Stores weren’t open on Sunday mornings. Pretty much nothing was. And there were only three channels on the television. And there were no Sunday morning sports, not on television, also not Sunday morning youth soccer or baseball or hockey. It appears that people didn’t work as many hours then as they do now. Certainly, there weren’t as many families where both parents worked. So there was more time to take care of errands, other than Sunday morning. Maybe so many people went to church in the good ol’ days because there just weren’t many other things to do? Maybe going to church in the good ol’ days required less commitment. With all the other things you could be doing right now, and less expectation from society, and with all busy-ness of life now, I would say you have more commitment for being here.

What about you? Why do you come here? Why do you belong to a church? What is the purpose of all this?

Some people come become because they want to get something out of church. Others come because they want to give something. Some just come out of a force of habit. They’ve always come, so they just keep doing it. Others come out of a sense of obligation. Maybe they feel like God is making them come. Or maybe it’s someone else: A parent or a spouse, usually. Some come out of curiosity. What is this God thing all about? Others come out of a sense of desperation. They’ve tried other things, and they still haven’t found meaning in life, so why not try the Church? Some don’t know why they come.

No doubt people come to church for all these reasons and more. But what is the real purpose? The author, Bill Kemp, in this little study, suggests that people come to the Church for two reasons. First, broken people come to hear that they are blessed. And second, blessed people come to be a blessing to others. He goes on to say that the

two are not mutually exclusive. None of us is here because of only one and not the other. Some weeks we come because we are broken and need to hear we’re blessed. Other weeks we come because we are blessed and we want to be a blessing. Mostly it’s a combination of the two.

These two reasons speak to the mission of the Church. We talk about evangelism, sharing Christ with others who do not know him. Well, that is telling broken people that they are blessed. And we talk about discipleship, the need for each of us to grow into the likeness of Jesus. Well, that’s learning how to be a blessing. As far as a simple statement of the purpose of the Church and the reason why people come, I have to say, it’s pretty good.

Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 tell us about who is blessed, and what it means to be blessed. And we learn that blessing doesn’t necessarily look how we might expect.

We call these the Beatitudes, and they are Jesus’ first public message in the Gospel of Matthew, other than his announcement “that the Kingdom of God is at hand.” This is the first time he addresses the crowds, his first sermon in Matthew.

People have gathered to hear him. Some of them already know him. Others have only heard of him. But these are real people, just like you and me. Some of them have physical aches and ailments. Some have spiritual aches. Some have lost hope or given up. Some have relational woes. Some are estranged from family, friends, or neighbors. They’re real people, and they have the same problems we do.

Jesus paints a picture of the blessed that is very different from what the world thinks of as blessed. The world pictures blessed people as young, attractive, wealthy, well-connected and powerful; the kind of people who look like they have it all together. That’s not the kind of people Jesus describes.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Blessed are those who feel empty-handed before God, who know they don’t have it all together, who bring nothing to the table. Blessed are those who come before God saying, “I’ve got nothing to offer. Just please accept me as I am.” Only those kind of people are blessed to receive the world to come.

“Blessed are those who mourn.” Jesus doesn’t say what they’re mourning. It could be mourning death or suffering. It could be that they are mourning sin, either their own sin or the sins of the world around them. It could be all those things. But if

you look around at your life and your world and cry out, “It’s just not what it should be,” then you will be blessed with God’s comfort.

“Blessed are the meek, the gentle and humble, those who think little of themselves.” Those who exalt themselves or demand their own way will not be blessed; only those who think more of others and little of self.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice.” The world is full of injustice, and we shouldn’t expect that to change anytime soon. Injustice favors the rich, the powerful, the well-connected, and they are happy to keep it that way. But those who hunger and labor for a just world will be blessed.

“Blessed are the merciful, those who grant forgiveness even when they have every right to seek revenge.” When we seek revenge, we usually just end up perpetuating the cycle of viciousness in the world.

“Blessed are the pure-hearted.” I heard it said once that to be pure in heart is to desire only one thing. To be pure-hearted is to want God’s will and not our own. The world encourages us to compromise on everything. “It’s okay to be religious and all, just don’t go overboard and let it get in the way of living,” the world says. God says “Blessed are those who go overboard and sell it all out to God.”

“Blessed are the peace-makers.” The Hebrew word for peace is “shalom,” and it really means more the sense of “wholeness and wellness” than just an absence of conflict. To have shalom meant to have health in your body, peace in your spirit, and love in your relationships. I think we could better understand this beatitude as “blessed are those who work to bind up brokenness in the world around them.” That’s what it means to be a peace-maker.

“Blessed are the persecuted.” The world tends to persecute those who don’t fit in or who challenge what’s wrong with the world.

In case you haven’t noticed yet, all the people who are called blessed are those who don’t look blessed!

Church is the way that God wants people to be blessed and to learn to bless. We sit around lamenting that more people don’t come to church. But what are we doing to get the blessings of the God into the lives of people in our community? Where is God

working in our community? And how can we take part in that work? How are you yourself working to bless the people you spend time with each week?

Unless people see this place as a place of blessing, and us as people who bless, then we’re always going to have a hard time getting people to come in here.

Let’s finish this morning with Acts 4, which is one of the earliest pictures we are given of what the Church was like. Look at what we see there:

“God’s favor was on them all.” That’s just another way of saying “They were blessed.”

There was a unity of purpose. It wasn’t that some saw the church as a place of ministry, and others saw it as a club, and others viewed as their own private little kingdom. They were all on the same page. They knew why they were there.

They were willing to share. They were willing to bless each other. They had a deep loving concern for each other. And they had a desire to share the blessings of God with others.

Unless we are clear about what we’re doing here, why we are the Church, then we will never be a growing church.

Verse of the Day...