Seward United Methodist Church
Sunday, May 20, 2018
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The Vows of Membership- Presence

John 1:1-14 and Luke 10:25-37

 “A member of the church supports the church by faithfully participating in its ministries by their presence.”

 We might be tempted to think the meaning of this is obvious.  A member of the church supports it by their presence?  Well, that’s easy.  It means we show up.  After all, what do we lament about so many people in our communities?  They don’t come to church.  They don’t show up.  And often it’s even the members of the church who don’t show up.

 There’s an old joke among pastors that goes like this:  An older pastor and a younger pastor are talking.  The younger pastor is lamenting that his church’s bell tower is full of bats, and they’re making a mess all over the place, and nothing will get rid of them.  They’ve tried blocking the entrances.  They’ve tried noises to scare them away.  They’ve even called in a professional exterminator to evict them, and nothing has worked.  

 So the older pastor, wise in his years, says, “We used to have that problem, but not anymore.”  “What did you do says the young pastor?”  “Well, I took in those bats, I baptized them, confirmed them, and made them into members, and they haven’t been back since.”  

 Is that all it means to be a member of the church, just to show up?  

It certainly doesn’t mean less than that!  We should show up.  We should come to the church and worship God and live out our faith in Christian community.

Some people say, “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian!  I can be a Christian without ever stepping foot in there.  Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going into a garage makes you into a car!”  

That’s true enough.  Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian just like going into a garage doesn’t make you a car.  But let’s turn that question around.  Instead of saying, “Does going into a garage make you a car?”  Let’s ask, “What kind of car never goes into a garage?”  I think the answer is one that’s neglected, one that isn’t taken care of.  I don’t park my car in the garage anymore because it’s 15 years old, and I really don’t care how the paint holds up.  But I still take it to the other kind of garage, the mechanic, I had it there this past week, to keep it in good running shape.  I may not care

how it looks, but I care how it works.  To be perfectly honest, the only kind of car that never goes into a garage is a junker sitting up on blocks in someone’s back yard!  Is that how you want your Christian life to be?  A junker, neglected, no longer running like it should?  

Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian, but it does put you in a place where you are likely to become a Christian and likely to grow as a Christian.  And for that matter, all of this is based on the assumption that the “church” is a place we go, a building.  This is not the church!  We are the church.  God doesn’t want you to go to church; God wants you to be the Church!  

And the church building, the place where the church meets, is a place where we can learn together and grow together.  It’s a place where we can be challenged, a place where we can use our gifts, a place where we can support each other.  

Hebrews 10:25 says, “Do not give up the habit of meeting together as some have already done.”  Even in the first century there were Christians who had given up on “going to church.”  This is nothing new.  But that doesn’t make it good!  

There’s an old story about why we shouldn’t try to “make it on our own as a Christian.”  I think it actually comes from the great Chicago evangelist, Dwight L. Moody.  Moody went to visit a man who had quit going to church, and the man argued that he could be a perfectly good Christian without bothering to “go to church.”  Moody didn’t say a word back.  He got up, took a pair of tongs, pulled a log out of the fireplace, and set it on the stone hearth by itself.  Within a minute, the log had gone out and was just smoldering.  The man said, “I see your point,” and went back to church.  Just as one log cannot make a fire without the encouragement of the others, we need the encouragement of other believers to be everything we can as believers.  It’s hard enough to be a Christian with support; why make it harder?

It’s important to “be there,” to be physically present in the Body of Christ.  There is power in physical presence.  That’s the reason I’ve never considered “watching church” on TV to be the same as going to church.  I know it’s a benefit to those who are unable to go physically, but it’s just not the same.  One of the common laments of people who are dying or in the nursing home or the hospital is that their friends stop coming to visit.  It’s too uncomfortable to be there.  But there is power in presence.  Just

showing up counts for something!  The investment of time and energy in showing up matters.  So if nothing else, at least show up.  

But is that all it means to be “present” as the Body of Christ?  

John 1:14 is one of the most profound statements in the whole Bible.  The Word, that is John’s chosen title for Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became flesh, and lived among us.  Literally, what it says is that the Word “tabernacled” among us.  The Word pitched a tent with us and stayed for a while.  He always was, he is after all the eternally begotten Son of the Father, but he took on human flesh and for a while, he pitched his tent with us.  He came into the midst of all of our pain and loneliness and weakness and confusion, and he became one of us.  He accepted all the limitations of humanity.

“He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.  And we have seen his glory.”  John was able to write that because he was one of the three disciples that Jesus took up with him onto the Mount of Transfiguration.  He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt the glory of this man Jesus, “the glory of the only Son of the Father.”  “Only” is an attempt to translate the Greek word MONOGENES, which is literally “only begotten” or “unique,” “one of a kind.”  

The only Son of God, the unique Son of God, the only one who truly displayed the fullness of the glory of God, came and lived among us.  He fully revealed God and God’s character and God’s love and faithfulness as no one else could through his incarnation, through his presence with us.  

That is how we are to be “present” in the world.  We are to represent, as in to present again, the love and the faithfulness of God.  If we are in Christ, and Christ is in us, then we represent Christ.  And Christ said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.”  So we, by extension, are able to present the love and faithfulness of God.  When people see us, they can see God.  

Is God being seen through you?  Is God being presented to the world through you?  Now that Christ has ascended back into heaven, the Church, the Body of Christ, is the only way that Christ can be seen and God presented to the world.  That is what it means to faithfully participate in the ministries of the Church by our presence; to present the love and faithfulness of God to a world in need.

We heard earlier from the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  A man is beaten by robbers and left for dead on the side of the road.  A priest and a Levite, two religious professionals see him and for whatever reason walk by on the other side of the road.  It is only the Samaritan, the foreigner, the sworn enemy of the Jewish people, who stops to show mercy and compassion to him.  

If all three of those men were to “get together for a drink” and swap stories, all three of them could legitimately say, “I was there!  You remember that time that dude got trashed on the way down to Jericho?  Well, I was there!”  

All three of them could say, “I was there.”  But only the Samaritan was present as the incarnational, the in-the-flesh, love of God.  

The Church represents the best opportunity for the world to see the love of God in ongoing action.  If the Church does not continue to embody to love of God and so “present Christ,” then for the most part the love of God is consigned to history.  The love of God becomes a story about Jesus showing up 2000 years ago and dying on the cross.  But it ceases to be a contemporary reality.  

Is the world seeing the love of God through you?  

One last thing to say.  It is easy, by comparison, to be present as the love of God for our friends.  But the story of the Good Samaritan is a story about presenting the love of God even to one’s enemies.  Are you also presenting the incarnational love of God towards those whom you dislike or even those that hate you?  

By comparison, just showing up sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it?

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