We (the Laity) Are the Church

This is a second section from a Via de Cristo talk I gave on Laity in 1998.  When I mention my church, I am speaking of the church I belonged to at that time, not St. Paul’s.

Now God is all powerful and he could have chosen any number of ways to work out His purposes on earth.  Isn’t it amazing that He chose the church, and He chose us to do that.  To fully understand our role in God’s plan, we first need to think about the church– what it is, and what it is not.

The church is not a building.  My congregation, Peace In Christ Lutheran, meets in a little red brick church which is over one hundred years old.  With its’ iron fence and the cemetery out back, it looks like something out of a Norman Rockwell scene.  This building is very dear to my heart.  The men of Peace In Christ spent many, many hours renovating it for our use.  My younger daughter, Kate, was the first Peace In Christ baby baptized there.  Both of my daughters were confirmed there.  When our president called a while back to say we might be selling our building, I cried.  But I know that Peace In Christ is not made up of brick and mortar, it is a people, the living stones that form the body of Christ.  We were the church twenty years ago when we began meeting in a Civic Association with an altar on wheels;  and we will still be the church several years from now when we move to the new, modern, more functional building we have grown to need.

The church is not a kind of religious club.  If you’ve ever served on the church council, as I have, you know how easy it is to start thinking this way.  After all, we have a budget to balance and property to maintain.  Our members pay their dues (which we call pledges or tithes) and in return feel entitled to certain benefits, such as baptism, confirmation and marriage;  also free admission to all educational and social events.  But the church goes beyond the physical and temporal world of daily life.  When we say we are praising God along with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, we’re not kidding!  The church is not just the visible, it includes the spiritual and invisible.

My church does all kinds of good works.  Some members serve breakfast at the local mission regularly.  Our AAL (Aid Association for Lutherans) branch delivers food baskets at Christmas.  The Sunday School and Vacation Bible School students collect money for mission projects.  But the church is not a Social Services Agency created to dispense charity to the less fortunate.  In the church we are all equal in our need for God’s grace, we are all seated at His table together, sharing the life He alone offers.  I’ve heard the church described as “one group of beggars telling other beggars where they can find bread.”

In reality the church was created to be the living body of Christ in the world.  The Bible says that Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.  And we are His witnesses.  Called forth by the evangelizing activity of Jesus and the disciples 2000 years ago to make His presence living, vibrant and real today.

Imagine yourself taking the hand of the person who first told you about Jesus.  Maybe it was your mother or father, a neighbor or a friend.  And then imagine that person taking hold of the person who told them and so on.  The chain would eventually go all the way back to someone who walked with Christ during His earthly life.  The church is this community of believers.  It is the people of God, the people chosen to be light and salt and leaven to a dark, hurting and hungry world.  We can’t let the chain stop with us.

I am the church, You are the church, We are the Church.  We are the body of our Lord, the restored children of God.

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The Mission of the Layperson

This is taken from a talk I gave on a Via de Cristo weekend many years ago, but it seemed appropriate to include it this month.

By virtue of our baptism, we, as laypeople of the church have been called to live a new life, to “put on Christ.”  We are His hands and feet and voice in the world.  The church I visit in Myrtle Beach every year has a sign you see when you are exiting from the parking lot.  It says, “you are now entering the mission field.”  Our mission field is wherever we are–it is our family, our friends, the people we meet at work and in our neighborhoods.  And where you are is no accident– Martin Luther, in one of his sermons says,

“therefore, where you are in a calling that is not sinful in itself, you are certainly placed there by God.”

Isn’t that exciting?  It’s not only the clergy who are called, but every one of us.  Called to do God’s work in the place and with the people He has given to us.

In the same sermon, Luther says:

“To be spiritual and not busy with God’s word, which should be your special work, is like being married and never being together.”

A happy marriage radiates joy.  It reaches out and touches others.  The life of grace is the same.  Our whole life is changed and that change affects those around us.  Listen to what Christian author Catherine Jackson says will happen if we conform our life to Christ’s:

“When a believer follows the Lord faithfully several evidences appear sooner or later.  Meekness and quietness of spirit become….characteristics of daily life.  Other outward signs are:  grateful acceptance of the will of God as it comes in the hourly events of each day;  pliability in the hands of God to do or bear whatever He assigns us;  a sweet disposition, even under provocation, calmness in the midst of turmoil and confusion, willingness to let others have their way, refusal to notice slights and affronts, absence of worry, anxiety and fear.”

By living out our life in this kind of visible witness the good news becomes real, and the world in which we live is transformed.  As one new Christian told me, “who wouldn’t want to be part of this?”

Realizing both our human ideal and God’s ideal for us isn’t easy.  Even the world says, “no pain, no gain.”  We must commit ourselves to living out the life of grace in every way that we can.  In our personal, professional, civic, economic and academic pursuits we are called to be saints and to make the world holy.

Pray for Your Pastor

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been reading the book, Prayer:  Finding the Heart’s True Home, by Richard Foster.  This quote on intercessory prayer caught my eye:

“Intercessory prayer is priestly ministry, and one of the most challenging teachings in the New Testament is the universal priesthood of all Christians.  As priests, appointed and anointed by God, we have the honor of going before the Most High on behalf of others.  This is not optional;  it is a sacred obligation–and a precious privilege–of all who take up the yoke of Christ.”

In other words, as Christians, praying for others is our responsibility, something every single one of us should be doing daily.  Maybe you already do this, and if so, you probably think first of those who are ill, experiencing grief, or struggling in some way.  Today I’m asking, as you pray for congregation members, family and friends, missionaries and others do you also pray for your Pastor?  This is something very important that every lay person can do.

As a Pastor’s wife, I assure you, your Pastor needs prayer.  He has the same problems that you do, but often has nobody in whom he can confide.  He wants to be a Christian example to his flock, but still struggles with his own sin and temptations daily.  He loves you and the church, and when things go awry, he may feel he has failed.  His behavior and words are scrutinized every time he interacts with another person, and sometimes misinterpreted.  He spends a lot of time alone, or in hospitals and nursing homes, or counseling those with serious problems.  He can feel depressed and unappreciated.  He has been called to this work, but it often isn’t easy.

I was deeply touched when a member once told me, “my husband and I pray for you and Pastor every day.”  So I encourage you, as lay people, please consider this a ministry you can undertake.  It will strengthen you, your church and your Pastor, and it will mean so much to him.

If you need help, type “praying for your Pastor” into a search engine, and you will find many Biblical suggestions.

 

All the Saints

English Bishop William How wrote the hymn, “For All the Saints,” in 1864 for All Saints Day, a day meant to honor departed saints, both known and unknown.  This hymn celebrates the saints who went before us—”who from their labors rest.”  It tells how God sustained them through difficult times—strengthened them to battle evil—brought them light in their darkest days.  When I hear it, I think about that “great cloud of witnesses” the author of Hebrews mentions, as well as the many saints who have served my own church, St. Paul’s over the 190+ years it has been in existence.  Guess what, most of them were members of the laity!  Isaac Newton, the great physicist and astronomer, said, “If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” We, the laity today, have been enriched and (as my husband puts it) “subsidized” by many faithful generations of Christians.  As you listen to this hymn, be thankful and think about what your part is in passing on the faith.  

 

My Own Little World

I know that I’m guilty of living in my own world.  Something is going on in my life and I pull all the sensors in, so to speak.  I don’t look out into the world and see the pain and suffering that is out there.  If I don’t see it, I can’t do anything about it.  Not even pray.  I’m centered on MY pain and suffering.

When this song came out in 2010 I was starting to look out of my own little world.  Starting to pray for others and ask how they were doing.  Asking about that medical problem that’s worrying the family.  Their problems that I knew about.  I would start a prayer list and I would pray for them.  It’s too easy to say that you’ll keep them in prayer and then forget.

One thing that needs remedied in my own little world is shown in this video.  I don’t DO something.  Sometimes the only thing that you can do is pray but many times you can actually do something.

Listen to this song by Matthew West.  It reminds us that there is a larger world out there.

The Laity and Liturgy

The word “liturgy” means “work of the people.”  In a liturgical church, the Pastor may lead the worship service, but it is truly a work of everyone there; that is, the laity.

In his book, Prayer, Richard Foster classifies the liturgy as sacramental prayer.  Although some may protest that it encourages people to pray by rote and without emotional involvement, Foster says this kind of prayer can be freeing for the following reasons:

  1. It helps us to pray when we are feeling spent or inarticulate. There are many times when I don’t really feel like praying, but going to church on Sunday reinforces the habit of prayer and gets me back on track.
  2. It unites us with the “communion of saints” and reminds us that we’re part of something much bigger than we are as individuals, or even as our local congregation. When I visit a different Lutheran church on vacation and settle into a familiar liturgy, I feel instantly at home.
  3. It squashes the need to be entertaining. Anybody can do the liturgy.  You don’t have to have a way with words, or an outgoing personality.  Children quickly pick it up!  As an introvert, it helps me stop worrying about, “what am I going to say next?”  For me, it keeps the focus to remain on God, not the pray-er.
  4. The formality of the liturgy reminds us that God is awesome and should be approached with respect. He is the creator and we are His creatures.  Worship, in my mind, should be different from day-to-day life.
  5. Here’s my favorite: the liturgy keeps us from thinking we can practice religion privately.  It’s the work of the community, the people of God.  Foster describes it this way:

“It is so very human of us to allow our petty concerns to be the whole burden of our prayer.  Now it is not wrong to pray over our own pressing needs, but that must never be the end of our prayer work.  Through the liturgy we are constantly being brought back to the life of the whole community; we are constantly being confronted with sound doctrine;  we are constantly being forced to hear the whimper of the poor and see the tumult of nations.”

So next time you think about skipping your weekly worship service, think again.  You’re needed.  You don’t have to be the Pastor, or the reader, or in the choir. You’re not “the audience.”  It’s part of your work as a Christian lay person to support the community in worship.  Be there.

Actions Speak Louder than Words…

Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.

Yesterday I posted the song “Do Something” by Matthew West.  Not all of us are able to drop everything and run to another country to help spread the Gospel.  We are where the Lord has planted us and I’m sure if he wanted us to run off to another place to spread the Gospel He’d let us know.

Everyday we should go about our lives, being the hands and feet of Jesus.  Much of the time we don’t have to “preach”.  We just need to be.  I have a story I want to share that showed me how much this is true.

One Thanksgiving week quite a few years back, I got a call from my boss.  We were both off work that week for the holiday and she had never called me at home before.  She told me her husband had died in his sleep that morning.  She had woken up to find him in their bed, deceased.  She was quite shocked and upset.  I was being supportive on the phone with her and in the back of my mind I was wondering why she had called me.  Then she said “Would you pray for me?” I guess I could have said that I’d keep her in my prayers (and I did), but I just said of course and started praying.  I did offer to come to her but she had her sister coming and that was good.  I didn’t want her to be alone.

I don’t “preach” at work.  I don’t even have scripture hanging around my desk.  She knew that I was active in my church and that I sometimes took off from work to go on church retreats (Via de Cristo).  We may have had small conversations about faith.  But I was floored that she came to me and asked me to pray for her.

So keep in mind that as you go out into your world that you are “preaching” the Gospel whether you are talking or not.