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.