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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One Bread, One Body

This contemporary song was written by John B. Foley, professor of Liturgy at St. Louis University.  It is often used on Lutheran Via de Cristo weekends and beautifully expresses the ideal of unity in the Body of Christ, His Church.

Your Calling

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  Ephesians 4:1

I hear quite a few people speak about their church as if they are merely consumers, making a choice about what is best for them.  They belong to a church for reasons like these:

  • I love the Pastor
  • It has a great youth program for my kids
  • The music is fantastic
  • My friends go there

I’ve also heard people reject a church because:

  • I don’t feel uplifted
  • I’m not being fed spiritually
  • I don’t like someone who is a member
  • I prefer a different kind of music

Now I am not saying there is anything wrong with loving your Pastor, the music, the programs or the people in your church.  There is something wrong with making a choice that’s all about you.  I personally believe that the lay people of the congregation are called to be there every bit as much as the Pastor.  We’re part of the body of Christ.  We all have gifts and talents to build up the body.  We’re all needed.  We are to be worthy of that calling.

That means our choice of a congregation should be based, in great part, on where God is calling us to serve.  It means once we have accepted our call, we need to be humble and bear with others even when we don’t agree with them.  It means we don’t change congregations just because we liked the old Pastor better;  we don’t get mad and leave in a snit.  We settle in, we become family and we work together.

“Look careful then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best of the time, because the days are evil.  Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”  Ephesians 4:15-17

You’ve been called.  Are you blooming where you are planted?  Are you walking in a worthy manner?  Are you God’s servant in the place He has placed you?  Or are you just a religious consumer?

I’m in the Lord’s Army

I just saw a funny cartoon on Pinterest  It showed the Simpsons reading a letter.  The caption says, “It’s from our church.  We’ve been called up for active service.”  This may make you chuckle, but as laity, it’s perfectly true.  When we become members of the body of Christ, we’re on duty for life.  We’re never too young or too old to do our part.  We never retire.

There’s a Sunday School Song I used to sing with my daughters that’s a good reminder.  It brings back happy memories, so I hope you’ll enjoy it, too.

 

New Month/New Theme

On the 4th of July Americans celebrate the union of our states, so it was suggested that the Lutheran Ladies think and post this month on the topic of unity.  That gives us lots of ideas to explore.  The trinity is a mysterious union of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The Church has been described as a body –the union of many parts, working together.  It has also been described as Christ’s bride, a reminder of the union between man and woman, the two becoming one.

So ladies, what does unity mean to you? What is your understanding of the trinity?  How does unity in the Christian church exist despite a multitude of different denominations and theological ideas?  How do we achieve unity in our local congregation of individual believers with differing abilities, personalities and interests?  What does it mean to become “one flesh” with our spouse? What does it mean to become “one” with Christ? Is unity possible at all in a society that applauds diversity?  I’m sure this month, we’ll be studying our Bibles to find out what God has to say, and I’m sure I’ll be surprised and edified by the variety of responses.

Of course, as always, go where the Holy Spirit leads.  If another topic is on your heart and mind, feel free to post about it.  Ladies, and readers, send us your thoughts, comments and ideas.  We’re waiting to hear from you.

The Gift of ????

I had to chuckle when I read Leslie’s post about the gift of gab ….that is so not my gift, although it’s one I admire and sometimes wish I had.  I’m a quiet introvert, so I guess my gift is …. holding my tongue?  …..listening? ….silence?  What would be the opposite of gab?

My gift can get me in trouble, too.  Sometimes I don’t speak up when I should.  Sometimes people misperceive me as snobby or aloof or unfriendly.   Sometimes I think of just the right words of sympathy or encouragement …just a little too late.

It’s easy to envy somebody else’s gift, but it’s a bad way to spend my time.  Isn’t it better to give thanks for the wide variety of talents and personalities God has created?  When we get together with someone who has different abilities than we do, great things happen.  We complement each other.  We balance things out.  We can accomplish things together that we couldn’t do alone.  God planned it that way.

“But, as it is, God arranged the members of the body, each one of them, as he chose.  If all were one member, where would be body be?  As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.”  1 Corinthians 12: 18-20

It’s Ok to Say No

“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.'” 1 Corinthians 12:21

One thing it’s hard for us to learn, and especially for women, I think, is it’s ok to say “no” sometimes.  If you are a people-pleaser, like I am, you want to say “yes” so people will like you.  You don’t want to let people down.  Our culture also tells us we can have it all and do it all:  we can be wives and mothers, CEO’s and caretakers, and creative artists all at the same time.  Frankly, it’s not true, and it can be a set up for failure.

So,  we have to be good stewards of our time as well as our money.  One time to say no, is if we’re ask to do something that is clearly outside of our skill set.  For example, I’m not detail oriented, so if I’m asked to be the church treasurer or organize a big fundraiser, I need to say no.  That is the choice that will work to everyone’s benefit!

There may be seasons in our lives when we’re overwhelmed with responsibilities at home or at work.  When I was a mother of two very young children, I chose to be on the Altar Guild instead of serving on the Church Council.  An hour of alone time setting up communion was just what I needed, and all the time I had to give.  Saying no for a while, doesn’t mean saying no forever.  The time came when I went back to “active duty.”

Another important thing to remember about saying no, is it gives somebody else a chance to say yes.  There may be another member of the body who has just the right combination of talents to do the work you can’t.  Others will never get a chance to stretch and grow if you think you have to do it all.

Finally, when you take on a challenging task  that stretches you (and you should do this at times), pick something that matches your abilities, and ask for help if you need it.  We are all one body and we’re meant to work together to accomplish God’s work.