July 29, 2018
I love this expression “The Household of God.” As I’ve noted before, that phrase is the part of our baptism service. And I love this part. It’s the question that’s asked of you, the congregation. “Do you promise to tell this disciple the good news of the Gospel, to teach him all that Christ commands, and by your fellowship, to strengthen his family ties with the household of God?”
That’s what you promise! And that’s such an important part of our faith! I can’t stress this enough! Christianity is more than just redemption. Though a lot of people treat it that way! Again, I’ve heard this question many, many times over the years. “Can I be a Christian and not go to church?” I’ve answered that question various ways over the years. But as I understand it, the answer is, “Of course!” “You are saved from your sins, you are redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ.”
But! And this is a big “but!” What are you doing as a Christian? How do you live your life? That’s the question our faith always asks us! “How shall we then live?” as the title of the famous book once asked. The people at Pentecost asked, “Brothers what shall we do?” Notice, they didn’t ask, “What shall we believe?” They had already heard that in Peter’s “sermon!” They had already heard his explanation of what had happened and what it meant. But then people then asked, “Brothers what shall we do?”
That’s the operative question! That question is always part of the Christian life. Christianity is about “the life!” It’s not just about “the redemption.” The life goes along with the redemption. No, you don’t have to go to Church. But when a person asks that question, they should also ask themselves why they’re asking it! Is it because of what they don’t want to do? Because that’s where their faith is in question. Because our faith always has effects on our lives! It always calls us to do things. It calls us, at the very least, to figure out what kind of people God wants us to be. It calls us to seek to know what God intends for us. And it has always been the intention of God is that we live in community with other believers. So, if you’re not, if you’re asking the question, “Do I have to go to church,” you have to ask if you’re really following the one whose name you are taking when you call yourself a “Christian.”
As I said at the beginning, Christianity is more than just redemption. Our objective, as Christians, is not just to be “saved,” but to follow Jesus. And to follow Jesus is to live in community! We are “no longer strangers,” according to Saul the Pharisee, now Saint Paul the Apostle. And he’s making a very strong point about this! And that’s amazing! Because as a Pharisee he would have taught the kinds of things that would have “separated” the people from the rest of the world. He would have told the people not to “impurify” themselves by associating with those who were “strangers” to their community. Marginalizing people in those days was not just a social thing, it was a religious thing. That’s hard for us to believe, isn’t it? Religion dividing people. But is it that hard to believe?
Tragically, people have been causing divisions over religion as long as there have been religions! It might even be worse today than ever. We could talk about that for a long time! But what we need to remember is that we follow a Jesus who challenged those divisions. We follow a Jesus who broke down those walls! He was talking to the woman at the well, in John chapter 4. And she was a person he shouldn’t have been talking to for a number of social and religious reasons. And he said that “the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. (John 4:21-23)
The walls are broken down through Jesus. Through Jesus, we who once were strangers are now part of the “household of God.” And that means certain things. He would tell us that means having “patience,” “forbearance,” and “forgiveness.” Those are great New Testament words! But they are hard words to follow! They’re words we should never stop talking about! Because, in a lot of ways, it is easier to focus just on our redemption! It is easier simply to label the church as “hypocrites” and have nothing to do with them. It’s easier to say, “I can be a Christian and not associate with other people!” It’s always harder to do the work of living in community! But that is always what Jesus calls us to do!
Living in community is what we are called to do. That’s what God intended! And as we think about that, the question must always be asked, “Who is part of this community?” Think about it. Who was part of the new community, then? This new “household of God,” was a big question in the early days. “Because, why?” “Because, what about these Gentiles?” That was a huge subject in the whole first half of the book of Acts, the book which chronicles the early days of the church. They didn’t know what to do about that. And many didn’t like the idea of including the “strangers” to the faith. And as was said to me recently, that feeling hasn’t gone away! It didn’t just happen then. “Who’s included” has been an ongoing issue in the Church ever since!
As you consider that question, I’d like you to think about how you were once strangers, and how you have now been redeemed and brought into the “household of God.” And then I’d like to challenge you to think about who Jesus would reach out to if he were here today. And would the people he would reach out to be welcomed in our fellowship? And, while you’re thinking of that, remember that, of all the criticisms Jesus received in his lifetime, the one most prominent was, “Look who he hangs out with!”
We follow a Jesus who breaks down walls between people. We follow a Jesus who offers Grace undeserved. We follow a Jesus who loves and forgives unconditionally. We follow a Jesus who brings people into the household of God. And we follow a Jesus who calls us to do the same!
God of Grace, we need your strength when we answer the call to reach out to others. We need your spirit when we seek to live in community with others. Help us to have the mind of Christ as we seek to be his light to the world. For we pray in his name, and for the sake of his kingdom in our midst, Amen.