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Sermon – “The Three Tasks of the Church”
Hillside Church of Marin – 12 August 2012
Let’s pray together: God, we adore you, we praise you, and we continue our worship this morning with the teaching of your word.
May your Spirit fall fresh on us so that we may hear and receive your message of hope, redemption, and peace.
May you transform my words into yours, and may you move us to become your people who take on your mission in Marin and beyond.
Do something crazy with us.
Be with us.
In your name, Amen.
Last week I led our Anthem high school crew into a 5-day urban mission experience in the heart of the Tenderloin district of San Francisco.
We partnered with an organization called City Impact, and I can safely speak on behalf of the students who attended, Nicki Clausen, Dylan and Lukas Finkbeiner, Kate Ludwig, Ryan Moore, and Ben Suliteanu, that it was an intense week– it was exhausting – it was sobering – and it was also good.
We woke up at 7am every morning.
We were allowed one shower every other day.
Each morning, we woke, ran to breakfast, transitioned into a time of prayer, and then served until about 9pm.
We made hundreds of meals, knocked on dozens of doors, and we hardly stopped for five days.
Yet, while our projects served an important function, we devoted much of our time simply walking the streets of the Tenderloin, and encountering the city with our eyes wide open.
Our goal was to look at people in their eyes and see them for who they are, not just people living in total desperation, despair, and hopelessness.
And in doing so, we got to taste the essence of the Tenderloin – quite literally – the cigarette and the pot smoke, the drugs, the body odor, the exhaust.
The air was so heavy with these smells and these odors that you could feel yourself walking through it like a fog.
In the evening at the end of our work, we smelled like the Tenderloin, and we could feel the strain of the city hanging on us like a grimy funk.
In the evening as I laid in bed and wrote in my journal, I reflected over and over on a question that I want to pose to you this morning, and that is this: What is the nature and the essence of the Church in a world fraught with such injustice and systemic evil and brokenness?
Essentially, what are the tasks of the church?
… We bear the very name of our community in the name of our church, so how ought we to live as a church in Marin County and for Marin County and beyond?
Last week at City Impact, our team met a man named Sean Sanchez, and the first thing that I noticed about him – the first thing that anyone would notice about him – are his tattoos.
And he’s literally got ‘em everywhere – on his face, neck, arms.
He’s even got tattoos on his baldhead, which I ain’t gonna lie, made me kinda jealous.
Every bald man thinks that it’d be cool to have a tattoo on his head, but very few have the guts and personality to go through with it.
And so the fact that Sean’s got several should give you some insight into who he is!
He entered into the kitchen with this big, gnarly grin on his face, and gathers all of these white, middle class teenage kids together in a huddle… Just imagine this scene: a burly Samoan man tatted from head to toe huddled closely together with a bunch of white suburban kids.
What are you thinking about right now?
What do you think he says next?
He says this, and I can quote it verbatim because I’ll never forget it.
He says, “Hey, my name’s Sean, and welcome to my church.
This kitchen is where I worship, where I pray, and where I serve.
You and I are gonna advance the kingdom of God today by making hot meals for the hungry outside of that door.
[And he pointed to the kitchen door leading to the streets.]
And then he said, “So, let’s get ready to worship!”
During our week there, I came to see Sean as both a head chef and also the head Pastor of that kitchen.
In a matter of days, he led a team of white suburban kids and cooked over 4,000 bbq chicken meals made with what I would argue the best homemade bbq sauce that I’ve tasted on this side of the Mississippi.
I completely mistook Sean and our role in the kitchen.
I admit that I prejudged him, and I made assumptions about our tasks in the kitchen as menial, instead of an act of worship.
I placed Sean into a box that I could label and understand, but my box completely collapsed after I saw his heart for Jesus and the church in the Tenderloin!
Likewise, I believe that we mistake the function of the whole church for how God intended and in turn, prejudge it, label it, define it, and use it for our purposes and intentions.
Therefore, I want to use our time this morning to outline three core tasks of the church that ought to guide the work of the people of God in the world.
Think of the church as a three-legged stool by which Jesus sits and governs.
Jesus is the head of the Church, his body, and he uses us as a means to accomplish his work of redemption in the world.
Each leg on the stool represents a task given by God for us to accomplish.
First, the church has been tasked by God to gather as one community.
When we take a closer look at the term Church, we discover that it comes from a Greek word called Ekklesia, meaning a gathering or a community.
And at the root of this term is the verb ‘kaleo,’ which means ‘to call.’
Thus, the word church literally means a ‘called community.’
You are called.
We are called.
And whether or not you were forced here or dragged here or coerced here or willingly came here – I do believe that you are in the right place – right where God wants you.
We are tasked by God to gather people together into one community.
The second leg of this stool represents the task by God for the church to equip one another to become disciples and Jesus followers.
We gather for a purpose.
It’s for more than the sake of simply getting together.
When we come together like this on a Sunday morning or for a community group or for an event, we do so in order to equip one another for the good work of God in the world.
Which then leads to the third leg of this stool: that God has tasked the church to send one another out to participate in his mission – in the great adventure of God taking place all over the world – like in the Tenderloin, at Casa, in Calcutta and beyond!
When the church lives into these tasks in a faithful way, we then receive the privilege of becoming the footstool, the vessel by which God redeems the world.
None of these tasks are any more equal or important or systematically ordered in the church than these legs are for this stool.
Each task is important and necessary in and of itself for the work of every church, including Hillside Church.
So let’s dive headfirst into this and explore each of these tasks together, beginning with our task: to gather.
When you observe our world, what do you see?
Or perhaps a better question would be: what do you hear?
Any NPR listeners?
Any fellow dorks at Hillside?
I love NPR, and I’m not ashamed.
One, however, only needs to listen to NPR for a few moments – or read the newspaper – or watch the news – or talk to a friend – or come out of your cave – to realize that our world is not as it should be.
Deep down, all of us can sense that something is awry our world.
There are Wars, Dictatorial regimes, Oppression, Genocide, Famine.
Our world is a broken place.
But brokenness doesn’t merely exist somewhere out there… in Egypt or Libya or Syria or in the famines of Somalia.
Rather, it smashes right through our front door.
And it’s personal.
The brokenness of our world extends far beyond governments out there on othercontinents or disasters that happen in otherparts of the world.
We encounter it in such things like divorce, disease, depression, anxiety, addiction… you name it.
Moreover, it can seem like our brokenness and these things imprisons us.
It can feel like the mistakes of our past or the victimization bestowed upon us by others takes away our freedom.
You may have not ever experienced the plight of a dictator, but we know what the emotions of a broken friendship feels like, don’t we?
Or the emotions of a lost loved one?
We don’t need a test drive.
We’re all very well acquainted with these emotions, aren’t we?
Yet in the midst of our broken world and broken lives, the grace and mercy of God calls a group of people, the Church, to gather in unity and love and peace with one another.
Ephesians 4:2-6 states, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace!
There is one Body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
Hear what Paul does in this passage: He commands the church to live in unity, peace, and love so that the church may be a community that completely contradicts every notion of brokenness across the board, for where our sin and brokenness incites anxiety, Paul says gather in peace; where there is hate, gather in love; and, where you find division, Paul says remain united together as one.
Essentially, Paul asserts that God has tasked the church to gather together amidst the pain and brokenness of one another – of our community – and of our world in order that God may use the church – the gathered community – to make it right from the inside out.
The flipside to this coin, however, is that when we observe division and splits in churches because of conflict or malfeasance or for whatever reason, we can safely argue that these churches have misunderstood the meaning of living as a reconciled community.
Sure, conflict happens.
There’s no denying that, nor avoiding it.
But when conflict becomes the sole focal point of attention over the task of gathering in unity and reconciling with one another, then my friends, we lose the plot.
It’s a tall task, but we can do it because of one reason and one reason only: God has reconciled us and restored our relationship to him through one man, Jesus Christ –through whom God broke into our world and rescued us by sheer grace.
Paul then asserts that now you and I have that same Spirit in us.
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