When I was twenty I was walking out of my friends house. I had long hair, pierced ears, baggy jeans that were patched with multiple shaped and colored patches attached by my inept hands and I wore many handmade necklaces and bracelets. I looked like some weird combination of John Denver and Dr. Teeth from the Muppets. My friends dad, straight laced and serious, looks at my friend after I left and said, "what is he trying to say?" My friends response was perfect. He shrugged and said, "I don't know, that's just Cory".
We look at people and we try very hard to judge and be judged on our appearances and by what we do. That's natural. But it is also short sided. What we do can only give glimpses of our identity, shadows, but never the whole picture. If we try to be defined by what we do it will not necessarily change who we are to our liking. Think how many people masquerade their insecurities behind bombastic behavior. The truth is, no matter what we do, it is informed by who we are.*
The church is no different. There are lots and lots and lots and lots and (did I say lots) of ideas out there on what the church is. Many of them good and some less than pleasant. When asked, generally people jump straight to actions of the church for definition. It is not that the defined actions are wrong (hands and feet of Jesus, compassion to the weary, aid to the poor, etc) it is that they are incomplete. One could be defining any number of altruistic agencies in the world.
My questions are: "Where do we get that drive for altruism from?" "What are we trying to change and why?" "Where do we get the basic idea that things are wrong and that there is a better way or an ideal way?" I believe that the church has answers but that they can not be answered simply by what we do, but by who we are and whose we are.
In Matthew 16 we get a picture of that nature, that foundation. Jesus asks the disciples who they think he is. Peter says, you are the messiah, son of the living God. Jesus then says to Peter, that it is upon this truth that I will ecclesia my people. The word church has been used in place of ecclesia in the NT, but the literal translation is 'to gather'. I understand Jesus to be saying that he is gathering his people upon the truth that he is the hope of the world and God made flesh. So our first definition of the church is one that is rooted in who Jesus is. A part from Jesus, we have no name, no purpose, no definition.
If we move quickly to Acts 1 and 2, we see this take even deeper form. It was not great ideas that moved the men and women into the community to begin preaching and sharing resources and telling of all that Jesus had done. It was the work of the Holy Spirit. The work of the church cannot be separated from the movement of the Holy Spirit. The work of the church is to work in cooperation with the Holy Spirit. Why? Because the Holy Spirit is God as much as Jesus is God and we only find our definition when we are rooted in God.
These thoughts only scratch the surface and are written to simply get your mind thinking differently about who the church is. Come back tomorrow for a preview of the Mission of The Church sermon this weekend.
For further reading I would encourage you to read the following two books.
* The topic of image and definition is much to broad to address here in this blog, but I thought the connection was important to make. However, my own life to a dramatic turn to the healthy when I began to learn that my value was not defined by exterior events but by something greater and more eternal.