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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:Who Is the Church?
Text:LD 21 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Communion of Saints
 
Added:2023-04-25
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: 1 Corinthians 6

Lesson: Lord’s Day 21

 

WHO IS THE CHURCH?

  1. Forgiven Sinners

  2. Beloved Misfits

  3. United Saints

 

  1. Psalm 29:1-3

  2. Psalm 87:1-3

  3. Psalm 133:1-2

  4. Hymn 1

  5. Hymn 43: 1, 2, 6

  6. Hymn 52: 1, 2, 4, 5

 

Words to Listen For: exhaust, shift, milkshake, decades, smoke

 

Questions For Understanding:

  1. Who is the church?  What is the church?

  2. Why are the doctrine of the church and the doctrine of forgiveness put together?

  3. Are we better than those outside the church?  Be careful here!

  4. How intensely can/should we speak of the love between us and God?

  5. How is the church like a fireplace?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Jesus Christ,

WHO IS THE CHURCH?

 

You might wonder if this is the right question to ask.  Is this really a WHO question, rather than a WHAT question?

“WHAT is the church”… THIS feels more accurate.

And this isn’t a WRONG question to ask!  This is a question that has been asked, and answered, many times throughout history, and even in Scripture.  The WHAT question is a valuable one!

What is the church?

Well the church is the bride of Christ - Revelation 21 - I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

 

What is the church?

The church is the body of Christ - 1 Corinthians 12 - Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ! … Now you are the body of Christ.

 

What is the church?

The church is a tree - Romans 11, an olive tree that God cultivates, pruning, and grafting branches.

The church is also a vine, John 15, where Christ Himself is the main vine, and we are branches that grow from Him.

 

These are just some of the metaphors in Scripture that are used.

 

And then theologians will point to the church as organism and the church as organization.  There’s truth to both of these.

 

The church is an organization, in that Christ has so ordained order in His church through the office-bearers.  There are elders, there are deacons.  There is a minister.  There is a hierarchy, you could say, but it’s a hierarchy of two levels.  There is Christ…and all then all of us.  Christ and Christ alone rules the church.  The elders, the deacons, the minister…SERVE the church.  Only Christ RULES.

 

But the church is also an organism.  The church is living.  The church is growing.

 

Sometimes great theologians say it best, other times, the simple wisdom of a children’s song really puts it clearly:

The church is not a building;

the church is not a steeple;

the church is not a resting place;

the church is a people

And so, even though: “WHAT IS THE CHURCH?” is a fine question.  A question that can lead us to real and wonderful theological truth, but that’s not what we are going to examine together this afternoon.  Instead, in line with the children’s song - the church is a people - we are going to ask:

WHO IS THE CHURCH?  Who exactly is this people called the church?  We see, based on both our confession and our Scriptural reading that this people called the church are:

  1. Forgiven Sinners

  2. Beloved Misfits, and

  3. United Saints

 

WHO IS THE CHURCH?  We are a people made up of Forgiven Sinners

In our Lord’s Day this afternoon, there is a connection that may not be immediately obvious upon a first reading.  Or a second reading.

It was not immediately obvious to me, even having taught the Lord’s Day for several years, it was not immediately obvious to me the last time that I preached on Lord’s Day 21 on this pulpit the last time.  The last time we were at Lord’s Day 21 together, I split up this Lord’s Day into two parts.  Into two sermons.

First of all, we examined Question and Answer 54 and 55 - the Holy Catholic Christian Church and The Communion of Saints.  

Saved for the next sermon, The forgiveness of sins.

And there were two reasons that I had done it this way…one good reason, one bad reason.

The good reason for the split was because of the enormity of the topic.  Forgiveness is such a difficult thing.  Forgiveness is something that is done so poorly by all of us.  It was worthwhile to spend an entire sermon on the topic.  It would be worthwhile to spend an entire sermon series on the topic even.  I certainly did not exhaust it in the sermon where I spoke of forgiveness being costly, and unthinkably difficult.

That was the good reason.  The bad reason was because I didn’t see the connection.  At least…not as clearly as I should have.  There was a concern in my mind, that connecting these two doctrines together…the doctrine of the church, and the doctrine of forgiveness, might make us trend towards Roman Catholicism, where forgiveness is sought from a priest in a booth, rather than directly from God in Heaven.

The connection of the church and forgiveness that I saw, was only a dangerous one.

But I was wrong.  The connection is not found in the idea that the church forgives…but rather that WE ARE THOSE WHO ARE FORGIVEN.  The church is the body of the redeemed.  The church is the body of the forgiven!

____________

So…who are we beloved?

Are we not King’s men?

On a mission for the King?

A mission of love and mercy!

We are, as Scripture so powerfully declares, as our catechism so comfortingly begins with…not our own, but we belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to our faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.

 

We ARE King’s men.

We are here, on a mission for the King!

That is who we are as the church.  We have status.  Each and every one of us belong to Jesus Christ.  Each and every one of us, claimed already in the womb, publicly shown to be claimed in baptism, WE BELONG.  We are sons and daughters of the King of the Universe.

It might be tempting to refer to ourselves as nothing.

It might seem to be the humble and righteous thing to call ourselves nobodies.

But we’re not nothing.  We’re not nobodies.

There’s a song, a popular song, a wonderful song, in a lot of ways, by the Christian group “Casting Crowns” called Nobody.  And…I love this song.  But, we have to adjust it a little, because, as it stands…it’s not quite accurate.

This is how the chorus goes:

    I’m just a nobody

    Trying to tell everybody

    All about somebody

    Who saved my soul.

You know me…I’m a sucker for wordplay.  I love the poetry and the writing here…nobody, everybody, somebody.

But that’s not the full picture, is it?

Let’s look at our reading…

1 Corinthians 6, starting at verse 9

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, no idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

And here’s the turn, here’s the shift, here’s one of the most wonderful and comforting statements in the Bible…

And such were some of you.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God

This is another BUT GOD

YOU WERE THIS WAY…you WERE nobodies.  Worse than that.  You were dead in your sins.  You were deserving of Hell and damnation and judgement, you were in a place where you would not inherit the kingdom of God…

BUT…

Of course God is the one at work here.

But you were washed - not speaking primarily of the waters of baptism, but what they represent…you were washed clean with the blood of Christ…you were sanctified - counted as holy - you were justified - counted as righteous - in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit of our God.

 

As the church, we were no better than anyone else.

As the church, we are no better than anyone else…in our own strength.

As Martin Luther was fond of saying: We are all mere beggars, telling other beggars where to find bread.

 

But here’s the thing, and do not misunderstand me, don’t take this quote out of context and run with it…we WERE no better than anyone else before we were called…we still are, in our sinful nature, no better than anyone else, we didn’t cause God to call us…

But…are we…as the church…are we different, are we distinct, are we, understanding the limitations of this word…are we better than those outside the church?

In the sense that we are those who are washed, in the sense that we are justified, in the sense that we are sanctified…yes absolutely we are!

To use Luther’s metaphor again…though we are beggars…we are beggars who have been fed!  Any beggar can be fed!  Nobody can out-sin the grace of God.  The church doors are open and we must welcome everyone in.  Everyone can be forgiven…but we are those who have been forgiven!

 

Just before we move on to our second point, let’s just briefly read what the catechism teaches us about the forgiveness of sins

I believe that God, because of Christ’s satisfaction - that is, His work upon the cross

Will no more remember my sins, nor my sinful nature, against which I have to struggle all my life - though we are, and, in some ways, REMAIN beggars…this isn’t how God sees us.  The work of Jesus Christ on the cross was SO DEFINITIVE, SO POWERFUL…even though we still sin, even though our sinful nature is alive and active, God considers it to be dead.  He has thrown our sins into the heart of the sea, because we are His beloved bride, washed clean…the great multitude in Revelation 7 dressed in white garments, washed clean in the blood…this is US…ALREADY.  The blood has ALREADY washed us clean

He will graciously grant me the righteousness of Christ that I may never come into condemnation - not only does our God TAKE AWAY our weakness and our evil, but He GIVES US the strength and righteousness of Christ.  We aren’t given just a clean slate, not just a fresh start, a second chance for US to do it right…not an empty box for us to put our treasures into, but a treasure chest overflowing with the riches of our Saviour.

We are forgiven sinners.  What a way for us to see our weakness, our frailty, our evil…and His strength, His grace.

We are sinners who have been forgiven, and we are misfits who have been loved.  So dearly loved.  Our second point.

We have spent some time, even recently, over the years together, reflecting on our status as beloved.  We marvelled together that this is how God refers to us, time after time in Scripture.  We are His beloved.

The same terminology for a couple on the verge of their wedding day.

The same terminology used between God the Father and God the Son.

Applied…to us.

 

In our reading, the Apostle speaks of our unification with Christ in, frankly, graphic terms!

Look at verse 15 and following

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!  Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.”  But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him.

The Apostle Paul is comparing our unity with Christ to the sexual unity between a man and a woman!  We, as the church, are the bride of Christ, and we look forward to the marriage feast of the lamb!

It was, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the Puritans, who are known, mistakenly, for being uncomfortable with love, and the physical manifestations of it, that wrote most beautifully, and, just like Paul, even graphically about the love between Christ and His church!

Thomas Watson, a Puritan preacher in the 1600s, wrote the following: God is a delicious good.  That which is the chief good must ravish the soul with pleasure: there must be in it rapturous delight and quintessence of joy.

About 50 years earlier, John Cotton wrote instructions to husband and wives in how they should write letters to each other, saying that they should always be careful to remind each other in these letters, that their deepest love should be reserved for their Heavenly Husband.

 

God must ravish our souls

God is our heavenly husband

 

These designations might seem so foreign to us, and yet, this is exactly how Scripture speaks of it too.

If marriage is to be a picture of Christ and the church, then surely that is true of all that comes with marriage - the rapture, the obsession, the marital bliss!

We should not be shy of speaking this way about God, for He is not shy in speaking this way about us!

But how does He show this love to us?  What does it practically mean that we are His beloved?  We do not go out to the movies and share a milkshake with two straws.  We don’t walk along the beach holding hands, we don’t receive a diamond ring from our beloved.

So…what does He do?

 

We see this in question and answer 54 of our catechism

What do you believe concerning the Holy Catholic Christian Church?

I believe that the Son of God,

out of the whole human race,

from the beginning of the world to its end, 

gathers, defends, and preserves for Himself,

by His Spirit and Word,

in the unity of the true faith,

a church chosen to everlasting life.

And I believe that I am

and forever shall remain

a living member of it.

This is our spiritual marriage!

Simply put, our divine husband does for us what any earthly husband should do for his bride

He chooses

    He pursues

        He rescues

            He wooes

                He protects

                    He lavishes

He chooses us - a ragtag group of misfits, out of the whole human race.

 

And you might wonder about the term “misfits” … what do I mean by that?

 

Well, I have in mind, both the modern and archaic definitions.

Look up this word and you will see both of these as options

A misfit is someone whose behaviour or attitude sets them apart.  A nobody…but worse than that…a rebel, an insurrectionist, a servant of Satan, a child of the Devil.  THESE are the kinds of people that God chooses?

Yes.  We heard of that in our first point.  That list of horrific sins that would have kept us out of heaven?  That’s us.

We are the unrighteous

We are the sexually immoral

We are idolators

We are adulterers

We are homosexuals

We are thieves

We are greedy

We are drunkards

We are revilers

We are swindlers

Or…rather…we WERE.

We were chosen…we were pursued.  We did not pursue Him in our wretched state, but He pursued us.

He rescued us with His cross

He woos us with His love

He protects us with His power

He lavishes us with His grace

Even though we are misfits.  In both senses of the word.  Those who aren’t the kind of people that SHOULD be chosen…and those who, just, simply, don’t fit.

It’s not a fit.  A mis-fit.

Look around this church…do we really fit together?  From the outside, taking God out of it for a moment…do we really belong with each other here?

People of all ages - from _____________ at 1 year old, to Mr./Mrs. ________ at…several decades past 1 year old…

People of all education levels, those who are still in elementary school, those who have graduated high school, those with bachelors degrees, those with masters degrees, those with doctorate degrees.

People of all kinds of careers - farmers, salesmen, lawyers, mechanics, nurses, teachers.

People from different countries, speaking different languages.  Yes, many from the Netherlands, but some from Asia, some from the Middle East, some from South America.  Previously we had members from Africa.

Misfits!  Why would we ever belong together?  It doesn’t make sense!

 

Except for God.  Remember?  We set Him aside for a moment…let’s undo that now.

What brings us together?

The one who GATHERS DEFENDS AND PRESERVES us!

All of these things begin to fade away when we are brought together.  All of these things don’t matter nearly as much in here.  Does it matter that I’m more educated than some of you, and less educated than others?  Not really!  Because I AM BELOVED!

Does it matter that I’m a male, and 47.5 % of you are female?  Not really!  Because I AM BELOVED!

Does it matter that I’m not super good at talking about cars or cows or chapter 7 bankruptcy?  Not really!  Because I AM BELOVED, and we can ALL talk about that.

In the small things, we are misfits, a ragtag group with not much that brings us together.  But…in what really matters?  We are united saints.  Our final point.

We are beloved…and we are saints.

Can anything be better?

What this means…what these two designations really mean, what they tell us…is that God loves us…even though we are desperately unworthy…and that God has made us worthy.

Beloved, though we are misfits.

And saints, united.

Not saints…INDIVIDUALLY.

 

We are saved individually, we are loved individually and together, but we live…only together.

There was once a pastor who went to visit a member of his church that he had not seen in quite some time.  It was a cold morning, so when the pastor showed up, the man had the coffee hot and a roaring fire going in the fireplace.  They both sat down and the conversation started with some general conversation, some niceties.  But then the pastor began to speak about why he was really there.  But he didn’t come with the stick, harping on church membership, but instead, he wisely took another route.  He began to speak about faith.

The member said that he didn’t need the church to worship God.  He was doing just fine on his own - praying, reading the Bible, walking through the woods.  He never felt closer to God!

The pastor let him say all this, without interjecting even once.  Instead, he silently reached over, and with the tongs, took a coal out of the fireplace and placed it on the hearth.  As the member continued to speak about his personal relationship with God, with no need for anyone else, his eyes kept going to that coal.  At first it burned nice and hot, but as time went on, it began to grow cold.  Having lost its connection to the fire, it eventually burned out.

 

We are saved individually.  We are loved individually and together…but we live the Christian life…only together.

We have been GATHERED BY CHRIST…why would we seek to distance ourselves again?

We have been GATHERED…why would we seek to undo the important work of our Saviour?

 

It’s not about where we are most COMFORTABLE.

If it was, some would stay in the same place far longer than they should, and others would always be on the move.

 

It’s not about finding THE BEST SHOW IN TOWN.

If it was, this place would be empty.  Our organists and pianists are talented, and we are thankful for them, but we don’t have an orchestra.  We don’t have a band.  We don’t have a smoke machine or a light machine.  Though I am thankful to the Lord for the gifts He has given me to preach, I am under no illusion that I’m the best around.  There are more engaging speakers, Christian or otherwise.

 

It’s not about ANYTHING other than being where God has placed you.

It’s not about being served, it’s about serving.

 

Everyone is duty-bound

to use his gifts

readily and cheerfully

for the benefit and well-being

of the other members.

 

Where has God placed you?  Where has God called you to serve?

_____________

Our love for each other, our unity with each other, must not be based on anything but the fact that we are, all of us - forgiven sinners.

Our love for each other, our unity with each other, must not be based on anything but the fact that we are, all of us - beloved misfits.

 

Though we are different in so many things, we are unified, first of all to Christ, and secondly, to each other.

These are the people, beloved, turn to the right, turn to the left…these are the ones with whom you will share eternity.

 

The church is not a building

The church is not a steeple

The church is not a resting place

The church is a people.

 

We are the church together.  And in His eyes…we are beautiful.

 

AMEN.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Jeremy Segstro

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