This sermon was preached May 26, 2012 at First Presbyterian Church. The sermon text was Romans 5:1-11.
This is our second week of our sermon series diving into, dissecting, seeking to understand the mission of the church, as defined by the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and laid out in our Book of Order. The mission is called the Great Ends of the Church.
There are six great ends of the church, they are:
· The proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind
· The shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of god
· The maintenance of divine worship
· The preservation of the truth
· The promotion of social righteousness
· The exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world
Last week we focused on the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind; this week we will focus on the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God. I think it’s providential that this scripture and this topic came up this week when we watch the reports from Moore, OK, we here about violence in streets of Britain, and three in our community had unexpected hospital stays this week. This is a great time to think about the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God.
Before we get knee deep in today’s passage from the book of Romans, let’s look at some of the history of the “Great Ends of the Church.”
This is from the Book of Order itself:
This statement of the Great Ends of the Church, slightly edited here, came from the United Presbyterian Church of North America, which united with the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America in 1958. The statement was then made a part of the Constitution of The United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, as the united body was called. The United Presbyterian Church of North America adopted this now classic statement in 1910, following various actions between 1904 and 1910 looking forward to the revision of the church’s Constitution.
The Great Ends come from a section called the Foundations of Presbyterian Polity. These statements have been part of our church for over 100 years. The have stood the test of time. Although, it was suggested that maybe we might need to look at them a little more closely and, maybe even rewrite them for an environment, people, and world that is much different than that of 1910, but that is a horse of a different color and that’s for another time.
So in the context that these six statements have been guiding our church for a century let us listen for their call on our lives know and let us see what the scripture has to tell us today.
In verse 3, it says but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
Hope does not disappoint...really?
That's a bold statement. I know I've been disappointed in a lot in things I've hoped for; in 2007 I hoped that the West Virginia Mountaineers would get to the National Championship game and all they had to do was beat an arch rival at home where they were a 4 touchdown favorite. That night was disappointing. I hoped that all the time that movies are going to be as good as the books I've read. I often leave disappointed. Twilight (all of them...yes, read and watched them), The Lord of the Rings, I'm still making up my mind about the Hunger Games, but you get the idea.
I get disappointed in humanity when brutal attacks happen in broad daylight in the streets of London, or pick any number of mass shootings over the last few years, or a factory collapses killing over 1000 people, or when a so called church protests the deaths of soldiers, mine workers, and children.
I even get disappointed in God, in God who is sovereign, in control of all things, like John Calvin said and we have said we believe when things like the tornado in Moore, OK, the death of my friend's 11 year old son from cancer, basically whenever tragedy strikes an unsuspecting population.
Then I take a step back and I realize that I may have been hoping in the wrong thing or at least focusing my hope in the wrong place. There's a famous quote, that's been repeated a lot recently, from Fred Rogers, you may remember him as Mr. Rogers. It goes like this, "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping."
Right after two men wielding axes murdered a British soldier in the street a women, a mom, former Cub Scout den mother, got off the bus and starting talking to them, she talked with the men for about 20 minutes, keeping them calm, possibly saving lives. In the Boston bombings we saw, and heard stories of people helping each other, runners running extra to give blood, emergency personnel coming in on their day off to help. In Moore, OK, during the storm teachers laid down on top of their students to protect them from falling debris and 200 mile an hour winds, in the immediate aftermath of the storm people in this town were collecting supplies to be taken to help. When Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka Kansas who regularly attends a funeral to protest with signs that say “God Hates _______” there is often another group there. They stand between the grieving and the protestors, creating a wall of love surrounding the grieving. In Tahrir Square, in Egypt during height of the Arab Spring, Christians formed a wall around Muslims, allowing them to pray in peace, the Muslims returned the favor. This is the kind of hope that does not disappoint.
President John F. Kennedy once said, "The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word 'crisis.' One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger--but recognize the opportunity.”
I think was Paul was getting even though life is not perfect, even though there are times when you feel completely abandoned by God or your fellow humans, when the evidence points to the contrary that God is still there. Not because of your love for God, but for God's love for us. I know that's easy for me to say, in the grand scheme of things I've had a pretty easy life, so far. I've also had the honor of learning the stories of others who have had different struggles, I had the ability to sit with people in their suffering, I've had the opportunity to be with people in crisis.
In the moments of our crisis, we have the opportunity to see, to show, to witness to God's love for us by sheltering, nurturing, and providing spiritual fellowship for the children of God we come into contact with all with the purpose of reconciliation. Reconciling neighbor-to-neighbor, person-to-person, country-to-country, people to God.
For us, here in Nebraska City reconciliation doesn't seem to be the top of our list, but I think if you look just under the surface there is a budding danger and a blossoming opportunity. Last week, our new trees from the Enchanted Arboretum were vandalized. In the story on the paper and comments on facebook people were calling for "maximum sentences" for the perpetrators. We found out that, at least in the case of Steinhart Park, the perpetrators were 9-11 years old. I'm still asking the question, what would be the purpose of a maximum sentence for a 10 year old, other than to seal their fate for the future as someone labeled as the kid that broke the tree, until they did something that they might not be able to fix. Before I got here I was told that a small group of middle schoolers were causing problems at Burger King on Fridays when they have a late start. I asked teachers about it, I asked the principal about it, I even talked to a couple of parents and customers at Burger King. What I learned is that there is a problem; a real problem and a perceived problem. The real problem is that young people often make different choices than we would have them make, a real problem that we have forgotten what it's like to be a middle schooler, and we don't realize that the pressures that they face, academically, physically, and emotionally, are much greater than those of even when I was a kid. The perceived problem is that young people are inherently bad, are ruining the town, and need to be taught a lesson.
What if the lesson that needs to be taught is, "you are loved"?
What if we took the great end of the church to "shelter, nurture, and providing spiritual fellowship for the children of God" and applied it to those middle schoolers for an hour a week?
What if we opened our doors every week to feed, support, and pray for them, letting them know that this is their community to?
What if we did it not because they showed that they loved us, but because we love them?
We love our children so much that we will go out of our way, even if it's uncomfortable, even if it costs us time and money, that we will to model the grace and love of Christ letting them live into the fact that they are beloved.
To be sure the children of our community aren't the only children of God, children of God come in all ages and we need to be aware of all of the needs for those in our community. I believe that by focusing our efforts, at least at the beginning, we wil be able to fully realize the Great Ends of the Church.
I believe this because of a story I heard a couple of weeks ago. When the support vehicle for two men riding their bikes over a 1000 miles pulled into town asking for assistance, the person they talked to told them to call us, the Presbyterians, because we were the "Mission Church" in town. I hope and pray that we are, that anyone who comes into this town, whether their setting down roots or just passing through that we are the place that will help them, and if we can't we can point them in the right direction. I hope and pray that everyone who walks through those doors and everyone we come into contact with on the street will know that they are beloved and they have been reconciled to God through Christ.