What is Church?
 — Rev. Phil Hobson

November 18, 2012

Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25
Mark 13:1-8

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

The message of both the extended sermon we call the letter to the Hebrews and the Gospels is the same, and it is one which we resist mightily, especially in the church. The message is, through Jesus, God has done what we cannot. We resist this message because somehow we keep getting our roles confused. We think that if we are good enough, if we are moral enough, if we are ethical enough, if we work hard enough, if we deny ourselves enough, if we follow the rules enough, then we get into heaven.

This thinking comes with two problems: we fail, and then we rationalize. Sometimes in the little things, and sometimes with the big things, but we mess it up, we fall short, we take the path of least resistance, we get tired and cranky and lose touch with that spirit of compassion for our neighbors and ourselves. And when we fail, we find someone to blame, we lie and deny, we cover up, we pretend, we defend, we justify.

Welcome to the human race. And just in case we thought this problem was new, I heard one commentator referring to the recent sex scandals involving four star generals as the Bathsheba syndrome. Those who have been in Dale’s Sunday morning class reading 1 Samuel know about this.

I am slowly (way too slowly!) coming to see that the problem is not that I fail, but that I assume that I shouldn’t ever fail. If Christian faith is about following Jesus, then we might look to his first followers as some of our examples. They always got it right and never questioned what he taught them and never stood in the way of his mission, right?

They did these things all the time. Sometimes in big ways and sometimes little. If Simon Peter, on whom the church was founded, if John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, if Matthew, the redeemed tax collector, could not handle this path without mistakes, what makes us think we are going to be perfect?

The truth is that God has handled that part, the reconciling, the forgiving, the eternal second chance, the “get up and dust yourself off and try again” portion. Our job is not to secure our salvation, but to accept it, to receive it.

The sermon we call Hebrews says God has already done what is necessary. Jesus has it covered. Yes, even that sin. Yes, even that mistake. Yes, even that part of your past. Yes, even that part of your self that you hide and hope no one knows about. God did it through Jesus.

The work of the church is then summed up in just a few words:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering,
for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up
one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together,
as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another,
and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

In Mark, the problem is not simply trying to do God’s work for God, but getting caught up in all the trappings.

“Wow, Jesus, check out these buildings! These look they will be here forever!” My first trip to New York City was like that. These sky scrapers were enormous. From the street, you couldn’t see more than a few blocks because they were everywhere. And you could barely see the tops of them. Going up the elevator in the World Trade Center as a child, and looking out from the observation deck, “these things are going to be here forever, aren’t they?”

Church buildings come and go. We have been at the corner of Bostwick and Lawrence for nearly 140 years. Much longer than any of us have been alive. Surely the church will always be here, right? We have survived fire, and shifting walls, and rain damage, and even survived a capital campaign or two!

I am not advocating the destruction of the church building. But what makes this place the church is not the beautiful pipe organ or the glorious stained glass or the pew cushions permanently molded with the backsides of parishioners and family members from generation to generation.

Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus gets in trouble for saying, “tear down this temple and in three days I will build it again.” What he is pointing to is the resurrection.

What makes this place the church is the Spirit who meets us here, the one who brings resurrection and new life. What makes this place the church is our willingness, even amid wars and rumors of wars, to come and seek God, and pray for God to make all things new. This is a place of birth pangs. God is bringing new life within us and among us.

God has done the heavy lifting. Our job is to stir one another up to faith and to live out our faith, serving God and our neighbors. I am thankful we have a beautiful place to practice! But giving thanks for what God has done, and seeking out how to live it in the world is the important part.

Life and new life. Resurrection. Serving our neighbors in and with God’s love. This is our gift and our work.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering,
for he who promised is faithful.

Thanks be to God.