(This is the second half of a recent post – it seemed a little long to post all at once. If you just walked through the door, you may want to back out and read Part One before moving on to this one!)
My grasp of Latin is scant, but there’s an enduring slogan of the Protestant Reformers that I committed to memory a while back:
Ecclesia reformata et semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei
“The church is reformed and always reforming according to the Word of God.”
That is to say that we don’t reconfigure church according to our desires and consumption requirements, nor the nuances of our discerning palates, but according to the Word of God.
It shouldn’t surprise us that the Word of God has plenty to say about service and church. And a few uncomfortable truths regarding the ways we can go about its curation.
James writes that our service (our worship) is to be informed by justice; that it looks like caring for widows and orphans.
In Leviticus, it says that ‘when a foreigner resides among you, do not mistreat them’—a verse that’s more far-reaching than having your Kiwi friend over for dinner.
Amos would have ruined a bunch of parties and church services.
He prophesied to the Israelites (and wear the shoe if it fits):
“They buy and sell upstanding people,
People are only things – ways of making money
They’d sell a poor man for a pair of shoes.”
He’s only warming up at this point because, in Amos 5, he takes more direct aim:
“I can’t stand your religious meetings.
I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want.
If you’re suddenly nervous about joining other Jesus-lovers in worship today, tomorrow, or on the weekend, let me comfort and discomfort you at the same time.
You have freely received. God’s action towards you in Jesus is gracious, loving, life-giving and unconditional. The Book of Revelation ends with: “The Spirit and the Bride say ‘Come'”. It’s not conditional. It’s for “all who hear, all who are thirsty, all who desire the water of life without price”.
Jesus wants you to join a family that is ransomed, healed, restored and forgiven by his action, not ours. And he invites us to play as well.
Perhaps it’s the invitation that gets us squirming in our warmed seats.
Doesn’t that sound like an obligation? Well, only if you want your flesh to bristle at that thought. It could also sound like an inconceivable privilege, a gracious invitation and a divine opportunity.
Freely give. It’s the other half of the verse from a few paragraphs up. Freely you have received, freely give. (Matthew 10:8)
You can frame that verse around finance if you want and use it in your next offering mini-message, but it’s far broader than that. As freely as you have received forgiveness, give forgiveness. As freely as you have received my love, respond with love. As freely as you have been a beneficiary of my mission to you, be on mission, in my name, to others.
The ‘service’ of the church is not complex. It’s to be light-bearers and ‘salt-depositers’ to a kingdom that is fundamentally different to the Kingdom of God and to model Jesus’ love in the ways that we love, reconcile, unify, give, care, extend grace and mercy, and serve. Not only to those who respond to Him but to those who don’t know who Jesus is or His vision for His church.
The Apostle Paul, when painting a picture of unity and function in the church in Ephesians 4, says that the gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers, and pastors, are to equip the saints for works of ministry so that the body of Christ reaches full maturity in Him.
So the gifts (usually the bit we love to stop and talk about) are for the purpose of building within and reaching beyond. It’s to be mobilised in Jesus’ name for love and mission that ‘demands our soul, our lives, our all’.
If your contribution to the body is warming a seat, there’s so much more in which to revel in your new family. As I mentioned earlier, perhaps it’s a ‘season’ thing. People get burned, singed and fried in all kinds of ways (some quite inexcusable). God invites us to become whole in Christ rather than soldier on with the limps of our dysfunction.o
But, if your season ended so long ago that you’ve forgotten the season that came before ‘the season’, start seasoning again!
God has poured out gifts on the Body (His Church) by His grace for the purpose of bringing function to the body so that disciple-making disciples can be raised up to the glory of God. Get back in the game. Everyone gets to play. As co-heirs with Jesus, we’re invited to stand, to run, and to serve – everything from sharing the Gospel, bringing disciples to maturity, calling others on to selfless giving, making coffees and setting tables. Hey, even clearing away the spiders.
The wife of the new family messaged us again on Sunday afternoon, and it makes a nice tail to this tome.
The SMS read: “I was thinking of you during the week and the “spiders” saga…and I thought: “well, if I was a spider, I would choose your home as well…it is warm, loving, friendly, and welcoming – a shelter from the storms, a place to be, to eat, and to be nurtured.”
We’re still figuring out a bunch of what it looks like to be on mission together, but the good news is: we have the spiders covered!
There’s a whole lot about the nourishing environment that we’ve created for spiders that mirrors our mandate to others as we’re on mission together with Jesus.
If you’re a follower of Jesus, you’re part of that mission, too. Get back in the game!
Thanks for listening.