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For where two or three

June 5, 2016

“He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.peter-preaching2

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household,  built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.  In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit”.

Ephesians 2:17-22

When we look at the churches we have in the Western hemisphere, we can see that they need to be refreshed. I want to ask you some questions. What is the purpose of the church? Is it to have a large congregation? Yes, of course we want lots of people in the church, but did Jesus focus on gathering as many as possible or did he emphasize something else? We see repeatedly that Jesus was never busy with the crowds. He didn’t leave a big church after three years of ministry here on earth – although He would surely have been able to get a huge church if He had wanted to. No, Jesus did not focus on the number of people. Jesus wanted people who were willing to follow Him and who He could use to build His kingdom.

Is it the purpose of the church to get a nice building and run a cafe, youth meetings, Sunday school and so on? No, the first Christians did not have a church building, youth meetings, Sunday school or much of what we associate with a good church today. Jesus did not talk about any of those things. If the purpose of the church is not to gather many people or get a nice building, what is it then? The only purpose is what Jesus commanded us to do – namely to make people His disciples.

“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 18-20) And these words were not only addressed to those disciples, and not only to ministers or evangelists, but to every one of us because every Christian is a disciple.

Jesus never said to His disciples that they should go out and build a lot of churches. No, He said that they should go out and make disciples so that He could build His church using them. This means that a big and nice church building with many people is not necessarily a fulfillment of this purpose, unless all those people are made disciples and followers of Jesus Christ in everyday life.

Jesus speaks to us today and brings an invitation. It is a very special invitation. Today we will test if we indeed have accepted that invitation or if we have actually not accepted it.
According to the Gospel for today (Lk 14:15-24), there are three frequent excuses that are made for not attending that invitation to the banquet, three things for which we do not want to accept the word of Jesus, three things for which we do not want to obey God and three things for which we do not come to church, that is, where we as a ‘church’ come to worship God according to God’s command:
—Money or material things (“I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me”)
—Work (‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’), and
—Family (‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’) For God these three things are normal and correct. But when these things become excuses to justify not accepting Christ and His church, those things become a curse instead of being a blessing. That is, we no longer have the blessing and approval of God.

The question is: For what do we make excuses? We make excuses for accepting Christ. For everyone who does not want to be part of the church, it is because they have not yet accepted or believed in the word of Christ. When someone cannot come to church it is because they have not yet understood that coming to church is part of accepting the word of Christ. We should not judge those people who do not want to come to church. But we cannot say that those who have accepted Christ will not have the need to gather with others to worship God, so we read in the Epistles: “Not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb 10:25)

The church is not only a temple and an organization and an institution, it is something more. The church as a building, it is only a physical place that we need to meet each other. Just like a house. If you had asked, ‘Where is the church?’ in any important city of the ancient world where Christianity had penetrated in the first century, you would have been directed to a group of worshiping people gathered in a house. There was no special building or other tangible wealth with which to associate ‘church’, only people!

But surely they needed at least one physical space as shelter. That is the church as a building. But the most important thing is church as the gathering of people. Even though we may have a beautiful and large building and even the money to maintain it for many years, but if there are no people gathering firstly for worshiping God out of conviction, we are not a church. So the reading for today is telling us that our church has to be built from the chief cornerstone, the cornerstone which is Jesus Christ. This means that the first thing we have to have in us is faith in Jesus Christ. The only ones who can build the church are those who have already agreed to believe in Jesus Christ and His Word and have entrusted and surrendered their lives to Him after repentance. When you begin to believe in Christ and decide to be obedient to his word, there the Holy Spirit begins to dwell in your life and begins to build a temple of the living God. And no matter if we meet in a house or in a church, it is most important that we are longing, wanting, and having the necessity to meet at least weekly with other believers to worship God. The church begins to grow and to increase greatly when church members become believers, disciples of Jesus, so this way, they are based with the cornerstone of Jesus Christ through their conversion, that is, their faith.

If we want our church to grow, we have to aim for people getting converted. How to target people’s conversions? By being a true church ourselves (gathering). By beginning to be disciples of Christ, that is, followers that are believers and not mere church members. Jesus calls us to be ‘disciples’. And disciples go to church, they need to go to church, disciples need to pray, read the Bible, invite others to church, pray for others, and give witness of their faith before others. And that’s one of the most important principles: to be a witness; witnessing means that we are not ashamed of the gospel. Witnessing means that I can talk freely about my faith in Jesus, my experience of faith, my life changed through Jesus before a nonbeliever when the occasion comes up.
How do we know when we need to talk about Jesus in front of others? When we feel a fire within us and a voice that is calling us to talk about Jesus and our experience of faith with someone. If we silence this voice, we are quenching the Holy Spirit, who then leaves us. If we are often questioning, or doubting, whether or not we have to talk, we are also saddening the Holy Spirit, because right there is the opportunity God is offering us to give our testimony.

And what to do with the indifferent ones who put always excuses for God and are always putting off coming to church? Just pray for them, it is the only thing we can do. But do not waste more time on them. God wants we use our time for people who will listen to us. We can do much more for those who have a problem, a weakness or are in need of help, especially for those we can pray for or invite to church and speak of our testimony of faith.
God’s will is that churches grow; every time we are giving our testimony of faith, we are obeying God and God begins to bless us, that is, to dwell with his Holy Spirit in every one of us and in our meetings.

For those who are concerned about the future of the church, the message for today is very encouraging: “Christ Jesus himself is the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
If Christ is our chief cornerstone, if we care about doing things that God asks of us as disciples, that is to speak of God, bear witness to God and invite the needy, then the Spirit of God will dwell in us and consequently He will also take care of the building, where we gather.

We are called to be disciples of Jesus, his followers, believers not to be members of a specific religious institution.
Let us begin to live our faith with commitment, with joy, with faith and confidence, let’s talk about our faith with others, pray more, read the Bible, put God first in our lives and we will be seated on the chief cornerstone that is Christ. When Christ founded the church he promised to Peter, one of the first church leaders: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Mt 16:18)

God promises to care for and bless the church that is the gathering of believers (the communion of saints) who are seated in obedience to God’s word and action with faith and confidence. Amen.

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