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Good morning, my name is Gary and we’re so glad you’re here with us online as we go into the Word together. A big welcome if you’re joining us for the first time whether you are live right now or watching this sometime in the week ahead – we’re so glad you’re with us.
If you are joining us this morning live, one big benefit is that we can collectively come together to contribute to this sermon using menti.com. So if you have a second device or on your computer at home, you can open your browser and go over to menti.com and enter today’s code “3391 0900” and you will be able to contribute anonymously to this sermon. In a time when we are not yet able to meet in person and fellowship together, this has been such a valuable tool to be able to hear your voice and learn together as we wrap up the series that we are in called “Ecclesia – what it means to be the church” and the final topic today on Ecclesia and mission.
I want to begin by asking us to reflect on 2 questions –
The first is when you think about the “church” and “mission”, how do you understand this? What comes to mind for you?
So please start contributing your thoughts on menti.com
Mission for me has been embedded in my Christian experience growing up. I went to a mission school. When I went to church with my parents, there were regular updates about mission trips to different countries. When I was a young adult, I was taught that my mission was to bring my friends to church so that they could hear the gospel and be saved.
Let’s see what you have contributed.
Many of us here today are a part of this church community, the Free Community Church.
My second question today is I would like to ask what you understand what is the mission of FCC?
So once again, please start entering your perspectives.
You know when we first started FCC 18 years ago, different people had different understanding of what FCC’s mission was supposed to be. For some, it was to be a church that would welcome gay people. For others, it was to safe space for gay people. Yet for some others, it was to be a learning space for progressive Christianity.
Let’s see what you have shared.
So what is the church’s mission and how do we understand FCC’s mission? Is there one mission or many missions? How does this connect to the mission of the early church that we read about in the New Testament?
I want to explore this today by taking us into the Bible and first talking about “beauty”.
You are probably thinking – this guy is bonkers. We are supposed to be talking about church and mission today and he wants to start by talking about beauty?
Stay with me.
Did you know that the Bible actually has a lot to say about the concept of beauty even though we don’t talk much about it from the pulpit? In fact beauty is mentioned in scripture over 1000 times – some 600 times in the Old Testament, about 400 times in the New Testament.
And before those in the beauty industry today get too excited, when it’s mentioned it has very often little to do with aesthetic, physical beauty. What it’s actually much more about are the description of what feels and what looks and what is beautiful. It’s actually to do with something far grander, bigger and objective than just our opinion whether something is beautiful or not.
In preparing for this series I looked at the majority of these references and I boiled them all down to two slides. This is beauty in the Old Testament. These kinds of descriptors – impressive, glorified, splendour, agreeable, wholeness, pleasant, goodness, perfection, glory.
The overarching emphasis in the Old Testament about beauty is the idea of the concept of splendour and majesty and wonder and glory. Beauty is not subjective asceticism. Beauty has something to say or is about something that is objective and in the world. And often when beauty is spoken about it is directed to the wonder, the glory, the majesty and the splendour of God.
In the New Testament a similar theme continues. And so we see agreeable, radiant, glory, honour, structure, sublime, appropriate, lovely, fine. The idea here is these descriptors are about things as they should be.
In other words the concept of beauty in scripture it’s not about how you feel about looking at something. The concept of beauty is whether something is as it was originally created and designed to be.
If it is then there is beauty in it because it represents something of the way God had always intended for it.
Beauty in scripture is a lot less to do with this idea of physical ascetic-ness and so much more to do with
the concept of goodness.
The Bible would say that “beauty” points us to the goodness and the orderness and the shalom and the peace of God.
And here I would to invite us to explore the biblical story beginning with the creation story with new eyes.
Genesis 1 and 2 is a story of beauty. We see right at the beginning of Genesis 1 before the world was formed there’s this darkness, this formlessness, this void. The Hebrew word used here is “tohu wa-bohu” which literally translates as “topsy turvy”. It was in chaos.
But we’re told that the Holy Spirit is hovering over the void, the disorder waiting to bring it into action.
God speaks and in that speech the Holy Spirit moves and out of chaos comes order and God creates and forms and shapes and at the end of the first day God declares something over what God has made – God declares it is “good”.
Now when God says it is “good” at the end of a day of creation God is not making a moral, ethical statement. God is not saying this is morally good. No what God is saying is there was chaos, formlessness, darkness, void and now there’s light and land and water and animals and birds and trees and life. It’s just as I designed it to be. This, is good.
The word “good” here is actually translated in Hebrew as “beauty”. This is God saying this is beautiful. God is saying this is the way I intended it to be. It was chaotic then, and now it’s ordered. There wasn’t life then and now there’s life and relationship in it.
This is why at the end of the sixth day the narrative says God creates the pinnacle of God’s creation – humanity, you and me. And at the end of that day, God doesn’t say it’s good; God declares it is “very good”.
There’s an extra emphasis of beauty in humanity and you might ask yourself why? And it’s because all of us, everyone of us have been made in the divine image of God – “imago dei”. You and I and every person bear the reflection, the likeness, the image of the divine.
What the Bible says in Genesis 1 and 2 is not only has God created a beautiful world, God has created a very beautiful humanity.
If you are near someone, please go and tell them – “you are very beautiful”. If you are not near someone, would you remind someone else in the YouTube chat window – “you are all very beautiful”.
The creation story is fundamentally about God establishing the order between all of creation – humanity and God, humanity and themselves, humanity and one another, humanity and creation. And God calls this beautiful, good, whole, the way it was intended, shalom.
(Chart of 4 axis of shalom)
Then God tells humanity to do something and I am going to first read it from the NRSV which we are more familiar with.
Gen 1:28 (NRSV)
28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
God says to humanity: I want you to go now and be fruitful and multiply, subdue the earth, and have dominion over all living things.
Now I want to stop us here to talk about two words – subdue and dominion. In the way we understand this in today’s context in English, these words have a military root to mean to control, to dominate.
But here the root word for “subdue” in Hebrew is “kabash” which is better understood as to cultivate or work to bring something to order, and the phrase to have “dominion” or “radah” in Hebrew is better understood to responsibly manage or steward. This is radically different from our usual understanding of exploiting and dominating creation for our own gain. In translations like the Inclusive Bible they have actually changed these words to more accurately reflect the correct interpretation.
So God is saying – all of creation I want humanity to multiply, fill the earth and you have the responsibility to cultivate and manage for it in the same pattern as you have seen me. You’ve seen me take nothingness and chaos and bring it into order and beauty – the way it was intended to be.
Now go and look after that creation, as my image bearers, as my representatives to work and care for the order of the way things were intended.
I want you to know this – right at the fabric of what it means for each one of us be human is to recognize that we are divine representatives given the responsibility to be on mission – to participate in taking things that are topsy turvy and messy and void and bringing it into a place of order and goodness and shalom and peace.
And when we as humans participate in this work, we follow in the same mission that God is on to create beauty all around us – the way things are intended to be.
Which is a real problem because in Genesis 3 we have the story of humanity being given the great task of working or cultivating the world into more and more beauty and goodness and what do we do?
Through our own choices we take order and we move it back into chaos.
We undo and reverse what God was doing in Genesis 1 and 2. Humanity takes over what was beautiful and right and good and shalom between God and humanity, between humanity and between humanity and creation and takes it back into a place of disarray and chaos.
In Christianity, we usually know of this as the “fall”. But the fall is goes much deeper than the idea that God cannot be with humanity now that Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the fruit from the tree of good and evil.
Can we see the “fall” with a new, even more important lens?
From Adam and Eve losing their identity and purpose and go into hiding from God, and God calls out to them “Where are you?”.
And the falling apart between humankind and humankind, when God asked Cain, “where is your brother?”
And the falling apart humankind and creation – instead of the stewards of creation we were created to be, as the charge was given in Gen 2:15 where humanity was put in creation to “work it and take care of it” we see the beginning of toil and exploitation of the earth instead to extract its resources.
What was started in the creation story in Genesis is really played out throughout the rest of the entire Bible narrative of God engaging with humanity to redeem, reorder, and restore beauty – God’s original intent for creation – shalom.
Can we see the entirety of scripture through this lens?
From Deut we see the giving of the law to the Israelites to live differently – to love God and their neighbours with their whole hearts.
To the raising up of prophets reminding Israel’s call to live differently from others – to be called out, to be set apart, to come together and to live out God’s mission.
To Jesus’ life and His mission to break in God’s kingdom, or kin-dom, as exemplified right from the start of His ministry in Luk 4 to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
And even in Jesus’ death and resurrection He shows us what living towards “the kingdom of God” or shalom looked like and the depth, width, height, length of God’s love for humanity.
To the call of the first disciples to go and make disciples or committed followers of this mission of all nations, beginning first in their community in Jerusalem, then into Judea, Samaria and then everywhere and to everyone.
Matthew 28:19-20a (NRSV)
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.
8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Until we get to Revelation where the ultimate fulfilment of Shalom – a new heaven and earth and the restoration of all relationship with God, with one another and with creation.
The Bible is not just God’s story, it also reveals God’s why – God’s purpose – God’s mission, not just in Genesis but the entire Bible narrative to create beauty, to restore shalom.
And that is the same call for everyone to that same mission from Genesis, through to Israel in the Old Testament, to the lives of the first disciples following Christ, to the gathering of the first ecclesia or church in Acts – the coming together of those are called out to live this out.
And so to be connected with God’s mission is what it means to be the church, and everything the church does is to fulfill that mission.
Eph 1:22-23 (The Message)
At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.
So the mission of the church is to bring Jesus’ mission to life, and the mission of Jesus’ is to bear witness to this co-mission that all of humanity is called out to from the beginning of creation to participate with God to witness, be a foretaste (or model) and be instruments as God’s image bearers and the hands and feet of Christ to restore beauty, to move toward shalom – the original intent of the way things ought to be.
So what does this mean for you and me?
1/ What it means to be the church needs to change from that a place we go to a fellowship of diverse relationships
Our mission is fundamentally about the restoration of relationships – the relationship between us and ourselves, us and God, us and others and us and creation. Because mission is fundamentally relational in nature, it is about individual participation in relationship with others or this idea of.
“The church is Christ’s body…”
In the letter to the church in Corinth, Paul lays this out using the analogy of the body –
1 Cor 12:14-22
14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.
A body has different parts coming together. Some parts don’t look like the other parts and don’t work like other parts, but all parts are important. That’s why diversity is such a critical part of being the body of Christ – those that are least like us have the most to teach us and to contribute not in spite of being different, but because of it.
Koinonia, or our participating in relationships with others is also where we have the opportunity to learn to relate to those who are not like us. We are all created with different personalities and we all have different experiences and learning to cultivate these different relationships is missional.
What is one relationship that comes to mind for you where there is not yet shalom? Where you can’t say it is beautiful, it is the way it is intended?
It could be within the church, or outside of the church. It could be someone in your ministry, in your family, a once close friendship, or even a colleague.
By being a steward and cultivating of these relationships, we are being the church and we are being missional. And I would ask us all to consider one thing we need to do with this relationship to restore it to greater beauty, greater goodness. What do we need to here? And for some of us, it could be taking the very first big step of forgiving the person for the hurt and brokenness they caused, or seeking help with that relationship.
2/ What it means to be the church needs to change from a common set of beliefs to a common way to live.
Missions has traditionally been associated with conversion from one set of beliefs to another. To get as many people into the club so that once you die as many people as possible will be assured of their place in heaven.
But here in Eph 1, we see that the focus of the role of the church is instead to represent God speaking and acting.
“In which God speaks and acts…”
There is a lot of scholarship on how the church should speak and act. One of the fathers of the contemporary missional church movement is Bishop Newbigin and he says that in all ways that the church speaks and acts, it is to be a sign, instrument and foretaste of the kingdom of God – the way things were intended to be.
At FCC, we have been working on understanding this of our community over the years and we believe that God speaks and acts when we come together as the body of Christ to speak and act. And that means that each one of us are called to speak and act.
You might ask, what do I say? What do I do? Who am I to speak for God?
I am going to draw from our membership materials here based on Henri Nouwen’s work of from Solitude to Community to Ministry to guide us.
Nouwen proposes first that we begin in a place of SOLITUDE where we build and restore our relationship with God – we need to know who we are in Christ – what it means to be imago dei, what it means to be God’s beloved. And then on to COMMUNITY where we build and restore our relationships with one another, before we get to MINISTRY where we build and restore outward relationships by serving others and the world.
And essentially discipleship is an ongoing commitment to this cycle of Solitude to Community to Ministry and back to Solitude.
Where is God calling you to in this season? (choose one)
It is so important to remember that all these 3 elements are connected to each other. We do not just build up our relationship with God and then stop there, we are called to be poured out to participate in community to restore beauty in the world.
I hope it encourages you that every stage is missional – every stage prepares you for the next. I hope this also encourages you that it is not about having the perfect aligned set of beliefs with everyone around you, but we can all work towards the same goal of restoring beauty around us.
1/ What it means to be the church needs to change from that a place we go to a fellowship of diverse relationships
2/ What it means to be the church needs to change from a common set of beliefs to a common way to live.
3/ What it means to be the church needs to change from routine to revelation.
At FCC we have many ministries, and if you are involved in ministry, it is much more like a marathon than a sprint. We often go through our activities and meetings week in week out, and it can get weary. Some of us get to a point where we are overwhelmed with just the needs around us and the workload, and others get disillusioned that we never get to a destination.
It is easy to miss the forest for the trees, and we focus on the activity without a revelation of the purpose or why we do it.
The last part of Eph 1:23 reminds us about our purpose as ecclesia –
“by which God fills everything with God’s presence.”
The role of the church is inherently missional – what we do together is connected with God’s mission. And like we were reminded in last week’s sermon, it is so important to remember the “why” of what we do.
I also want to encourage us that there are some things that we will do together in this church, and some things we will do as the church at large with others who may be even professing a different belief system.
Some of the things we understand that this fellowship, FCC is called to include creating environments for healing, welcoming, learning, liberating, thriving –
1. HEALING – an environment of healing where we can find support as we reconcile our faith and sexuality, as we move us into wholeness spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally.
2. WELCOMING – an environment where we are welcomed and we welcome and include others who may not be like us into our family.
3. LEARNING – an environment where we engage scripture, developing our understanding of who God is and what God calls us to do in the way we live out and lead our lives.
4. LIBERATING – an environment where we witness and act against injustice, oppression, stewarding and caring for the world we live in, being the hands and feet of Christ to bless and transform the world.
5. THIRIVING – an environment where we are equipping and enabling others to discover their calling and live out their passion, to be fully alive, to experience the abundant life that Christ came to bring.
I am not going to read this all out but this is from our membership materials and it is our commitment as this church to create.
But there are other areas that will be better brought to life with different individuals, different groups, different organizations.
So if you are frustrated that something you feel you are being called to in this season isn’t finding traction here at FCC, don’t give up. You are being missional when you take action and connect with others, whether they may be outside of church, in other groups, in your workplace, in government, or in other religions. And maybe to tackle systems of injustice, oppression and exploitation of creation isn’t what we are ready today within FCC. Know that God wants to fill everything with God’s presence and restore beauty.
Similarly, if you don’t feel that you are being called in this season to ministry, you are being missional when you are building your relationship with God, knowing who you are in God. Or when you are healing a misunderstanding with a family member or a family member. Know that God wants to fill everything with God’s presence and restore beauty.
If you remember back to what Pauline shared in her sermon about spiritual transformation. As we see differently and act differently, we bear witness not just to God restoring beauty in us, but through us for the glory of God, for the abundance of our own lives and for the sake of others. Being a transformed people is who we are designed to be.
That is our central mission as the people of God.
And maybe God is awakening us to pay attention, to move from routine to revelation and to see or do something differently in this season.
So my final question today is to ask you to share what is one thing God is prompting you to see or do differently in this season to restore beauty?
Maybe it is the way to see yourself differently, or God differently, or a difficult person or situation in your life differently. Maybe it is the way you show up at work, or even the work you do. Maybe it is how you serve others or a ministry to get involved in. Maybe it is the way you live your life and steward your resources and the resources of the planet.
As we close our time together, I pray that this message is one that is in season for each one of us.
You are beautiful, you are not only made in God’s image, you are not only God’s beloved, you are also God’s representative to restore beauty and shalom – the way things should be – in your relationship with God, with yourself, with others and with creation. And anytime you do that, you are living aligned to God’s mission.
Creating beauty and restoring shalom is God’s mission and the mission for all of humanity.
As we close is will you make a commitment to this mission? Are you willing to be set apart, to be called out, to participate in community with others to join in God’s mission of creating beauty and restoring shalom?
For some of us, that maybe a struggle. Some of us may feel like we can’t in this season, we have to focus on our work and making ends meet. Some of us may feel like we don’t have any gifts or talents to offer. Some of us may feel tired and weary from the journey.
I want to close our time by encouraging you with this passage of scripture that I was reminded of. It was from the time when the Israelites returned from their captivity in Babylon and they were tasked to rebuild the house of God and the prophet Haggai was raised to speak into the lives of the people because they were discouraged, they met a lot of opposition and they had abandoned the work.
“Be strong, all you people… and now get to work, for I am with you. My Spirit remains among you, just as I promised… So do not be afraid.”
This same promise that was given to the Israelites is the same promise that I believe God is speaking to you and to me today. The same spirit that was hovering over the void at creation, the same spirit that stayed with the Israelites rebuilding the temple, the same spirit that descended upon Jesus, the same spirit that was poured out onto the disciples, is the same spirit that is with you.
God is with you. God is saying, you go, and I will show. You commit to my mission, and I will anoint you for the journey and I will be with you. You are not in this alone.
The second promise comes from Haggai 2:6-9
6 For this is what the Lord says… In just a little while I will again shake the heavens and the earth, the oceans and the dry land. I will shake all the nations, and the treasures of all the nations will be brought to this Temple. I will fill this place with glory… The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord. The future glory of this Temple will be greater than its past glory, and in this place I will bring peace.
God here is speaking to the people of Israel about the rebuilding of the temple saying don’t worry about the resources, or how is going to happen. When you commit to the journey, you will see me move and you will see me bring the resources to you so that you can bring my mission to pass. You are God’s temple and you will glorify God and you will thrive and prosper and be blessed and have peace even as you bring peace.
Today will you take a moment to join me in a time of reflection.
Today God says to you – my beautiful beloved, will you join me in my mission to create beauty? To restore the way things I intended them? All I ask is for you to say yes to follow me, and I will anoint you, pour out my spirit on you, bless you, go before you, make a way for you and bring you peace. That is my promise, my child.
And all of God’s people say amen.
If that’s you would you join your hearts with me as the worship team leads is in this song of response.