Call to Worship; Colossians 3:10-15
10 You have started living a new life. Your knowledge of how that life should have the Creator’s likeness is being made new. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew. There is no difference between those who are circumcised and those who are not. There is no rude outsider, or even a Scythian. There is no slave or free person. But Christ is everything. And he is in everything.
12 You are God’s chosen people. You are holy and dearly loved. So put on tender mercy and kindness as if they were your clothes. Don’t be proud. Be gentle and patient. 13 Put up with one another. Forgive one another if you are holding something against someone. Forgive, just as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these good things put on love. Love holds them all together perfectly as if they were one.
15 Let the peace that Christ gives rule in your hearts. As parts of one body, you were appointed to live in peace. And be thankful.
Tithe and Offering Prayer; Father, creator of all that exists, all that is good and wholesome. This morning Lord we pray to accept us, as we offer our very selves as living sacrifices, as we strive to be of service to you in a dark and hurting world. Teach us Father to love our neighbors, and to be a force of good as your Kingdom advances. Amen!
Scripture Reading: Philippians 4:1–7
Remain Strong in the Lord
4 My brothers and sisters, in this way remain strong in the Lord. I love you and long for you. Dear friends, you are my joy and my crown.
2 Here is what I’m asking Euodia and Syntyche to do. I’m asking them to work together in the Lord. That’s because they both belong to the Lord. 3 My true companion, here is what I ask you to do. Help these women, because they have served at my side. They have worked with me to spread the good news. So have Clement and the rest of those who have worked together with me. Their names are all written in the book of life.
4 Always be joyful because you belong to the Lord. I will say it again. Be joyful! 5 Let everyone know how gentle you are. The Lord is coming soon. 6 Don’t worry about anything. No matter what happens, tell God about everything. Ask and pray, and give thanks to him. 7 Then God’s peace will watch over your hearts and your minds. He will do this because you belong to Christ Jesus. God’s peace can never be completely understood.
Message: “Hallmarks of a Church”
Today we continue to look at the things that make us part of the family of God. The things that make our little congregation a viable, living church in the 21st century.
As I begin this message, I am reminded that even though it feels like we are the first ones to ever experience the things we are going through. After all, we are attempting to worship God through a pandemic that is keeping us from each other on Sunday mornings. Indeed, even though it seems like we are all alone in our trials of life, we are really carrying on in the traditions that were begun in those first century churches that were started by the Apostles, and especially, Paul.
Those first century churches were isolated from each other distance wise. They were outsiders that were considered atheist because they didn’t worship the pagan gods of the individual cities throughout the ancient Roman world. They also refused to worship Cesar. As a result, they were harassed and persecuted for their beliefs in Christ.
As the early Christians searched for greater meaning in their faithwalk, they were instructed through these challenges by Paul. These instructions became what we now understand today as the New Testament epistles or letters to the churches. (Philippians and Colossians as an example) The lessons provided and their use by the early church remain as examples for us to follow today.
Just as the first century Christian Church faced the challenges of how to live in a community together as a family in God, they also mutually supported each other spiritually and grew together in their faithwalks with the Lord, in spite of persecution and isolation. Today, our little church family along with every other congregation that is or ever has been dedicated to a closer walk in Him, must face those same challenges just as in every generation.
For me, that means not stereotyping those early Christians as ancient or archaic, somehow not sophisticated in their walk in the Lord. It is so easy sometimes to categorize people or the times into easy to find baskets or buckets of memories to store in our minds. It makes recall easier, but can be dangerous in glossing over real people and events by typecasting.
It is indeed strange how we often stereotype, characterize, and categorize people, even when we are not even trying as if we were on autopilot, or sleepwalking. There are all kinds of titles that we use for others in order to categorize people in the human computers called the mind. We call people elite, country or urban, blue coller, whitecoller, or sophisticated, educated, and distinctive because of some observable characteristic.
When I was in high school during the 1970s in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, we had Jocks (kids into athletics), and freaks (kids into counter cultural activities), in either case these kids tended to not have to work for the things they desired in life. Then there were the people I was relegated to who just didn’t fit in (thankfully). We were well off enough to live in a good community, but still needed to work for the things we wanted in life, or activities after school. Things like a car, or going out with friends, or college for that matter. Instead of being known as Freaks or Jocks, we decided to call ourselves Frocks (those who didn’t care to fit with the narrow structures of high school society). It was an inside joke that worked for us. This happens throughout American society, where you label people to fit your classifications.
But how would you go about characterizing Christians? They may be liberal, conservative, rural or urban, followers, renegades, educated or uneducated, or a little of all the above. The outward marks that we often use to characterize people fail us. The real marks of a Christian depend on definite character traits.
In the beginning verses of the final chapter of Philippians, Paul gives some characteristics of Christians. Here are four general areas that I would like to look at with you as we talk about what makes us a church.
- Mercy and kindness (Love) (vv. 1–3).
- Others must see Joy as our hallmark (v. 4).
- People must see our Gentleness (v. 5).
- We must offer the Peace of the Lord (vv. 6–7).
As always, this list is only a beginning. It remains for you to build on this list, improve it as you build your beautiful lives with the Lord. But, starting with Paul’s is a great foundation to build on.
Being the Church Means Caring for Others (vv. 1–3).
Our love, must be is an inclusive love: In ancient Greece there were 4-7 basic kinds of love expressed in society. Here are a few examples:
- Familial / Philios Love; the kind of love you have for a person you are related to or a close friend.
- Eros; romantic love. Enough said.
- Storge; Parental love, or the kind you are charged with, like maybe a coach or teacher.
- Agape; The highest form of love that is spoken about in 1 Corinthians 13 (the love chapter of the Bible, by Jesus in Matthew 22:37-40, and by our examples today from Paul in his letters to the Colossians and Philippians, or). Selfless, love that puts others before self not for selfish reasons but because it’s the right thing to do.
With Mercy and kindness, good things follow that Agape kind of love that Paul is writing about. Additionally, the love Paul expressed for his fellow Christians in Philippi included everyone. People like you and me. People like Euodias (someone who was always fighting with others) as well as the helpful friend, and true companion, Clement in verses 2-3 from our reading in Philippians today.
Unfortunately, a lot of the time we are selective in our love. We love only those people who seem lovable or who love us in return. Case in point, for many people it is easier to connect to the animals being mistreated in a Humane Society / PETA message over a child / people suffering in a UNICEF commercial. Why is that? Perhaps the puppy is more defenseless. (By the way, this was just a cheap trick to use the word puppy in this message.)
Well, God is not like that. (Thank God!) He loves us in spite of us, even when we do not deserve to be loved. (Especially me, but there’s not time to go into detail since this is a message you are reading and not a three-week revival!)
The lesson from this; If we are to love like God, we must let our love reach out to everyone, like God.
Our love for others must be a concerned type of love: Love always expresses concern for the one who is loved. From our reading, Paul called these people his “joy” and “crown.” He was concerned about them even though he was separated from them.
In spite of their isolation they fulfilled each other. Kind of like you and I right now in the middle of this contagion. Regardless of our separation, we still complete each other as a family in God. And just like Paul, we must be in the business of praying for each other. That is what concern for others is all about, praying for someone else’s best interest in God’s plan. (Not that our will be done, but God’s plan be accomplished!)
Case in point again. There is a Rabi I often listen to, and respect, and who I agree with on many things. I also disagree on many things obviously, such the Lord Jesus Christ, and intercessory prayer (praying for others). The Rabi’s name is unimportant for this discussion, but my example is essential for gleaning what is great about a relationship in Him, our Sovereign Lord.
The Rabi’s contention is that if you are praying for God to help you or someone else that you care about, you are asking God to favor you or the person you care about over other people.
This is not the case. If you are, you have lost the point of prayer and the teaching of our Lord all together. (God is not a good luck charm, and luck really should be relegated for rabbits!) In fact, when we pray for help from the Lord, or for others we are concerned for, we are led to pray for the following things:
- God’s will be done.
- That we are in harmony and in step with the Lord. (Not our selfish desires)
- We are now ready to pray with expectation because we are in step with the Lord.
- Additionally, what seems like unanswered prayer to other, may in fact be clouded with answers from God. Sometimes, we need to slowdown, shut up, and listen to God, because prayer also means listening to your God.
- We trust in Him and in His plan, therefore we are not caught up doing verbal gymnastics on faith.
- We believe in the miracles that God affords into our lives and believing, results in seeing the good He does.
- We are ready to own the miracles that God is sending our way, all of the time!
Finally, God is big enough, great enough, and majestic enough, to be involved in, care for, open to, and the provider of, your very salvation!
Others Must See Joy as Our Hallmark (v. 4).
Joy must be a hallmark of others perception of who we are as a family in God, and joy is a sure mark of any Christian who is in relationship with the Lord!
- It must be genuine joy that exudes from every pour of our being. You and I and all of humanity have been offered an eternity of blessedness with the Lord, and we actually know about it. Why wouldn’t we have deep joy about the future. A future that Transends all of the challenges of today.
- It is a conscious / continuous / incessant joy that people must see in us. Paul said that Christians are to rejoice in the Lord always, not just in good times, but also in bad. This isn’t just acting good on a Sunday, but people see you the same way on a Tuesday.
- It is an independent This joy is “in the Lord,” which means that it is independent of what I tell you or what others say you need to be like, it is outside of life’s circumstances or poverty or loss. When joy is “in the Lord,” it can be experienced and expressed even when there does not appear to be much reason for joy.
- It is a unified joy that people must see from our congregation. A family that knows how to live with the differences of each other in a healthy manner with gentleness and kindness.
People Must see real Gentleness from Us (v. 5).
Gentleness marks the person who is willing to give up something that could rightfully be considered his or hers. Such people know when to use mercy.
Just as a side comment, rightfully belonging can only be applied in a worldly sense, due to the fact that rightfully everything belongs to the one who made this stuff. Every molecule is in ownership of the creator of all, and we are permitted to borrow, lease, and use all the things entrusted in our care. Like my/God’s house, my/God’s car, and everything else. (I would have said cell phone, but I remain one of the few free people left in this church! Phone free) I need to keep this in mind when I start to go down that self-righteous path of fairness. If things were fair, I would be putting the Lord first all the time, and not carry grudges for those I think are not doing the same. Not my call.
Why? Because the Lord is at hand. Everything we Christians do, should be with the understanding that the Lord is present with them. Seeking to live out Christ’s life on this earth, we must act with gentleness toward others. And who are those others. Start with anyone you would rather not be around and then you can grow the list from there. If they are in your life, there is a reason God placed them there, and you can’t pick your neighbors.
Oh, and gentleness is not weakness, since putting others before yourself goes contrary to what the world has been trying to manipulate in you from your birth. When we put others before ourselves, we are actually reflecting the transformation that take place when we invite the Lord into our lives.
We must offer the Peace of The Lord (vv. 6–7).
The peace that we have in Jesus Christ is expressed very forcefully as in these two verses. Whatever the circumstances, we the Christian must not be crippled by anxiety, fear of the unknown, or a worry of not being accepted.
Every bad situation can be met with prayer and praise. And where prayer and praise exist, there is the promise that the peace of God can and will keep the hearts and minds of Christians in step with the Prince of Peace.
Additionally, no one need even know you are praying when you are living in a prayerful existence in the Lord. This is not walking around like a Pollyanna, or a robotauton, unhuman like. No. A real existence in the Lord, a real life in faith, reflects passion, challenge, excitement, and real joy. It’s amazing how alive you can feel when you are living for other people in a healthy way! And yes, sometime we even miss the mark. Sinning, unfortunately is a fact that we must contend with, which is why we go to church when we can, to work on our faithwalk together. To learn from each other, serve with each other, and grow in the Lord with each other. We don’t go to worship God because we are better that others, we go because we understand our deep faults of depravity.
For many of us, we are finally alive instead of self-medicating with; alcohol, food, nicotine, TV, hiking, socializing, texting, and the Gym. Being alive allows us to offer to others what God has freely given us.
There is a term used in verse 7, “guard” it’s a military term. God’s peace will stand guard over Christians. It is my hope and prayer that you feel the good effects of the Lord’s peace this very moment!
What are the “Hallmarks of a Church”? How can you tell who the Christians are? Look for the marks we have discussed today. My hope would be for you to look into a mirror as you look to others as a way of gauging how you are doing in this walk of ours. Not to be discourages, but to keep on course, knowing we all need growth in the one who gives life.
I am reminded of our call to Worship for this message from Paul letter to the early Christian church of the Colossians, in a pagan time, when people who wanted to worship God were distracted by all the things life has to throw our way. Isolation, fear, other people and their different ways of living, and our owns weaknesses of day to day temptations from life. Paul teaches in chapter 3: verse 12;
12 You are God’s chosen people. You are holy and dearly loved. So put on tender mercy and kindness as if they were your clothes. Don’t be proud. Be gentle and patient.
Just when you begin to despair and loose hope in this time of strangeness, I hope you remember these words of Paul. They are so important; I will repeat them for a Benediction:
12 You are God’s chosen people. You are holy and dearly loved. So put on tender mercy and kindness as if they were your clothes. Don’t be proud. Be gentle and patient. Amen!
PS; I will be on the church’s front side on 25th street, the “Bishop’s Porch” Sunday, 10:00am -1pm, available to take prayer concerns or to just say hello without getting too close. This way we can still see each other without endangering the community that we so love. Now may the Lord bless and keep all of you in His warm embrace. Amen again!