25th Sunday after Pentecost: The Church Still Matters
Scripture: Ephesians 1:15-23
What we often perceive to be the case isn’t always the case.
For example, the image to the left is a bird’s eye view of the backyard of the parsonage in Adrian, where we lived for six years. From the picture, the backyard looks to be the typical flat lawn. But in reality, it significantly slopes downwardly toward the rear-left corner of the yard. In fact, the slope is so significant that the first few times I mowed the lawn with a riding mower I was honestly concerned it might tip over! But you wouldn’t know that by looking at this image.
When it comes to the perception of things, it’s been my observation that through the years there’s been a growing fascination with the apocalypse. And after a little bit of digging online, I found support for this idea based on what’s been coming out of Hollywood. According to Wikipedia, the first apocalyptic film ever made was in 1916. It was a Danish film entitled “The End of the World.” Between 1916 and 1949 (33 years), 4 apocalyptic films were made. By decades, here’s how it breaks down since then:
- 1950-1959: 11 apocalyptic films (including included the first film version of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds)
- 1960-1969: 24 films
- 1870-1979: 41 films
- 1980-1989: 47 films (including the first Terminator movie)
- 1900-1999: 40 films.
In the 2000s, this number shoots up:
- 2000-2009: 69 apocalyptic films
- 2010-2019: 118 apocalyptic films
Here’s the statistic I think is so telling about our current preoccupation with the collapse of civilization. In the first 83 years of making films about the collapse of civilization, there were 167 films made. But in the last 23 years alone, there have been 217 films made about the apocalypse.
So, what’s behind this significant rise in fascination with the idea of civilization falling apart or being destroyed? If you buy into the notion that art imitates life, then maybe it reflects an increase in anxiety within society at large about the overall stability of human life these days.
What you see here is a visual representation of the “Doomsday Clock .” It comes from an organization called The Science and Security Board, a select group of globally recognized leaders with a specific focus on nuclear risk, climate change, and disruptive technologies. Created in 1947, the Doomsday Clock is intended to show how close we are at any given point in time to the apocalypse, represented by midnight. This clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to global catastrophe caused by manmade technologies.
Based on what was happening in the world at various times, here’s how close we’ve been to midnight beginning in 1991:
- 1991: 17 minutes
- 1995: 14 minutes
- 1998: 9 minutes
- 2002: 7 minutes
- 2007: 5 minutes
- 2010: 6 minutes
- 2012: 5 minutes
- 2018: 2 minutes
- 2020-22: 100 seconds
Presently, we’re at 90 seconds to midnight, the closest to midnight we’ve ever been since the clock’s inception in 1947, including during the Cold War.
Is it any wonder so many films coming out of Hollywood are focused on the end of days? It seems that as a society, we’ve never felt we’re so close to annihilating ourselves as we feel today.
Do you suppose there’s any correlation between a general rise is societal anxiety about our future wellbeing and current day reporting about rise of the NONES ? (a relatively new term for those Americans who have no religious connection or identity.) It’s no secret that most churches are hemorrhaging members these days. A great majority of us are getting smaller and smaller with each passing year. Statistically, then, the proportion of unchurched people in our communities rises every year.
While it’s just a guess on my part, if we were to go out and interview these unchurched neighbors of ours, to the question, “How relevant is the church these days, either to your life or to society at large?” I suspect that many if not most of them might give a low score. My guess is that a growing number of people perceive the church to be increasingly irrelevant these days.
The question is, is that a valid and true perception? With the passing of another year, is the church becoming irrelevant? Or, worse, has it already become irrelevant in this world?
I will concede that it sometimes feels that it’s irrelevant. Which is why it’s imperative that we always keep in mind that feelings and perceptions are inherently subjective. Being subjective, they aren’t good indicators of what is in fact true. Contrary to the thinking of popular culture, feelings and opinions and personal perceptions are great ways to be led away from truth! Just because I feel that something is true or perceive something to be true doesn’t mean it is true. Always remember that.
Now, as we’ve already acknowledged, it’s definitely true that, presently, connections to a church or a religious body are down in America. We might also say that it’s true that many people are of the view that the church isn’t all that relevant. But the fact is, the church’s relevancy isn’t determined by what people outside of the church say. Or, for that matter, by what people inside the church say. Because the truth is, and always has been, the church’s relevancy is determined by what the Word of God says! So, I’d like you to listen closely to what Paul says about the position of the Church in the world.
In his letter to the Ephesian Christians, Paul prays for them. He writes, “I pray that the eyes of your heart will have enough light to see…what is the overwhelming greatness of God’s power that is working among us believers” (Eph. 1:18-19). Who constitutes “us believers”? The people, the church. According to Paul, God’s power is working in and through the church.
What kind of divine power is at work in the church? Verse 20 tells us what kind of power: “God’s power was at work in Christ when God raised him from the dead and sat him at God’s right side in the heavens.” The power at work in and through the church is the same power that brought about both the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus Christ. This power is what returned the human Jesus to his place of divine and eternal glory, where today he is “far above every ruler and authority and power and angelic power, any power that might be named not only now but in the future” (v. 21).
Here’s the bottom line: The church in the world is fully Jesus Christ!
And what exactly resulted from Jesus returning to his place of eternal glory? Verse 22 tells us: “God put everything under his feet and made him head of everything in the church, which is his body.” Jesus was made the head of the church, which is what in this world? His body. The church is the very body of Jesus Christ on earth. Jesus is the head and we, the church, comprise his body—his hands, feet, arms, legs, heart, etc.
And what’s the place of the church—Jesus’s body—in the world today? Verse 23 tells us: “His body, the church, is the fullness of Christ, who fills everything in every way.” The term, “the fullness of,” is Bible-speak for the quality of being the totality of something. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the church—you and me and all Christians together—exhibit every attribute of Jesus Christ: his character, his perfection, his holiness, his power, his love, his peace, his influence, his joy, etc.
Here’s the bottom line: The church in the world is fully Jesus Christ!
I want you to hear this truth…and let it sink in.
Is there any other organization, government, corporation, any human entity in all the world that can claim to be the fullness of Christ? Absolutely not! Only the church can. But know that it’s not a claim we’re making of or for ourselves. It’s God’s declaration about us made through his servant, Paul.
What is God’s ultimate plan? Is it not the full redemption of all of creation? From the moment sin entered the picture through our willful disobedience, God set forth a plan to return creation to its original state of righteousness. That’s God’s plan. Everything he does in the world is designed to move creation in that direction. And there’s only one entity in all the world that God is working through to achieve this plan. One guess as to who that entity is…. The church.
Now, there’s another reality at work in regard to the church in the world: it’s comprised of broken people. And since it’s broken people who are the one’s doing the work, that means the church itself is broken to a degree. We’re not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. As we all know, our history attests to this sad and terrible fact. The recent division in our denomination attests to this fact. But that doesn’t disqualify the church from being Gods chosen instrument through whom he’s accomplishing his plan and purpose. God is so great and wonderful and powerful that in spite of our brokenness and sins, he still manages to use us to draw people to himself. He still glorifies himself through us…often in spite of us!
In the Men’s Bible study, we’ve been slowly working our way through the Gospel of John. As of lately, we’ve been reading John’s version of the Last Supper. Yesterday, we read the part of chapter 16 where Jesus contrasts two types of joy. The joy that the world offers is temporary in nature; it comes and goes based on life’s circumstances. But the joy he offers is soul-deep and isn’t contingent upon life’s circumstances. It’s the kind of joy that many of us know from personal experience. It’s the deep joy we feel even when we’re grieving. It’s a joy which Jesus says lasts forever. In truth, it’s a joy that can’t be taken from us.
Friends, there are lots of people all around us who only know the joy and happiness offered by the world. The problem is, when life gets hard—and it does—it’s easy to lose that joy. It’s easy for worry and anxiety to take control. But we, the church, have a message of hope, don’t we? It’s a message for any and all who will listen. Our message is that Jesus Christ has overcome the ways of the world. And because he’s overcome the world, his power to live a life of deep joy and hope and peace will be poured into anyone who willingly receives him.
So, the truth is, the church is more relevant today than it’s been in a long time. Our message of hope is one that many are desperate to hear. Our message that they’re dearly loved by the One who will never stop loving them is one that many are wanting to hear. But more than that, our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ and helping them to grow and mature in faith – and this includes us as well – is, bar none, the most important work in all the world. Of all the work that’s done in the world, making disciples of Christ is the one thing Jesus specifically called the church to do. And this work never—never—stops being relevant and important.
Let it be known that despite what others may say, and despite what we may sometimes think, the church still matters!