“THE SIX GREAT ENDS OF THE CHURCH.”
2. The Shelter, Nurture and Spiritual Fellowship of the Children of God
We continue our series that takes a look at 6 historic statements of the purpose of the church that were first proposed at the beginning of the last century and have been a part of the Presbyterian Book of order ever since.
The Six Great Ends of the Church (From the Book of Order F-1.0304)
- The proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind
- The shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God
- The maintenance of divine worship
- The preservation of the truth
- The promotion of social righteousness
- The exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world
Today we are taking a look at the second one on the list. As with our previous session I'll be referencing a book edited by Rev. Joseph D. Small “Proclaiming the Great Ends of the Church” that contains a number of essays on each of the statements.
The shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God
The image for this second “Great End,” found on banners and in stained glass, celebrates the unity to which Christ calls us.
The Dove represents the Holy Spirit whose wings are tipped downward offering shelter for God's children.
The triangle of light (some suggest it is like a star... others like a communion cup with a crown) links the work of the Holy Spirit to the nurturing work of the people of God...who seek to build each other up in the faith.
The hands that reach up represent the multi-hued spiritual fellowship of children of God. Jesus commanded His disciples to go into all the world... and the church comprises people of all races who know find their identity in Him.
We saw last time that the only reason the church came into existence was because of the ministry of Jesus Christ. That the church has a unique purpose and responsibility to proclaim the message of God's amazing, saving, grace to the world, both through its words and its actions. That has always been the churches primary purpose. To lift up Jesus Christ to a needy and a lost world. To proclaim the redemption of the cross and the hope of the resurrection.
The world can be a harsh and a hard place. Gospel proclamation causes confrontation. The church needs to be a place where bruised hearts can be re-energized. The church is called to demonstrate in practical ways, through its ministries of care, that God can be trusted. The church has a call to model a new order in which ancient barriers are broken down and where diverse people can sit around a table together, knowing that they, and all who sit with them, are welcome.
Let us consider firstly those multi-hued hands and take a look at a reading from 2 Corinthians 5:14-20.
14 For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.
15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.
The first time I ever explored the possibility of being a minister here in the United States was with a congregation in Monroe, Louisiana. It probably wasn't a good sign that the first time I'd ventured into the deep south, it snowed. For a guy just getting off a plane from Wales in January... it really didn't feel that cold... but for those used to warmth, I guess it was a shock to the system.
I noticed that in the area of the hotel there were a lot of African American folks. Being an ignorant Brit, I wandered over to a local store (that in itself quite a challenge – as they seemed to have an aversion to sidewalks in that area of town) and thought I'd ask about the neighborhood. I had not seen a single pub in that area, and I am culturally conditioned to needing a beer, the logical place to go was the liquor store.
I asked the guys behind the counter if they were church folk. One said their aunt was a big church goer. I explained that I was in town because I was meeting with some folks who were looking for a new pastor, but I explained that I was trying to understand how everybody I'd met in the church was white, whilst a lot of folk in the town seemed … well... to be not white. Were racial problems a big issue in their town?
They laughed and explained that most of the time folks got a long pretty darn well. But Sunday mornings were one of the times when the legacy of segregation became most clear. For a couple of hours every Sunday morning, black folks went to black churches, Latino folk to Latino churches and white folk to white churches. I remember thinking how ironic it was, that the one institution in town that was supposed to be all about love and reconciliation, the church of Jesus Christ, was most divided on a Sunday morning!
Of course here in the Presbytery of Baltimore we are not afraid to embrace our diversity. Our Presbytery is a mix of congregations that simply tend to reflect the racial mix of the geographic neighborhoods they are in. Right?
Wrong. At a Presbytery event held on Martin Luther King day, in our small group discussions, Yvonne and I learned that there were African American congregations in Baltimore who felt intimidated by the Presbytery. As people of color, whose churches were not generally in the best economic areas, whose people had not always attained the best educational levels, and whose worship traditions differed from those usually experienced in corporate gatherings of the churches, they felt their voices were not always heard, sometimes not welcomed, and they hesitated or simply stayed away and chose not to participate in the gatherings of the Presbytery.
It doesn't have to be that way. There's an essay in the book titled “The Ministry of Reconciliation” by a Korean pastor Jin S. Kim. Jin S. Kim is pastor of “The Church of All Nations” in Minneapolis. Back in 2004 they were a predominantly Korean congregation. They felt called to be something more. Today they are 30 % Asian, 37% white, 22% black, 10% Latino with folks from 25 nations among their membership.
Part of their history includes historic Shiloh Bethany Presbyterian Church, founded in 1884, (the same year Presbyterian missionaries began their work in Korea). Shiloh was a predominantly white congregation. In 2005 they were facing tough times, saddled with a large building they could not maintain, they prayed God would once more fill their pews. Their prayers coincided with those of Rev. Kim's congregation who were looking for a place to worship. The Church of all Nations at first rented space from them, but as they talked together, they decided to merge... and in the process... the pews were filled once more.
Rev Kim in his essay is keen to stress that their actions were intentional. This didn't just happen. They sought, deliberately to go against the tide, and move beyond cultural expectations to become a community that fulfilled the vision of those multi-hued hands that represent the spiritual fellowship of children of God.
As you may know the PC(USA) has a “Book of Confessions” among it's guiding documents. The most recent document added to the collection is the Confession of Belhar. The Belhar confession arose from the struggles of the church in South Africa to battle apartheid
The confession clearly states, “We believe that Christ's work of reconciliation is made manifest in the Church as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another;...that this unity can be established only in freedom and not under constraint; that the variety of spiritual gifts, opportunities, backgrounds, convictions, as well as the various languages and cultures are by virtue of the reconciliation in Christ, opportunities for mutual service and enrichment within the one visible people of God.”
Kim's essay concludes “Reconciliation is a messy affair. Reconciliation is a costly affair. It is not a “technical rationality” but a “possible impossibility”. The ministry of reconciliation is God's mandate to the church so that the church may be a gift to the world.” The Church is called to be a shining light that model's the spiritual fellowship of ALL God's people. Hence the multi-hued hands. Another reading.... Mark 2:1-12.
Mark 2:1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, "Son, your sins are forgiven." 6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 "Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" 8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins." So he said to the man, 11 "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!" (NIV)
I'm associating this passage with the image of the Dove representing the Holy Spirit whose wings are tipped downward offering shelter for God's children.
Though our society is saturated with material things people are not happy and often suspect there is more to life than consuming. If you visit Barnes and Noble (or a similar store) and wander into the spirituality section you will discover a whole constellation of resources that attempt to satisfy our spiritual cravings. Everything from healing crystals to place under your pillow to complete life makeovers are on offer for our spiritual satisfaction.
How does the church fit into such a marketplace? In her essay “Starting at the Ends” Christine Chakoian presents the argument that the church is not meant to be a cafe or a venue for consumers, but a place of refuge and shelter. That “Am I getting what I want out of Church?” is the wrong question for us to ask. Not because our needs don't matter but because all of the programs and good causes in the world always fail to meet our deepest hunger. If we come to church like consumers in a store, we will often be disappointed. She writes (P35)...
“Instead, God invites us to come here expecting more... to come expecting a real relationship with God. To come, trusting that the Lord can and will feed our deepest hungers. To come expecting, as Isaiah declares, that “The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places.” To come and find within these walls nothing less than the 'shelter, nurture and spiritual fellowship of the children of God' ”
That seems to be what is happening in the story of the paralyzed man. Here is this poor guy, literally flattened by the physical toll on his body. Yet more than that, we discover that he needs to hear from Jesus the words “Your sins are forgiven.” Externally and internally he is desperate.
So are those who are trying to care for him. We don't know the relationship between the man and the stretcher bearers, but they are also desperate. One suspects this is not the first time they have sought help. So committed are they to the notion that Jesus is the One who could help that they find a way around the crowds and start vandalizing the roof of the house in order they can be in His presence.
Chakoian continues “ 'Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee' prayed St Augustine. When we are willing to let God's house become more than a cafe at which we come to graze – when we let it be -“our hearts true home” - then we will find rest for our souls.”
She talks of how much of our church life is mirrored in the story. Sometimes we are the carriers. Sometimes we are the one being carried. We reach out into our community. We have programs like “Our Daily Bread” and “Operation Christmas Child.” We try and carry others through when life has knocked them down. But we are also aware that we get knocked down and need each others help to get back up again. We both give and receive.
She concludes “We are hungry, all of us. And often we are lost. But God provides for us a place of healing, a place of belonging, a family of faith in which we discover who we really are, a shelter that welcomes us to find our way home. It is easy I suppose, to take this home, God's house, for granted. It is easy to find ourselves grazing on the programs of the church, to forget why we are here, to lose ourselves in committees and board meetings. It is easy to get distracted from building 'beloved community' where everyone who walks into our doors can feel the 'shelter, nurture and spiritual fellowship of the children of God'. “
There are two essays in the book in this section, “Treasure Seekers” by Jennifer Holz and “Treasure in our hearts” by Rodger Nishioka. In our visual the triangle of light links the work of the Holy Spirit to the nurturing work of the people of God...who seek to build each other up in the faith. I like the way the triangle is gold... like a treasure. That it resembles a golden cup with a golden crown. That it has the symbolism of light, from God, that nurtures and refreshes us.
A couple of Scripture passages are relevant here. Let's look at them both. Firstly Mathew 6:19-24 and Secondly Luke 2: 41-52
19 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22 "The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! 24 "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (Mat 6:19-24 NIV)
41 Every year Jesus' parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.
44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him.
46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you." 49 "Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them. 51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. (Luk 2:41-52 NIV)
The rich gifts that God bestows upon us through the Holy Spirit nurture our hearts. They truly are treasures from heaven.
Jennifer Holz speaks of how the biblical concept of the heart goes beyond the heart being the center of our affections or focus of our emotions, but is seen as the core of our spiritual life. The heart drives our life, forms our aspirations and moves us forward. So... to love God “with all our heart” is a huge commitment, way beyond just having warm fuzzy feelings about Jesus.
We are told that “We cannot serve both God and money.” Yet we live within in a culture of accumulation. We swallow the lie that we need the next thing or the latest thing or the new thing and when we get it we remain as spiritually hungry as we were before. One of the great gifts that can nurture us in church is being part of a tradition. The knowledge that there are ancient paths and tried ways of living that provide a deep foundation to a fulfilled life. Life is more than things. Life needs relationships and laughter and love!
The 'triangle of light' reminds us that this is the work of God upon our hearts. God works to change us. Our calling is to hear the Word and respond in faith. As we live out God's instruction, we begin to treasure the right things.
In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis writes “Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you (the heart), the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature.”
Holz concludes her reflections by telling us that “Seeking relationship with God our Father is a quiet, gentle, relational pursuit that is done in the secret places of our hearts, and done today without worrying about tomorrow. It's a day by day, moment by moment, heart shaping movement towards a God who has created us, loves us, knows us and longs to breathe life unto us.” (P43)
Rodger Nishioka reflects on how in the passage about finding her son Jesus in the temple, though initially exasperated and confused by His reply that His parents should have expected Him to be in “His Father's house”, the passage concludes with the statement in verse 51 “His mother treasured all these things in her heart,” as she watched Him grow in wisdom and stature over the years.
He points out that to shelter, nurture and provide spiritual fellowship for the children of God is “To Treasure.” That to treasure all the children of God is about engaging each other in conversation, sharing stories of faith, providing opportunities for spiritual growth and praying for and with each other.
He closes his essay be telling of how he asked his youth group to name adults in the congregation who had influenced their spiritual journey. He is rather surprised when one of them names a lady called Mrs. Shelton. A conversation ensues.
“You know, Ian, I was surprised that Mrs Shelton is one of your adults. Are you friends?” “Friends! Are you kidding?” he replied incredulously “Dude, she is a mean old lady!” I confessed that is exactly what I thought. But then Ian went on to explain that Mrs. Shelton taught his church school class when he was in third grade. She made them recite memory verses and scolded them when they messed up. But Ian explained that though she was mean, she always called him by name and stopped to talk to him. She also sent him a birthday card every year. I didn't know any of this. Ian said that while she seemed a little mean, he thought she really loved him (Plus he still remembers those bible verses).
That is what treasuring is all about. It is what sheltering and nurturing and spiritual fellowship is all bout. No doubt there are times when we are amazed, astounded and even overwhelmed by our children, our youth, our young adults, middle aged adults and older adults. The mother of our Lord teaches us that the best response is to treasure each other in our hearts so that all children of God know that the one who created them in God's own image, redeemed them through God's only Son, and sustains them through God's Holy Spirit, treasures them in God's own heart forever. May it be so!”
The Second Great End “The shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God”
We are called to reach out with multi hued hands that offer all people of all places the embrace of Christ's love.
We are called to seek to meet the spiritual hunger of our times, not with fast food, but through genuine encounter. To create an environment where we feel safe to ask questions that nurture our faith and bring us to wholeness. To be a community of healing and forgiveness.
We are called to embrace the notion that to shelter, nurture and provide spiritual fellowship for the children of God means “To Treasure” each other in our hearts.
Next Time... a third end... The maintenance of divine worship .