Apostle's Creed - The Body of Christ
Girdwood Chapel Sermon, 9 July 2017
“The Body of Christ”
1 Corinthians 12: 23-27
Matthew 16: 18-19
1 Peter 2: 9-10
John 20: 21-22
2 Corinthians 3: 18
Hebrews 12: 1-2
My earliest memory of church is kind of a hodge podge of events. I can’t really place them on a timeline of their occurrence but would say the events happened approximately at the same time. The first thing that comes to mind is a painting. It was in my grandfather’s church and I can remember this picture of Jesus knocking at a door that was prominently hung behind the pulpit. I looked at the painting, wondering, why is Jesus knocking? Through the power of Google, I was able to find that painting and I can share it with you this morning. Some of you may recognize the painting from your own experience. My second memory, I will share with you is of the church we attended for most of my childhood. I remember when communion was served it was served in the multilayer gold trays. The ones that stack high on top of one another. I have no idea how many were in our congregation, but I will make the conservative estimate of a 5 year old that it was somewhere in the billions. The trays were stacked hundreds of feet and they were filled with enough bread and juice to feed everyone there. I was excited for snack time. But, as we walked up and I reached for the tasty treats, my dad looked down at me, and said, “not until you can tell me what they mean.” Saddened, dejected, and hungry I returned to my seat. This church stuff, was weird.
Today we have reached our statement of belief that as Christians we believe in “the Holy catholic church and the communion of saints.” Many people, apart from the Roman Catholic church do not like to include this sentence in their statement of faiths. I am pretty sure that my Grandmother coughed or had a nose itch every time the sentence was mentioned when they attended service in our Methodist congregation. After all, these seem to be statements that someone in a Protestant denomination might not want to include. Maybe that is because that over the years the words have lost their intended and traditional meaning. We have associated the words in a matter of difference rather than one of agreement; we have made them words of separation rather than words of cohesiveness. Allow me to explain.
First we need to look at the definitions and original meanings of some words of the statement we are saying. Let’s begin with the word, “Holy”. Sometime we have that immediate context for a word when we hear it. For me, it comes from Exodus 3: 5 when God tells Moses to remove his sandals for he is standing on “Holy” ground. In the Old Testament the word was written in Hebrew, “qa-dosh”. The meaning is “to be sacred”, to be “set apart”, or “of God”. The Greek form of the same word is “hagios” and it holds true to the Hebrew meanings, but also includes the meaning of “to be pure”.
Next, let’s take a look at the word “catholic”. To help me explain this I am going to use the same reference that Adam Hamilton uses in his text and that is Acts 9:31. In this verse there is a reference made to the “Church throughout all of Judea, Galilee, and Samaria”. The greek words to comprise the two words “throughout all” are “kata holos”. This is the root of the modern day word catholic, and it is associated with the meaning of “universal”. The catholic church is the one universal church of Jesus Christ. No denominations. No divisions. One church for one God.
One more word. The word “ekklesia” is the Greek often attributed to the word church in the New Testament. The english translation is to be “called out” or a “gathering of people called together”. The text of our scripture from Matthew this morning tells us, and Peter, that Christ is going to build “His church”. There is a specific word for this, which in greek is “kuriakon” which means belonging to the Lord. Through time and through different languages, this word became “kirsch” in German, and later “church” in English.
That sure is a lot of etymology for one day, right? What gives? I want you to see that the statement you make when you say that you believe in the Holy catholic church, is that you believe in the “universal gathering of all those who have given themselves to Jesus and now belong to him and are set apart by him to do His works in the world in which they live.” These people, making these statements, you and me. We belong to the “communion of saints”.
Saints and Sinners
That is right, we believe in the communion of saints because we are part of the communion of saints. In our modern way of thinking we only attribute the moniker of sainthood to those who have led a most extraordinary life dedicated to God, and are as humanly close to perfection through the embodiment of Jesus Christ in their own lives as we could possibly imagine. But, the word, are you ready for this, is the noun version of the Greek word “hagios” which, I am sure, you remember was the same word for holy. Thus to be referred to as a Saint is to be “set apart for God”. Which is something we are all in our Christian faith. We are brothers and sisters in the assembly of those set apart for God. We are sacred and extraordinary in our willful acceptance of the glory and salvation of Jesus Christ.
The statement that we make today of our belief in the holy catholic church and the communion of saints. It is not a statement of difference or of exclusion, it is a statement of unity. It is a statement that reveals despite all of the barriers and the differences that we raise in our human understanding and our human existence that the groundwork has been laid by Jesus Christ for His perfect and unified church to exist in the world. For despite all of the differences from denomination to denomination and all of the debate over the nuances of Scriptures, it is through the understanding that the foundation of the church, the universal church, is in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
Consider this, God is a complex being of unfathomable depth and unimaginable scope. Trying to visualize or consider God in practical terms causes us some aspects of fear and awe and wonder. Yet, this all powerful and complex being, was enclosed into human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. All for the purpose that we may know this God, who it was seemingly impossible for us to know. But, Jesus Christ had to die. Jesus Christ could not live perpetually in human form for He had to pay the price for our sins. Jesus had to conquer the barrier that our sins had placed between us and God, so that we may have access to heaven and to eternal life. When Jesus ascended into heaven, He was no longer able to reveal God in the flesh to the world. That is why He created the church. That is why the Holy Spirit was given to all of those who came to know and to believe in the Son of God and the redeemer of all. For now, the flesh of God and the body of Christ, is the communion of saints. The church is the body of Christ.
We are the Holy - the set apart for God, the sacred people; of the catholic - the universal, throughout all, neverending; church - assembly of those called out by Jesus to do His will and work in the world. Together we comprise, not a mere group of people, but we are the perfect body of Christ as we work together as Christ’s communion of Saints. All of this, that we see around us, the wood beams, the windows, the seats, this is the physical place of our meeting. This is where God’s work is to be coordinated and to set afoot. This is place where we are to come together so that we may go out stronger to make disciples of all nations.
We are not to come and to be fed. We are to go out and to feed. We are a coordinated body all with gifts and attributes given to us by God to serve God well while we walk this earth. We are communally set apart by God for trust and salvation to make this world more about God. To allow people to know Jesus and to be welcomed into our communion of Saints. But, this means that we are also individually Holy, individually set apart to serve God in miraculous and fantastic ways. That is what it means to belong to our assembly that is what it means to call yourself a Christian.
If you do not ask yourself each day, am I doing what God is calling me to do? If you do not consider, even for the briefest moment, why God has set you apart and how it is that you are to be a part of this living, breathing, body of Christ with the intent of living your faith to demonstrate to others the love of Christ. Then we, as a church, are failing.
The church, our assembly, is to hold one another accountable in our commitment but also to build one another up so each day we become stronger in faith and more perfect in our embodiment of Christ. We are to hold each other without judgment when we are hurting, we are to show love when loneliness sets in, we are to show forgiveness when forgiveness of the self seems impossible. We are to help the broken and the distraught to change their hearts and lives, even if those broken and distraught are already part of our body. Yes, that is a Bible verse. It is from Revelation 3 and it continues to read, for “I am standing at the door and knocking. If any hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to be with them…” We should prepare ourselves and all we meet to answer the door. That is who we are as the holy catholic church and the communion of saints.
We are the body of Christ. We should never forget the pain and the blood that was shed by Jesus Christ for us. Listen to the words as we prepare to take communion, as we marry the remembrance of Christ’s body to our becoming Christ’s body. We are the living sacrifice. Christ lives on us each and every day. My dad wanted me to understand that, and I hope that you will come to understand that too.
The church we were part of in Tennessee, had a motto. One of the pastor’s coined it one day during announcements when he was in a particularly good mood. It was a simple quote from Paul. Welcome to our church, “Where we build you up and don’t tear you down.” That is who we are, moving one another to perfection in our Christian life. Recovering from stumbles and prevailing in unity over individual failures. We are the Church. We are the Body of Christ.