Better Together

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In fellowship together we can find peace.

Ephesians(2) (Part of the National Back To Church Sunday(3) series)
by Marc Webb(17) on September 15, 2019 (Sunday Morning(124))

Peace(4), Unity(5)

 

BETTER TOGETHER

This morning, we are participating and celebrating this Back to Church Sunday as part of a national movement. This is a great opportunity and we are excited to be joining with other parts of the body of Christ across the country to reflect on and reclaim the true nature of the church as a place and expression of love, peace, and hope for our friends, neighbors, communities, and world. As a church, we are the collective hands and feet of Christ, who reflect Him and do His work in the world as we grow in our relationships with Him and with each other. So whether you are new to Idaville Church or have been here all your lives or somewhere in between, we are better together.

This phrase, “Back to Church” got me to thinking about the reasons why people leave the church and don’t come back, maybe, for a month, a year, or even longer. So, of course, I googled it. Here are some of the reasons I found why people leave the church. One, they got out of the habit. They stopped going one Sunday and that one Sunday became two and then four and then a year later they are still not back in church. Two, they were hurt by someone or something that happened in the church and stopped going to church. Third, they never felt connected to others in the church. Four, some stop going to church because a favorite pastor left or retired. Five, sometimes young people stop going to church after high school. They go off to college and get out of the habit and stop going altogether. Finally, some people move away or get a new job with different hours and stop going to church.

Now I think it’s only fair to also tell you the reasons why people come back to church and maybe you can identify with one of these reasons. First, people come back to church because they were invited. That is the number one reason why people come back to church. Two, some people start going back to church because they’ve passed by a church and something stood out to them, maybe it’s the modern look of the building or the denomination. Three, some see the advertising on the church’s website or Facebook page and they decide to try that church out. Four, people get married, have kids and realize they want to bring their kids up in the church like they had been. Five, whatever causes them to stop going to church in the first place ends, like a job, and they go back to church. Lastly, the Holy Spirit draws them back to church.

Which brings me to my story of going back to church. When I was about 18 or 19, working on my Associates degree in Law Enforcement, and I started working part time as a security guard in two office high rise buildings. I worked on Friday and Saturday nights from 11 pm to 7 am and for the year I worked there, except for a couple of times, probably Christmas and Easter, I did not go to church. I used the excuse that having worked all night I was tired and needed to sleep. About the time that I finished my degree and had decided that I needed a full-time job I was given the opportunity to work for a family owned business. So I quit the part-time night security job and took the full-time job working Monday through Friday during the daylight hours and guess what? I went right back to church. The thing that I let keep me away from church ended and because my parents had instilled in me the priority of going to church, it made it a no-brainer to go back.

But I also fully believe that the Holy Spirit was calling me back to church. God had far reaching plans for me that started that day back in March 1986 when I decided to go back to church that still impacts my life today. The continuation of my story is that as soon as I went back to the church that I had grown up in all my life I met a person named Jackie who was from Pennsylvania. She had started to attend my home church and was in the same young adult Sunday school class I was. She had moved down from Pennsylvania to get a job and was living with a family who also attended my church. One Easter Sunday, as my family was out of the country, she invited me to her house for lunch. Her mother and sister were down from Pennsylvania and were going to be there as well. Maybe you have heard the story or can guess where this is going but the sister that I had lunch with that day was my now wife, Judy. I still marvel at how God orchestrated the seemingly random events of finishing my degree to quitting my part-time job to finding just the right daylight job to making the decision to go back to church to meeting Jackie to meeting my wife to getting married and moving to Pennsylvania to being led into ministry to now standing before you preaching a sermon. It was a God-thing. It is also a God-thing that all of you are here this morning as well. Whether this is your first day back in church in a while or you haven’t missed church in a long time, God has us all in this place for many reasons. One of those reasons is because we are better together than apart.

Now, I can’t promise that you will find a wife at church but you will find new friends and you can experience peace through the different relationships you make at church. You may not became a pastor or missionary but can find peace by being in ministry and serving God in the church. I can promise that if you come to church with the intent to grow spiritually and strive to be more like Christ, you will have peace in your life and you will find peace with God. Which brings me to our big idea this morning which is “in fellowship together we can find peace.”

But before we start to unpack this idea of being at peace in fellowship together let’s dedicate our time this morning to God with prayer. Let’s pray:

Father, we come before you this morning asking for your Holy Spirit to fill us so that as we hear your message today from your word, our faith will be increased. We ask that you would use your word which is living and active and sharper than any double edged sword to rightly divide us even to soul and spirit, joint and marrow. Use your word to expose the thoughts and the attitudes of our hearts. And use your word to give us practical next steps that we can use in our daily lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen

The theme for Back to Church Sunday is Together, and as I thought about togetherness and what it means for us as followers of Jesus, I thought of Legos. Who could have imagined that these pieces of plastic would be worth billions of dollars? The Danish toy company that began in the 1930s has built a Lego empire around the building bricks that they introduced in the 1950s. Individually, Legos are just cheap pieces of plastic—but despite their basic design, the magic is in the way they fit together. Legos are designed to be together—that’s what those little raised circles are for, to attach each brick to another. And together these plastic pieces can be made into fantastic creations. So if you didn’t know Pastor Stuart collects Legos. Here are some pictures of the Lego structures he has in his office.

Full-scale models of castles, cars, airplanes, spaceships have all been built from Legos. If you’ve ever been to one of the LEGOLAND theme parks, you’ve been treated to scaled replicas of the world’s most famous buildings and landmarks. It seems that Legos can be put together to create almost anything. They are just pieces of plastic, but together they create something much bigger and better than the sum of their parts.

The church is like Legos, a collection of individuals of various sizes, shapes, and colors. Individually, we may be kind of a big jumble at a glance, but when we come together the way God intended, we form the Church, which is a creation much greater than the individual members. God takes our chaos and, by His design, makes something spectacular and gives us purpose. In real life, this concept is powerful and life changing. Christ invites us to be together with Himself and together with one another. Together we are on a journey of transformation and “in fellowship together we can find peace.”

This morning we are going to be looking in the Book of Ephesians, chapter 2, verses 17-22. Ephesians was written by Paul while he was in prison in Rome. He wrote this letter to a group of believers in the city of Ephesus about 30 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The theme of this letter is “togetherness” and Paul comes back to it again and again. Like all of the early church, the believers in Ephesus got their information in a very communal way. The people receiving this letter did so by gathering together and listening to it being read. When it came to processing and understanding what the letter meant, the people of Ephesus did so—together. Together they listened and learned and shared and discussed and wrestled through the challenges of living out their faith in Christ in the midst of a culture that operated in a vastly different way. So we will be following their lead together in wrestling with the ways Christ invites us to live both together with Him and together with one another and by doing so have peace.

Paul had previously spent time in Ephesus as a missionary, so he knew the culture and the challenges this group of believers faced. He knew that they were a group of people surrounded and challenged by other ideas, beliefs, and practices. The church at Ephesus needed the strength of unity to grow and survive, not unlike our church today.

Paul wrote this letter to encourage and instruct the young church in how to have peace. Our world seeks peace in so many different ways. We seek peace among nations, peace in our cities, peace in our families, peace in our churches, and peace in our own hearts and minds. As we explore the concept that “in fellowship together we can find peace”, let’s look at Ephesians 2:17-22. This is what God’s Word says: “[Christ] came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

According to this passage there are three ways we can have peace. The first way we can have peace is in unity with other believers. Do you ever find yourself, or those you know, searching for a place to belong? Are you searching for a way to be part of something bigger than yourself? Where can you experience that sense of belonging? Paul says that the body of Christ—the church—is our place of belonging, rooted in the restoration and unity brought by Jesus.

Paul takes us directly into the central issue of togetherness, which is unity and foundational to this unity is grace. Nobody can claim a higher position or status, because all believers are of the same status. We are all sinners in need of grace. Ephesians 2:8-9 says “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” When we recognize that it is grace that has saved us, it forces us to open our arms and hearts to all in gratitude. We have all been there. We have all experienced the same need. We have all been offered the same gift. Grace does not allow exclusion, instead, it brings us together in unity.

Paul goes on to explain how Christ’s purpose was to unify the two major divisions of people—Jews and Gentiles. By including these two groups, Paul is including everyone. In chapter 2, verse 14, Paul says, “For he himself (talking about Jesus) is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” By coming to save the world—all people of the world—Jesus broke down the deepest divisions of eternity between God and man, and the deepest divisions of humanity between God’s covenant people and others. In doing away with that separation, He brought peace, real, lasting, ultimate peace. Obviously, that peace will not be completely realized until Christ returns to complete God’s ultimate restoration. But through Jesus’ death and resurrection, the door to peace is open to all of us. And it opens up unity as a definitive characteristic of God’s people.

Paul is clear that we find peace in unity, but that does not mean in uniformity or sameness. The church at Ephesus was full of diversity, and the goal was not to change this. The goal was unity in the midst of those differences. It’s the same goal for the church today and the same goal for us here at Idaville. We are all different. We are all different ages and we all have different personalities. We all have different thoughts of how things should be done in the church but we all love God and his son, Jesus. God doesn’t want us to be all the same, but he does command us to love one another and in doing so we can be unified by the gospel of Jesus Christ. We can be unified together as we fulfill the Great Commission to Pursue, Grow and Multiply Disciples.

We don’t find peace by separating ourselves from the world or from each other, but by leaning into the grace and unity that Jesus brings. What would happen in our lives and community if church was a place to come together in peace and allow God to remove all dividing walls of hostility? How would this change our church body right here at Idaville? Let’s be a people of unity. Let’s be a people of grace. Let’s be a people of peace. Which brings us to our first next step on the back of your communication card which is to willingly sacrifice my personal preferences in order to be unified as a body of believers.

The second way we can have peace is by being in God’s presence. We live in a world that seems increasingly full of discord and anxiety. News stories demonstrate every day that as a population we struggle with anxiety, depression, and isolation. Headlines proclaim divisions and conflicts of all sorts, from personal disagreements to political wars, both ideologically and physically. We need peace!

Paul is crystal clear in verse 14 that Christ Himself is our peace. Peace is not a thing. It’s a person. We find peace—both personally and as a body—in relationship with Jesus. In Galatians 5:22, Paul describes the fruits of the Spirit. He says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,” These are characteristics of people who are in relationship with Jesus and peace will be evident if God’s Spirit is living in and through us. Peace isn’t something we can create in ourselves; the Holy Spirit in us brings peace and enables us to live it out. Together as believers we are the collective dwelling place of God’s Spirit, who is our peace. That’s good news!

We are not alone. We are citizens, family, and most importantly, a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit. While our struggles do not magically disappear, together in the middle of our struggles we can experience peace. Even now as our church struggles with relationship and financial issues and a lot of our people and their families are struggling with physical and mental health issues we can experience peace because we have the presence of the Holy Spirit in us. And because of that we can also share and offer peace to others, even when struggles or disagreements arise.

So what does peace look like in our lives? First, I can tell you first what peace is not. Peace is not ignoring differences, ignoring conflict, or ignoring reality. Peace is not an image to be upheld or a feeling to be pursued. Peace is the presence of God in His people. And His presence through the Holy Spirit enables us to experience peace and to remind each other and the world around us that He is the source of all peace. Where anxiety and fear are strongest, we can be a living reminder that God cares for the details of our lives, as well as the eternal redemptive story of the world.

So maybe you are here this morning and you do not have peace. Maybe you don’t have a relationship with Jesus and so have never felt the presence of the Holy Spirit inside you. Jesus promised that when we accept him as our Lord and Savior he would come into our lives, as the Holy Spirit, and be our advocate, counselor, and comforter. Maybe you want the Holy Spirit to come into you today so you can have the peace that comes from a personal relationship with Jesus. If so, the second next step on the back of your communication card may be for you which is to accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior and to feel the power of the Holy Spirit in my life.

The third way we can have peace is by committing to the process of peace. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could find peace once and be done with it? But peace is not just a one-time event. When faced with an unpeaceful world, Jesus invites us to return to Him and to each other again and again. The prophets who foretold the coming of Christ gave Him the name Prince of Peace. And through His death and resurrection, He made the way of peace available to each of us. In the face of all life’s battles and an unpeaceful world, Jesus offers the terms of peace and the way forward. When we daily surrender to His power and to His will we embrace the way of peace.

But what about the fact that peace seems so temporary and fragile? It seems that peace can be interrupted or destroyed in an instant. The peace we see in the world never seems to last. The good news is that as believers our peace goes beyond a circumstance or a feeling. That is because our peace is the never-changing, always-present Spirit of God. Jesus knew the hardships His disciples would face, and He promised them peace. He told them in John 14:26-27, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Just as Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit is with us continually and is our source of peace. But we all need reminders. We all need encouragement and support. We all need each other to relate with in unity and peace and to share it with a world that needs it. And that’s where the church comes in. We are better together.

Paul closes Ephesians 2 with this: “And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” Like those Legos we talked about earlier, we fit together to form the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit fills and enables us with the peace of Christ. Why do we come back to church, and invite others to join us? Because coming together here does not just put us in the church. Instead, it is here that we realize we are the church—and as the church, God dwells with us.

So we come together to live and worship in unity, to collectively turn our focus to Jesus and experience the source of our peace, and to offer the way of peace to the world. Together we are so much greater than the sum of our parts. Together we encourage and support each other when we are weak. Together we reflect the nature and relationship of God. Which brings us to our last next step on your communication card which is to encourage and support this body of believers and to reflect the nature and relationship of Christ to each other.

I want to close today with a story called “Clinker Bricks.” Although at times it seems as though the church is in ruin and rubble, God sees it as a beautiful building. Clinker bricks are bricks that did not quite make it. For some reason or another, they come out of the kiln misshapen or deformed. Gates Presbyterian Church in Rochester, New York was intentionally built of clinker bricks. Apparently, the congregation wanted to send a message, so they built their church of imperfect, rejected bricks. The message is that people are like clinker bricks. We are all sinners, we are all imperfect people full of weaknesses, but through Christ we become living stones in his church. We do not become living stones because we are so great, but it is Christ who is great. We are connected into his church through him.

May we all remember that we are imperfect, rejected bricks and are all sinners saved by God’s grace through his son, Jesus Christ. And by remembering we treat each other with love and respect and live in peace together though the Holy Spirit.

As Gene & Roxey come to lead us in our final hymn this morning and as the ushers get ready to pick up the communication cards lets pray:

Dear Heavenly Father, I pray that you would bring this community of believers peace and unity through your son Jesus. May we be good role models of peace and unity to the people around us, in the church and outside the church. May we strive to be more like Jesus, kind, caring, compassionate, loving, giving, forgiving and humble. Bring us together as a family. Grant us the patience to work together with understanding and compassion in our hearts. Let us not be rude or arrogant towards one another, as we light the way to your heavenly kingdom. In Jesus’ name. Amen