One day, in another diocese, I was with a group of colleagues and our Bishop. Someone said that the reason they first went to church is because of a girl he knew and wanted to know better. We all laughed, except for our Bishop who said, “well, there are certainly less noble reasons to go to church”.
I think that’s probably true. What do you say when someone asks you about why you go to church? What do you think happens there? There was a meeting I was at once where we were talking about evangelism, and everything that everyone said was good stuff. They talked about friendship, they talked about great events they could invite their families and friends to, they talked about various ministry programs that the church did. This brainstorming went on for a few minutes and I was gettin uneasy. When I finally spoke, I said, “does anyone come to church to worship the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?”
On page 835 of our Book of Common Prayer, the first question is “what is the mission of the church”? The answer is: The mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
Next Question: How does the church pursue its mission? The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love. Last one: Through whom does the Church carry out its mission? The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.
Now, all the other reasons people listed for being in church were great. But… without Jesus, the church is just another social club where people are trying to do good things; there’s nothing wrong with that, but it is not our primary purpose or focus.
“For when two or three are gathered in my name, I am among them.” I know I tend to throw that quote out a bit, and I am sure you do too. Perhaps we do that so much so that we forget what we are really talking about here. We come together here to be gathered together in Jesus’ name and that means that Jesus is here, right here among us. We have his presence primarily in the Eucharist, but even without Eucharist, he is here with us. As Jesus tells the disciples how to work through conflict, I noticed two things I hadn’t noticed before; first Jesus tells them that if an offender doesn’t listen to the church about a conflict that the person is to be treated like a gentile or a tax collector. Now, normally, that would mean that those people were to be treated as though they were outside the community. Yet… what do we know about Matthew’s gospel? Matthew, one of the disciples, was a tax collector, and Jesus was healing people who were not Isrealites. And then, he tells the disciples that when two or three are gathered, he is in the midst of them. So, maybe he is trying to tell us that even when it’s hard, even when we are hurting or when we are fighting with each other, maybe he is in the midst of even our difficulties. If the church lives into its calling as the body of Christ, then our community in good times and in bad is still the body of Christ. We are the body of Christ when we get it right and when we get it wrong. Jesus is still in our midst loving us and guiding us on to new life, even here, even now. And if Jesus is here, then that means that we are compelled to do the work he has asked us to do, which is to love God and Love our neighbors. We do that by reconciling people to God, by being living witnesses to the love of God sent to us through Jesus, we love by our worship, we love by fighting for justice, freedom and peace for all those whom God loves; and you know what that means? It means we do the work of the body of Christ for ALL people, everywhere. We do the work of the church, that work of reconciling all people to God all the time, when we are present here and even when we are not, because we do it together. May we always remember to whom we belong, whom we come to church for, and for whom we are named; Jesus Christ, Son of the living God. Anything less isn’t church.