It was an unsettled love, I grant you, because every time I was in one I was conscious of the corruption in the church and the misuse of wealth it took to build them. But the effortless, soaring heights…the acres of clear color in stained glass walls…the intentionality and creativity that went into the art, telling the story of God and humanity…it moved me.
The beauty and the sheer weight of years, the realization of how many people had worshipped in these places just caught me. In St. Peter’s in Rome, it’s just huge. I remember standing in front of what seemed like just one tiny little alcove, but in reality would have filled this whole platform. I remember thinking as I took in all the frescoes and statues that this one alcove was probably the lifework, the spiritual offering of some artist long ago.
That gave some redemption to the corruption of the church and the abuse of wealth and people that it took to create these cathedrals. There’s no denying that for some who worked on them, it was a beautiful love offering of worship to God, to create a place and a venue for worship. It’s hard not to be awestruck when you’re standing in a building over 800 years old, like Notre Dame in Paris. It’s hard not to wonder if anything you will ever do will have anything remotely like that kind of influence.
And then it happened.
I don’t remember which cathedral we were in. It might have been Sacre-Coeur, the church of the Sacred Heart in Paris. We were walking around it as tourists, drinking in the building again, just as we had done at several other cathedrals. I noticed that over in the corner, there were a couple of dozen people gathered together, and they were worshipping. They were singing.
The buildings are great, but that’s not the kind of influence I want to offer my life to try and gain. Art, and communicating the gospel story creatively, and buildings…they are all a means to an end…not a goal or end in themselves.
The one sort of “lesson” or “direction” that came out of my sabbatical was exactly this: I want to offer what I can to help create a community and church here that can perpetuate itself for generations to come. Whether this building remains or anything with my name on it remains in 500 years, what I hope and pray and work for is that there will be people in Newberg worshipping Jesus in the future!
I’ll be bold enough to say that’s our task together. We are joining God’s mission that is written in black and white in Ephesians chapter 1, our text for today. We are creating together a church community that is joining God’s mission: “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” Turn in your bibles with me to Ephesians chapter 1, and let me read what God has already done for us, and what God is doing, what direction God is taking all of creation.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will– to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment–to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. Ephesians 1:3-10 (TNIV)
Before we go deeper with what’s written here, let’s take a step back.
Our church is in transition. Let’s just name it. We’ve had the same person guiding our worship services on Sundays for 33 years, and now things will change. This transition is why, for the next few weeks, we will talk about the purpose of worship and the purpose of our church. I believe that God will still be God, and that the sun will still rise in the east. 🙂 I even believe God has good things in store for us, that God will teach us new things and lead us in new ways. But there is no denying that things will change. And there is no denying that change is often felt as loss, because something once taken for granted is not here anymore.
Let’s also name something else. You and I have permission to feel whatever we feel in this transition. You have permission to grieve that Mauri’s gentle leading and ironic humor won’t be here each week. And you have permission to be glad and looking forward to something different if that’s how you feel. New, good things do not invalidate the faithfulness and the good ministry through Mauri in the past.
There may even be some anxiety. What if things change and don’t end up like I like to worship? What if things don’t change and we just stay stuck trying to do what Mauri did but being unable to do it?
In times of anxiety, it’s important to step back and remember what’s important, because when we are anxious we tend to hold things tighter and focus more on our personal desires, what we want and think needs to happen.
So let’s just take a deep breath.
Seriously. Actually. Take a deep breath.
As I said last week, this is the same room people have worshipped in week after week for 124 years. Same room, same Jesus. But very single one of US is different than 124 years ago. Every. Single. One of us. Look around. Shout out what else is different from the first time people worshipped in this room. What else do you notice? [ASK…carpet, paint, sound system, piano, organ, downstairs pews, dove stained glass)
A church, a community, a living group of people does that. It has consistency, and it has constant change. The cells in our body constantly regenerate, so you’re not even the exact same you that you were 7 to 10 years ago.
We’re gonna be fine! I’m grateful for the faithful ministry of Mauri Macy. And I trust we will keep our eyes on what is important. We will worship Jesus. When the form of that worship seems different, we can remember that we also don’t chant in Latin any more, as the church did for hundreds of years. We don’t gather in silence with nothing prepared ahead of time, as William Hobson first did here in Chehalem Valley.
Hobson and Douglas, Levi Pennington and Rebecca Clawson, Marie Haines and Richard Foster are not with us any longer. They are all people who in the history of our church gave wonderful ministry. But because they lived and were faithful in following Jesus, we are here today worshiping Jesus!
This is how we define the marker point of success.
The church of the past opened their arms and let us in to this community, loving us and training us and teaching us to follow Christ. The church of the past made us, the church of the present, possible. We’ve been brought into unity with all of God’s people under Christ!
And we, the church of the present, must do the same for the church of the present and future. We must open our arms wide and welcome others into this community, loving them and training them and teaching them to follow Christ. We, the church of the present, will make the church of the future possible…inasmuch as we point ourselves and others to the Lordship of Jesus.
Sunday worship isn’t the end in itself. A bunch of people in this room is a good thing, but not the marker of success. In gathered worship we learn from each other truth about God’s character and purpose. We offer our thanks and our love and our repentance.
This kind of worship gives God the opportunity to do what God purposes; to bring all things into right relationship with Jesus Christ. Worship reminds us, as Ephesians 1 does, of all the things God has blessed us with. We are chosen. We are adopted. We are redeemed. We are forgiven. God’s grace is lavished on us. The good news is that all that has already been done in Christ.
And then comes that verse 10, the one that has become so shaping to me.
If you’ve been around much the last decade or so, you’ve probably heard me say or paraphrase Ephesians 1:10 a bunch of times. This is God’s purpose in Christ: “To bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”
Why has this verse captured me so much? Why is it so important to me? I’ll try to say it as clearly as I can today.
This verse gives me a foundational framework that affects everything. It affects how I see where I fit in the world…affects how I see the purpose of the church. It’s a guide for understanding the bible.
Some say we should just let the bible speak plainly. Yet we are always interpreting. We are always trying to make sense of it. If we are reading it in English, instead of the original language, we are interpreting.
“Interpreting” isn’t a bad word. “Interpreting” is not “intercepting.” It’s not like we are intercepting God’s clear intent with our own ideas. Interpreting is a search for God’s truth, and what it means for my life today. It’s a journey that requires not just knowing what is in the bible, but also letting the living God, the Holy Spirit guide us. It’s a journey that requires listening to what other faithful Jesus-followers have taught, ones from different traditions today, and ones across the years of time. It’s a journey that requires humility, because while God wants to be known and is true and faithful, we sometimes don’t get it exactly right.
Ephesians 1:10 leaped off the page for me about a decade ago.
This is the goal of the end of time, the goal of all that God is doing. It’s an inclusive picture that makes sense of the radical acceptance and grace of Jesus that we see in the gospels. It makes sense of Peter and Paul welcoming Gentiles into the church. It makes sense of John 3:17, that God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.
It makes sense of 2 Peter 3:9, which says that God is “patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Making this verse one of my foundational pieces for what God is doing is what leads me to see the main purpose of the church to be one of making room for people in our community, room for other people to come into right relationship with Jesus.
Now, there are other parts of scripture that Jesus-followers make foundational. Take a look at this picture.
This is above the door at Notre Dame in Paris. For centuries, as people walk into worship there, they have another guiding metaphor in their face, that of Christ at the judgment seat. Jesus is in the center here; the people that are selected for the line on the left move toward Christ and become more and more angelic; the ones that go to the line on the right go away from Christ and become more and more like gargoyles the farther they get down the line.
There are people in the church today who have this as their guiding metaphor, the guiding purpose of what God is doing in the world. God is judging. Or God is rescuing from a world that is headed for destruction.
There’s a fundamental difference here. Ephesians 1:10 has God’s purpose as moving toward unity. The other purpose, the one seen in this sculpture above the door, is ultimately a purpose of separation.
Here’s how I work through this…others obviously work through it differently.
I don’t throw out the biblical pictures of judgment. But I see them in their rightful place, underneath the ultimate intent and plan and purpose of God. God’s desire is for all things to come to unity “under”, or in right relationship, with Jesus. If a person rejects that relationship or authority, separation does come. But God’s ultimate plan and purpose and desire is to bring unity, not separation.
I mentioned the church of the Sacred Heart, where I saw the small group of people worshiping and it changed my perspective. Look at the dominating image of that church.
Jesus, arms wide open, sacred heart huge and visible draws us all in.
For me this affects so much. You’ve probably heard this weaving through many of my words over the years. If God’s purpose is unity, love is the dominant force. The church brings people in; the church loves; the church allows Christ to transform. If people reject that love, there are consequences to it. But that is Christ’s work alone, that judgment and consequence work.
I believe that in Christ’s church, there is always room.
Without ignoring or throwing out judgment, I believe it should not be the metaphor that drives the church, or the face that we should give to the world. I believe this wide arms-open Jesus is the face we should give and model to the world.
We are introducing people to Jesus! We are worshipping Jesus! We are ones who have taken to heart the truth of Ephesians 1:7: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.”
We are a community and a church whose purpose is to join God’s purpose. It’s only God who will do it, “when the times reach their fulfillment.” But we aim for what God is aiming for, unity… “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”
Jesus, as we worship you, give us your love…your hope…your open embrace. And may we live and sacrifice in such a way that there will always be an ever-growing community here in Newberg who worships you and joins your mission!