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You Belong - We Belong to the Church - Sermon #05

You Belong - To the Church - Sermon #05

a2vc.org • October 15, 2017 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor

We’re grateful for you and the gifts of God that you bring with you into this space this morning. As we gather together as a church, we do so in the active presence of God through our worship, community, and engagement with scripture, which we hope will lead to transformational growth in our everyday life. As a congregation we want to experience belonging, cultivate tangible joy, activate hope, and know comfort as we learn to trust Jesus more and more, enabling us to reflect the welcome and peace of Jesus to those closest to us. We pray that whether this is your first time with us this morning, or you've been a part of our community for a while, that you will feel the invitation of the Holy Spirit to join in with our vision.

We are in part five of our “You Belong” sermon series. If you’ve missed a sermon in this series, please down the audio or watch the video of the celebration you missed.

You Belong Video

Mike & Debby Rennert - 2 minutes 25 seconds

Introduction

When I first moved here 20 years ago to work for IBM, I struggled and stumbled around for a few months trying to find my way in Ann Arbor. All of that changed when I found the Vineyard Church. I remember that first service very well because I walked in very afraid. While I was socially successful in college, I wasn’t sure what adulting would be like. Would I fall nicely into a new group of friends? Would it be easy to meet and maybe date someone? Would I be accepted for who I was? Would I find my people? As I look back and reflect, I think we continue to wrestle with some of these same questions throughout our lives, don’t we?

The main memory I have from that first celebration was of me crying in worship. I had an overwhelming experience of the Father’s love for me. I had always assumed that God might indeed love me, but I wasn’t sure God liked me very much. While I had a great time in college, it was also a difficult period for me as I found myself struggling with my faith, my ability to hear from God, to see God at work in my life, much less experience God’s loving presence. But there was something about the community I found at the Vineyard. The best way I can explain is there was space made for me; space for me to belong. Let me say more about our church.

A Unique Church - Finding A Treasure Buried in the Field

We are trying to carve out a pretty unique space here. As a multi-ethnic, multi-generational church, we are trying to live in tension, recognizing that we are at the same time accepted by God and called to transformation.

Hear Jesus,

28“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Hear Jesus again,

13“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)

This is the tension that Dave mentioned when he shared during his video testimony two weeks ago.

People will remark that our church is at the same time similar and dissimilar. There’s weekly communion and extended worship. There are votive candles to remember the dead and a prayer station to welcome the in-breaking of the kingdom of God. There’s a call to social justice by caring for and serving those at the margins and a strong commitment to the Word of God. There’s welcome for everyone and an expectation that we will be changed in the loving presence of God.

This is intentional.

We are working hard to create space for all of us to have transformative encounters with the living presence of the loving God. Space, more than anything else, is what we need as we consider what it means to follow Jesus through the narrow gate. This is why we do not overly-define God. It’s not that we don’t have a clear picture of who God is–it’s more that we want you to discover God yourself as you engage scripture, the worship liturgy, participate in life groups, and serve others through ministry opportunities. If there’s anything we want to create, it’s the ability to recognize the thin-spaces of our life and to welcome God’s presence, so that God might break into our lives. We also don’t overly define what it means to be a disciple of Jesus or what the Christian life looks like. It’s not that we can’t, it’s that we are more interested in you taking your very next step closer. So instead of defining a series of steps that everyone has to follow, we want you to get on the path and take your first step. Your first step is going to be different than your neighbor. You might be invited to surrender, to serve, to give, to be silent, to be patient, to be kind, to be bold, to be open. We don’t want to assume the role of the Holy Spirit; we want to introduce you to the Spirit. Because only the Holy Spirit can interrupt our lives, creating worldview collisions with the Empire that causes us to take a step closer to God. It’s like what Jesus said in John 16:13-14:

13But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. (John 16:13-14)

We also don’t have a set of overly-defined practices that everyone has to perform or follow in order to fit in. We certainly have recommendations for how you can increase your conscious contact with God, but we realize that while one method might work well for some, it’s not the right approach for others. This causes us to be open so that we can learn from everyone. We also don’t have a hierarchy of sins that allow (or even encourage) us to judge each other. We remind ourselves that only God is able to judge our motivations and our hearts. All of this creates space for us to belong.

The Best Reflection of the Kingdom of God

As much as we belong to God, we also belong within the family of God. God always intended for us to be in community. Because God is in a community. A community of love.

26Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they...” (Genesis 1:26)

Love has always included empathy. Empathy being the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. See, empathy is the catalytic agent in love. Love includes desire, companionship, commitment, but without empathy, love has no center, no bonding. Love yearned for, love lost, love denied, love destroyed, love abused–all of these include failures of empathy. Love realized, love joyful, love ecstatic, love celebrated–all of these are suffused with empathic dynamics.

It was in community that God created us, and it is in community that we reflect God’s image and experience God’s love.

We were never intended to be alone, to experience this life apart from community. We didn’t create this need for community or this view of community, it was something we inherited, something we learned. And community has always included God.

Throughout our existence, we have gathered together in tribes. We see this reflected in every major people group on earth because we are safer, healthier, and happier when we do life together. This is echoed in scripture from the very beginning, through the story of Israel–12 tribes from 12 brothers–to the early church. As Jesus enters history, he introduces a new type of tribe, one that doesn’t recognize accomplishment, achievement, race, gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status as reasons of inclusion (or exclusion for that matter). He gathers together a witnessing community centered around himself and his work on the cross. We call this new tribe the church.

We are what Jesus left behind, a “witnessing community.” In this “witnessing community,” our burdens are carried, we are welcomed and accepted, we can confess our sins and be forgiven, we can receive our healing and restoration. In this “witnessing community,” we are transformed.

Yet, if we lack the empathy which is at the center of love, we break our ability to build bridges together across our differences. When we allow the lack of empathy to govern us, we reverse what Paul noted in his letter to the church at Ephesus:

14For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians 2:4–18)

This is why we are committed to being a church in tension because the best reflection of the Kingdom of God at work is found in a community that is diverse, in person, in tradition, and in experience. It’s a community of individuals who are willing to put aside their assumptions about “the other” and extend their arms in welcome instead of rejection or judgement creating a place of belonging. This is a community created in and mark by love.

“To be known is to be loved, and to be loved is to be known.”

Jesus came and turned our understanding of the world upside-down, the old social order was being reversed. Belief in Jesus granted us unconditional belonging in his tribe. He teaches us that belonging starts with our surrender to follow him and join his new tribe, the church.

What do we do? We worship, we celebrate, we guide and mentor each other, we join small groups, we hold each other accountable, we serve, we practice hospitality, we share our lives with others, we do justice together, we love mercy together, we take care of the earth together, we pray together, we pray for each other. We do all of these things at our church.

Let me close with what Paul says in Colossians 3:1-4:

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3 For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. (Colossians 3:1-4, NLT)

I really like the way the New Living Translation put it, “Set your sights on the realities of heaven.” Paul is revealing a mystery to us, our true self is found in Christ. We discover who we are in fellowship with Christ and his people. This is the Messianic Community that Jesus leaves behind to reorder and reshape the world.

As we enter into this Jesus-following community, our ability to live well is shaped and formed as we confront our selfishness, our sin, our brokenness and our limitations. As we learn to surrender and serve, we learn how to be patient, how to be merciful, how to forgive, how to pray, and how to give.

The church, our learning lab, comforts us in our suffering and teaches us how to sit in silence before God. As we fully participate, our gifts and strengths are called out and put into action. As we learn to listen, sit, and wait, we learn humility and gratitude. Friends, we weren’t ever intended to experience this life alone. We become our best selves in community.

The church saved my life. This church in particular created space for me to reach my destiny, this church helped me become who I am today. This is the work of the church, changing lives. We have a real opportunity before us, and I want us to press into it.

We have to roll up our sleeves and do the work of making the invisible visible. This means we have to make a commitment to each other and to God to be a community that bears witness to the name of Jesus. For each of us this commitment will look different, but I think it starts in the same place. A willingness to be the people of God, willing to be do what Jesus tells us to do: love our neighbors, love our enemies, forgive each other, and do good to those who mistreat you. But we won’t even attempt any of this until we know to whom we belong.

As we live in community, we will develop a greater capacity to trust, to trust God, each other. As that trust develops, we take one step closer. One step closer to Jesus on our journey to follow him through the narrow gate into life.

 
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