1 Peter 2:10
September 24, 2000
IT TAKES A CHURCH
Robert B. Ives, Ph.D., Pastor
The Grantham Church
1 Peter 2:10
We're a nation of individualists. We don't like to be fenced in. Louis L'Amour's vision of America pictures how many Americans see themselves, strong, rugged individuals standing alone against forces of evil. But even in Louis L'Amour's books, the hero is regularly helped by a number of people. Even rugged individualists can't solve all problems alone. The church has known this for a long time.
The apostle Peter writes in one of his letters (1 Peter 2:10) to those who "once were not a people but now you are a people - the people of God." What brings this change in someone from being an individualist to being part of a group of people? And the answer is, The individuals have come to Jesus Christ. They have trusted him. They have forsaken their sins. Now they are not merely individuals, now they are a people. The word "people" in Peter means, the Christian church. Christians are a nation but without national pretensions. Christians are not ethnic like the Jews were; but they are a community like the Jews were. What binds Christians together is a common faith in Jesus Christ and Jesus' own great love for them. Christians are one people in Christ Jesus as Paul says in Galatians 3:26. And here in 1 Peter 2, Peter puts the case, "once you were not a people, but now you are a people, the people of God."
What does this mean? On this day we are faced with a living example. A church is a community. By working and giving together, we built this church building and we finished paying for it within a year and a half of moving in. Five and a half million dollars. It is not because we are wealthy that we have done this, for we are not. We did this as a church should do things. I remember seeing a lot of people sweeping floors during construction to save us money. I remember the group of men who put shingles on the roof to save us money. I remember the crowd of people who lifted the organ pipes up into the organ chamber to save us money. I remember those who helped move furniture and equipment from the old church over to this building. I remember the giving of millions of dollars. One person by himself or by herself could not have done this. It takes a church.
For Paul, the desire for the other people of the church was so strong in his mind that he says to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 3:10), "I am praying day and night that I might see you face to face." Have you ever felt a longing like that just to be with other Christians? Frankly, there is a tendency among us to take the church for granted. After all, every time we show up in church, people are here. On Sundays you come here and expect to see friends and people you know, people who say they've been praying for you, people who ask how you are doing. It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who reminded us, "It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren."
In the years after I became a Christian, I needed the community of the church. Needed it. I used to walk 2 miles from 35th and Powelton Ave where the fraternity house was down to Tenth Presbyterian Church on 17th St. at Spruce in Philadelphia. I needed to hear the preaching of God's Word. I needed to be sitting in church with other people who believed in Jesus. I didn't go to any other classes or events at the church. And it wasn't till some years later that I discovered it is okay to go to church because you need it, but you also have to give something to make the community work. Our call to be Christians isn't to have our needs met, but to help meet needs. But at first, when we need it, the Christian community meets our needs.
There are the barn raising kinds of things a church may do together, but there is something else a church does. It is in the church community that we learn how to live the Christian life. If you play baseball, for example, it's helpful to talk with other baseball players to get their perspective on playing. Ted Williams, the great hitter for the Red Sox in the 1940s, used to stand at the edge of the dugout watching batters from the other team hit and then he would talk with them about how they could improve their hitting, until the Boston manager stopped that. But that's the way the Christian community works. We help others bat well.
Shortly after Nancy and I came to Grantham 30 years ago, we brought in two friends of ours, the women who had begun the ministry called Neighborhood Bible Studies. They helped us set up our small group Bible studies. I love small group Bible studies. Bible studies help us learn what the Bible teaches so we can have Christian minds. It takes time and work, and it takes the insights of a community of people to learn what the Bible says. This isn't merely my vision for small group Bible studies, this is the Anabaptist vision. The teaching of the Bible is the basis for most of the crucial decisions of our lives. And when we are with other Christians, we can share what God has been teaching each of us. There is excitement in that sharing, a sense that others are on the same road I am on.
That is the challenge of being a church.
God is part of the community of the
church, as the other half
of verse 10 says, "now you belong to the people of God." A church cares for others, acts with others in mind and shares meals and insights. The life of a church is lived under the Word of God - and only there.
Sometimes we can look at a scene through a different window and see it in a new way. So let me invite you to look with me at a wind-swept English down inhabited by a warren of rabbits. The down is Watership Down. It is real enough. Nancy and I have been there. The rabbits are real in a different way. They are real as an example of how community works and doesn't work. Perhaps you have read Richard Adam's novel, Watership Down.
The tale begins in Sandleford warren, a rabbit community that is too secure, too used to doing things in the safe old ways so that they reject the advice of a rabbit named Fiver who is a prophet who warns the rabbits that danger is coming upon the warren. Now one of the purposes of community is to provide security for people. The problem comes when a community gets so secure it won't accept new challenges.
Fiver's vision results in a few rabbits
leaving the security of the warren. Fiver sees visions and he
has a feel for places. It is another rabbit named Hazel who has
the courage of leadership and who helps the group overcome obstacles.
He bring the small group of rabbits to Watership Down. On the
way they come upon a warren which has lost the stories of God,
Cowslip's warren. Again it is Fiver's vision and Hazel's leadership
which brings the rabbits away. But they need Bigwig's strength
and, later, Holly's wisdom. And they need Dandelion's ability
to remember the stories of Elahrairah, the God of the rabbits.
Some years ago we in the Grantham Church began to plan on leaving our comfort zone to strike out in a new direction. That plan brought us to this new location and we had a vision for new ministries that brought some 70 new people into the church last year.
At one point in Watership Down, the rabbits from Watership Down confront the Efrafan warren of General Woundwort, a warren structured like a military organization. But Efrafa had lost a vision for outreach. Those who try to leave the warren are punished. Newcomers are imprisoned or killed. Nice way to treat newcomers. Efrafa believed what they had was the best way to live in community and yet they had lost the spirit of community. It was Woundwort's decisions, not the wisdom of the community that mattered. The challenge of community - the challenge which faces us at this time - is to stop admiring what we are, and act in obedience to Jesus Christ. Where is He leading us next? The value of a community is that we can help one another - as we did in the vision for and the building of this new facility. It takes a church which is committed to grow and won't let itself become complacent. We cannot take community for granted.
Now how do we help our Christian
brothers and sisters? How do we work as a community? We do that
with God's Word. When a group of people are individually committed
to obeying God's Word, they work together toward the same goals
because the goals come from the scriptures. When we were planning
this building, 1 Chronicles 29 often came into focus. That is
the passage where all the people of Israel gave for building the
temple. As we mulled over that Old Testament lesson, we took
action that was guided by the attitudes of people in the Bible.
We didn't argue about carpet colors. There are always decisions in a big project where strong voices speak to different sides. Our architect helped us with this by involving the whole church in the building plans. Mike Huffnagle, the building committee chairman, helped us with this by listening carefully to various views as the building proceeded. Ken Mark, and earlier, Jay Barnes, helped us with this by finding positive ways to involve the whole church in giving. Each of these leaders tried to help us proceed by bringing into our view the character traits of people in the Bible. And there were others.
Maybe just as important is the fact
that a lot of people in the church thanked God for their daily
bread, like the Lord's prayer encourages us to do. Let me explain
why that is important. We prevent God from giving us great gifts
because we do not thank Him for daily gifts. Why would God entrust
great things to people who were not thankful for
little things. He never did for Israel. Jesus once answered a question of His disciples, why couldn't we cast this demon out? It's a spectacular thing to cast a demon out. Jesus said, this kind comes out by nothing but prayer and fasting, which are little things in a daily life. If people discipline themselves over a long period of time by prayer and fasting, then when the big confrontation comes, they are ready. I don't think that scene with Jesus and the disciples means that at the time when the demon needed to be cast out, then the disciples were supposed to fast and pray. It was too late for that. Prayer and fasting needed to characterize their lives before that time, and it hadn't. It is little things which bring the completion of a big project.
We really began this building project
16 years before we began to build. In those 16 years we brought
a number of plans to the congregation and none of them worked,
but they prepared us as a community to work on this building when
the right time came. So today we can celebrate. It takes a community,
a community committed to doing something and doing it together.