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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Ekklesia 2 - Called Out of Shame


Introduction
It has been 10-11 weeks since we had a regular, onsite worship service at Pleasant Grove.  In fact, all over the world, it has been months since congregations have gathered in the sanctuaries for worship.  Does this mean we are no longer the Church?  Absolutely not!

In fact, during these crazy times, the Church may be more active doing God’s work than ever before.  I have been busier than ever doing Zoom meetings, making phone calls, and learning new technology.  I’ve had to become a medical expert, media expert, Bible expert, statistical expert, sociological expert… (not really, but I've been learning about and using tools in all of these categories and more…) I've been doing a daily devotion every morning on Facebook Live for almost 2 months.

I’ve been very busy!  In fact, I’ve hardly taken a real day off since his all began.  Even on my days off, I’ve been emailing, fielding texts and phone calls, and just thinking about ministry stuff.   One day soon, for my own personal health and well-being, I’m going to have to take some time off to just unplug from everything.  I’ll be turning my phone off, my computer off, everything off and you won’t be able to get hold of me.

Believe it or not, you’ve been busy too.  It may not feel like it, but you have.  Have you been staying at home? Doing nothing? Your sacrifice is for your own safety and the safety of others. That’s sacrificial love and it’s work. I’ve talked with people this week who haven’t left their homes in over 2 months! Wow!  That takes a toll.  Have you been living by faith? We like to know what the future holds and what our schedules will be.  However, we are living in a time when everything that used to be considered stable is up in the air.  The school calendar, sports schedules, vacations, camps are all being postponed and we don't know when they will be "normal" again.  Faith is the bedrock of the Christian faith and we're having to live by a lot of faith right now.  And it's tiring.

Others are considered “essential workers” who must bravely go out--sometimes to the very places everyone else is asked to avoid.  I know you're tired.

The New Testament Church dealt with and worked around plagues and persecutions.  They couldn't always meet in their usual ways or the ways they wanted because to do so might get them arrested and tortured or killed.  They had to be creative with Church, just as we are having to be creative during this COVID 19 pandemic.  We could learn a lot from their experience.

Today, I want to continue our message series “Ekklesia” about the purpose of the Church.  What is the Church?  What is our purpose?  The Greek word for Church used in the New Testament is Ekklesia.  It roughly translates “the called out ones.”  The Church that Jesus established is composed of people who are called out of darkness into the light, called out of shame into nobility, called out of a fallen world into God’s Kingdom.  Now, when we talk use the word "church" today, we think of a building.  Driving down the road, we might say, "Oh!  Look at that pretty church!" (Meaning the building).  But when the New Testament uses the word Church, it is referring to the congregation.  So as I am talking about Church in these messages, I am trying my best to use Church to refer to the people gathered in a Christian congregation.

The Church is a group of people who’ve been called out of something old into something new, something ugly into something beautiful, something shameful into something noble.  I want to read from God’s Word.  In this passage, I want you to imagine that you are a Gentile (because unless you were born a Jew, you are a Gentile.)

Ephesians 2:11-22
11 Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. 
[How does it feel good to be called an outsider?]
You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. 
[How does it feel to be called a heathen (an uncivilized person who lacks morals, and enemy of God)?] 
12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. [How does it feel to be hopeless?]
13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.
14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.
17 He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18 Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.
19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. 20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.

Where Does God Live?
Throughout the ages, people have built temples for their gods.  They wanted to control them…

The One True Living God the Bible tells us about, cannot be control and He does not need a building.  Acts 7:48 says, “The Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands.”  And Isaiah 66:1 says, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.  Could you build me a temple as good as that?  Could you build me such a resting place?”

And yet, when God liberated the Jews from slavery in Egypt, they lived in tents as they traveled toward their new homeland.  And so, the God of the Universe, who made Heaven and Earth, humbled Himself and lived in a tent among His people.  God’s tent was called the Tabernacle.  The Tabernacle was where the people worshiped God and where God ministered to a guided His people.  God appeared in the Tabernacle as a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night.  Whenever the Spirit of God moved, the Israelites packed up the Tabernacle Tent and moved with God.

When the Israelites settled down in their new homeland in Israel, they built houses.  And God continued to live among His people in a Temple made of stone—like the way His people lived.  People revere their Temple. It was the most impressive building in their city.  People traveled from all over the world to worship in the Temple.

But because people are full of sin, no one could come completely into God’s presence, whether in the Tabernacle or the Temple.  Gentiles, sinners, and women were not allowed to enter either place of worship.  People with any kind of illness or deformity were also not allowed.  Only Jewish men in good standing were allowed inside, close to God.  And of those men, only those who were priests were allowed into the Holy of Holies close to God.  And of those priests, only the high priest was allowed into the Holiest Place in the presence of God—and that was only once a year on the Dy of Atonement after strenuous preparation and purification. 

These exclusions were not because God didn’t want to be near His people.  To the contrary, the fact that the God of the universe would choose to live in a building at all is proof that God did want to be near His people.  However, sin separates us from God.  The presence of God consumes sin like a blazing hot fire consumes dry leaves.  It was mercy that caused God to keep people at arm’s length; it was for their own safety!

But then an amazing thing happened!  God took on human form and came into the world as Jesus Christ—the Son of God!  And God lived among His people as a man! And 1 Peter 3:18 says, “Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit.”  Now, through faith in Jesus Christ, we can be completely absolved of all sin!  So, there is now absolutely nothing at all that can separate us from God.  As Romans 8:38-39 says, “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The Church – The Temple of God
So as we consider the purpose of the Church, we understand that the Church is where God lives.  The Church is where we meet with God, commune with God, worship and adore God, and receive God's guidance.  The Church is the Temple of God.  However, we must also understand, the Church is not a physical building.  The Church is the people.  Which people?  The Church is those people who have faith that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16).  Remember, in my message last week, we read Matthew 16:17 where Jesus said to Peter, “and upon this rock [i.e. the rock of this faith] I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.”


And now is Ephesians 2:20-21, the Scripture says, “Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord.”

And 1 Peter 2:5 says, “And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God.”

Once again, we are not talking about this building—this physical building or any physical structure.  If the church building in your community no longer existed, there would still be a Church as long as Christians gathered for the Lord's purposes.  The purpose of a physical building is simply to provide a convenient space to do the things the Church is called to do.  At my church, Pleasant Grove, they started out in the early 1800s meeting under the shade of a pleasant grove of trees (that's where the name Pleasant Grove comes from.)  As time went on, the congregation decided it would be easier to have church if the built a roof to shelter them from rain.  And as time went on, their building structures evolved to meet the church's ministry needs.  However, it was always about the peoplee and ministry, not the buildings.  Church is the people, bot the building.  Actually, if the physical building ever hinders us from being the Church God calls us to be, we should abandon the building.  

Jesus actually said as much about the holy Temple in Jerusalem in his day.  In Matthew 24, we find Jesus and his disciples walking through Jerusalem and the twelve disciples are admiring the beautiful buildings with sentimental hearts and Jesus says, "A day is coming soon when not one stone of all these wonderful buildings will be left upon another."  And he was blasted by his enemies because he said, "Tear down this Temple and I will rebuild it again in three days."  Now, it had taken decades to build the Temple.  There was no way one man could rebuild the Temple in only three days.  What did Jesus mean?  Well, Jesus was crucified and buried for three days and then he rose from the grave and established the Church--the new Temple of God.   It is not a physical building; it is a people who believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

Closing
We will look more at the purpose of the church next week.  But I want to close for now.  And as I close, I want to invite everyone to truly consider:  Are you the Church? Do you believe Jesus is the Messiah (the Chosen One), the Son of the Living God? (You can’t be the Church without this faith.) 

You have been called out of shame, but you have to start walking (by faith) out of that shame into the noble life God has for you—a life where you are the living stones of God’s Holy Temple and you are His holy priest. Do you want to leave shame behind? I pray you do and I'm praying you will.

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