At a wedding yesterday one young woman who was not raised in church talked to me about maybe wanting to become a part of the church. She is looking at the church in her community, St. Peters; she sees the groom’s family, the wonderful experience and the meaning and the comfort and the healthy environment and she wonders if maybe she could find a place of belonging, a place of hope, a place of strength. She used the word family, and saw herself as an outsider, and, for right or wrong, was even a bit upset with her parents for them not giving her that experience. Family, a place of belonging where you can be yourself.
Pastor Chuck Kleinhesselink’s home church is in Iowa, not a large church he says. It is also the home Church to Pastor Robert Schuller... Chuck says that Dr. Schuller, especially when his mother was alive, would visit the church from time to time, and it was like he was home. The Pastor would simply acknowledge Dr. Schuller’s presence, and it gave him a chance to be just another person. Like he was home with his family.
Some of you may not understand what a healthy functioning family is like because it is not your experience. Maybe you do not know the mutual support and encouragement, a place of comfort. When the Bible talks about the church as family, it is talking about a supportive family, a healthy family, a family that wants the best for each other, a family that holds each other accountable, the unconditional love, the high expectations, a place to laugh, a place to cry, a place to belong, for better or worse.
As I look back at my own experience in this place, it does feel a bit like a Norman Rockwell painting. Is it really true? I have been blessed immeasurably by the Saints of old in this church. Because I come from a relatively small Crouse family, it was easy to think in terms of the church as family. I’ll refrain from telling you about the watchful eye of Clara Miller, the cinnamon roles of Evelyn Massey, Esther should be thankful to her mother, because a part of me really did want to name her Arvilla…the faithfulness of Rod Steele. When you start to think in terms of family, who a person is is more important than what they do….this message really is not an advertisement to become a deeper part of SACC, even if this place is not for you for whatever reasons, my broader desire is that you to throw in your lot with a good solid church and embrace that church as your church family. Yet we are here in this place, and you are welcome here, so this is my example… The Church: Some Assembly Required. If you are going to be a part of a healthy family you have to get together. You have to see each other. A Church family. Family language to describe the church is used frequently in the Bible:
Throughout the New Testament Christians are referred to as being brothers and sisters and God is said to be our Father in Heaven. With that in mind now get this:
“Yet to all who received Him (Jesus), to those who believed on His name, he gave the right to become children of God - children not born of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1v12-13) That’s family talk. God is the father, we are the children. We have different roles, and that gets into the church as a body, a later sermon. Another wonderful image is the church is described as “Members of the Household of God”. Here is the NLT of Ephesians 2:19: 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. The belonging, literally as a family. That is precisely our greatest desire as a church…to be a family, available, honest, accountable, a healthy family that accepts each other as they are, yet has high hopes and dreams. We want more and more people to feel they belong, “You are members of God’s family.”
One of the big questions the world asks is why there are so many churches. The answer most commonly goes to differences in beliefs, history, etc. That’s all true. But I think that in reality the question of why there are so many churches is because of the sense of family. I am not criticizing any church in the least when I say this, but I was the pastor of the Nooksack Church, right down the road, ten years later, now I am here. Occasionally, people will bring up the idea of the two churches becoming one. I know God can do anything, so I don’t mean this in an absolute way, but I don’t think it would ever work, because the two congregations have two different characters, different styles, different values, they are a sister church, but different families, much like my sisters family is different from my own family… When the Bibles says You are members of God’s family, there is an extended family and an immediate family. Churches have different styles of being a family.
The biblical images go on…we could talk about the prodigal son, people who should be here but have separated from us because of choices, and yet we never give up on them because they are still a “son” at a distance…
The Word of God tells us that church is family. God is indeed our Father. When Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church...” the word used means to build a house. And of course your house is where you live with your family. You could legitimately translate this, “...I will build my house, my home, a family, the church...” Everywhere we turn in the New Testament we find the same thing; churches are seen to be extended families of God’s children. Churches are a place of worship, churches are compared to an army, a body, each which brings out different aspects of the church, but today we are looking at the very important function of the church as an extended family, a place of belonging, a place of accountability, a place just to hang out. In our culture, when we say “church,” when we invite people to “church”, it is this worship service we commonly have in mind. But this public worship service may not be the best model for Church as a family. If you think of Church as family, think for a moment of other things we do or can do that might fulfill that important function…I’ll get to my list.
The New Testament churches often looked different from what we think of as a church. In the book of Acts, churches often met in someone’s home, or think of Lydia’s little church in the book of Philippians that met in her home, they met in order to talk and fellowship together, to encourage and enjoy one another, and to do so over a meal. That’s what they called church. They came together in order to spend time with each other with the Lord. They talked and prayed together. They sang songs of praise and worship to the Lord; they built each other up spiritually by teaching and encouraging one another from the Word of God. That’s family stuff. We may look a bit different from those first house churches, we have a building to gather together…yet in practice, we have the same needs, the same dynamics as a family.
The task of maturing and correcting each other, of spurring one another on to live holy lives, is meant to be in the context of the love between brothers and sisters, of family where all are ultimately struggling with the same problems and weaknesses, and who can support, sympathize and identify with each other in all things. Here is safety! Here is security! Here is reality! We want a safe place where people can be themselves, based on the love the Lord has for us, a love as unconditional and as lacking in condemnation as you can get. Our unspeakably deep human need for belonging is met here; in being part of a local extended family of God!
Don’t discount the family aspect of being a church. Isn’t it relationships that bring most people to a church, a friend inviting a friend, a family member extending an invitation, we are here to be family. I like the worship service. If people ask me how large is SACC I go with the convention of coming up with some number in terms of attendance on a Sunday morning, but if the person asking me really cares and gives me more time, I also tell them about the small groups, the potluck dinners, the Clothesline, and other ways we gather as people? After this public service, all of you are invited to the potluck dinner. That’s family time. We need that family time. There are folks in this community who are only a part of small groups and we have never seen on Sunday morning. Isn’t that a real part of the function of a church – family, accountability, love, nurture. Bring people with you to be part of the family. I don’t even care if you invite someone to join us for the meal afterward and they did not come to the worship service. Relationships are part of God’s design for us. The Church is God’s family. Small groups, friendships, going to each others homes, hanging out together, singing in small groups, it’s all part of the church. Family is not just an image of the church, it’s a reality of who we are supposed to be. One time Jesus was told that his mother and brothers wanted to see him, a crowd was gathered, and Jesus said, “who are my brothers and sisters?” he wasn’t putting down his human family be any means, but he was enlarging the idea of family, “and he looked around at the crowd and said, “Here are my mother and brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mk. 3:33-34). Family.
The church as family! Indeed, the church is a family! The very extended family of God! That is a vitally important reason why churches in the New Testament were established. Think about it for one moment! It’s perfect, isn’t it! Churches are meant to be extended families. God is our Father, and others in the church with us are our brothers and sisters. The Church. Some assembly is required because we are called to be a family. A healthy functioning family. Scary, isn’t it? People in the community need to know they can belong. A place of nurture, a place of hope, a place of accountability.