I have mentioned before a book I have been reading "God's Ultimate Passion" by Frank Viola and some of you know that I went to a conference in early June where Frank Viola was the main speaker and his presentations were an introduction to the themes of the book. So .... it will not be surprise that I am sharing this morning some things I am absorbing from these sources.
I am also working from the three readings we had this morning.
- Isaiah 5:1-7 About the love of God for His people and how he would like the relationship to be. His disappointment.
- Paul from 1 Cor 12:12-31 About the Body of Christ and its parts and their functions and relationships.
- Jesus in Luke 12:49-56 with some tough statements about the conflicts and divisions He is bringing and the signs of the times
I think the reading from Isaiah provides us with some context for consideration of the themes of the other readings. It is talking about a landowner with a vineyard on his land and the care and effort he put into establishing and cultivating his vineyard. And his disappointment that it did not yield any good fruit but only bad.
What more could have been done for my vineyard
than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes,
why did it yield only bad? (Is 5:4 NIV)
The writer is very explicit about this story being an image of God, the landowner, and His care and love for His people represented by the vineyard.
The vineyard of the LORD Almighty
is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah
are the garden of his delight.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
for righteousness, but heard cries of distress. (Is 5:7 NIV)
We can see here in microcosm the story of the OT. God created in love, hope and expectation. He looked forward to relationship with mankind. But mankind fell into rebellion and out of relationship with God. But God still hoped and loved and sought ways of recovering the relationship. Until, as in this passage and the remainder of the chapter - He considers giving up and laying waste to the vineyard and threatening the people of Israel with destruction and exile.
We know that in the end God offered the ultimate means of salvation, reconciliation and restoration.
So this image of God's love and care for His creation, although in many times and many ways He has been disappointed and frustrated with the response to His love and care, ... this image provides a context for considering the themes of the other readings.
The Purpose of the Church
Some propositions about the purpose of the church ...
The church that God created is a group of people that gather together to fulfil the eternal purpose of God.
- they are learning how to live by the Christ that is in them
- they are sharing that life
And thus they show forth the image of Jesus Christ to the world around them.
They make Him visible, not by their liturgies and rituals, not by their symbols and books, not by their buildings and institutions, but by their life as a gathering that is built out of the shared lives of the individuals.
"You are the Body of Christ" (1 Cor 12:27) said Paul. When the people of God gather they all function and participate together. Each has a gift, a particular function, a skill. These are built together, not by the design of the people, but by the design of Christ the Head and the result is that God is seen on earth.
And dominion is established over the forces of darkness.
None of the following are good reasons for the gathering meeting in a house:
- not liking ministers preaching sermons
- tired of institutions and their traditions
- like to be among friends
- like eating together
- it is more biblical
None of these is a good reason to be meeting in a house.
The one reason for believers to meet is the Lord Jesus. To project Him. To make Him visible in the community life so that men and angels will see Jesus Christ living on earth.
The intensity of the connection between the Head
and the Body
We read in Luke, Jesus talking about signs of the times:
"I have come to bring fire on the earth ..."
"Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, ... and so on ..."
This sometimes seems a difficult passage. What is Jesus talking about here? Is this the God of peace and love? Did something get lost in translation?
But I think Jesus is talking here about the separation between those who catch the revelation, the vision, of the Kingdom and those who reject it.
And it becomes a sharp divide because of the intensity of the relationship between the Head and the Body. And I think that this is a powerful point in this image that we sometimes miss. It has certainly become more vividly clear to me recently. Paul uses this image in several places in his letters.
"If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. (1 Cor 12:17-23 NIV )
This is a vivid image and we have often used it to try to work out how we should be doing church and how we should try to work out the difficulties in relationships we inevitably run into when we get a group of people together for any purpose.
But there is a big point that I for one tend to overlook. That is the relationship between the Head and the body. Normally it is very clear that if a head is separated from its body - that's it. It's over. The body (and the head) is dead. The head and the body need to remain in intimate ongoing contact for the being to remain alive.
And I think that is a very important point when we try to understand how church should be working according to this model. The head is head of the whole body and the head is also head of the individual parts.
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God ...." (Rom 12:1 NIV) says Paul.
We use that regularly in our liturgical prayers. This is a big thing. This is life changing. We offer ourselves, souls and bodies, to be living sacrifices, to be living stones out of which God will build His church. And that church has Jesus as the Head and us as all the parts of the Body.
Marti pointed out last time how important it is that we make a decision to commit ourselves to God, but that this can be a difficult choice because so many other priorities offer themselves.
I think this is not primarily a choice we make with our intellect - the choice to make such a sacrifice and enter into such an intimate relationship with Jesus and allow ourselves to be built into something along with all other believers. Of course, our mind is involved in making the choice, but primarily it is a revelation, a vision, a conviction that goes beyond intellect and rationality that opens up the purpose of God to us and His truth and the reality of His Kingdom. And this revelation plays primarily on the level of our spirits. We sing so many songs about it:
"Open the eyes of our heart Lord ..."
"We wanna see Jesus lifted high ..."
"One way, Jesus,
You're the only one that I could live for ..."
So, I think this explains the divisions Jesus was talking about. Some catch the vision, and become members of the Body of Christ. Others reject the vision and do not accept the Headship of Jesus.
And so people become divided one from another - those who offer themselves to be built into the body, under the authority of Jesus the Head and those who cannot see the point, who cannot commit, who reject the authority of Jesus.
In closing I would like to share with you a little poem which is a meditation on Ephesians 2:11-22 by Laura Springer, a graduate research student at Biola University, California. Some of the themes I have touched on can be found in the poem.
who we were,
who we are,
who he is.
what we've done,
what he's done.
feeds the old me,
we're cut off.
we're holy ones.
we're one people.
we're his house.