by Rev. Dale Azevedo, Sr. Minister          –          September 1, 2018

“The church is not a building,
                                     it is the people!”

Although most of us know this statement and will readily recite it at appropriate times, we still tend to look at “the church” as a thing. We often miss the point that the church is “us”. We are the church. You are the church. Nowhere is this supposed to be more true than in the “congregational” church. When we say things like, “The church should do X,” or “I can’t believe the church did Y,” we are missing the point.

We ARE the church!

So if that is the case, what does it mean to “be” the church?

To find the answer to that question, I think we best look at scripture. We are the extension of Jesus’ disciples. And, just to be clear, this is not metaphor. This is a literal reality. We are called to be disciples of Jesus in the very same way he called the initial disciples so long ago. When you joined the church, you joined the great communion of saints who accepted Jesus’ call to discipleship. And what did Jesus ask of them?

Heal the sick.
Raise the dead.
Cleanse the diseased.
Preach the good news.
Feed the hungry.
Visit the imprisoned.
Clothe the naked.
Welcome the stranger.
Make peace.
Feed my sheep.*

Looking at this call to the disciples, I’m struck by one major thing. It is all outward focused!! Nowhere does Jesus include, “Sing your favorite hymn,” or “Make sure you are always comfortable,” or “Feed yourself!”

So this is where it gets tricky. Because while most of us embrace all (or at least most) of the call from Jesus, it isn’t why we joined the church. Most of us joined the church, or remain active in it, because of what we get out of it. The church feeds us, or our children, spouses, and parents, so we remain a part of it. We feel welcome and comfortable. It becomes “our” church. This creates an inherent conflict between what we want out of church and what Jesus calls us to be. The two may not always be mutually exclusive, but they are not always compatible either. Something needs to give. And those of us most invested in the church are seldom willing to be the ones making the sacrifice. Instead it is the ministry, or the call, that suffers. We become so focused on making sure our needs are met by “the church” we miss Jesus’ call to be the church.

This is not criticism of any one person or group. As I said, it is a conflict inherent in our desire to join the church. It takes concerted effort to keep our focus outward, on the community, on the “least of these, my brothers and sisters.” The main purpose of the church is not to take care of its members, but for its members to take care of the community (in God’s name).

In saying all of this, I don’t mean to belittle our need for personal spiritual care and growth. Our desire to be fed by the church is natural and important. It is our spirit crying out to God’s Spirit and it is an essential part of Christian faith. In fact, we could not succeed long at responding to Christ’s call to serve others, without making sure we are spiritually fed ourselves. And that is the important distinction. Notice which has priority. The purpose of the church is to serve as Christ’s presence in the community, but in order to do that we need spiritual sustenance. The trap that too many churches, and church members, fall into is that our own personal sustenance becomes the purpose of the church, not the means to carrying out the real purpose.

So where do you find this tension in your relationship with the church? Do you get frustrated when the church isn’t fulfilling your needs? And, how hard is it for you to find balance between your needs and desires and God’s call to service? Do you recognize that Jesus’ call to the disciples to be of service to others is a direct call to you, as well?

You ARE the church. You are one of the disciples God has called to the East Bay at this time to be Christ’s presence in the community. What does that mean to you?

Perhaps the old saying I started off with about the church isn’t correct. The church isn’t the building, but neither is it the people. Perhaps the church is the ministry and we need to take better care of living out that ministry as we seek to be the church.

Blessings,
Dale

* Matthew 10:8; Luke 10:9; Matthew 25:34-40; Matthew 5:9; John 21:17