Why Do You Come To Church?

This morning’s sermon – enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 12, 2014

Philippians 4:1-9

Why Do You Come To Church?

Why do you come to church?

This probably is not a question that I should be asking on a holiday weekend when half of the congregation is out of town, but, for right now, let’s go with it.

Why do you come to church?

This morning’s scripture reading is from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. It is a short letter that focuses on unity, love, knowledge and peace; the passage that we just heard begins the fourth and final chapter.

Let’s look more closely at this passage:

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.[1]

Paul cared for this congregation, truly cared – that is abundantly clear in this passage when he says that he loves and longs for his brothers and sisters and calls them “my beloved”. And Paul wanted to help create a church where the Philippian people not only cared for one another, but also lived their lives rejoicing in the good news that they were people of the resurrection and that God was in their midst.

Paul writes:

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.[2]

He spoke these words in reference to two women in the church who were quarreling, though we do not know what about.

Several weeks ago, I was preaching on an earlier chapter in Philippians and joked about the conflict between these two women in my sermon. I asked how many of us could imagine an instance where two women in a church were spatting about one thing or another. And while there is something very of tongue and cheek about talking about conflict in churches, there is also something very real about it as well.

We are human beings. Our church is a very human church. Our lives in community – religious or not – are very human lives. We do not always agree, we do not always get along and there are moments – very defining moments – throughout our journeys that have the potential to divide us from one another.

But Paul urges us to push back against our human nature, to be united.

And more than that, Paul pleads with us to not only be in the same mind as one another, but also to be in the same mind as the Lord.

Listen, Paul wanted the church to thrive in a way that only God could make happen. And humans can only do so much. God is what sets churches apart from the rest of the world. But we have to let God in – we have to let God into our lives, we have to let God into our relationships and we have to let God into our communities.

Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel.[3]

So let’s recap: Paul has asked us to be united in the same mind with one another, Paul has asked us to be united in the same mind with God and now Paul is asking us to help others as they seek to do the same thing.

Now we are getting at the heart of what it means to be part of a community of faith.

Coming to church is not just about you and your relationship with God – it is also about the whole entire community and what God is doing in its midst. It is about coming together and supporting one another. It is about holding one another accountable. It is about offering grace to one another and also accepting grace when it is offered to you. It is about listening to God and discerning where God is calling you to be.

Okay, I know what you must be thinking. So far this “being part of a church community” stuff sounds like a lot of work, right? But Paul goes on.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice.[4]

Well, rejoice, my friends! We do not come to church because someone is making us. We come to church because God has called us to this place to be part of an incredible ministry! And outside of church we are not even traveling along our own journeys of faith because someone is making us. We are exploring our faith because God is opening our eyes and our ears and our minds and our hearts to hope, peace, grace, reconciliation and mercy.

Church is good. Faith is good. Clinging to something that is unknown, yet so real and so powerful gives our lives meaning. Living a life of faith allows us to call attention to the joy in our lives and to give thanks to God every single day.

Paul goes on:

Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.[5]

You know, what we say matters. How we act matters. How we live our lives matters.

God not only dwells among us, but God also dwells within us. And if we truly believe that this is true, then we need to bear witness to it. We need to tell and show the people around us that God is present in the midst of the chaos of our lives and that God is working through us to change the world.

We have such a great story to tell. We need to tell that story.

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. [6]

This part is actually kind of funny, because essentially Paul has just laid out a big and kind of challenging responsibility for us in our lives and in our churches and then says, “Okay, but don’t worry, you are going to be fine.”

I am reminded of the time when I was sitting in orientation for my hospital chaplaincy rotation. The residents had essentially just us that this experience was going to traumatize us, then promptly handed us pagers and said, “Okay, you are on call this week – good luck, don’t worry, you are going to be fine!”

The call to discipleship does not come with an instruction manual.

But here is what it does come with.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.[7]

God’s got this.

I appreciate the sentiment that we all get hung up on from time to time that we will make or break the church, but the reality is – this is not our church. This is God’s church. We are called to work hard and we are called to be active and we are called to be diligent, but sometimes we are called to set a place at the table for God to come and work within us.

And that is such an amazing thing to be a part of.

Paul begins to close his letter to the people in Philippi by saying:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.[8]

When Paul talked about why he went to church, why he planted churches, why he travelled around ministering to new churches and why he cared so deeply for churches, he used words and phrases like “true,” “honorable,” “just,” “pure,” “pleasing,” “commendable,” “excellent” and “worthy of praise.”

What are the words and phrases that you would use to describe why you come to church?

Here are some of the reasons that I come to church.

I come to church because I want to be part of a community of faith. I want to be surrounded by people who share a common vision and who want to work together to do the work God is calling us all to do. I need to be surrounded by people who will hold me accountable to Paul’s call for unity – and Christ’s call to love.

I come to church because I want to worship. I desperately need to take a break from the busyness of life and re-set and re-charge on a consistent and weekly basis.

I come to church because I need to be surrounded by people who will support me when I need support and who allow me the opportunity to support them when they need it. There is abundant grace found both when you minister to others and when you allow others to minister to you.

I come to church because Christianity is an incarnational religion and part of telling the story of a moment in time where God became flesh means meeting in the flesh and living out the type of discipleship that Jesus demonstrated throughout his life.

I come to church because I love to sing, I love to pray, I love to laugh, I love to listen and I love to learn.

I come to church because the whole of something is greater than the sum of its parts. We are stronger disciples together than we ever could be as individuals.

I come to church because it is a place where I can practice resurrection; where I can be an active part of a story that is still unfolding.

I come to church because I feel better when I come. I complain less, I give thanks more. I gain perspective and I give back. I learn a lot and I am humbled all the time.

Paul spent his ministry planting and strengthening and encouraging church communities. He did not do this to stroke his own ego, he did this because he lived in a world that so desperately needed the church to exist.

And so do we.

And so we need to work just as hard to sustain that church – not only for us, but for the generations of Christians that will come after us.

Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.[9]

Friends, I leave you with a similar sentiment today. Keep on doing the things that you are doing. Be part of this church. Be active in this community   Discern where God is calling you to be in ministry.

And remember that the God of peace will be with you – and within you.

Always.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

***

[1] Philippians 4:1, NRSV
[2] Philippians 4:2, NRSV
[3] Philippians 4:3, NRSV
[4] Philippians 4:4, NRSV
[5] Philippians 4:5, NRSV
[6] Philippians 4:6, NRSV
[7] Philippians 4:7, NRSV
[8] Philippians 4:8, NRSV
[9] Philippians 4:9, NRSV

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