The church: It's where Christ lives

April 24th, 2017

Acts 2:42-47

No one can make the case that the Christian faith is theoretical. It is not a system of thought, a bank of words, or a collection of ideas. Ultimately the Christian faith is about living in relationship and community. The Easter legacy is the church of Jesus Christ.

Try as we might to clean up Christianity, this faith of ours always brings us back to the same place—the church. What Jesus leaves on this earth to continue his work is the church. I know people who like the idea of religion, but they don’t want the church. Some folks enjoy the warm, pleasant feelings that come from spiritual thinking, but they don’t want the church. Some are excited by the idea of love, but they don’t want the church. Some people certainly want heaven for eternity, but they don’t want the church for today.

That is a problem because, like it or not, if we are going to follow Jesus, we are going to be involved in the church. The church is often called the “bride of Christ.” Someone said, “I love Jesus. I just wish he wouldn’t bring his leprous bride every place he goes.” But church and Jesus go together like “love and marriage” or “horse and carriage.”

So just pause and reflect for a moment. Easter has come. The tomb has been emptied. The Lord has appeared to his disciples, and the announcement has gone forth: “He is alive!” Jesus is alive! Where do we find him for ourselves? Where do we experience his aliveness in personal ways? The answer is through the fellowship of the redeemed, in the quarters of the church, in the embrace of the manifestation of the body of Christ.

What I am saying elevates the church to a status that some may not appreciate. In Acts 2, we get a glimpse of the church in its earliest moments, and it is a beautiful thing to behold. The people are united, everyone is attentive to the teaching of the apostles, no one misses a service or a Bible study, there are enough volunteers for every task, folks are giving generously to support the church, and people are lining up to join. This is going to be a megachurch!

If you know your Bible and the story of the church, though, you know this way of life does not last. Soon the church will be dealing with all sorts of unpleasant matters. For example, today’s text is from the second chapter of Acts. By the fifth chapter, folks are dropping dead in the church for lying about their financial support. We’re talking about lying about their pledge. Hello!

Is this the church? Yes, this is the church. This is the “holy, catholic church” we affirm and believe in. This church is the aftermath of Easter. Do you want to experience the living Christ? Go to the church. Oh, I know there will be frustration. The church likes to “major in the minors,” quarreling over the most foolish things. It seems, at times, to enjoy poor health and to love complaining. I know all this. But I also know that if you want to find Jesus, it will be in his church.

I think of my own life. Both my parents were alcoholics, both died by their own hands through suicide. We lived from day to day in a volatile world of economic uncertainty—and the church came. The local Methodist church showed up with food, clothes, and, most of all, kindness. They welcomed me into their fellowship. They made me part of their choir. They said I was important to them. I had nothing to offer in return, but they did not care about that. They offered a new economics, the economics of grace. All I knew was that I was one lost young fellow, and these good people put the arms of Jesus around my life and sent me in a new direction of hope and meaning and purpose. I had found Jesus, or Jesus had found me, and life was forever changed.

The Christian faith is never theory. It is not about religious thinking. The Christian faith is about relationship. In the midst of the comings and goings of our lives, the risen Christ appears, community happens, and the church takes shape. Easter has come, and Easter continues. Easter continues in the imperfect, grace-filled community we call church. Remember this the next time you are tempted to give up on church. If you want to experience Jesus, this is the place and the people, for in spite of their imperfections and idiosyncrasies, the church is where the living Christ lives. 

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