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This morning is a double celebration. We are celebrating our patronal festival – the feast of St Mark as well as celebrating the fact that we have successfully funded the restoration of our bells and bell tower – no mean feat for a small country church. And no mean feat for a preacher to include St Mark and bells in one sermon!
But it was only last week that I was preaching here on how church is not a building but a people. That we are the church in this place, we the gathered congregation of local Christians – not spectators but active participators. So what then is the church building for and why should we spend so much money on it?
How many people here are fans of Lord of the Rings? In the first book of the Lord of the Rings, we are introduced to the “Fellowship of the Ring”. It is a beautiful picture, very similar to a picture of the same diversity in the church. We see very different people from different backgrounds and races, come together on a mission, with the same purpose, serving one another. And when these great relationships forms, there emerges identity and ownership, and becomes a fellowship, a community.
In the bible Jesus only mentions the word Church twice and both occasions he is talking about the body of the church i.e., the people who are gathered together not a building. We know that the early church met in people’s houses, in fact it is Mark’s house that the first church in Jerusalem meets. It is here that he listens to Peter and begins to write his gospel and it is here that it is believed that the Holy Spirit comes upon them on the day of Pentecost. But it was also Mark who later travelled to Africa and established the church in Antioch, he built a cathedral and an enormous community and became the first Bishop.
It starts with God. The very nature of God is a community – the Triune God – God the Father, Son, Holy Spirit. But beyond that, He has revealed Himself as a personal God that can be known through relationship. But beyond just being a community, as well as creating us to come into community with God, we are created for community through relationships – God said that man was not created to be alone.
During Jesus’ ministry, the first thing He does is to gather the 12 disciples together to form a community. So church is not something you go to; it is not the building. It’s something you are a part of. Church is a community that you are connected to. And the measure of a great church is not the number of people that go there but the quality of relationships that takes place within its community.
But at the same time, we also have learnt that the church exists for those outside it. We also need to look at who is our primary community. Many different churches reach out to people in different geographical, sociological, spheres, and we see that similarly when the disciples went out, Jesus called them to be His witnesses first in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and then to the ends of the Earth. Then Jesus sends out the 70. One of which by the way is reputed to be Mark – he sends them out into the world to make disciples of all people.
So it’s not just about hanging out, having friendships, they and we are developing a life style that reflects what Jesus is like.
Church is a place where we grow together to follow Christ. That’s also why church exists: to create a space that we can grow together to be more like Jesus.
Christians by its very definition means followers of Christ. And so being like Jesus is for everybody – not just the select few.
And so I would like to offer that in fact spiritual maturity does not mean knowing a lot of scripture (although it helps), or how long you have been in church, but instead it is the degree to which we are able to follow Jesus in our lives.
The first twelve disciples are followers of Jesus. They learnt from what Jesus was teaching and doing and put it into practice.
Some aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry included:
- His focus on the nobodies and undesirables. There were no perquisites to who He ministered to. Jesus said that he had come for those who are sick not the righteous.
- Jesus met the immediate needs of those he encountered using a combination of healing and eating with them, encouraging people to come into contact with the divine through everyday activities.
- Jesus also spoke up against leaders of its time and corrected wrong attitudes.
And if we look on to the practices of the early New Testament church in Acts, we see these same areas of ministries in operation. They were engaging in various spiritual practices, in fellowship, praying, listening to the Word, involved in community action, meeting needs, loving people, serving, giving – all activities that train those in the community and position them to be more like Jesus.
As a church, the kind of church we are called to build is one that creates space where we can encourage Christ-followers, and then as a place where we can enable them to minister to others. That is the second element that must frame the kind of church we are called to build.
The third important element that we need to pay attention to as we look at the kind of church we are called to build is a church that is “empowered by the Holy Spirit”.
Jesus didn’t start his ministry until He received the Holy Spirit. And actually if you really think about it, the book which follows Acts of the Apostles is not really correct, it’s more like the Acts of the holy spirit working through the apostles.
The kind of church we need to build is a church that allows that relationship with God, that intimate partnership to develop and flourish. We do this when we create opportunity and space to gather to worship and pray, and we allow the spirit of God to move as we minister to one another.
God’s mission is to partner with us and participate in reaching our world. A commission is a co + mission.
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
The church exists because of the Great Co + mission. We’re here today in this Church and we know Christ because someone that came before us obeyed the Great Commission. In fact, we can come here every Sunday and worship in this very place because a community obeyed the Great Commission.
All churches need to be built on the Great Commission.
It is all about making disciples, not converts. And making disciples simply means equipping ourselves, being a witness by following Jesus, serving others through our lives and ministry, and then inviting others to do the same.
And so this is the church that Mark built in Antioch, just 20 years after the Ascension of Christ not a building for the sake of a building, but a place for Christians to meet and learn and equip each other, a thing of beauty yes, but to God’s glory not to his. Mark is attributed for taking the Gospel to Africa (a long time before Britain send out Missionaries!) And this is also the reason that John Keble built, here in Ampfield – a man described as being
‘absolutely without ambition, with no care for the possession of power or influence, hating show and excitement, and distrustful of his own abilities’. A church for the local people to gather, a visible sign of God’s love in this place.
And now that we understand this, we know what kind of church we are called to build. A body of Christ that cares for others, that comes together to help each other in that goal, to learn together to grow in maturity of Christ together. And therefore we have a responsibility to maintain the building in this place as it is the building which has become the visible sign of God’s people. The sanctuary to which all are called and where all can find rest and comfort.
And so what of the bells? Just as Jesus called his disciples, so the church call all by the ringing of the bells; come they say to learn, to heal, to find comfort and companionship, come they say and meet Jesus Christ our Lord.