Ordinary Church: State of the Union

John 11:17-44 New International Version (NIV)

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles[a] from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

35 Jesus wept.

36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

 

Today is the first of a 7-week series on the church. It is based on the book written by Joseph S. Beach entitled “Ordinary Church: A Long and Loving Look”. I read this book this summer and it seemed to resonate with me in several areas. First the title of Ordinary Church is not a knock on the church but more of a way to see that being ordinary is really extra-ordinary. Beach brings in many ideas from several different authors that talks some about the decline of the church but more importantly how we might move forward in growing not the church but our faith and our relationship with God. Before I get to the book stuff and the “State of the Union” of the church I wanted us to reflect on the two passages that I chose to kick off this series.

The first is Psalm 121 and the second is the Raising of Lazarus from the gospel of John. In a snapshot these two passages are strong examples of God’s presence in our lives and our desire to be a part of God’s work in our midst. Psalm 121 is part of a group of Psalms 120-134 that are called “Songs of Ascents.” Pilgrims going to the holy city of Jerusalem for the high holy days probably sang these songs on the road. Singing is a major part of the church experience. I would imagine more battles have been fought over music in the church the last 100 years than any other worship segment. We have our favorite songs or hymns and those we dislike. Music creates such a strong emotion in us that we literally feel the presence of God in music at times. I have seen music bring smiles and tears goose bumps and sweat. The singing of hymns is one of the most tangible things we do in worship. I even saw this week on Twitter that there was a church trying to raise money and the means of raising that music was to bid on one hymn from worship for the entire year. That’s a crazy idea but people were spending some serious dollars so they didn’t have to sing hymns they hated.

Psalm 121 begins with focusing upward or heavenly towards God. It also reminds the hearer that God is the soul creator of everything. Then reasons that our only true help can come from one strong enough to create everything. Vs. 3-4 recognizes the omnipotence of God and how he watches over the people of Israel. Verse 4 also creates the image of God being a “keeper” or protector. This grows to a climax in verses 7-8 as God “keeps us from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”

God’s presence can not be lost. Because of our relationship with God and the promises of security—we respond with thanks and service. This promise and hope is extended to eternity with our story of Lazarus. It is more than just a story of resurrection as it that was not enough, but it is also a story of how Jesus the Messiah and Savior feels as we do. Jesus gets word that things are looking grim for Lazarus and he asked to come right away. Yet, there are delays and by the time they finally get to Bethany Lazarus has been dead for four days. Martha comes out to meet him and Jesus tells her that her brother will rise again. Now Martha says that she knows, that he will be raised on the last day—so there is a clear understanding of resurrection prior to Jesus’ resurrection. Yet Jesus then says, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

They dynamic life of the age to come is no longer a future expectation, but a present reality. To be united to Jesus means to be a recipient of eternal life. The unheard-of claim of God’s renewing power in Jesus is then acted upon—Lazarus walks out of the tomb. And still we see grief and feel anger and emotions of God’s presence.

With all of that being said, what is going on in the church? Why do we not have the same response to the claim that Jesus is the resurrection and the Life? Have we lost the excitement for the gospel story? Every year the President of the US gives a state of the union address to let Americans know how things are going an update so to speak. Beach gives his state of the union of the church in questions format. These are the questions that Beach tries to take on in his book. So, let’s look at some questions—just a heads up the answers are coming in future weeks, but this week I want you to ponder your responses…

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