Vision of the church in this Time
What God wants to teach us as a church at this time
This sermon is translated from German into English. You can find the original video here
Who still remembers the beginning of last year?
- I know it’s difficult, it already seems so far away to us.
- We don’t even know what it felt like anymore.
- Freedom, meeting,
- everything felt fine, even if we must have all moaned about other problems in our lives.
- Then Corona came, at first we thought it would be a sprint, it will pass quickly.
- We were motivated, everything was a little different, it will be fine.
Now it turns out that it’s not a sprint, but a marathon, it’s exhausting.
- We get tired.
- You can only run a marathon if you’ve trained, and we don’t have that.
- This is our situation now.
- I talk to a lot of colleagues.
- During the lockdown over Easter, new things were tried out, a lot was online, that was exciting, we opened up new opportunities, and we’re grateful for that, but we’re also slowly noticing that online isn’t all that great.
- We miss togetherness.
I was wondering how do we deal with this?
- What is important now, what is important for this year, what is important for the future – for us personally, this is what next Sunday is about, and for us as a congregation, this is what it is about today.
The two sayings I’ve heard the most over the past year were:
- Eyes shut and go for it. Will get better soon.
- At some point it subsided and for that came:
- Hopefully everything will be back to normal soon.
- Eyes shut and go for it. Will get better soon.
- And: Hopefully everything will soon be back to normal.
- Maybe you catch yourself feeling the same way.
- And I can understand that so well
- when we remember back to what we lack now, what is different now.
But when I heard this saying I had to think of an incident in the Bible that many people wished for it back.
- You were in the desert.
- The people of Israel.
- Exodus from Egypt.
- There they had been slaves, oppressed.
- Yes, they had food and were taken care of, but not much else
- God painted them a picture of a promised land.
- A land of freedom, where milk and honey flow, an image of abundance.
- And so they set out.
- But before the promised land comes the hot sand.
- They imagined it differently.
- Get up in the morning, look out of the tent: nothing but sand and tents.
- Then go hiking, pitch the tent in the evening, go to sleep, and you know that the next morning you look out of the tent again, and you see nothing but sand and tents.
- And so was the wish of many: we want to go back.
Image that we can transfer to our current situation
- Desert time.
- Much really challenging.
And the exciting thing is that a few years ago God gave us a prophetic impression as a church, that we as a church made ourselves comfortable on a plateau, but that God wants to continue with us like on a hike, that he has something else in store with us that it goes to a mountain.
- But the way to this mountain leads through a valley, which also has green areas, but which also has stony sections.
- And he challenges us to leave our plateau, what we have already achieved as a community, our being fed up with this situation, our comfort.
- And then comes this stony road, like this desert.
- Some people said in the year before last that we were through this valley, but I didn’t get that impression because not much has changed in our community since then.
- Yes, a lot has happened externally.
- We have renovated our rooms and are still there and that turned out really nice.
- Our technical possibilities have increased, otherwise we would not have been able to offer all of these live streams.
- And that’s awesome at this time.
- But God wants to do more, he not only wants it to be beautiful on the outside, but also to make it beautiful on the inside.
In the Bible we read of a promised land not only among the people of Israel, but also at the very end of time.
- God dwell with his people
- What comes before are crises.
- There is talk of bad natural disasters and other things.
Some speculate that the end will be soon.
- I do not want to participate in this speculation.
- Yes, Jesus is coming again, but people already thought that back then with Emperor Nero, with the plague, in the 30 Years War, in the world wars.
- Revelation describes the end coming into labor.
- Labor at birth.
- With distance, intensity increases, distances become shorter.
- Violent woe, it can be that afterwards it becomes calmer again.
We also often read in the Bible that great miracles are preceded by hard times.
- Jesus says he’ll come back when we don’t count on him:
- Mt. 24: 43-44 Make one thing clear to yourself: if a householder knew in advance what time of night the thief was coming, he would stay up and prevent the break-in. So be ready at all times; for the Son of Man will come at an hour if you do not expect it.
So when Jesus comes again is speculation.
- But what Jesus is saying here is being ready anytime.
- Be ready anytime!
If we read in Revelation that more crises are coming, then we need to prepare and ask ourselves: God, what should we learn from this time now.
- What should we learn personally and what as a church in order to be prepared?
- If we just want to go back or withdraw until it’s all over, then we are missing out on what Jesus is trying to teach us during this time.
- Jesus says that times of crisis are not only challenging, they also offer opportunities.
- That they are times to show us what we are made of.
- That they are times to separate the wheat from the chaff
- and that they have the chance to further shape us.
- This applies to us personally, but it also applies to his community:
- In Eph. We read 5:27: For Jesus wants to make his congregation ‘a bride’ of immaculate beauty, who can appear before him holy and blameless and without spots, wrinkles or any other imperfection.
- That is God’s plan with his church, and that is what desert times like this Corona time serve.
Before we look at what we can learn, let me take a quick look at what church actually is according to the Bible.
- And that is important, because church is not about what we would like to have, but what God, as its inventor, thought of it.
Jesus gives his disciples an assignment.
- We read about it in Mt. 28, 18-20: And Jesus came and said to them, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations: baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to keep all that I have commanded you. And see, I am with you every day until the end of the world.
And then he gives another promise.
Mt. 18.20 Because where two or three come together in my name, I am in their midst.
- I don’t know how to imagine that: Jesus is with us every day, but here, where at least two or three come together in his name, he seems to be particularly present again.
And then we read in Acts how the church begins:
- Acts 2.42-47 Everyone in the congregation received regular apostles teachings and lived in close fellowship, celebrating sacrament and praying together. A deep respect for God filled they all. He worked many signs and wonders through the apostles. The believers lived like one big family. What they owned was theirs in common. Those who owned land or other possessions sold it and used the money to help those who were in need. They met every day in the temple and celebrated the sacrament in their homes. They met with great joy and sincere hearts for meals together. They praised God and were respected and recognized by the whole people. The church grew every day because God saved many people.
As a church, we have formulated our vision as follows:
- We are a community in which as many people as possible get to know Jesus and are happy to follow him together.
That is the core of what the church is, as it is described in the Bible and as God imagines it.
- It’s about people getting to know him.
- Because God loves people, and he wants everyone to hear the good news of reconciliation with God and to have the opportunity to make a decision to accept this great gift and to live in friendship with God.
- And then he places them in a community of people who are traveling together.
- Because God knows very well that life alone is not fun and that it is difficult to live faith alone.
- We’re going to break alone.
- This saying applies fully to us humans, because God created us for relationships with one another.
- That we help each other, complement each other, celebrate with each other and also carry heavy things.
- And then it’s about following Jesus, being close to him and also supporting each other in this.
- To take others by the hand and make disciples.
So church is not a place I go.
- Not a building.
- No appointment on Sunday.
- Rather, the church is the people who meet in the name of Jesus
- It is nothing new.
- It’s something that I have already said again and again in recent years, but which is now becoming more visible and will become even more important in the future.
- And I would like to tell you about a church in America whose leader writes: “
- Most churches have only one goal: worship. And if you take that away, there isn’t much left. They want to get back to the service as soon as possible, because that’s all they have. ” The Saddleback community is built on five pillars, not one. “If you take away one circle – the service – there are still four left,” explains Rick Warren, the pastor. “The services continue. The mission continues. The fellowship goes on, and so does the discipleship. These areas all work independently.”
- The result: the church did not close the ban on worship. Instead, according to Warren, over 16,000 people have come to believe in Christ through the service of Saddleback since March 2020 – around 80 people are still converted every day. “We’re experiencing revival,” Warren says. When the pandemic struck, Saddleback leaders met, made a list of all the issues that COVID was causing – and then began addressing those issues within their sphere of influence.
- “The first was food,” Warren explains. Saddleback made connections with every school district in Orange County and helped set up food distribution centers. “Today the Church is the largest food distributor in Southern California and has so far distributed nearly two million kilos of food to over 300,000 families.”
- “We teach our people that every member of the ward has a ministry,” Warren says. «Everyone is also a missionary. You are a witness. Church members know how to talk about their faith. When people come they talk about Jesus. ” Of the 16,000 conversions, 12,000 came to the faith not through sermons but through the personal one-to-one testimony of Christians.
We are not in America.
- We may have other conditions as well.
- We’re not as big as this church either.
- But we have the same God.
- But 40 years after Jesus’ ascension to heaven, it was destroyed.
- Right from the start, however, people met in private homes.
- They ate together.
- They talked about the day.
- About the challenges.
- About what one had experienced with God.
- People celebrated, and by that I mean really celebrate, the Lord’s Supper together.
- We read that people came together with great joy.
- People were reminded of what Jesus had done.
- That passed into worship that came from the heart.
- nd then you made yourself courage to bear witness to it.
- One prayed for one another and with one another.
- And you helped yourself where necessary.
- It was a solid community.
- People came to it.
- The house was getting too tight.
- A new group was born in a new house.
Forms of a church service as we know it, Sunday morning, one and a half hours, rows of seats facing forward, listening to a sermon, all of this can hardly be deduced from the New Testament.
- The only exception were meetings where, for example, Paul was present and talking, or when a letter was passed around, it was read out and then discussed.
- Our services today come more from the synagogue services of the Jews, because there were also many Jews who came to believe.
- And so this form gradually became more and more popular until today.
- And the service itself is also something valuable.
- But it is not everything.
The danger is that it leads us to passivity and to consume with this form.
- We confuse faith with going to church and building.
- We hear a sermon that we intellectually agree to.
- We talk a little superficially afterwards and think we had fellowship.
- But what it is about is that people live faith in everyday life.
- That they should become disciples.
- Disciple means student.
- With the aim of being able to feed yourself as a Christian and to be able to live your spiritual life independently at home, in the family, at work and with friends.
- The service is then just another impulse, but I don’t depend on it.
- The Bible describes this process as one from milk drinker to black bread eater, from spiritual baby to adult.
- In 2018, I preached extensively on this process at the beginning of the year.
- Here you can see again the graphic that I developed for it.
- A baby is getting milk and needs to be fed.
- It takes support and guidance. That is the responsibility of other Christians.
- As it matures, it becomes self-reliant in faith and able to share the good news with others, teach others, and guide others in discipling others.
- A disciple is only the one who makes others disciples again.
- Corona teaches us that it is not about consuming, but rather becoming a disciple and making disciples of others.
Corona also teaches us the value of small groups.
- Where a meeting in large groups is no longer possible, people can still meet in smaller groups or in pairs.
- Why, for example, not just watch the service in pairs and talk about it afterwards.
- And should we one day be persecuted for our faith, then public worship is the first thing that stops.
- It is all the more important to invest in good friendships in small groups now.
- Uli Neuenhausen writes:
- Responsible Christians can also shape their spiritual life outside of worship.
- They are able to pray and discuss spiritual matters with their children, spouse, or other housemates.
Therefore, discipleship is closely related to the ability of a community to experience common spiritual life even without worship.
No matter whether as a couple or in a small group.
That’s what the early Christians did.
And that is what God’s special promise rests on: where two or three are together, he is in the midst of them.
These groups shared life, their deepest thoughts.
They celebrated the sacrament together.
Jesus adored. Her longing for Jesus was palpable.
I believe that here too we can still learn a lot from real community.
- Because that is also part of the fact that every individual naturally wanted to talk to other people about the great gift that Jesus had given them.
- Not because they had to compulsively, but because they were so filled with Jesus’ love for them and his heartbeat.
- I believe that we can learn here too, both in terms of this heartbeat for the people around us, and in integrating them naturally into our community.
- Serving people and telling them about Jesus.
- Paul tells Timothy that we should always be ready to share the hope that is in us!
- And at this point I just have to get rid of a sentence that may provoke some:
- The real conspiracy of our time is that health is the most important thing in our life and we don’t need God.
- But in addition to the social, which also defines us humans, I would like to say above all that the most important thing is not to save people from death, even if that is important.
- But we will all die someday anyway.
- But the most important thing is that people are made acquainted with God and spend their lives in eternity with him.
- And I hope that we maybe understand that a little more and that Corona also makes us a little more aware of the urgency:
- To live relationships with non-Christians
- to be willing and able to talk to other people about one’s own faith and to share one’s own faith; and to guide others in faith.
- To live spiritual relationships and friendships
For some, these points are a whole new way of thinking about the church.
- Some also feel overwhelmed.
- But Jesus did not limit his missionary assignment to just a few particularly gifted people.
- It is he who builds his church.
- It is he who calls us.
- It is his power that works through us.
In 1961 the first Turkish car was developed.
- The devrim.
- The car was to be presented to the public on Republic Day.
- The president would do a lap of honor.
- Everything in the development was tightly timed.
- The prototype was transported by rail to Ankara, the capital.
- The model was still painted on the journey.
- Finally the President sat in and drove off.
- But after 100 meters the car stopped.
- They had forgotten to add more gasoline.
So it is when we try to build church without God.
- In connection with the image of the mountain in our vision, God came across the following psalm in preparation for this sermon:
- I lift my eyes to the mountains. Where do I get help from?
- My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
- He won’t let your foot slip, and he who guards you does not sleep.
- See, the guardian of Israel sleeps and does not slumber.
- The Lord will keep you; the Lord is your shadow over your right hand,
- that the sun will not sting you in the daytime, nor the moon in the night.
- The Lord will keep you from all evil, he will keep your soul.
- The LORD keep your coming and going from now on and forever.
- Psalm 121
So where does our help come from?
- It comes from God himself, who wants to empower us through his spirit.
- And we also have to learn more about this, especially when further crises come, as it is at least in Revelation, as a church to lift our gaze to God.
- Let us take a fresh look at the goal of where God wants us to go as a church, but also the great goal of God that we do not fall asleep but are prepared and do our part.
- Let us turn to God and pray for his help in our lives, in our church, in the lives of the people around us and in our country.
- I think we need more and serious, ongoing prayer!
- Let’s look at what God gives us today, because even in the desert back then he provided for his people and we read that here in the psalm that he does it today too.
- Isn’t it any wonder that in 40 years of wandering the desert, the people of Israel didn’t even need new shoes?
- That they always had enough to eat.
- That the sun wouldn’t burn them.
- That they triumphed over their enemies even though they had no combat experience.
- And isn’t there so much reason to thank us too?
- We must learn not to let our joy in God be stolen from us!
- Raise your eyes to the mountains!
- And let’s get infected again by God’s heart for people, not only consume, but mature in faith, seek closeness to Jesus, tell others about him, take others by the hand and make disciples and discover in the smallest relationships of our everyday life, that Jesus is there, and learn to live in small congregations and communities.
- In the past few years I have given everyone a card in this service.
- And I invite you to just do it for yourselves today after this service at home.
- Take a card where you can write down a person that God puts on your heart.
- And then hang this card on the bathroom mirror or put it in your wallet.
- Somewhere where you will see them again and again and be reminded to pray for that person.
- And then be courageous and look for opportunities to talk to and invite the person about Jesus.
- Because we are infinitely grateful that we are allowed to belong to him and we are convinced that the best thing that can happen to a person is to live this friendship with God.
- And write a second person on this card.
- A person that you especially want to keep in view this year in order to help them advance in their faith.
- To pray for her, to meet with her, and just guide her in faith.
I have had a person on the card for many years that I have prayed for. Last year she made her decision and we got the chance to baptize him and his wife in the pool at their home.
Someone else is taking him by the hand now while I’ve been with a couple last year.
We watched movies, read the Bible, talked about life issues. A little booklet from the campus for Christ if someone needs guidance. There are so many possibilities. Who are your people?
I believe that God wants to do something in our church, also this year.
- That he would like to draw us closer to his heart and that people join in when they feel our love and openness that God has placed in us and that we make ourselves available to him.
- I want my friends to get to know Jesus, and I want the people in Frankenberg and our localities to get to know him because I am convinced that this is the best thing that can happen to them.
The word church originally meant “those called out”.
- They were those from a city who, in a way, yes, you would say today, met in a council meeting to make decisions for the good of the city.
- As a church, we are challenged to stand up for the good of those around us.
- And that starts with prayer.
- And finally I would like to read you a Bible passage that is so topical where God invites us to do it on behalf of our people:
- God says:
- Behold, if I close the sky so that it does not rain, or the locusts devour the land, or let a plague come among my people, and then my people, of whom my name is mentioned, humble themselves, that they pray and seek my face and turn from their evil ways, I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sins and heal their land. 2nd Chr. 7: 13-14
Are we going to do that and seize the chance this crisis offers us and learn what God wants to teach us?