The First Sunday after Epiphany Sermon 2017

Holiness befits your house. This phrase from Psalm 93:5 speaks to the beginning of a series I would like go through with you for this Epiphany Season. In the Epistle for the feast of the Epiphany on January 6, we read, “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs.” Over the next few weeks, we will look at the ramifications of the word “heirs: in our context as a commuter Church. Today, we start with the letter H, which I would like to look at in terms of the word holy.  How do we live holy lives or set apart lives in Christ in our context as a Church, a commuter Church? To define our terms, a Commuter Church is where most of the membership does not live in the immediate neighborhood of the Church. Most of us live at least 20 minutes away, making us in the parlance of experts, a commuter Church. In Jesus Christ, we are called to be holy through the hope provided by Him. In reading books and articles on doing Church, one is often bombarded by how Church should only be local, that commuting Churches are not ideal. The pull in the Church is longing for something better, to be discontent with where we are, to re-brand, and so forth. Much of such activities are mere gimmicks ripped off from secular business models. Church growth literature teaches that commuter churches are not the “in” thing and therefore need to be ditched in favor of all things local, neighborhood based, and so forth. Yet, we need to rather look at where we are with the view of holiness, godly contentment, and how to better be Christ’s Church in the context He has placed us all, in the Parish of Church of the Holy Trinity. This morning, let us meditate upon our call as members of our Parish to live in Christ’s Holiness in our context through the lens of Romans 12:1-5.

Holy and Acceptable to God. Romans 12:1-2

            First, as Romans 12:1-2 outlines, living Christ in our commuter Church context entails verse 2, as “holy and acceptable to God.” We are called out from this world to live in Jesus Christ by His grace through faith. First, this is foreign to the world around us that wants our full and total allegiance. As I Peter 2:11 states, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” Being the Church as sojourners and exiles is difficult, especially when the world is constantly vying for our worship. Living as sojourners or strangers is to live Christ, in holiness, abstaining from the passions of the flesh that this world wants us to engage in constantly. Yet, it is sojourners and exiles that are called to proclaim the Gospel to the world. We do not live holy in a manner to bunker up in our local Church to keep out those that make us uncomfortable by worldly standards. No, living holy lives is through our status as declared holy through the perfection of Christ. We are called as the Church to be not of this world. Rather, we are called to proclaim Christ to the world while living as salt and light, different and set apart in the humility of Christ.

            We live in this manner in the context the Lord places us in accord with Romans 12:1, “by the mercies of God.” Living Christ is hard. Living set apart lives for Christ and for each other is sacrificial. Yet, we often hear that the Church should be made easy and accessible. Often, difficulties are removed such as are seen in what we do as normal in our liturgical, commuting Church. We have to get ready earlier to make it to worship. Then, in worship, we pray from a liturgy in pews in which we have to share personal space with others. We stand, sit, and kneel throughout the service. We are constantly shaken from comfort to the uncomfortable in terms of worldly standards. We need God’s abiding mercy in our lives because life is hard. It is harder so for Christians. To deny such and to sugar coat so much as the temptation is in our country within the Church is to set Christians up for heartache.

            The challenge for us in a commuter Church is first to seek Christ in all things by His mercy in order to live in holiness. Second is the challenge of living Christ by the mercies of God with each other in our Church not just on Sundays, but in the days in between. Living as exiles and sojourners in this world as Christians, we are to bring the outside perspective of Christ to all we encounter. For most us as we leave worship, we are not going into this immediate community to live. Rather, we go out to our parts of the city or region to continue to live life in Jesus Christ. We live as ambassadors of Christ in our neighborhoods, schools, and jobs. We live as ambassadors of our Church in these places. We do not conform to the way most people choose to live out their faith, with the convenience of attending the nearest or the most user-friendly Church.

            In such, we have to turn to Christ, His Word, and each other for comfort, for the mercies we need to live in the adverse landscape of this world. Isaiah 43, our Old Testament reading today, gives us several examples of the mercies of God we can find comfort in to carry forth our call as sojourners and exiles. Isaiah 43:1-2 states, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”  God is with us in all we encounter. We are to be with one another as His Church in all we encounter. The call for Christians is presence. We experience great mercy and grace when we are with each other, whether here in worship or during our weeks. We all need God’s mercy. We all need each other’s mercy. In our spiritual lives, this need is real. How do you fill this need in your life? How do you fill this need in your fellow brothers and sisters of our Parish?

Living Sacrificially and Spiritual Worship.

            The answers to these questions reside in what we find immediately before the call to live by the mercies of God and immediately after. We are to present our bodies as living sacrifices. Such presentations are our spiritual worship. It starts with Isaiah 43:11, “I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior.” Further, in verse 13, “I work, and who can turn it back?” We cannot muster up being living sacrifices for God and for each other. It is by His grace and mercy that we ask for throughout life. Do we pray for His mercy to be there for each other? Do we pray for His mercy as our Savior to work within His Word in the context He has placed us to minister to one another as this Church?

            It begins with our worship. When we worship, pray for each other. When we worship, pray for God’s mercy to live as salt and light in our context. When we worship, pray for the mercy to be merciful to each other beyond these walls. Living sacrifices looks beyond self and our own little worlds to those around us in worship, and then out to the places we live, learn, and work. How often do you pray for each other during your weeks? How often do you reach out to communicate with your fellow members during the week? How often do you visit with fellow members outside worship and other Church related events?

            This relates with what we read in Romans 12:2, to not be conformed to this world. Rather, in Christ we are to submit to Him, to be transformed in the renewal of our minds. “that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” The normal course of this world is alienation from others to worship self. Rather, as His people, holy and acceptable to God through Christ, we are to seek what is good, acceptable, and perfect in Christ. In this, we love sacrificially in opposition to a world that loves selfishly. In some ways, in our status as a commuter Church, we are going contrary to the way this world does things, to all the latest trends. The way of this world is to moan in discontentment about our status to the point of rebranding, reimaging, or other gimmicks to seek artificial change. Rather, the call of the Gospel is to learn contentment in the place He has placed us through being holy in Christ through the hope provided in Christ. When we can become content in this, we will see that our contentment is not an excuse to be stagnant, but rather to move from the foundation of what God has called us to be as His Church through His love.

Think with Sober Judgment. Romans 12:3-5

            This brings us to the second section of our Epistle, verses 3-5, exhorting us to think with sober judgment. This is through the grace given to us in God’s Word. When we examine our lives, do we do so by Christ and His Word? Sober judgment is to submit our thoughts and decisions to Christ and His Word. When we have a decision to make, do we look to Holy Scripture through prayer primarily? Or, do we only give such lip service and rather place worldly judgment at the forefront of our decision making?     

            In striving to submit all our judgments and decisions to Christ and His Word, we are in fact exhibiting godly humility. When we disdain the Word of God in helping us make good and godly decision in favor of the wisdom of this world, we are in fact exhibiting godless pride. We are called in verse 3 to not think of ourselves more highly that we ought to think. Practically, this should apply in every single subject of life. Do we earnestly pray through decisions and issues we face, seeking Christ’s Word to inform our decisions? Or, does Christ’s Word take second tier or maybe no tier in some or most of our decisions? The Word calls us to check all that is taught in the teaching of the Word by the Word of God as the Berean Church did in the book of Acts. The same applies through all we face in this world as sojourners and exiles, members of Christ’s Church. Does the decision in front of me contain a clear way of remaining faithful to Christ or a way that speaks more to my trust in worldly things?  These are the tough questions we all have to examine on a daily level as fellow sojourners and exiles in this world.

            Our Epistle ends with this in verse 5, “so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” We are called to Christian love. Sometimes, we take the label of sojourners or exiles from I Peter to the extreme of how we view fellow members of Christ’s Church. This must not be so. Rather, sojourners and exiles are the result of what happens when the world hates us for being servants of Jesus Christ. In such exile, WE NEED EACH OTHER in the Church more so than any other institution on earth. We as the Church as members of one another are members of the family of God in Christ. We are to be strangers to this world in living holy lives, set apart in Christ; not strangers to each other in the Church.

Conclusion

            Holiness truly befits the house of God. We worship together as members of the family of God, adopted sons and daughters from this fallen world that are now exiled from the wickedness of this world. We need each other. Without each other in worship and all the times in between through prayer, supporting each other in prayer and encouragement, fellowship, and just being in Christ; we will be sorely grieved. We are called to cling to Christ. Clinging to Christ is to remain connected to each other through the familial relationship of membership in part ofthe Church Jesus has called us all to join and support. Let us close with these words from Bishop Charles Cheney, speaking of how we should view the Church, not just our buildings, but more importantly each other as the various parts of the Body that makes Holy Trinity the place it is in Jesus, “"The church to which one belongs is his home. A Christian who is ignorant of his own church, ought to be as rare as the man who knows nothing of the house in which he dwells." Amen.