Knowing the Church, Knowing Ourselves
ALL SAINTS’ DAY November 6, 2016
1 JOHN 3:1-3
1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
IN THE NAME OF JESUS.
Beloved, we are God’s children now—that’s how St. John describes us. The world does not know us. How well do we, ourselves, know us?
Here’s what the world knows. The world knows what can be seen with the eye, what can counted up and measured. The world knows mankind’s history is colored in blood and stained in violence. The world knows how people join themselves in organizations and associations in the hope of finding safety and protection in a broken world.
So the world sees all around groups and organizations of like-minded people having formed themselves up in order to secure a little peace, or order, or even safety, over against those who would harm them. Some of these are groups or associations with healthy, positive purposes; some have malicious and vile purposes. So the world sees people joining up in, perhaps, a league to protect innocent life, or a group to help the unemployed find jobs, or a safety patrol. At the same time, people are joining up in groups which are destructive or racist, even in gangs to do violence.
So what does the world see when she looks at the Church? Like all else she looks at, she sees a group of people who have voluntarily formed up themselves in consensual association, in order to protect themselves and promote their interests. How can the world see it any other way?
So the world sees over there a group of Christians. They are easy to spot as they get together every Sunday, and sometimes other days too. They hear readings from their texts, they speak in agreement in their Creed, they pray to their God, and they go forth, knowing that they have bound themselves to one another in common cause. How can the world see the Church any other way? That’s what the eye sees, after all, and that’s the way the whole rest of the world works.
In this way, the church can be identified and managed as any other human organization, since it is, after all, an organization of humans. Do you want to make the church stronger? Improve the church? The world knows how that works. You set up the right organizational structure, you design the efficient programs and policies, and you manage the church effectively.
But in all this, the world does not know the church one bit. The world has looked right at the church, full on-face, and misread what she is. And we, ourselves in the church, are in the world, too, and we, too, will misread what the church is, that is, what we are. 1 John 3:1:
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
The world cannot know the Church because the world does not know him, Jesus. You can’t know the church, you can’t comment on what the nature of the church is, you can’t rightly know what a Christian is, without knowing him, Jesus.
For the Church is no voluntary association of like-minded people, as it seems to the world. John says the church is those named to be children of God. The world cannot know this, because the world does not know him, Jesus, and so all the world can possibly see in the church is a group of like-minded people who have voluntarily joined themselves into a human organization to be measured and managed just like every other human organization.
But our Lord uses not the word organization for us, but the word “children.” No child makes himself or herself a child. No baby makes himself to be born. No infant chooses her own existence. Children are brought forth, they are given birth. They are fed and nourished. They are protected and nurtured. We are called, says John, children of God. The world cannot know us as this, for it does not know Jesus, our Lord.
The world can know only what the eye can see.
The world sees a person broken in spirit, one living in the shame of sin, and the world sees a poor one. Jesus sees a blessed one, to whom belongs the kingdom of Heaven.
The world sees those crying over the loss of a loved one, those lamenting brokenness in their lives, and the world sees one who mourns. Jesus sees a blessed one living in the comfort of the Word of life.
The world sees the one living in humility, treating his neighbor with gentleness and humbleness, and the world sees someone weak and to be despised. Jesus sees a blessed one who will inherit all the wealth of the new heavens and the new Earth.
The world sees one looking to be justified, to be delivered from his guilt, and the world sees a pathetic man hungering for what he cannot accomplish on his own. Jesus sees a man blessed with an inheritance that will complete and satisfy every eternal desire.
The world sees one who is merciful, and counts him a weakling unwilling to defend himself. Jesus sees one most blessed to live in the joy of mercy both for himself and for others.
The world sees one pure in heart, for she wants to count sins against no one, and one speaking peace, having left behind all retribution, and the world measures her to be one who will never get ahead. Jesus sees her as one most blessed, for she sees God’s face of mercy and she is accounted a child of God.
The world sees those chased down and persecuted, for they won’t bow down to the coercion of the world, but rather who find their comfort in the Lord’s Gospel; and those being captured, persecuted, falsely accused, and even killed for the holy Name they bear, and the world sees those who can’t stand up for themselves and are worthy only to be ill-treated and ostracized. Jesus sees those whom he has blessed to bear his holy Name, whom he has called into the congregation of those who have been persecuted and killed even in the generation of the prophets, and Jesus blesses them with the joy of belonging not the world, which is passing away, but to the kingdom of Heaven, where the reward assigned them is the full measure of his gift of eternal life and peace.
But the world cannot know this about the church, cannot know this about us, for the world does not know Jesus.
Do we know this about ourselves? Not when we are looking at each other with the eyes of the world, with eyes measuring according to what we can see, with eyes looking for ways to more efficiently lead and manage an organization, as if the church is just another human enterprise.
1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.[I John 3:1]
We are children of God. Not according to the eye, but according to the Word out of the mouth of God. Children, adopted into the family through the new birth of Baptism. Brothers and sisters to Christ Jesus by adoption, and therefore children along with him of his Father in Heaven. If it is true that you manage and lead a human organization, it is even more true that you feed and you nurture a family.
That’s what our Lord does. He feeds and nurtures those belonging to him. He puts his Name on us in Baptism. He gathers us to his Name, so that when we hear the Invocation—In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—we know we are where we belong.
He gathers us out of the world and into his family. And he feeds us. So we find in the front of the church not an organizational chart telling us how to set up the best systems, but we find … food and drink—simple food and drink and spoken word. For that is how you feed and nourish a family. And that is how Jesus has appointed it for us.
We hear our Lord say, This is my Body, this is my Blood, eat and drink for the forgiveness of your sins, and we know that he is here, giving himself to us, naming us as his brothers and sisters, proclaiming the Name of his Father in the midst of his congregation, so that we are, indeed, what he says we are: children of God. And we know we are pure. For the blood of Jesus purifies all sins.
1 John 3:2:
2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
IN THE NAME OF JESUS.