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Back To Business
May 15, 1994

ACTS 1:15-17, 21-26

While preparing for this sermon, I discovered something I had not noticed before. Luke begins Acts by recounting what happened after the resurrection. The disciples gathered on Mount Olivet which is just outside Jerusalem. Imagine the scene. A group of common, ordinary people from Galilee, the northern province, country folk. Frightened by the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus, bewildered by resurrection appearances, now being given unbelievable instructions. The resurrected Jesus told them, You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

After receiving such news, after experiencing such an encounter with the risen Lord, what do you think they would do? Compose a symphony? Lead a procession to the temple? Dance and feast? Write a letter to the emperor? Hold a glorious worship service, sing and make melody to the Lord? No, look what they did.

They held a Board meeting! They prayed and proceeded to elect Matthias to take Judas' place. They had a meeting, a committee meeting! An English tourist was taken to his first American football game. When asked what he thought about it, he replied, "Well, I enjoyed it immensely when they played, but they kept stopping to hold all those committee meetings!" We Americans love to hold committee meetings, and complain all the time we do it. Back in the 1950s theologian Emil Brunner wrote The Misunderstanding of the Church, saying that the church was supposed to be a pure fellowship without law and institutional apparatus. Most of us longed for a church that praised God and did God's work without all those committee meetings! I am part of that generation that looks at structure, institutionalism, organization with disdain; yet I am a Methodist, which thrives on structure, and now I discover that the first thing the early Christians did after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus was to hold a board meeting.

An election was held. A new leader took office. And the church continued. Jesus Christ did not come to us as some noble, abstract idea, some mushy inner feelings. Jesus came to us in the flesh, as a Jew from Nazareth. Furthermore, Jesus didn't work by himself, momentarily touching people's hearts and letting it go at that. Jesus from the first called real flesh and blood people like you and me and called us to follow, to visibly, daily take up our cross and follow. That's the church. It's real. It's earthly. It holds business meetings. It is political. It makes mistakes.

Of course, the church sets our minds on eternal, heavenly things. But we don't live in heaven yet, not completely anyway. We live here, in Merced, on Yosemite Park Way, among real people who are sometimes lovable and sometimes exasperating, sometimes faithful, often foolish; and this is exactly where God meets us in the Risen Christ. So when you think about it, the election of Matthias, all that nitty-gritty business right after Easter, was a thoroughly Easter act. The resurrection was given bodily form, preserved in the life of the church, offered to future generations, made real and present in the lives of believers with names like Mary, Martha, Peter, Matthias.

You and I don't live on Cloud Nine. We don't make our homes in some ethereal Never-Never Land of divine bliss. We live here, on Yosemite Park Way, among real people who have bills to pay, children to raise, parents to care for, and questions to be answered. And the beautiful thing is, in Jesus Christ and his church, God meets us here, gives us thoroughly human, visible proof of his continuing care for us. The visible proof of God's presence with us is the church, and the church is people worshiping, fellowshiping, serving, meeting, deciding, electing.

The church is people, committed to Jesus Christ, together doing God's work. All the members. A great tragedy developed over the years where churches delegated ministry to the clergy and professional staff members. You let the professionals do it, and the professionals have almost killed the church. Church after church shows decline. Who are the ministers? What does it say on the front of our bulletin? "Every member of the church." Those are not just words. We take the concept seriously, or the church continues to lose membership and decline.

It's obvious that no one, two or three individuals can do what needs to be done. It's physically impossible for one pastor to do the ministry of the church. Yet, that is what many churches have come to expect, and it is killing us. In one of my former churches, one of our active members grew older, and eventually was confined to her home. She let out the word that the church was not paying any attention to her. I asked her, "Don't so/so and so/so call you, come to see you?" "Oh, yes, but they are my friends." She didn't get the connection between her friends and the church. They were her ministers. They were her church, but she expected the professional pastor to call on her regularly. I went when I could, but there is no way one person can be the church to everyone. If you count all the people associated with the Merced United Methodist Church, there are about 900. It is impossible for one person to be the church to 900 people.

Do not get the idea that church members are to help the pastor do his job. The pastor and staff are to help the church members do the ministry of the church. You are the ministers. Real Christianity is not a spectator sport. It is a participatory, hands-on way of life. Every believer in Christ is to be a minister and be in the world doing ministry. When you believe in Christ and become a member of the church, Christ's body, you are the church. You don't attend one. I hear people say, "I attend the United Methodist Church." Attending implies spectating. You attend baseball games. You don't attend church, you are the church.

The tragedy when a church leaves ministry up to the professionals and members only attend is that the professionals then get all the fun! Doing ministry is not drudgery, duty, responsibility, something you must do or else. Doing God's work is the most joyful, fulfilling, satisfying work you can do. The rewards for representing Christ out in the world and doing ministry within the church are indescribable. I love my job, and I want you to discover the joy of being a minister.

My vision is a church which meets people's needs; a church where members see needs in the lives of people, within the church and outside the church, and decide how they, working with others, can meet that need. Ministry is where someone says, "I believe our church should be doing something about a particular problem, and I'd like to help." Then, together we put out the call for others to help, design a plan, train workers, and do it. Doing ministry is when you discover what gifts God has given you, develop them, and offer them to meet a need. To be a servant of Jesus Christ means getting in the trenches of ministry and doing what needs to be done, using the gifts God has given you.

Living examples of what I am saying this morning are the McCullohs who are moving to Virginia. This is Ralph and Jean's last Sunday with us. They arrived last summer and before unpacking, they showed up morning after morning to help paint the church buildings. Jean joined the United Methodist Women. They both came to the Tuesday Bible class. Ralph substituted for me teaching and preaching. Jean taught a CATCH class on Tuesday afternoons. Jean took over the adult section of our church library, and completely overhauled it. They are beautiful examples of how to get active in a church, and do God's work, do their ministry.

Our church has many examples of people who do ministry through music, CATCH, Sunday School, serving on committees, United Methodist Women. We have many ministers and I want all of you to catch the vision. When you visit a shut-in, when you visit a patient in the hospital, consider yourself a minister of our church. What you are doing is ministering in Christ's name. If you are a nurse or a doctor, you have a unique ministry. You don't have to verbalize, but do what you do in the spirit and on behalf of Christ. If you are a school teacher, you have a very special ministry. Love each student as God loves you. Pray for them. Let God use you. You are a minister. Your church needs more of you to minister with children and youth in Sunday School and Youth Fellowships. Is God calling you to a unique ministry? All of you can invite people to come to our church. When they come, or when you meet other visitors here, help them feel at home. Call them during the week, answer questions, tell them about our church, ask how you can help them.

After the exhilarating experience of encountering the Risen Christ, the church went back to business. The church is people meeting, worshiping, fellowshiping, ministering. The church is people doing God's work. The church's ministers are you.

© 1994 Douglas I. Norris