Acts 10:44-48; Acts 17:32-33
I’ve decided I’m going to quit going to church. Let me explain that:
If I “go” to church, that means church is a place separated from the rest of my life—contrary to God’s call in baptism.
If I “go” to church, that means I have activities that are part of God’s work and some that aren’t —contrary to God’s call in baptism.
If I “go” to church, that separates what happens inside this building from what happens outside–again, contrary to the life we’ve been called to in baptism.
Any time we separate church from other part of our lives, we’ve missed the point of church.
So, yes, I’m going to quit “going” to church; and instead, I’m going to recognize that I “am” church. Every day. In every situation. Anything that compartmentalizes faith, baptismal life, God, or church into some separate place or activities pulls me away from my life as church.
That’s the point Peter and Paul are making in these texts in Acts today. Peter in Acts 10 is among the Gentiles at Cornelius’ house. These are people who Peter had always been taught were separated from God, separated from righteousness, separated from belief. And yet, God was among them and including them.
Paul knew from his own experience that there is no separation between people that love God and people that God loves. So he’s revealing God’s creative and redeeming work to those who asked him about it in Athens. OK, they aren’t so receptive to it. Not the point. The point is that Paul knows they are loved by God and that Jesus embodies that love for them.
No, God’s love never separates us. God’s love unites us. As Peter and Paul both recognize, in God’s love the sacred is no longer separated from the secular; believers are no longer separated from non-believers; church life is no longer separated from Monday-Saturday life. God is the God of all of it, all of us. Jesus came among us to remove any separation between us and God, between us and each other. So the work of the church has to do the same thing – live beyond those things that we falsely believe separate us from one another.
If God loves in Christ is for all people, we now recognize Christ in others.
Therefore, If God loves in Christ is for all people, we acknowledge that we are united in Christ with others, whether they are Christian or not, believing or not.
There are lots of people we’ll come across this week. Most of them will never step foot inside this building. We are the body of Christ for them. God put us in their lives to show them what God’s love for them looks like, because they, too, are united by Christ into God’s love. God has sent us, the church, to them to reveal that Christ has removed all separations between us and them. We are all loved by God and forgiven in Christ, all of us the same.
The work of Jesus, lived out by Peter and Paul, is the removal of those things that separate us. That is our purpose in the world. Showing all people what God’s love for them looks like. Because the separations are gone. Christ died for all. To live as if we are more righteous, closer to heaven, or less in need of forgiveness is to stand against the mission of Jesus Christ. You are forgiven today through the cross of Jesus Christ. And so is your co-worker who will never step foot into a church building. We are united in our need of that forgiveness, and because of Jesus we are no longer separated because of it.
That is true as we live as church in the world. But it is also true as we live as church in this building. We have to admit that we live as if we were a separated congregation. The most recent manifestation of that in recent years is worship style and music. But those are just container for our idolatry. Many of us would rather reject the work of Christ, clinging to separated lives as a congregation than recognize we already are one in him.
And if you’re thinking, “I hope he says/said that at the other worship service,” I would say that that thinking is what we have to move past. Whenever we dwell on those things that we believe are more important than our unity in Christ, we are rejecting the work of Christ. All of us have been brought together in a common purpose. All of us are forgiven in Jesus’ name. All of us are loved desperately by a God of mercy. And all of us are called to live that each day as church. And whenever we live as if that isn’t the most important thing, we are in the way not only God’s mission, but the work of the very congregation we all so dearly love.
In Christ you are all deeply loved. In Christ you are thoroughly forgiven. In Jesus Christ you are one. And you are also church.
Let’s quit “going” to church. Instead, let’s simply “be” the church. Let’s remind each other that forgiveness and mercy and love that we receive in Christ are most important. Let’s recognize that we are no longer separated from the world, and that new life without separations is practiced here among us. Because as we do it here, we also do it there. Because of Jesus, we are no longer separated from God, and we are no longer separated from one another.