Sermon: Under Construction: How God is Building St. Luke United Methodist Church (pt. 2)
Date: August 28, 2016
Last week we started a nine part message leading up to our Anniversary celebration on September 18th, focusing on how God has been building St. Luke for the first 40 years of our existence and continues to build the church today (and tomorrow). We said that Christ was the cornerstone of the church, and that the first two building blocks, the foundation of everything we are and do and will be, are scripture and prayer. If you missed it, the first part of this message is on line at stlukeumc.org. This morning I hope we can take a look at three more of the building blocks. But before we go any farther let’s pray.
And so the third building block that God is building St. Luke on is service. Simply put: We value demonstrating Christ’s love by building relationships and serving others. There’s that word relationship again. Last week I said that prayer was all about relationships, and now service because when we serve others we demonstrate Christ’s love and we enter into relationship with those we serve. You see, I believe that when he placed the name St. Luke in the hearts and minds of those who were responsible for choosing the name of the church, he placed the concept of service into the DNA of the Church. Of all four gospel writers Luke clearly understood the idea that Jesus came to be a servant leader. By taking the name of St. Luke, those early pioneers that God placed His dream in, were establishing clearly that St. Luke was going to be a church full of servant leaders. You know all of the Gospels talk about what happened at the last supper and the implications of that on the church and our faith. They all record many of the words that Jesus spoke to His disciples that night. And many of the words they attribute to Jesus are the same in all four Gospels. But only Luke records words like serve and service as a part of Jesus last teaching to the Disciples. In the 22nd Chapter of Luke, we find these words in which Jesus identifies himself as a servant leader and reveals his expectations that His disciples would be the same. Luke writes: (read this with me). A dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be the greatest. Jesus said to them: “The Kings lord it over them and those who exercise authority over them call themselves great. But don’t be like that. Instead the greatest should be the least and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves. I am among you as one who serves.” And though Luke does not say this, I wonder if it is at this point that Jesus takes up the pitcher and towel and begins to serve the disciples by washing their feet. This is such a menial task and yet Jesus gladly serves them, because He loves them. And when He has finished He tells them that now that He has served them, they are to pay it forward – go out and serve others. His followers are to be servant leaders. Disciples are called to lead the church but are also called to serve – to be servant leaders. And that has not changed today. Those first pioneers who started this church were servant leaders and from each subsequent generation, God has raised up wonderful servant leaders through which He has built, and is building, this church. And just think about all that is happening here in serving others. God’s pantry, Kid’s Café, Commodities exchange, Pets ministry, Nathaniel Mission, and other local missions and missionaries around the world. And I know that I’m leaving many out. Servant Leaders find ways to serve because that’s who they are. So many lives touched down through the years because St. Luke folks have never considered themselves to be people who are kings or benefactors, who lord our blessings over others, but rather servants. Every week in the bulletin we list the outreach numbers. These are the number of lives that are impacted by servant leaders of St. Luke every week. It is not unusual for that number to approach and even go over 1000. But here’s the thing. God will not be finished building St. Luke until everyone in the church family becomes a servant leader. Now this statement is going to make some of you uncomfortable, but in our church, just like in every church, we have people who come with the idea of what am I going to get from the church today. But God is building the church to be a place where everyone comes with attitude of what can I give, how can I serve. Where does God want to use me today. Now that’s a big dream, but I believe that it is the dream that He planted in the hearts and minds of those first pioneers, and as they lived into it, it became a part of our DNA as a church, and that God will not finish building this church until everyone one of us who is a part of this church family both now and in the days ahead become a part of that dream. And so the question for you and I today is where are we in God’s dream? Do we come to church to be served or to find ways to serve others? Are you a Servant Leader?
And then the fourth block upon which God is building St. Luke is worship. Worship has always been at the center of what we do as a church. From the very beginning St. Luke has valued the importance of worshipping God. In fact scripture says that all of us were created to worship God. And so we work hard to provide a place where everyone of all ages and nationalities and ethnicities and station in life can come and worship God in ways that are meaningful for them. Now that does not mean that we expect everyone to worship in the same way but rather that churches that are growing and thriving are those that are finding ways to engage a wide range of persons in meaningful worship. I believe that was the driving vision nearly 20 years ago, when the church decided to start offering three morning services. There was a recognition that people want to worship in a variety of ways and so we started a variety of services to try and appeal to all ages of people. And then some years later, God opened our eyes to the fact that there were an increasing number of persons immigrating to Lexington from the African Continent, many of them Christians, who needed a place to worship together. And so St. Luke said, “come and worship here.” And then a few years later, another group of immigrants, many who had fled the unrest in the Congo for refugee camps, came and said, “We need a place where we can worship in our familiar ways, and in our native language of Swahili, and St. Luke said: “Of course we’ll make a place for you in this church family” because we value the importance of everyone having a place to worship. God is building a church where everyone can come and worship Him. As the population and demographics of the community has changed through the years, St. Luke has been bold to change also in order to meet the new populations. We are certainly not a completed work when it comes to worship. We certainly remain under construction, trying to continue to meet the needs of those who are here now while also anticipate the needs of those who are not yet here because we value the importance of everyone having a place to worship. God will be through building St. Luke when everyone of all ages, and ethnicities, and nationalities and economic status, feels as though this is a place they can come and worship Him. Now that’s a tall order. We may never get there, but we must never stop building and growing into that dream, that vision. You see, too often churches get hung up on how we worship, what we call worship style.
How we worship is not the question we need to be wrestling with. The question that we need to be wrestling with is why we worship.
You see the questions that often become sources of conflict in the church become that way because they are essentially “me” questions. What pleases me about worship. What touches me. “We should sing the old hymns of the church because that’s what I get the most from when I worship.” “Or we should sing the more contemporary praise songs because those are the ones that speak to me the most.”
Because here’s the thing that I realized early in my ministry, and I know that some are going to be upset with me for saying this, but Worship is not about me. It’s all about God. For instance, I know that my preferred worship style would not be the style of the Swahili service. I love their enthusiasm and spirit, but I don’t understand what they say and sing. But I have no doubt that it is worship that is pleasing to God. Worship is not about what is pleasing to me. It’s about what is pleasing to God.
And what pleases God is that we worship Him.
He doesn’t care whether we use the familiar hymns to sing to Him, or the Praise songs. All He cares about is that we sing our praises to Him. He doesn’t care whether we use the Apostle’s Creed to affirm our faith, or some less formal word of testimony. All He desires is our affirmation of faith in Him.
Last week I mentioned Bob Russell who was the founding pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville. In his book about how God built that church he puts all of this in perspective when he writes this about worship: Most people view worship as though God were the prompter, the worship leader is the one who worships, and the congregation is the audience. In reality, the worship leader is the prompter, the congregation are the ones who worship, and God is the audience. God is the object of our worship. So the goal of worship is to provide a place, not where everyone can receive from worship, but rather provide opportunities for everyone to worship. The Psalmist writes: Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness.” As I search scripture, it seems to me that there are three primary reasons why we worship.
First, we worship to revere God. To give Him our reverence. Many of the Psalms were the contemporary praise choruses of their day and Psalm after Psalm speaks of “bowing down” in the presence of God. In the 5th Psalm David sings in reverence will I bow down before you. And in the 95th Psalm, the whole congregation sings (read it with me) Come let us bow down to worship, for He is our God, and we are His people. It’s this spirit of reverence and awe that the Philippian church captured when they sang in their worship He is Lord, He is Lord. He is risen from the dead and He is Lord! Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. And Stuart Hine captured when he wrote one of the most beloved hymns of the church, Oh Lord, my God! When I in awesome wonder consider all the worlds thy hands have made. I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, thy power throughout the universe displayed. Then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee; how great thou art, how great thou art! And it was that same sense of reverence that Rich Mullins captured in one of the first of the contemporary praise songs that came into wide use in the church.
Our God is an awesome God. He reigns from Heaven above with wisdom power and love. Our God is an awesome God.
No matter how we express it, we worship to show our reverence for God. To proclaim His awesomeness.
And then secondly, we worship to rejoice in God’s presence. And His presence is revealed in His great acts of mercy and love toward us. His forgiveness and redemption. His tender care. The free nature of His grace that brings new life from old. We worship to express our joy for all that God has done, and is doing for us. The Psalmist sings: Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is He who made us, and we are his; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name. For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations.
Henry Van Dyke wrote: Joyful, joyful, we adore thee, God of glory and Lord of love: hearts unfold like flowers before thee, opening to the sun above. Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away. Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day.
When we worship we rejoice in God’s presence.
There is one more reason why we worship: We worship to lift up God. To witness to His presence. Our worship should draw people to God. In John’s gospel we find these words of Jesus: When I am lifted up, all men will be drawn to myself. True worship attracts people to God. In a book entitled Worship Evangelism, Sally Morgenthaler writes:
Worship is the most powerful tool we have for satisfying the hunger of souls, for breaking down spiritual strongholds of pride and unbelief and for ushering in the gift of true joy. How can we refuse to use it? Our whole culture, saved and unsaved is starving for an extraordinary glimpse of God. Worship is not just for the spiritually mature. It is for the spiritually hungry
We worship to introduce and draw people to God. People should see God through our worship.
As God has built St. Luke, He has called outstanding preachers and teachers, wonderful and talented musicians, gifted liturgists and excited people in the pew to worship Him. And He continues to build this church through dynamic, life changing worship that reveres Him, rejoices in Him, and witnesses to Him.
The next building block that God is building St. Luke upon is Jesus Christ. It is the striving to be Christ like. We have stated it this way in our value statements. We value intentional spiritual growth into Christ-likeness. Now that statement says two things about this building block. First being like Christ should be the goal of every follower of His. God dreams of a church that is filled with persons striving to be Christ like. And secondly, becoming like Christ is a process. For most it’s a life time process. You know the vision statement of the church is Jesus Christ in every life. It’s a wonderful vision that drives the church into many areas of ministry. But sometimes I wonder if it shouldn’t be turned around to say: Every life in Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul writes a great deal about his quest to be Christ like. In fact, when he is under arrest in Rome awaiting execution, Paul writes to the church in Philippi: One thing I do. I want to know Christ. I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings. I want to be like Him. It is this building block that gives rise to Sunday School classes, and Bible Study Classes, and Small group studies – as well as the desire to serve. In another one of his letters, this one to the Corinthian Church, Paul describes this process when He talks about the three things that characterize the life of Jesus. Faith, Hope and Love. That’s who Jesus was. And then he says, when I was an infant in the faith, I would look in a mirror, and it was so cloudy, I would only see a dim reflection of Jesus but as he grew the reflection cleared and he could see Jesus face to face. Our vision statement says that God will continue building St. Luke until every person becomes the reflection of the faith, hope and love of Christ.
In his Bible Study on Philippians, the great Biblical Scholar William Barclay illustrates Paul’s striving to be like Christ with the story of Toyohiko Kagawa, who in the mid twentieth century was known as the St. Francis of Japan. Barclay writes: When Kagawa first came into contact with Christianity, he felt it’s fascination, until the cry burst from him O God, make me like Christ. And so in order to be like Christ, he went to live in tiny hut in Tokyo’s worst slum. On his first night, he was compelled to share his bed with a homeless man who was suffering from a terrible rash – but Kagawa welcomed his bedmate. Then a beggar asked him for his shirt and Kagawa gave it to him. The next day he returned for Kagawa’s coat and trousers. At first the other slum dwellers laughed at him, as he stood amongst them, nearly naked, in all kinds of elements, proclaiming that God is love. And where love is there is God, but eventually the people came to respect him. Kagawa had tuberculosis which was accelerated by the harsh conditions and he would often collapse from exhaustion as he worked to help the people. And they would carry him back to his hut and tend to him as best they could. Kagawa himself once wrote this of his experience: God dwells among the lowliest of men. He sits on the dust heap among the prison convicts. He stands with the Juvenile Delinquents. He is there with the beggars. He is among the sick. He stands with the unemployed. Therefore, let him who would (be like Christ) visit a prison cell before going to the temple. Before he goes to church, let him visit the hospital. Before he reads the Bible, let him help the beggar. That’s what it looks like to be like Christ. And I believe that God will keep building St. Luke until everyone of us reflects Christ in our understanding of the word, and in our prayer life, and in our service and in our worship. Until each one of us becomes the reflection of Jesus Christ in every life. Some of us are far along on the journey, but there are many like me, who still have a long way to go.