7-17-11 “Marks of the Church pt. 1”

John 17:20-24

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,  so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”

I would like to begin today by recalling last week’s response to the sermon where we placed our vision statements into our offering. I would like to first say that thank you for the many responses and we have some awesome ministry ahead of us. I was quite impressed with the range of vision this faith community carries and I will be continuing to hold those in prayer and will continue to look over them as I decide how to best use those vision statements.

With our vision of what the church is to be in mind, I want to begin today with a new sermon series called the Marks of the Church. What I mean by the Marks of the church is how we as a church have understood what church is over time. You see, many times we often go back to the time of Jesus and talk about the period of first century Judaism, and then for some reason we jump all the way to the 21st century without ever considering the 2000 years in between. However, in 325 a council within the church was called over a dispute about the humanity and divinity of Christ. During this council, the church released a creed that stated the outcome of the proceedings of this council called the Nicene Creed. However in 381 the first council of Constantinople met and revised an older creed to appear more like the Nicene Creed, but a few things were added. This is the creed that we often use and will be using in the coming weeks. But back to the four marks of the church. In this creed it finishes by talking about what we believe about the church, it says that we believe

In one holy catholic and apostolic Church; we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The four marks of the church that we say we believe in is the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. As you and I are coming together to form this thing called Church here at Red Valley, I want us to go back and to remember our roots as a Christian Church and we will be focusing on what it means to be a One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church.

Today, as I am sure many of you have already guessed by the scriptures and the hymns we have sung are going to talk about the One Church of Jesus Christ. Jesus in the Gospel of John spends the evening before his death and right before the left the Upper Room to go to the garden of gethsemane in prayer. Of all the things that Jesus could be praying for, he continually prays for his disciples, and not only for those who are following him, but he prays for those who will believe in him because of their witnessing. Yes, brothers and sisters that include each one of you. Jesus lifts us up in prayer that night before he was arrested and tortured and crucified. With all of what was to come, Jesus had us on his mind. Now it’s interesting here though what Jesus prays for. He does not pray that we would be wealthy, he does not pray that our church benches will be full, nor does he pray that we will get out of worship on time. Jesus prays this prayer. “I ask…that they all may be one”.  That they may all be one. WOW! Is all I can say. Jesus truly must be the Son of God is all I can say if on the night that he knows he was going to be facing trial, and death in the morning and what he prays for is you and I to be one, that to me seems to be a very pertinent part of Jesus’ ministry here on this earth. The church that follows Christ is to be One.

 

I want to begin by saying that we as United Methodists have a great relationships with many different denominations. They sent me to school so I could use this word, but we call it being ecumenical when we talk about accepting and being in relationship with other faith denominations/religions. But Wesley also understood this prayer of Jesus in that we are to be one. And so as you will all come to find out in this sermon series each one of these marks match up with a mark of the Methodist Church. The One Church of the Nicean Creed matches up quite well with the Methodist understanding of Connectionalism. Wesley often talked about when you became a member of the Methodist societies that you had become a part of the connection. What he meant by this I believe is that when you become a member of the United Methodist Church, you have become a member of not only Red Valley UMC congregation, but you have become a member of the greater connection that is worldwide. Let me just briefly give you an idea of how large this connection goes. Here at Red Valley we have about 100-150 members I believe. On the Danville District of the VA conference alone we have 12, 250 members at the beginning of this year. The VA conference is made up of 15 districts that total 339,081 members. That is only here in VA. This gets much bigger. Follow along with me just a minute longer here. The VA conference is one of 15 conferences in the S.E. Jurisdiction and only 1 conference of 131 Annual Conferences around the world. Within this connection there are a total of 46,632 churches with a total membership around 11,091,223 members. Now, let me say this again, when you become a member of the United Methodist Church you are a member of a very very strong connection of people all with the central mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. And as the discipline states, the local church provides the MOST significant arena through which disciple-making occurs. Now a part of this major force in the world comes along with it apportionments. We understand that the mission of the church is to share the love of Christ and we as a local church are to do that not only in our local communities, but we are called to serve the whole world. The local ministries that we have here are absolutely significant to the sharing of God’s love and reaching out to the many hurting here in Franklin County. However, we also serve a God much bigger than Franklin county and we as a church reach out to all of his children when we take on the opportunity of paying the apportionments of the UMC. Before we get upset, let me tell you about where our apportionments go. They go to the World Service Fund that helps build new churches, pays the salaries of our missionaries, expands Bible studies, provides leadership for youth ministry, and much much more. Our apportionment giving goes to the Africa University Fund where men and women from 22 countries in Africa come to receive post-secondary education and post-graduate degrees in agriculture, management, and administration, theology, peace and governance. Our apportionments go to Ministerial Education Fund which supports finically those who have been called but cannot afford the costs of the education that goes along with being called to serve as pastors. We support the Black College Fund, our Bishops, and more. Now I want to ask a question, could we as this local faith community do this work, the work that the church has been called to do by ourselves here at Red Valley. I can confidently say absolutely no way. But when we are a part of a connectional church like the United Methodist Church, the transformation of the world is no longer a vision that is unattainable, but is truly in our grasps because of the Spirits unifying work of the Christ’s Holy Church.

To understand our unity in Christ, I would like to close with this image. You see this image of Christ, as we are his one body, is made up by the many pictures of Christians love and outreach from many around the world. In this picture are missions from Israel, China, Haiti, Casa de Amistad, Dominican Republic, Camp Overlook and others around the world. This is how I understand the One body of Christ and the United Methodist Connection within it. Thanks be to God for the Spirit that unifies us together as one. Amen.

 

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