1st Corinthians 12: 12,13
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Gospel Lesson: Mark 1: 9-11
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
We have come now to part three of our sermon series today. A part of the series that I find is often quite confusing for many people. That is we believe in the catholic church. I find it confusing for many because for two reasons: one we have the Roman Catholic church and so often when people talk about being catholic we often confuse it to mean that we believe as the Roman Catholics. Secondly, we sometimes read the asterisk when reading the creeds that say the word “catholic in this instance means universal” and when we read the alternative meaning of it being universal, we often associate that to signify the unity of the church which was the first mark of the church a couple of weeks ago.
So I hope today as we come to read the scriptures and as we come to understand what it means to be the catholic church, you will leave today with a deeper understanding of what it means to be the catholic church. Let me begin by saying that the word catholic does not mean we are in some way paying homage to the Roman Catholic church. It does not mean though that we disrespect the Roman Catholic church either though. Because in the alternate meaning of the word catholic it does mean that we are a part of Christ’s universal church, including the Roman Catholics. The statement that we believe in a catholic universal church is a statement of our faith and also is a statement of mission as we understand the church, and finally it is a mark of the Methodist Church as we extend God’s universal love in the Sacraments.
First, it is a statement of our faith as we believe in the communion of saints, the resurrection of the dead into eternal life with Christ. We believe that when we are a part of a universal church, it is a collection of disciples not just from any given time, but from the time of the day of Pentecost when the Spirit landed on those faithful disciples in Acts Chapter 2 first century to the rapture of the church when Christ comes again. As we understand that definition to be the universal church, we begin to truly alter the perspective of what we have become a part of when we accept our Lord Jesus into our hearts to rule our lives. It is not like we are joining a social club where we get together to do fun games, but we become a part of a kingdom, a society, that is multi generational, multi cultural, and one that is everlasting. It kind of blows our minds when we think of the size of such a kingdom when we have 10 million some United Methodists alone alive right now, but the universal church includes the faith denominations around the world, not only physically alive today, but the church includes all those who have passed in the past 2000 years who were faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.
Secondly, it is a mission statement when we say the church is universal. In our passage from Paul to the church of Corinth, Paul addresses an issue that they were struggling with. Sadly, we, 2000 years later still struggle with this same issue. Paul was giving them instructions about who is allowed to be a part of this body of Christ. And he says, For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
You see, there were many divisions in the Church of Corinth. You had those who were originally Jewish, while you had others that were Gentile Greeks who had been so convinced of Jesus as Lord. The Jews felt that they should all observe the law, you had the Greeks who were eating meats that were sacrificed to false gods, you had the slaves who worked all day hard, while you had the free and rich who sat around the common house all day and ate all the food and drank all the wine before the slaves came in from the long days work. But Paul corrects them in this letter. We all have been baptized by the one Spirit and so we share together the drink of that same Spirit.
And so by stating that the Church of Jesus Christ is universal, we are open and actively seeking to let the many who are different, who have lived different lives, who suffer from different ailments, who speak different language, who are of a different legal statuses, who make a lower income, who may be homeless, who are of a different race, be our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are not the little boys clubhouse that puts up a sign that says, “No Girls Allowed”! We welcome ALL of God’s creations, all of his children into the doors and to come and take part of God’s Table. Not so that we may all remain who we are when we have come into the doors, but so that we may be renewed, transformed, and changed into the image of God. If we do not believe that God transforms and changes those whom he has called, then we need to take a step back and ask ourselves is the God I serve truly a compassionate all powerful God of this world and universe? Do you have such faith to know and recognize that if God creates us from the dirt, just as the Potter changes and molds that dirt so also God can transform our lives! It’s not always easy for that dirt to change. Sometimes it takes adding a little water and applying pressure to mold that clay into what the Potter deems. But always, always, is that clay moldable as the Potter deems so. And so it is our job to accept all the many clay vessels and allow God to shape as he so needs.
And finally, the universal church extends its universality by the sign-acts of God’s reconciling love in the sacraments of baptism and communion. We call them sign-acts because we understand them to be both signs of God’s love and also represents God’s gracious actions through these signs in our lives. These sacraments are to be used so that the inclusiveness and unity of God and His Church may be expressed to his children. It is in the baptism of the individual are we brought into one family and unity with one another by the work of the Spirit. And it is in Communion do we come to observe and remember all that God has done, is doing, and will be doing. It is the work of the Spirit to have so many different people of different backgrounds coming together to partake of the one loaf of bread. It resembles much the universality of the church as we are many members from around the world across the time-span of 2000 years who have come together to partake of this one gift offered to us in Jesus Christ. These are the sign-acts by which God has chosen to share with his beloved sons and daughters his Love, reconciliation, compassion, and the gift of faith. Let us now be blessed in the taking of these sign-acts, as we prepare ourselves for God’s gracious acting in our lives.
Thanks be to God.