The Perfect Church – Pastor Robert’s sermon for Sunday May 7


With Mothers’ Day just seven days away, I thought you might be interested in some cards that children have made for their mothers.  These cards are so touching and they really pull at your heart strings.

Here’s the first card. You’ll notice that Brendan made this and he drew a heart on it. It says, “Thank you mom for making me food so I don’t die.”  Wow, that is so beautifully said. It really warms your heart to read something like this. Thank you, Brendan, for that heart-felt expression of love for your mom. Very touching.

 

 

 

 

Here’s another Mother’s Day card. This one says,

     “Mom, I love you more than rainbows and beautiful blue skies. I love you more than buttercups and wings of the butterflies. I love you more than cow.” Kind of an interesting ending, don’t you think? And what a beautiful picture of a cow. I’m sure that this mother will treasure this for a very long time.

This third Mother’s Day card was made by a child who is obviously concerned about the environment and knows the importance of recycling. Here’s the card.  Notice that this child has creatively taken a Hallmark First Communion card for a boy and transformed it into a Mother’s Day card. This was no easy task.  “For you” (not nephew, that’s now crossed out) “For you, ‘mum’ at” (not “First Communion,” that has been crossed out and now subtly replaced with “Mother’s Day.”) “For you, mum, at Mother’s Day. A First Mother’s Day wish for a day that’s filled with joy as Jesus comes into the heart of such a” (not ‘a special boy,’ but now replaced with the word, ‘mom.’) Wow, that is just beautiful.

Here’s another Mother’s Day card. They just get better and better, don’t they? “To mum, for your birthday” (Oops, I wrote the wrong thing and I don’t have an eraser so I’ll just cross that out and put the words, ‘Mother’s Day.’)  This last line kind of makes up for the previous mistake. “I’m giving you an award.” My guess is that this mother definitely deserves an award.

This next Mother’s Day card is short and very emphatic. “Mommy, I love u sometimes!!!!!!!” In case you’re curious, there are seven exclamation points. Seven!!!!!!!

Some mother’s day cards don’t just share heart felt feelings but they also offer back handed compliments in a very loving way, like this next card. “Thank you mom for being wonderful, caring and not making your meat loaf anymore.” Sometimes, we need to thank the ones we love for the things they don’t do.

But let me end with a more positive card that will warm your heart. This last card says, “I love you mom!! Lots of love. PS – I really, really, really, love you.”  This child has mastered the art of the PS, and knows the literary technique of repetition.

I like these Mother’s Day cards and I share these with you because they remind us that the real world of family and relationships do not always match our expectations. There’s no such thing as a perfect relationship or a perfect marriage or a perfect family.

We all have our flaws, our idiosyncrasies, and our shortcomings. Whenever you bring people together to form a community, it can be a wonderful thing, but it can also be a little chaotic, a bit messy and to varying degrees, dysfunctional.

This is why I’m a little suspicious of our Acts scripture reading this morning, which offers this idyllic picture of the early church. This church is a preacher’s dream.

The flock is hanging on every word of the sermon, they are in constant prayer, they are having record offerings, and they are running out of new member certificates. Even their potlucks are out of this world. Norman Rockwell would have loved to paint a church such as this.

Now, you know as well as I do, that any time you bring a bunch of people together from different walks of life that it will not always be smooth sailing. Rarely do these gatherings live up to our expectations.

Just think about something as simple as a family gathering. As wonderful as those get-togethers can be, you still have to suffer through those awkward moments. The uncle who tells inappropriate jokes, the two cousins who refuse to speak to each other, the aunt who insists on asking why her niece still isn’t married, the grandfather who tells way too many stories, and the Great Aunt who is always unnecessarily critical of the food people brought.

So what do we make of a scripture like this which only tells us of all the good things the church was doing? Is there not one skeleton in this church’s closet? Is this Book of Acts church for real?

Well, in case you’re worried that Luke is giving us a very slanted and biased view of the early church, remember that this is only the beginning of the church’s story. There are still twenty-six chapters left in this book.  Just wait until you get to chapter five when Luke tells us about some folks dropping dead in their pew because they had lied about their annual pledge.

Let’s be honest. Sometimes we feel let down by the church. Somebody does something or says something that is hurtful. We don’t always agree with a decision that has been made.

Several years ago, a church member who was upset over a decision that had been made in the church told me that he was going to withhold his church donation because he was so mad.

After several minutes of listening to his protest, I responded, “Bill, I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times that I have wanted to do the exact same thing, but then I realized that if everybody acted on that impulse, nobody would give a single cent to the church or to any other organization for that matter.”

This scripture reading from Acts has led me to reflect on what the church has meant to me over all these years. Yes, I can think of times that I would rather forget but there is no denying that the church, even with all of its imperfections has been a tremendous blessing in my life.

The church that baptized me as an infant is the church that reminded me again and again that God loved me and had a purpose for my life. Whenever I felt discouraged or down on myself, it was the church that reminded me that I was a child of God.

It’s the church that helped me work through times of grief and disappointment.

It was the church that taught me the stories of the Bible, helped answer questions about my faith, and guided me in discovering my spiritual gifts and how to use those gifts in ministry. It’s the church that has shown me what a difference our faith can make when we serve in local and global outreach.

It’s the church that inspires me to be the person God has called me to be. It’s the church that gives me opportunities to worship and praise the one who has created me. It’s the church that reminds me that faith is meant to be lived in community rather than in isolation.

It’s the church that will never let me forget that our faith is meant to be filled with joy even during the most challenging of times. I’m sure you can add your own thoughts on what the church means to you.

A pastor offers these thoughts on what the church means to him. He says that both of his parents were alcoholics and both died very tragically. They lived from day to day in a volatile world of financial uncertainty and that’s when the church came a knock’n.

The local Methodist church showed up with food, clothes, and most of all, with kindness. They welcomed him into their fellowship. They included him in the choir because he loved to sing.

They said he was important to them. Even though he felt that he had nothing to offer in return, that wasn’t the important thing. They introduced a new type of economy to him, an economy that was based on God’s grace and unconditional love.

All he knew was that he was one lost young fellow, and these good people put the arms of Jesus around his life and sent him in a new direction of hope and meaning and purpose. Because of the church, he found Jesus or Jesus found him and his life has forever changed.

The next time you are tempted to give up on the church or read a passage like this from the Book of Acts and dismiss it as too idealistic, remember that the Risen Christ lives at the very center of this community that we call the church. If you want to experience Jesus, this is the place to meet him, even with all of the church’s imperfections and idiosyncrasies.

I think this is why someone wrote this poem, called, “The Perfect Church.”

I think that I will never see
A church that’s all it ought to be
A church that has no empty pews
A church where people never get the blues
A church whose music is always great
A church where people are never late

Such perfect churches there may be
But none of them are known to me
If you could find the perfect church
Without one fault or smear
For goodness sake, don’t join that church
You’ll spoil the atmosphere

It you should find the perfect church
Then don’t you even dare
To tread upon such holy ground
You wouldn’t fit in there
But since no perfect church exists
Where people never sin
Then let’s stop looking for that church
And love the one we’re in.

Did you know that there actually is a perfect church? There is. It’s located in Atlanta, Georgia. The actual name of this church is “The Perfect Church.” That’s a pretty bold name for a church, don’t you think?  I don’t know if it is really perfect, but they say they are.

Luke describes what that early church was like. It was a church with great bible studies, caring fellowship, inspiring worship, all kinds of outreach ministries, overflowing offering plates, and a growing membership.

But for Luke, it’s not all of those wonderful things that made it perfect. Read this passage of scripture in context and you’ll see that what made it perfect was that the Risen Christ was at the very center of their life together. This is what made it a perfect church.

 

And if that’s what it means to be a perfect church, than guess what? Athens First UMC is a perfect church.

Athens First UMC is a perfect church.

There I said it.

Now, just don’t let it go to your head.

 

The Perfect Church

Small Group Questions

Acts 2:42-47

May 7, 2017

 

Pastor Robert shared several ways that the church has been a blessing in his life. The church taught him the stories of the bible, it has provided him with guidance in facing challenges, it helped him through times of grief and disappointment, and it has reminded him over and over again of how much God loves us.

 

Share some specific ways that the church has been a blessing in your life.

 

Luke offers a very glowing description of the early church. He tells us about all the great teaching, meals, prayer ministry, excitement over how God was working through them, generosity, unity among the members, worship together, small groups, and growth in membership.

 

Which of these positive ministries of the early church do you see in our church?

 

At first glance, it would appear that it was all of the awesome ministries that made the early church seem like “the perfect church.” Looking at the bigger context of the Book of Acts, the main reason why it was perfect was because the Risen Christ was at the very center of their life together. The awesome ministries that we see from our Acts scripture passage were happening because of the presence of the Risen Christ working through the congregation.

 

In what ways can our church and we as individuals acknowledge and celebrate the presence of the Risen Christ so that we can continue to be the people that God is calling us to be?