What do you think about when you say church? What images are conjured up in your mind? Do you remember your family attending church a few times when you were younger? How about Protestant preachers, or witch hunts from the time of Puritan immigrants and the New England colonies? Or even the gay marriage debate that is currently going on in our country? Where does Jesus come into the picture? Is he there? Or is he just a Christmas decoration in your house?
As Christians, or even just as people, we forget about what church actually means sometimes. My own experience with the church has been mixed─from going to church with my Catholic mom during Christmas and Easter to attending a few services at my father’s choice of congregation, a fairly conservative Baptist church. I enjoyed all the beautiful hymns inside the quaint Catholic church, but I hardly knew when to sit and stand (if you haven’t attended a service at a Catholic Church, please google “Catholic mass” and “genuflecting” and you’ll get a good picture of my confusion). I also felt strangely out of place at my father’s choice of church, a small-town Baptist church with long sermons and a congregation that I felt I could hardly relate to. As you can see, in my teens, I was focused on the physical attributes of church, and not the spiritual parts, a.k.a. the most important stuff.
I’ve also attended other churches on my own, and between those churches, as well as the ones I’ve attended with my family, I’ve experienced time and again how Jesus’ flock sometimes does some, well, un-Jesusy things. These actions turned me off of church for awhile, but I went back to church for good after graduating college, and I couldn’t be happier that I did. I focus less on the physical attributes now, and try to get right to the most important things, or the words of God and the ideas that show me and the rest of humanity how to be better people.
As Pastor Jeff reminded us on Sunday, Jesus has always meant his church to be an ekklesia, or Ancient Greek for “a purposeful gathering of people”. This is the word he used in the New Testament originally, since it was published in Greek, and only later translated into other languages. The only reason we got the word “church" is through a drawn out but really cool procession of words from different cultures, the closest one being Kirche from modern German, meaning “house of the lord”. But I digress. Anyways, the point of all of this is that the building itself is definitely not the most important part of ekklesia. This gathering could and should continue into the week itself, such as at community groups with Skyline, or perhaps within family bible studies. An ekklesia is a full time thing, and it’s not easy work. In order to be a true ekklesia, we the church should focus on welcoming people in, not keeping people out and only keeping its members happy.
In addition, the Bible uses imagery that likens the ideal church to a body, a temple, a family, and the members of the church specifically as the bride of Christ. As a family, we are the community that God has brought together, and a group who he both loves and disciplines. As the bride of Christ, Christ has sacrificed himself for us and continues to love and cherish us. As the body of Christ, we should be controlled by the true desires of Christ, and not selfish actions or desires. As a temple, the church is a place where God lives, and where people should want to come if they are not already a part of our community.
Imagine it! Our ekklesia, our gathering, has grown in the past year. What if even more people wanted to come to our church? And we weren’t judgmental, but openhearted and loving to newcomers as Christ wanted us to be? Just think. The future’s a beautiful thing, and the new year is filled with possibilities for all of us to be more like Christ.
Kahla Vise is a native Mainer, and graduated with a BA from Bowdoin College. Currently she is a graduate student in Teaching English as a Second Language at American University. She loves animals, chocolate, and anything to do with the Ancient Romans. She also is looking forward to growing her relationship with God.
If you missed this week's sermon, check it out here.