Life in our New Building I
Is. 42:1-9, Acts 10:34-43, Mt. 3:13-17
Epiphany means “sudden burst of light,” and since the earliest days of the Christian Church, God’s people have continued celebrating the coming of Jesus into the world, especially the beginning of His ministry and how it revealed the Light of God for the whole world. As we begin this new year in our new building, we want to think and pray together about how we can receive this great gift and use it to share His Light.
The Texts: Isaiah 42:1-9 is startling because if we read carefully, it becomes clear that this “servant,” this “chosen one” who will bring light and justice to the nations is Israel, a blind, deaf, rebellious nation (Is. 42:19-25). The same God who created the heavens and the earth and gives breath to every man will hold Israel’s hand and give her to the gentiles, to open the blind eyes and bring prisoners from the prison, them that sit in darkness out of the prison house (Is. 42:6-7). Yahweh will do this to prove that He is God and there is no other (Is. 42:8). Acts 10:34-43 records Peter’s sermon to Cornelius, the first gentile convert. First, we should not miss the fact that the preacher himself was the slow-hearted, proud, lying, denier of Christ. But this does not make Peter’s message less authentic, rather more, because he preaches the “remission of sins” to all who believe in Jesus (Acts 10:43). When sinners testify about the grace of God, they are living proofs of its reality. What is more mind-boggling is that Jesus, the Perfect Man, should be baptized for the remission of sins (Mt. 3:13-15). Jesus identifies with sinners, is baptized with a baptism for sinners, and in this moment, the Father pours out the Spirit upon Him and announces, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mt. 3:16-17). It is not a moment of power and obvious outward glory that the Father chooses to make His announcement. It is at the moment of His identification with sinners. Jesus proves that He is the Beloved Son by claiming sinners as His brothers. Ultimately this points to His greater baptism for sin, the baptism of the cross, where He so fully identified with sinners that He became sin for us. It was there that while the Father poured out the righteous judgment for sin upon Him, He simultaneously held His Son’s hand and rejoiced over Him.
God’s Hospitality & Ours
This glorious picture of grace might be called God’s hospitality to the human race. It is God’s love for His enemies, His grace toward the undeserving, His fellowship with us. Even the details point to this: after the resurrection Jesus ate and drank with the chosen witnesses (Acts 10:41, cf. Lk. 24:30-45). But God’s hospitality is inextricably connected to ours. Why does God raise us up? To make us witnesses of His grace. In fact, in Isaiah 43, God specifically says that He has chosen Israel to be His witnesses, so that they might believe and understand that He is God (Is. 43:10). Somehow, it is in the very act of bearing witness to God’s grace that God opens our eyes and ears to see and hear His grace more clearly. And this in turn opens other eyes and ears to see and hear His grace.
First, while we want to be good stewards of this enormous blessing from God (a new building), we also want to keep our priorities straight. The greatest priority is not to keep everything crisp and clean. The greatest priority is for this building to be filled with sinners and lots of grace. This means that if walls don’t get scuffed, if coffee doesn’t get spilled, then we probably aren’t doing it right. But the point isn’t to be laidback or sloppy. The point is to be ready with grace (and paper towels and a smile).
But the same thing goes for all the interaction as well. This is not a place where sin is not allowed. This is a place where we trust God to be at work forgiving sin, removing sin. And so we should invite and welcome sinners here, because look, you are welcome here. We should expect sin to happen here, and we should be ready with grace & truth & lots of love. But this means that you need to see this place as your home, a place where you take initiative to be on this mission: to invite, to welcome, to greet, to help, to clean, to encourage, to invite for dinner. Do not think that someone else will greet the visitor, someone else will clean up the mess, someone else will get it. We want to be the kind of congregation that makes greeters and hospitality hosts and parish groups almost seem superfluous.
Second, it has been said that manners are love in the little things. Just because we expect spills and sins, doesn’t mean we don’t strive for love and joy and peace. When we serve coffee, when we hold doors, when we greet visitors, when we keep on eye on our kids, when we overlook sin, when we forgive sin, we are showing love. Love is laying down your life for others, putting others’ needs ahead of your own (Phil. 2:1-5ff). Love is the momentum we need to both keep peace and pursue it. But since we are a body, we are seeking like-mindedness. This means that we are learning to establish “house rules” which are customs that we’ve agreed upon ahead of time to love each other in.
We must not confuse these customs with our mission. It would be better to have coffee in the sanctuary than exclude a visitor. It would be better to have a fussy child in the service than to keep a family out. On the other hand, maybe you’re accustomed to keeping your fussy child in the service longer because we didn’t have a nursery before. Now you have more options. Grace takes initiative, grace reaches out. And you can tell whether it was really grace by how you respond.
Finally, do not forget that we exist to be witnesses. Our hands have been gripped by the hand of our Savior so that we might be witnesses to the nations. We do not exist for our comfort. We are not here to see our friends. We are here to proclaim the praises of His grace, the forgiveness of sins. Of course as we are restored to God and to one another, He does give us friendship and fellowship. But do not forget the point. The point is to share that love, to let that light shine before men.