Saturday, January 30, 2016

Who is in Charge?

Who is in Charge?                                                                               1/31/16

Psalm 2, Colossians 1:16-23, Mark 1:14-20

In upcoming sermons, I’m going to walk us through the classic Presbyterian understanding of membership. 

To do so, I’m going to call upon a distant friend.  Well, not so much a friend, but more so, a relative by way of ordination.  You have to love your relatives right?

Representatives from our Denomination meets every two years to add/delete/reshuffle the Book of Order, the rules that congregations within the denomination agree to live by, or at least acknowledge that they exist when they chose to ignore them.

But this relative of mine, this Book of Order, I haven’t given it all the attention it deserves.  While my perception is that our denomination has been struggling for a long time, if we open the beginning pages of this book, it becomes clear that we don’t struggle because the bones are bad.  We have a good skeletal system in place in the beginning pages of this book.

One of my mistakes over the years, one that has taken me years to understand more clearly, is that I have under-emphasized the importance of membership.  All around us, membership across our culture is de-valued, and declining.  This is as true for the Rotary Club as it is for the local church.  People don’t join things like they used to.  There is demographic evidence that supports this.

My theology also plays into my practice.  I’ve always been a tentative Presbyterian.  My allegiance has always been to the Lord of the Church, rather than the service to the denomination.  And when you serve a struggling denomination, it is possible to separate those two trains:  allegiance to God and service to denomination.   As a pastor, I’ve always been more concerned that people believe in Jesus, and find salvation, than become a member at a church, especially if that membership is not rooted in a faith that is alive and in Christ.

Yet, upon review, I think I went too far.  Not emphasizing membership has missed out on what these good bones of our denomination’s body teach us.  And the very first question that church members are reminded when they open up the rule book is this:  Who is in charge?

Fresh water on the soul.

A light that shines on a dark trail.

The Spirit of God awakening the pews and people within them.


Jesus Christ is in Charge.  And no one else.

Sure, some people have titles.  Some people take charge by force.  Others make it up as they go along, relying on their scheming and crafting and the gullibility of people.  Still others are assigned, elected or ordained to authority.  But let us not be like the kings of the earth identified in Psalm 2, and think for one second any human power is real power.

The One in heaven laughs.  The Lord scoffs at them.  Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them with his wrath saying, “I have installed my King on Zion, my Holy Hill”

Jesus Christ is in charge.  He is Lord.  He is Lord of heaven and earth.  And he is Lord of the Church.

The kings of the earth speak of God’s Anointed Christ in this way:  “Let us break their chains and throw off their fetters”.  As if God’s authority holds back humanity.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Jesus came, full of grace and truth.  God in human flesh.  He is the exact image of God the Father, but fully human so that humanity could see and feel and know.  And Jesus’ first command to his disciples was “Repent and Believe the good news”.

Repent means to turn around.  Believe the good news of God’s kingdom.  That is our command, and it continues today.

Paul lays the groundwork of early Christian understanding that Jesus was in charge. 

  • Jesus is the image of the invisible God.
  • By Jesus all things were created by him and for him.
  • In Jesus all things hold together
  • Jesus is the head of the church
  • Jesus is the first to resurrect from the dead to show his supremacy
  • Jesus reconciled all things through his blood on the cross
These biblical teachings answer why Jesus is in charge.

And these first paragraphs of the Book of Order affirm the Scripture.  So members, first and foremost, are people who acknowledge that Jesus is in charge of the church.  This is in addition to his being in charge of our lives, everyone else’s lives, of history, of the future, and of the cosmos.

If our Christian faith takes the attitude of the kings of Psalm 2, we will work hard at trying to overthrow Christ’s rule.  We will speak of His Lordship in terms of imprisonment.  But this ignores God’s intentions for humanity in the Bible.

If we repent of these unfulfilling paths, and believe God’s good news for us, we start to enter the life that God has for us.  Knowing Jesus alone is in Charge is the most liberating of teachings.  It frees us to be all that God wants us to be, and to let God be God.

I want to lift up three sentences from this first section:

  1. (B)  Christ calls the church into being, giving it all that is necessary for its mission to the world, for its building up and for its service to God.
If we were to think about the church, just for a moment, as the (Stockton or Titusville) Presbyterian Church, the first sentence lifted up is incredibly liberating.  Christ calls us into being.  And in giving us life, Jesus gives all that is necessary.  What a comforting thought!
We are given all that is necessary for three things:

  1. for mission to Stockton/Titusville, and neighbors near and far
  2. for building up believers spiritual lives
  3. for serving God, and God’s purposes.
Isn’t that amazing?  Everything that we need God will give.  Now, it doesn’t say everything we want, or everything that we perceive as important.  It does say everything we need.

It is safe to say that every member, and every worshiping friend of this place, as well as every community member, when we work together, we have everything that God wants us to have in order to do his work, to be strong in the Lord and serve God’s purposes.  That is amazing.

And what is even more amazing is that the Book of Order doesn’t speak to just our congregation, but to the Capital C, Church, the billion Christians in the world, and the believers throughout history that have come together as congregations to give praise to the Lord.  God has given the Capital C church all that it needs.  

In that light, Stockton and Titusville are also interesting.  Perhaps we tell a unique story to those around us.  Perhaps we exist to help other parts of the church learn, just as we learn from others.

  1. (B)  It belongs to Christ alone to rule, to teach, to call and to use the Church as he wills
At Stockton’s Bible Study on Friday, I heard amazing stories of some of the previous pastors of the congregation.  But my favorite story was hearing of {Bill Jones}, who was sick with cancer when he was called here.  To hear on Friday that in hindsight, his call here allowed his wife to be near family in her time of need was an amazing story.  Christ uses the church for his purposes, and his people and people throughout time find the grace and mercy of God through his purposes.  Congregations, when open to telling God’s story, tell amazing stories!  And they all speak to the will of Jesus Christ, Lord of the Church.

  1. (D)  The Church is bound to Christ’s authority and thus free to live in the lively, joyous reality of the grace of God.
This is a delightful and wonder-filled phrase.  Humans think they want to be in charge.  Humans plow through attempting to tell themselves and all who will listen how they are in charge.  They fight and wrestle God and his authority, and his anointed Christ, in order to do such silly things as “find themselves”, or “work on who I am” or “live for my happiness” apart from Jesus Christ.  As if God is hindering them.  As if people cannot be free or happy if they have to serve God.

But the mystery is that if we embrace Christ’s authority, we find freedom.  In fact, it is the only way to find freedom.  If you cannot let God be in charge, your life will never be fulfilling.  It will be one vain, empty exercise after another.

If you embrace Jesus as the One in Charge, we learn that something fantastic happens:  we can enter into what God has wanted for his children all along:  to be free to live in the lively, joyous reality of the grace of God.

I testify today, that I have not always let Jesus be in charge (from my perspective mind you), but when I have:  I have found this statement to be true:  I have known a lively, joyous reality of God’s grace in Christ.  And you can too!

Who is in charge?  Is not a demand from an angry customer waiting to speak icy words of self-justice.  It is not an unanswerable question that wonders if there is order or any goodness in the world.  It is a question, that when answered correctly, brings life, abundant life, eternal life into view.

Do you see it?  To do so you first have to declare what is true:  Jesus Christ is in Charge.


He is Lord of my life.

He is Lord of all life.

He is Lord of the church.

He is Lord of heaven and earth.

He is Lord of History and the world to come.

He is Lord of the cosmos.

He is Lord of all.


And that is who you want in charge!