Summary: The Christian Church is about Jesus Christ! The church matters because the church makes it possible for people to have real encounters with Christ.
Why does the Church matter? Why is Church important?
As we ponder such questions in the coming weeks, I am going to take time at the beginning of each sermon to share my answer to the question of the day. I will do this because I think on some matters, we express ourselves best when we speak from our own experience. But I also hope that as I share my story, it will help you think about your own story: how it is similar, or different, and why it is important to share your story with others.
So why does the church matter to me? To answer that question, I have to go back more than 31 years. I was born just a week after Easter Sunday, and as soon as I was allowed to be out of the house, I was baptized; sometime in May. Since my baptism to this day, I have missed relatively few Sundays at church -- probably averaging no more than 2-3 a year except for my college years when I had trouble finding a church where I felt like I really connected. As many of you know, you don't spend so much time in a church without it making a difference in your life. And church has made a difference for me.
Church is where I was cared for when I was a baby. It was where I went to preschool. Church is where I learned about Christ, and where I first learned to sing. Through the church, I learned my identity in Christ and gained confidence in who I am, a person created and loved by God. In the church I professed my faith in Christ on the day I was confirmed. During my junior high and high school years, I believe, the church kept me out of trouble because I was busy with youth and choir and handbells. Through the church I am sent out on missions, and I have learned to be always mindful of the needs of others and to serve others before myself. And I also learned that I am never doing those things well enough! (Ha!)
Through the church, I encounter God in Christ Jesus weekly in special ways through worship, study, prayer, and fellowship with the community of Christians that you see here. And from the church I am sent out with fellow Christians to serve Christ and serve others; sharing with the world the same love that we know and experience through Christ's Church. In the church, I learn what it is to be a Christian; to value what Christ values and to follow Christ's example in my own life.
We are here today because the church has meant something to each of us, or maybe because we are trying to learn more about why the church is important. And many of us can tell stories as I did about why the church matters to us. But as much as the church is about impacting and transforming the lives of individuals, it's also about impacting and transforming the world. And here's why:
Christ is not here anymore. That is, Christ is not physically present on this earth today as he was 2,000 years ago. Which means that if people today are going to experience Christ, it's going to have to happen in a different way. And Christ knew that. So after his resurrection, as we heard this morning, Christ went to the disciples and he commissioned them, which is a really fancy way of saying that he told the disciples to go out and, in his name, do what he had been doing for the last three years of his ministry. He sent them out into the world as witnesses to do ministry in his name; to heal in his name, to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins, and to share the good news of salvation in Christ Jesus and God's coming kingdom. Then he left them and ascended into heaven.
That was the beginning of the church, and it is also the key to why the church matters. What would have happened if Christ had ascended without commissioning the disciples; or if those first commissioned disciples had decided they were through with this Jesus-business and they were going to go back to home and get their lives back to normal? That would have been the end. Christ would have lived, taught, healed, died and been resurrected, and within a few generations he would have been forgotten; the healing would have stopped, the resurrection promise would have been lost, the hope would have faded away. Christ's love and salvation never would have been known beyond those people who encountered him during his years on earth.
Fortunately for us, for billions of others, and for this whole world, it didn't happen that way. The disciples got busy and they kept Jesus' ministry going; they kept his message alive sharing the good news "to the ends of the earth." And the church today can do no less. If we in the church do not continue Christ's ministry, no one will. That is why the church matters! Christ made a difference in people's lives. He healed the sick. He helped the poor. He forgave sinners. He shared God's grace and love. And he died on the cross so that we might have eternal life with our loving God. We are talking about the difference between life and death, and it is the church's task to get that message out into the world! Christ can transform people's lives if only we will show people who Christ is and what he is about!