Each week we say in the Apostle’s Creed “…the holy catholic church…” many of you wonder why we do it, some don't say it. Others mumble it. Some may even wondered if I send reports to the Pope (the answer is no). I hope though, to clear up confusion about this little word that does cause some confusion
In the creed, of course, the word "catholic" is not capitalized. Meaning that it is not part of the proper name "Roman Catholic." Rather, it is an adjective (drawn from the Greek word katholikos) meaning "general" or "universal." The word "catholic" (small "c") appeared when the creed appeared in 390 A.D. in France. While the name "Roman Catholic" (large "C") was never formally applied to the Church of Rome until sometime in the 15th century (about the time of the Protestant Reformation).
So when we say the holy catholic church, we’re getting at the heart of this United series and the prayer Jesus was praying. When Jesus prayed that his desire was for us to be one as the Father and Son are one, I think there was something different in mind than having us worry about denominations. Jesus wasn’t interested in perfect institutions but in personal unity. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are ONE but they are each unique. Professor Merrill Tenney noted there is a parallel between the unity Jesus spoke of here and Paul’s idea in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 that the church is a body made of many parts.
The thing that keeps us from being united has less to do with denominations and everything to do with a three letter word called sin. More specifically it happens when we love the WAY WE DO CHURCH more than we love people.
It seems to me that when the CHURCH is focused on loving people it is more likely to lead change. The symbols of the church and stain glass windows were part of the earliest multimedia images – they were a slide show used to tell stories and relay the truths of the Bible. The same thing has been true for all of our rituals and traditions. But the methods must always be open to change. This is the problem that Jesus had with the Pharisees over and over again.
Similarly, it was a love for the people that brought Martin Luther to odds with the Pope. It was a love for people that brought John Wesley to odds with the Church of England. Sometimes, these changes in method bring renewal and other times they bring splits. What is consistent – must be consistent is the MESSAGE must remain the same –
GROWING IN UNITY and SHARING THE MESSAGE ABOUT JESUS CHRIST.
But it doesn’t stop with the Church as whole – it filters through to the core of who we are and the cancer that is sin. As a cancer survivor, I don’t say that lightly. At its simplest – cancer is a cell which begins to focus on itself rather than the whole. In the same way, when we fall in love with our WAY OF LIFE more than loving others – we cooperate in the sin of disunity.
Have you ever been betrayed? Ever had a friend you trusted in turn on you? Then you have some idea of what Jesus went through when not only did Judas turn him to the Pharisees, but all others abandoned him. While we can’t know exactly what they were thinking – we do have some ideas. One of those that is most prominent is that at the end, the disciples were still holding on to the idea that Jesus was going to call all the angels down from heaven and take care of business on the Romans – then they would be in charge!
They we missing out on what Jesus said about ‘taking up your cross,’ and what he said to rich young man to ‘go sell all you have, give to the poor and follow me.’ That were about to learn the most important lesson of the Church – we are called to LOVE PEOPLE more than any WAY OF LIFE – even the religious kind.
You know, I’ve discovered that I most often fail at being united when I fail to serve? It is when I fail to ask God – God what is keeping me from you? And then I don’t stop to listen. While I was getting ready for this series, I got a hint God wanted me to do something – to put my sermon writing down – put aside my planning – and let him interrupt my routine. I really wish sometimes God wouldn’t do that. But he did. So a couple of weeks ago, I shut down my laptop, pushed it to the side and drove down to The Helping Hands of Paulding County – our local mission center helping people get assistance to live. It was just a fact finding mission right?
Until Joe came in right at closing time. I spent the next hour helping Joe fill out paperwork to get him assistance so his wife, 2 children and one unborn child, might continue to survive on less the $1,200. I was more inclined to cry but Joe kept laughing – he kept talking about how it was going to turn around – he was going to keep looking for more work – he never stopped smiling or laughing. Do we love people or our way of life?
To get to unity, Jesus, points to two things in his prayer and it starts with INVESTING in your relationship with God. “May they also be IN US so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17:21 (NIV) If you and I work on developing our relationship with God, unity would be the natural result. Get in an internet forum and go to the spiritual section like I did. It didn’t take long to discover those who were more focused on RIGHT RELIGION rather than RIGHT RELATIONSHIP. You don’t have to force it or vote on it. We get unity by getting closer to the One we’re unified with – Jesus.
And yes there is more – we must begin to love others with the same love God has shown to you and me. Jesus prayed: “I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them." John 17:26 (NIV) Remember: God loves me as much as He loves His Son Jesus.
Now I have to ask you to be a little thoughtful today – to take this time to consider: Do you love your way of life more than people? What is God asking you to give up? What is God asking you to pick up?
(This is the rough draft of the sermon preached. It reflects a collaboration of ideas from other pastors in the 15 churches taking part in this series so not all thoughts and phrases are original to me - I'm thankful to journey with some great people!) NOTE: Do to technical difficulties, no mp3 is available for this sermon.