WHAT IS THE CHURCH?
Steve Bishop preached the following sermon at Morning Prayer on Wednesday. I think it captures something of the current moment as we start to open up (also on Christ Church Purley Podcasts or Christ Church Purley Facebook Page):
1 Peter 2:1-10
What is the church? What is Christ Church, Purley? Why do we come to church each week? What is it that we are constantly called to be a part of and to find our place within?
It might seem a bit of an obvious question to ask - but I suspect that each one of us has different reasons for being here, different reasons for staying here through thick and thin, good times and bad.
So, what is the church? What is Christ Church?
Is it just an old building, a familiar landmark along the Brighton Road? Is it a family of people? Is it a community network for friendship and relationships, or is it a stand-offish, clique of unwelcoming and judgemental people?
This passage from Peter’s letter I think challenges us to question our identity as a church; to ask of ourselves who we are together as church, what are we here for, and why do we do what we do?
Although this reading is primarily about the nature of the church, in the first three verses, Peter begins with some comments to us as individuals, calling us to “Come to him, a living stone…”
Peter is writing to Gentile converts, and so he calls Christ a ‘living stone’ – in contrast to the pagan idols that they would have previously worshiped; idols that were dead and lifeless, made of wood or stone.
He goes on: “You yourselves are like living stones…” if we belong to Jesus, then we should become like him and that should show in our corporate life together as the church: “Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood”. We, the individual living stones, coming together to be made into the church, a spiritual house open and welcoming to all peoples.
Some have interpreted that this call for us to be a ‘holy priesthood’, means that we are all priests and so there is no need for priests with a dog collar: we can all fulfil the priestly functions. But that is not what Peter means here. He is not saying that all of us are ‘priests’’ but rather that together, as Christ Church, we have a priestly role to perform.
The word ‘priest’ comes from a Latin word that means ‘bridge-builder’. So, one of the roles of a priest is to form a bridge between God and the people. Therefore, Christ Church has a priestly role - because we, as a body of Christians, as a church, are called to act as a bridge between God and our community in Purley and beyond.
So how do we go about fulfilling our role as a bridge for God and the community? Peter gives us a clue in verse 5, where he says that our purpose is “to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”.
Peter is not suggesting that we are to engage in the sort of sacrifices that had been common throughout the Old Testament – so no sacrificial bulls in the car park! Instead, ‘spiritual sacrifices’ refers to offering ourselves to God in worship and doing good deeds for those in need. At the end of the communion service we offer our souls and bodies to God as a living sacrifice, praying to be sent out in the power of the Spirit to live and work to his praise and glory.
Hopefully, we don’t just come to church on a Sunday or Wednesday believing that that is the total sum of our worship. Instead, we are called to offer ourselves, our whole lives, our life as church, as an act of spiritual worship as we engage with the community outside of these walls. That is the way in which we act as a bridge, a holy priesthood at Christ Church: through both our worship activities in this building and through our good works during the rest of the week, bringing the Kingdom of God into the community life of Purley.
So, what is church? What is Christ Church? Christ Church is a holy priesthood set apart by God. Christ Church is a bridge between the community and God. Christ Church is a holy priesthood called to proclaim the glorious love of God both in word and deed.
And within this holy priesthood that is Christ Church, God has called us each by name to play our part. Each of us has been called out and chosen by God to carry out that priestly ministry here in Purley.
Every single one of us has a place and a role in that priestly ministry. My challenge to you is, what is your role and place in the holy priesthood of Christ Church?
Be a bridge not a chasm. Ask God for his answer. “What is my role Lord?”
Wishing you every blessing
(if you are struggling with the prospect of society opening up again do get in touch to chat and pray).