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“Why do we and the Pharisees fast often but Your disciples do not fast?”  Matthew 9:14

“Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  Matthew 9:11

“But if you had known what this meant: ‘ I desire mercy not sacrifice’ you would not have condemned the guiltless”  Matthew 12:7

“But they put new wine into new wineskins and both are preserved.”  Matthew 9:17

It seems we are going through a confusing and somewhat troubling time for ourselves where the world is watching intently what we say and more importantly do, as to the validity of our message.  I have seen a considerable amount of work; published in media, spoken in the press and even preached from the pulpit concerning the worth of “religion” as well as the viability of the “church”.  I put both religion and church in quotation marks because I find in discussing with people, vastly different definitions and concepts for these two terms.  And I believe that it is precisely the issue that we are dealing with.  Whenever, human beings have tinkered with, tried to improve on Our Heavenly Father’s Plan, we have brought much pain and suffering to ourselves and those around us.

It seems clear to me that the religious leaders during the days that Jesus walked on this earth were very process minded based upon the way they treated the Son of God.  The religious leaders were always challenging Jesus: “He heals on the Sabaoth, He eats with sinners, He doesn’t wash His hands, He doesn’t come from the right place” and on and on.  Through the years they had taken God’s law, a law of mercy and turned it into a law of judgement and punishment.  For God heard His people’s cry and sent them the Prophet Moses to lead them out of bondage.  Yet as our Creator and One who had witnessed our failure in the garden; God knew that His people would sin, even after their miraculous rescue from Egypt.  Thus being full of mercy, wanting to be able to maintain a relationship with us, the law allowed for atonement for our sin with the purpose of reconciliation.  Yet over time, with human interpretation; the law changed from a heavenly instrument of mercy to a human process of judgement. The religious leaders of the day corrupted the law, making into some human made scorecard for judgement.  It was no longer about being righteous that leads to doing righteous; but doing righteous will somehow lead to righteous, with man judging what is righteous and what is not.  That is the world into which Jesus came.  Sadly, to a certain extent, that is a world that, if we are not careful, we are duplicating today.

Why do we do that?  I believe that it has to do with our arrogance of understanding.  We believe with each new day we have a deeper self-taught understanding of every process.  We believe that as we gain understanding about things concerning natural processes; how a seed grows, how lightning works, what a star is made of, that we also obtain all other knowledge, allowing us to attain the level of being masters of our own destinies.  Because we can not comprehend the true Mind of God, His perfect intelligence, instead of having faith in His Intelligence; we substitute our own flawed but understandable logic, intelligence in its place and then act upon it.

Thus Jesus came and crushed every form of human judgement and earthly wisdom.  The wisest and most powerful leaders came against Him with tests and questions and He silenced each and every one of them with His perfect understanding.  He told them and tells us today, those who look to their own processes, that devise their own plans for salvation travel the broad road to doom and eternal separation from God.

And Jesus Christ speaks to us today.  Yet I want to stress something that I believe jesus Christ made abundantly clear.  Churches do matter.  Religion in that it is the proclamation that Jesus Christ is the One and Only True Begotten Son of God, come to earth, crucified for our sins, died and resurrected and now living at the Right Hand of God the Father Almighty and that we are to love God with all our being and love each other as we love ourselves, is of utmost importance.  However, as we take the new wineskin of Christ and start to tinker with His message; filter His words and change them based on our understanding, as we take His open invitation and change it into a process, a test to pass, to enter into the kingdom of heaven, we take religion and make it a human-made concept; church becomes a human-made institution.

Dear Sisters and Brothers, I have a limited understanding of the true nature of God’s plan for my salvation.  I do not fully grasp the gravity, the mercy, the unbelievable sacrifice of God coming to earth, taking my sins upon Himself and dying in my place.  Thus I must have faith in the Word of Jesus Christ.  I must grasp hold of, in awe and wonder, the miracle of Jesus Christ and, through the Holy Spirit, replace my limited capacity to understand with His merciful gift of revelation.  We must resist the temptation to imprint our own image on that which should be holy, His church and His religion.  In so doing, we can show the world what true faith is all about.  We will show that we reject the process of human discerned judgement and replace it with Christ designed love and mercy.  Christ is the only process we need.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we proclaim to the world there is only one knowledge that is true, only one plan that is perfect, only one judgement that is righteous; that which is Yours and comes from You.  Forgive us when we attempt to substitute our limited knowledge, our own devised plan and our faulty, limited judgement for Yours.  Pour out Your Holy Spirit upon us that although limited by our faculties, will still reveal to us the perfect will you have for our lives.  Grant us the strength and faithfulness to align our will to Yours.  That the world would then see our lives as lived in praise to Your Most Holy Name, we pray in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last…….What you see write in a book and send to the seven churches…….”  Revelation 1:11

“The mystery of seven stars….and the seven golden lampstands….the seven stars are the seven angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”  Revelation 1:20

So let’s set the scene here.  There is a follower of Christ named John (there is some discussion over whether or not this was the Apostle John or not) who has been exiled to an island named Patmos for his belief and preaching of Jesus Christ.  At this point, among so many countless things Jesus Christ has accomplished, He has taught about His Father and His Father’s Kingdom.  He has willing died for us becoming the perfect sacrifice for our redemption.  He has risen from the dead and in all power, has asked for the Holy Spirit to be sent to us so that those who believe and are baptized may receive Him.  There has been time for Christ’s apostles to spread out and begin churches.  Now Christ wants to reveal to His people, that which is to come.

Notice where, very early on, Christ’s emphasis lies.  He makes sure that John knows who exactly it is who is giving him, His revelation.  Second, Christ wants to make sure that John sends this information out….to the churches.  In fact when John first sees Jesus Christ, He is standing in and amongst the lampstands.  Notice also that, besides a lampstand, each church has an angel.

Jesus Christ wants to send a message to all the churches, yet each church has a different part.  Here are couple things that seem important to me.  First, while there are seven churches based on seven different physical locations; they are all Christ’s.  Second, even at this time, even as short a period of time as it has been since Christ walked the earth, the evils of man had infected many of these churches.  These were not perfect places of worship.

So what is Jesus Christ to do?  He could have pronounced the church a failed institution and decided some other form of institution is necessary.  Christ could have warned all of his believers to flee from churches or any institution similar to them.  Neither of these things does Christ do.  No, it is abundantly clear that Christ cares for, Christ loves these churches, even with their imperfections.  Certainly Christ rebukes the churches, in some cases quite harshly.  Yet even then in most cases, He is able to find something redeeming about the church and offers the churches hope.  Yes, it seems very clear that Jesus Christ sees great importance in the churches and the need that they repent of their waywardness and come into the glory for which they were intended.

Why is this so important?  This is vital, because churches are under such devastating attacks both from the outside secular world as well as within their own ranks.  It is true that there have been churches that have committed great evil against the world and even their own members.  It is true that some churches, far from being the welcoming beacons of light; have spread a message of exclusiveness and hatred.  I have even heard from within churches themselves, doubts about the relevance and necessity of churches in the 21st century world.

Where are we to turn?  Are we to strike out on our own?  Let’s return to Jesus and see what He has to say.  Remember, Jesus preached that a house divided can not stand.  While, in the context of the discussion, He was discussing Satan, He did not say Satan’s divided house can not stand.  No, it is clear He admonition was for all.  The church is a place where we come together.  The church is the place where we partake of fellowship in some of the most sacred acts that Christ taught about; The Lord’s Supper and The baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Churches have the mission of being a place were we come to a sanctuary of love, healing, joy, praise and worship.

The enemy would love to see us break up and try it on our own.  The enemy would love to see those in pain, those tired, those physically and spiritually hungry, those unloved and persecuted have no where to turn.  The enemy would love each believer left alone to struggle with interpreting the Word of God on their own.

Dear Sisters and Brothers; church matters.  Yes, I confess there are divisions.  Yes it is true that we have many of the same struggles that Jesus Christ laid out in the book of Revelation to the early seven churches.  Yet that is no reason to give up and try to go it alone.  Diligently seek a church that preaches Jesus Christ, the Son of God and our Savior.  If you are in such a church be open and loving to those who enter your doors.  In a world obsessed with the latest and greatest, hold fast to the Rock of Christ.  Should your church stumble; love it, support it, help it.  Should one church become so corrupted that it no longer preaches the true gospel of Christ, then leave it, but find another church.  They are definitely out there.

Let us not relegate an institution that Jesus Christ finds so important to a relic of the past.  Christ knows that the church is not for Him and His need, it is for us.  Let us, abiding in Christ, be worthy of our lampstand.  And may the light, His Light, shine forth from our lamp, the church, as a beacon of love, peace and light, to a world ever growing darker.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we pray a prayer of thanksgiving that Your plan has in it our ability to gather in Your Church.  We pray that, although there be many buildings in many different locations, that we would worship You as one.  Let the Glory of the Groom, Jesus Christ, fill the bride, the church, with love, mercy and thanksgiving.  Forgive us when we try to fashion the church in our image instead of Yours.  That the church may be an avenue for Your Will to be carried out on this earth.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

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