St. Paul Lutheran Church Sunday Service

Message: ďThe Church Is Larger Than It LooksĒ   2 Cor. 5:6-8

4th Sunday After Pentecost

July 6, 2003

   Buildings like books can be deceiving.  What is it we say about books?  ďDonít judge a book by its cover!Ē  The same can be said for some buildings. 

   Donít judge the Minden Opera House by the fact that itís located on the north side of a small town square, in an aging brick building, flanked by a donut shop on one side and a flower shop on the other side.  Not much to look at on the outside, but itís whatís on the inside that really surprises and impresses people.

   The same is true of churches.  Some church buildings look small from the outside, yet once inside you discover room to seat 350 to 400 people rather comfortably  in a spacious sanctuary.  You say to yourself, ďThis church is a lot larger than it looks.Ē 

   But then, by the grace of God, when it comes to churches, THE church IS larger than it looks, especially the one, holy Christian church; Christís church on earth.  Christís church as people who are all one in Christ is always larger than it looks. 

   On any given Sunday in a church with 350 members there may be only 150 in church, yet ďin the workplace, in the marketplace, on vacation, in hospitals, at the lake, in places of amusement or entertainment; in virtually every part of our society, the church is all round us every day.Ē  Wherever the church is truly the church of our Lord and Savior

Jesus Christ; wherever the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus comes in this life, it is larger and more active than it looks like seed, said, Jesus, hidden, silent, growing, maturing, sprouting in the dark.

   The church is also larger than it looks in another sense too. It is larger than it looks in terms of the strength & support it brings people.      

   A paratrooper was once asked how many times he had jumped from an airplane.  He readily admitted that he had never jumped from a plane.

The admirer-turned-critic quickly responded, Well, I donít see how you can call yourself a paratrooper!

   Oh, Iím a paratrooper all right, he said, It wasnít that I jumped, but I was pushed out 37 times.

   You see Ė there are two kinds of courage. One is the macho-tough-guy bravado of a Sylvester Stallone or a Clint Eastwood or a Harrison Ford. But the other kind of courage is the silent courage of a para- trooper who gets on the airplane 36 more times after being too scared to jump on his first mission.  Or I wonder how many people regularly give blood who arenít all that fond of needles or theyíre a little afraid of passing out. But still they give & give, quietly, regularly.  Or what about the people that take shot after shot or treatment after treatment for some chronic disease or terminal illness.

   Courage consists not in blindly overlooking danger, but in seeing it, facing it, and coming through it with confidence and hope.

   The courage of Christians may not be flamboyant or dramatic courage, but it gets the job done. Sometimes we call it ďHanging in there.Ē Ernest Hemingway called it ďGrace Under Pressure.Ē  St. Paul calls it ďGood Courage.Ē

   In the closing verses of this Sundayís Epistle from 2 Corinthians 5, St. Paul uses this phrase twice . . So we are always confident (of good courage) Ė for we walk by faith, not by sight.  Yes, we have confidence (good, hopeful courage). . 

   I like Eugene Petersonís paraphrase of these verses. His take on what Paul is saying about courage to face life & death issues reads like this. The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of whatís ahead.  He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that weíll never settle for less.

   Thatís why we live with such good cheer.  You wonít see us dropping our heads or dragging our feet!  Cramped conditions here donít get us down.  They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead. 

    Itís what we trust in but donít see that keeps us going. Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us?  When the times comes, weíll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming.

   Life is a journey!  Life has a beginning and an end, and for all      those, young & old alike, who belong to the Kingdom of God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, the end of the journey is better than itís beginning.  For we walk by faith, says Paul. Itís what we trust in but donít see that keeps us going.  

   A boy named Stephen, 5 years old, was invited to stay overnight at his cousinís house.  It was Stephenís first time away from home and it all sounded like an exciting adventure.  But when his mom and dad took him to his cousinís house, on the way he started to get homesick. With tears in the corners of his eyes and his voice shaky, he said, ďMommy, I donít feel so good.  Iíd better go home with you.Ē

  His mom said, ďItís up to you, but I know youíd have a good time.Ē

ďBut mommy,Ē Stephen whimpered, ďThey said they were going to climb a big hill tomorrow, and Iíve never been there before!Ē

   It takes courage; good, hopeful, quiet, confident courage to look ahead, but sometimes like Stephen, weíve ďnever been there before!Ē 

   Are there places weíre afraid to go; hills to climb; valleys to walk?  Yes.  Do our fears increase? Do our imaginations work overtime? Do we have questions but no answers? Can our nights get long & rest-less? Are our days filled with things that suddenly seem empty and sometimes pointless?  Yes.    

   How large is Godís love?  How large is Godís power?  How large is Godís grace?  Itís larger than seed planted in the ground! Itís as large as Christís resurrection from death and the grave. Itís like stepping out of a large city hospital, seeing & feeling the warmth of the sun, hearing birds sing above the sound of city traffic, leaving the city behind & heading for the peace & quiet of a familiar home. 

   In the church of our Lord Jesus Christ; for those who belong to the Body of Christ, Godís love, Godís power, Godís grace, Godís gift of eternal life is like Ė always, a lot larger than it looks. 

   So thereís this little song Iíve learned to sing.  I sang it a few Sundayís ago some 4000 plus LWML Convention goers as part of one of the opening devotions in the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City a few weeks ago. We it sang it several times; sang in loud; sang it soft; sang it slow; sang it with feeling; sang it again & again. 

   Lord, listen to Your children praying.

   Lord, send Your Spirit in this place.

   Lord, listen to Your children praying.

   Send us love, send us power, send us grace.

   Itís true, the church is larger than it looks.

   The church is a wonderful strength & support in time of need.

   The church is Godís people, walking by faith & not by sight.

   In every Christian Baptism, in every celebration of Holy Communion, in Word and Sacrament, in every prayer we offer, in every kind and caring word we speak to help strength and support others, we have life, the abundant life, eternal life.  Even when life is bad, we have it good.

   Did you catch that in yesterdayís Portals of Prayer devotion? ďPastor,Ē said an active 94 year old woman who suffered a sudden stroke and had to be moved to a nursing home; ďPastor, we have it good even when we have it bad. 

    Itís what we trust in but donít yet see that keeps us going.

    When our courage and confidence is rooted & grounded in Christ; when we walk by faith and not by sight; then we truly discover that Godís love in Christ; Godís power in Christ; Godís grace in Christ; is larger than life; larger than death, larger than suffering, larger than any pain of loneliness  or feelings of being left behind, larger than our worst fears or our best efforts.

    When loved ones are sick & hurting; when fellow church members feel weary & helpless; when we long to do something helpful, positive, reassuring . . . let this be the way to begin . . . the way to new courage & hope-filled living.

    Lord, listen to Your children praying. 

    Lord, send Your Spirit to this place.

    Lord, listen to Your children praying. 

    Send us love, send us power, send us grace.