A Sermon by The Rev’d Peter Jin

This Sunday the church celebrates the feast of Pentecost. Pentecost is the birth of the Church. The Church is not just an institution, an organisation, a group of likeminded people. In that rich metaphor of St Paul, the Church is the mystical body of Jesus. The Church is an organism. Think of those wonderful organic images that Jesus uses all the time. ‘I am the vine, and you are the branches. …Eat my body and drink my blood’. This morning I am going to make two points of  the nature of the Church.

First point: the Church is one. 

When we affirm the faith of the Church, we say we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. The Church is one because God is one. Go back to the book of Deuteronomy: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is Lord alone’. That’s called Shema. It sums up that great monotheistic belief of the biblical Jews. There is a Christian version of the Shema. It’s the first line of the Creed. I believe in one God. Both the Shema and the Creed are subversive statements. Because when we say, we believe in one God, we are denying all other false gods. We are saying that no president, no Prime Minister, no culture, no ideology is God. There’s only one God. 

The church is the vehicle. The one God wants to draw all people to unity with Godself. That’s why Jesus prayed at the last supper, ‘father, that they might be one, as you and I are one’.  

I know for us today, this stress on unity can be problematic. We’ve seen the danger of excessive unity. It’s totalitarianism. It is a dark, destructive side of the call to unity. 

The Church throughout the ages has found a creative way of dealing with this problem. It has to do with our Lord. Jesus is not simply one prophet among many, but he is himself the very Logos of God. ‘That means the very mind of God, by which God fashioned the universe’. So, whatever is true, good and beautiful in nature or culture can find a connection to Christ. All that’s good, true and beautiful in nature and culture can be drawn to him.

I personally don’t like the word ‘being relevant’ because the Church is able to assimilate to itself the best of the world culture and great religions. This calls to mind what Origen, St. Augustine and St. Ambrose did. They used the work of Plato in their theology. It speaks to me of what Thomas Aquinas did when he used the philosophy of Aristotle in his theology. 

There are rays of light, elements of truth in all the great religions of the world. When the Church is evangelizing across the world encountering different cultures, the Church absorbs what is lovely in them. The Church does not clash or compete with them, but instead draws from each all that is good, beautiful and true, gathering it to Churchself. The oneness of the Church does not crush into sameness and uniformity, but is rather a living, assimilating unity.  

The second point is what the word Church means.

The word used for Church in Greek is ekklesia meaning to call out from. So when considering the church, we have to ask two questions. What are we called out from? And what are we called into?

We are caught out from what the Bible terms the world. Remember in last Sunday’s Gospel reading, Jesus says to his disciples, ‘The world has hated you because you don’t belong to the world’.

The word ‘world’ has a double sense. God so love the world that he sent his only Son. The word ‘world’ here means the creation that God loves. But in last Sunday’s Gospel reading, the word ‘world’ designates the world of sin, the fallen world. We Christians are called out of the realm of violence, hatred, injustice, division, corruption, cruelty, self-absorption and anger. That’s the world we are being called out from.

The world will hate us. Don’t be surprised by that. I was a bit naive a few years ago. I hoped to be liked by everyone. It didn’t happen that way. It is just not going to happen. Tell you an example, about 10 years ago in New Zealand, when I decided to stop worshiping at the Catholic Church and started to see if God was calling me to be a priest in Anglican Church. I was told by my friends who are devout Catholics. They are ultra-conservative. They told me my salvation was in danger if I left Catholic Church. 

I was very upset and who will not. Thank God, I found a way to cheer me up after listening to a sermon by a priest. He said Winston Churchill was a great man but he was vilified when he was alive. Winston Churchill said this, “A man has enemies? Good, it means he stood for something.” Friends, if you got enemies, good, don’t be upset, it means you stood for something. We have to be tough and expect it. That is part of the Christian life.

What are we being called into? We are being called into the life of Christ, into God’s way of being. The church is meant to look like a great ship. Look up our ceilings. It is like a ship. The idea is, as long as we stay within its life, we find a place of safety, even in the midst of the stormy world. 

But remember in the story of Noah during a time of the flood, the idea is not to stay behind the walls of the Ark. Rather, when the moment arrived, Noah lets the life out, allows the life to be released for the transformation of the world. So, in the church, we live the life of God’s beautiful community within the church, but we are never meant to remain defensively behind its walls. Rather, we go out from the church, we are meant to flood the world with the life that we preserved, and then to transform the world. That is the task. That is the mission of the church.