Sunday Night Live Sermons
BEING MADE A MEMBER
31st August 2003
Most of the significant moments of our lives occur when we are made beyond our power to achieve. In a world that promotes personal achievement, it is humbling to realise that the things that count most are those things done to us, which are beyond our power to achieve.
I think of the most wonderful things that have happened to my life, and they were all things in which my status or position was altered by the authority of someone else. For example, after I confessed my faith in Jesus Christ, repented of my sins and was baptised, I was made a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. I was made a member - it was not something I achieved or purchased. I had fulfilled the qualifications, but then I was made a member. When I graduated, I did the course, but the Chancellor conferred my degree and made me a graduate. As a student minister I did the study, but others declared me ordained. When I married, I gave my heart to my wife but someone else on behalf of God and in accordance with the law, declared us married. When I became a Rotarian, it was because other people thought I was worthy. You cannot apply to be a Rotarian, you are chosen. When I was inducted as Superintendent, it was by the hands of the Mission Council, Moderator, Synod and Presbytery. It was not something I accomplished myself. When I became a Parliamentarian, I had to be elected one of 21 out of 290 standing for election, and after I had sworn allegiance to the Queen, at the proclamation of the Governor. When I was made a Companion of the Order of Australia it came after a nomination of which I was unaware, judged by people I do not know, chosen by people I have never met, before scores of people attending Government House Canberra.
They included the heads of the Defence Forces, High Court Judges, Federal parliamentarians, university chancellors and community leaders from every state and my family. All I had to do was bow my head before the Governor General, and on the authority of her Majesty the Queen, the regalia was placed over my head and onto my shoulders. I was made a Companion of the Order of Australia. There was nothing I did in the whole process except be there and bow!
God made us members of his family and of His chosen people, not by anything we achieved, nor by anything we might pay, but by His grace. We do not just decide to join His family, or just apply, or somehow make ourselves His children. We are made members of His family and His church. We belong because we have been made. Have you ever been in a city with crowds of people about you, and yet there is no one who speaks your language? Or wherever you look you cannot recognise one single word, not even a street sign? It has been my experience in rural China. When you stand in the street and not recognise a word on one sign, there is a sense of incredible loneliness of being a foreigner in a strange land. That is the loneliness that some people know, not as a tourist but as an exile, immigrant or refugee. They live as foreigners, sojourners and strangers. It is hard to live like that; even harder if you feel that people are against you and they want you to leave. How can you possibly belong? I feel great sympathy every time I see painted slogans on the sides of railway tunnels and walls, telling Asian people to go home. They do not represent Australians, those mindless spray-painters who cannot even spell. Their spelling is atrocious and their concept of humanity is deplorable.
You do not have to be an immigrant or exile to feel that you have been left out of a community. Many elderly people after a life of wonderful relationships, suddenly find themselves isolated. Death or accident has removed their spouses, friends, members of their family, and their circle of friends has narrowed down to just themselves. I was deeply moved when an elderly lady died and some people went into her house to clean up. They found that the lady had kept a diary, and on every single page she had written, "No one came." There were people living all around her in a multi storeyed Department of Housing block, yet no one came.
Consider those people who desperately want to be introduced to a wife or husband. A number of introduction agencies run by unscrupulous people use their loneliness to gain large sums of money from them. They can be easily manipulated with promises and hopes that never come to reality. I know one lonely man who paid tens of thousands of dollars to an introduction agency in order that he might find a friend. In some local papers there is an advertisement which says: "Willing to listen to you talk on any subject whatever for $17 an hour." People book him to sit beside them so they can talk to someone for $17 an hour. One man sent me a poem of his incredible life story. He said,
"I've got bravery to spend on pain,
I've got faith to ward off fear,
And I've got courage to fight danger when it comes,
But I have no defence against loneliness."
That touched my heart because I know there are many people in our community who do not feel at home in their home. And I know many people can feel a stranger in the friendliest of churches.
Wesley Mission Sydney has spent more than $4m funding Life Line so that whenever a person feels alone and troubled, they can talk to someone night or day. Our School for Seniors has provided thousands of people with fellowship when they are over 50. The Old Testament has a great deal to say about how the Jewish people of faith should care for the strangers. Time and again God says, "I want you to care for the foreigner, and I want you to care for the stranger, because you people, my people, were once foreigners yourselves." When Moses was in Midian he said, "I am a foreigner in this land, so I will call my son 'Stranger'". That was to remind Moses to care for strangers. We read, "God loves the stranger and foreigner who lives with our people, and God provides them with food and clothes. So then you show love for these foreigners because once you were foreigners when you lived in Egypt." Deuteronomy 10:18-19
We have a responsibility as Christians to care for the stranger. Jesus said that when the great Day of Judgment comes, nations will be judged according to how the citizens of that nation cared for the prisoner, the widow, the poor, the hungry, the homeless and the stranger. "Come to me you who are blessed of my Father. Come possess the kingdom that has been prepared for you ever since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you received me into your home." Matthew 25:38-44 So God receives us and makes us. The Apostle Paul writes to the Ephesians 2:19-22 to tell them God welcomes us, changes our status, and gives us forever a place where we belong and can feel at home, because we will never again be alone.
1. YOU ARE MEMBERS OF GOD'S PEOPLE.
This passage in Ephesians, makes quite clear what God has done for us in Christ. "So then, you Gentiles are not foreigners or strangers any longer." Those people who were strangers and foreigners were not part of the family of God, were not His people. They did not have the covenants and the promises of God. But because Jesus Christ gave His life upon the cross, they can now become part of the family of God. So many live in community yet feel they do not belong. But the Christian church is a community of believers where you belong with equal rights and equal pride and place as anybody else if you are a believer in Jesus as Lord. God's chosen people now consist of all races and colours, economic status and class, provided we believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
Even great men of faith in the Jewish religion felt they did not belong. In Hebrews 11 we have a long list of men faithful to God. But it finishes by saying v13: "It was in the faith that all of these people died. They did not receive the things that God had promised, but from a long way off they saw them and they welcomed them and openly admitted that they were foreigners and refugees on earth. Those who say such things make it clear that they were looking for a new country of their own. They did not think about the country they had left. If they had they would have had a chance to return. Instead, they were looking forward to a better country. They were looking forward to a heavenly country. And God is not ashamed that they called Him their God because God is preparing a heavenly city for them." And not only for them, but for us. We live on earth but our citizenship is in heaven. We belong to God.
2. YOU ARE MEMBERS OF GOD'S FAMILY.
Not only are you fellow citizens with God's people, but you are family members of God's household. You belong to His family. You have been loved, chosen and adopted into the family of God. John Wesley used to group people together, the poor, the illiterate, those with little education and background so they could pray and read the Scriptures and realise they belonged. It was not only the affluent, proud and rich they all belonged to the family of God. Once you were foreigners but Christ has made you fellow citizens with the saints. Once you were alienated but now you are part of God's family.
3. YOU ARE FOUNDATIONAL TO GOD'S WORK.
There is a third picture that Paul uses. v20-22 He says, "You too are built upon the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets, the cornerstone being Christ Jesus Himself. He is the one who holds the whole building together and makes it grow into a sacred temple dedicated to the Lord. In union with Him you too are being built together with all the others into a place where God lives through His Spirit." We are not only welcome, and family, but we are useful. We have a purpose.
In the Jewish community, people were divided by walls according to gender, religion, occupation and race. It is much the same today. But Paul says to us, "But Christ Himself has brought us peace by making both Jews and Gentiles one people, for with His own body He has broken down the wall that has separated them." Not only has He broken down the wall that divided you, but he says: "You who believe in Jesus have become stones that are built into the temple of God."
First there is THE CORNERSTONE. Paul says, "The chief cornerstone is Jesus Christ Himself." The role of the cornerstone was to give the building its dimensions, directions and stability. Second, are THE FOUNDATION STONES. They were the apostles who taught the truth about Jesus that became the foundation upon which the church was built. Paul says, "The apostles are foundation stones. Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone." Third, there are THE BUILDING STONES. Paul continues "and you are stones built into the temple of God." What is the temple for? For the dwelling place of God. Once people thought gods dwelt in temples made by men. At Ephesus the great Temple of Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the world. It held a huge statue to Artemis. Even the Jews thought God dwelt on Mt Zion.
But Paul says, you are no longer strangers. You are citizens of the heavenly kingdom. You are no longer rolling stones. You are living stones, being built together into the temple of God. God dwells among you. You are no longer a foreigner or stranger. You belong. You are made the dwelling of God. By faith in Jesus Christ, you are part of His heavenly kingdom. You are part of the family of God. Part of His holy temple. When a man or woman understands that, all of life is different. When you become a Christian, you are made a member, you are made part of God's family, and you are made useful. Note the passive tense. "You are made a member." You do not make yourself a member. You do not just join. You do not buy yourself a seat, or a place, or pay for entry. God makes you a member of His church and of His family and of His work team, among whom "He lives through His Spirit." All you do is bow your head and accept that you are made part of His family.