And on this rock I will build My church. Mat 16:15b
I will build my church. That is what Jesus tells Peter. What a relieve: I do not have to build the church. Even as a pastor or any other gift of the fivefold ministry, I am not responsible to build the church.
First let’s have a look at the definition of church. Jesus calls himself an architect, a master builder. And surely he is. But does that mean that the church is a building? Only in the sense that Peter writes about: we are living stones, building the temple, the third temple, the one the bible says about: the latter temple will be more glorious than the former. The one that many people wait for to be built. The one that many people think is going to be situated in Jerusalem – and it is: in the new Jerusalem, coming down from heaven, which is the bride of Christ, thus the church.
So the church is people, living stones, us. And the life sacrifices given in that temple are not animals. It is us again. For I must decrease, but he must increase. So I give myself as a daily, living sacrifice. Not as a sacrifice to get good with God based on a set of rules – sacrificing the “fun” of life to get right with my creator. Not as a sacrifice to reestablish a relationship with God – that has been accomplished once and for all by Jesus and my acceptance of his work. Not as a sacrifice of time to go through the rituals of a religious, pious life.
Before showing you the real goal of our sacrifice, let’s have a look at these three motivations.
The origin of the word religion is disputable. There are two possible roots.
The first is religare, which means “to bind up”. Religion is in this reading a set of rules we have to adhere to. Want an example? Look at the old covenant. Moses was given a set of rules, with the ten most important ones set in stone and put in a box. Or look at any religion you know and most implementations of Christianity, for that matter. We try to become better Christians by following the rules. And being very selective about it – who would today not wear clothes with mixed fibers or eat lamb on a cream sauce. Who is to say which rules we have to follow and which we don’t? The bible tells us that if we only broke one of the rules we broke them all.
The second possible origin of religion is relegere. Cicero was in favor of this reading. It means “to read again (and again)”. Here, the emphasis lies on repetition. Rituals. Traditions. Doing something over and over again. What comes to mind is confession with its Our Father’s and Ave Maria’s. But everything we do, if we see salvation in it and therefore repeat it over and over again, becomes ritual and tradition, therefore religion in the sense of relegere. They say that insanity is to do things over and over again and expect a different result. Religion is doing things over and over again, hoping for a different result – twisting God’s arm like the widow twisted the judges arm to get her right. Sometimes it is even worse: doing the same thing over and over again because they once worked and we expect the same results. But though God never changes, he is a living being and wants to meet us in fresh ways all the time.
Jesus called tradition the only thing stronger than the word of God. If we think we understood the word of God, we do not dig deeper. We settle on this understanding, while the word is many layered and many facetted and speaks into each time in its peculiar way.
Thus seeking to please God following a set of rules is binding us up in the old covenant. And we loose. Because the old covenant was given to show us: we can’t do it on our own.
Seeking God in repetitive behavior, tradition, rituals has us loosing again. Six is the number of man – created on the sixth day – seven the number of God – perfection, maturity, fullness. 666 tells us, that it does not matter how often we repeat human behavior, how often we try ourselves, it will never be 7. We have to add the one firstborn son of God Jesus Christ to become mature and whole, just like 6+1=7.
And of course Jesus in his death and resurrection accomplished everything. When God created the earth, on the seventh day he finished the work and rested.
And the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. Gen 2:1-2
God set man into a finished work – and man ruined it. He turned the Garden into a graveyard. But then the second Adam came and turned the graveyard back into a garden – so much that Mary of Magdala mistook him for the gardener at the tomb. He truly is the gardener. When Jesus said that it is finished, it was finished. We do not have to sacrifice ourselves to become right with God. Accepting the work of Jesus suffices.
What then is the reasoning behind our daily sacrifice?
Ok, we live in a relationship with God through Jesus and our faith by grace. And we saw that Jesus builds his church – he adds the living stones and shapes them – shapes them using others as tools at times. Jesus gave the fivefold ministry to bring the body into full manhood and maturity. We are instrumental in building the church, but we do not build the church, as a hammer does not build a cabin or a trowel a brick wall.
Maybe this looks like another detour – bare with me: there is another term in the bible that is used much much more than the word church, and it is kingdom. Jesus’ message was about the kingdom, not about the church. The gathering of the church is but instrumental for the kingdom. And what is the kingdom. It is the king’s dominion. It is where Jesus gets his will. It is that easy.
We build the kingdom. A revolutionary thought. But let’s think about it. We have been given a free will. And even though God in his all knowing and living outside time knows how we will decide (prevision), we are by no means predetermined. Thus Jesus only gets his will in our lives if – and that is a BIG IF – if we let him.
Right there it is. Our daily sacrifice is to put to death our own desires and do his will. And therefore build his kingdom as true sons of God. 6+1=7.