Ruling Elder Mariana Berbert
February 16, 2014 Psalm 133, Ephesians 4:1-16
Good morning brothers and sisters! I am really excited and nervous to be up here today. This all started with a very long email I sent to Pastor Tom after feeling particularly moved by one of his sermons. I felt like having a conversation about it, for some reason. In fact, I have felt like that for a long time when it comes to my involvement in the church. Like I need to say or do something. My parents keep me posted about what is going on even though I have been living in Madison for the past five years and not attending services here regularly like I used to. I am always interested in what they have to say. And always have something to say back whether they were asking for my opinion or not. At the end of the day I am still a member of this church and I love it very much, because I love Christ very much! I want to let you know that choosing exactly what I wanted to say today was a difficult task. There was so much to choose from and after spending almost 2 hours in phone conversations and spiritual discussions with Tom, I decided it was best to start with what feels the most important to me: my relationship with The Lord and the church.
I became a Christian when I was very young. My parents took me to church ever since I was born and talked to me about Jesus all the time. I remember praying over and over again for Christ to please live in my heart when I was a child, until my mom explained to me that asking once was enough. He would never ever leave my side. My parents used to sing me the song I shared during the time with the children, explaining why you and I were made, which helped me establish from an early age a sense of identity that was intertwined with my faith. Many brilliant men and women have wondered what the meaning of life is but I always knew the meaning of mine: to contain, express and love God. Of course now, as a young adult, I see how complex this “meaning of life” is. But I know that a good place to find those answers is in the word of God and through fellowship with other Christians. This is why my involvement in the church has been so important to my faith, and why I am choosing to speak about it now.
So let’s talk about the church. Not just First Presbyterian Church but the universal church, made up of all Christians on Earth. I have always been taught that the church is God’s house and body. This was something I always accepted as the truth and believed in whole heartedly because of what the Bible tells us and because of my own experiences with the Lord and the church. Paul says in his letter to the church in Ephesus that we are all members of God’s household, in which Christ is the cornerstone and that each of us is being “built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by” (chapter 2 verses 19-22). Paul also reminds us in chapter 1 verses 22 and 23 that God placed everything under Christ’s feet “and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” In the same letter Paul mentions the church as both God’s house and Christ’s body. Those both make sense to me although they have different meanings.
When I think of my house I think of a place where I go to rest, to seek shelter, to meet with loved ones. In a similar way, the church is the house of God. I think of it like the place where God can be “found” and the place where God goes to rest and find enjoyment. So when I am in dire need of Him (which is like… all the time!) I can find Him by seeking his house. Individually, we have the Bible and we have prayer, both places where we can “find God.” And we also have the church, which is his house! When we are together, not only can we connect with God, but He also finds His enjoyment and rest. That is one reason why we worship Him on Sundays, singing spiritual songs and giving thanks for all He has done for us.
When I think of my body, I think of a physical expression of who I am. Most of you know I am a dancer so I love that I can use my body to express emotion, to worship and to connect with others. In a similar way, not only is the church God’s house but it is also the body of Christ – which can actually express Him and be physically present on Earth. Today’s New Testament lesson, also from Ephesians, speaks of unity in the body and the house of God. I chose this letter from Paul because I think it explains the purpose of the church in clear terms and gives us relatively simple directions on how to fulfill God’s purpose for us-- which can at times feel like an impossible task.
The purpose of the church explained in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
- To build up the house and body of God on Earth to be a light in the world.
- To reach unity in the faith and knowledge of the Son of God with other Christians.
- To become mature, attaining the fullness of Christ.
How to do it – in simplest terms:
- Speaking the Truth in love—“Speak to one another in hymns, psalms and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks God the Father for everything…”(Ephesians 5:19-20).
- By using our individual spiritual gifts (Ephesians 4:11) I know Tom has been speaking about this more lately. Especially with all of the projects going on in this building.
- Trusting Christ as the head over everything.
- Being imitators of God (Chapter 5 verse 1).
While I was in college at UW I had the pleasure of meeting with a group of Christians who were really good at the things I just mentioned. When I was with them I was filled with this assurance that they were truly living a Christ filled life and that they understood and acted on God’s purpose for the church. It was clear to me: these are strong, faithful Christians. I later found out my father had also spent time with a very similar group when he was young. In fact, they are the ones that taught him the song about the glove, and what we were made for. My father shared what he learned from these brothers and sisters with my mom, and they shared with their Presbyterian Church, too! This Christian group I am talking about is not associated with any denomination. And no, they are not non-denominational. They simply call themselves Christians in Madison. The group my father met, called themselves, the Christians in Sao Paulo. It reminds me of Paul’s letters to the Saints in Ephesus, the Saints in Galatia, the Saints in Corinth… they identify themselves as Christians only and live completely by the Bible. I must admit they intimidated me… they are so wonderful, and so loving, and so filled with the spirit that I felt a little guilty about how I was living. Of course when I shared this with them they reminded me that that is exactly what the enemy would want us to feel… like we are not good enough Christians. They reminded me that we all sin, we all have access to Christ’s blood and forgiveness. I always, always, always left feeling better after I met with them. I felt closer to Christ and I always felt like I needed to run back to Oshkosh and make sure I shared all of the things I learned from these brothers and sisters with you. Because I love you and I love God and experiencing Christ alone is not nearly as awesome as experiencing Him together! So again… here I am! Really nervous, but here!
So what did I learn from these Christians in Madison and from you all? Let’s go back to what Paul encourages us to do to fulfill the Church’s purpose.
A. Speak the Truth in Love:
When I have a bad day, when I am sad, anxious, worried, upset, afraid, angry… one of my Christian friends in Madison always has a Bible verse to share, a hymn to sing or a prayer for me. This is the number one way that I have benefited as a Christian and as a human being from surrounding myself with other Christians. They take care of me both spiritually and physically. They invite me into their homes, feed me and share advice that is based on biblical truths and their own experiences with the Lord. Nick Zillges and I have been friends at First Presbyterian since I moved to the U.S and I know he will always have my back and it felt so great to have Christian sisters to spend time with too; especially the ones who are a bit older and great role models. First Presbyterian did this for me too. Especially during the Wednesday night programs when I was in Middle School and High School and I could just come here, eat dinner, spend time with others and dance! This brings me to B:
B. Using Individual and Spiritual Gifts
I feel like I was very much encouraged to do this by you all. I wanted to worship by dancing and you said “ok! Great!” God’s Angel’s was started and I was able to participate in worship with other kids. I sent an email to Tom with lots of thoughts and he invited me to speak today. These have been wonderful opportunities for me to use my gifts and be an active part of the Church’s life.
C. Trusting Christ as the Head over everything
I must say it took me a long time to understand and practice this and I am getting much better. But this is a tough one. I always feel like I have to make all these big decisions, come up with great solutions to problems, and too often forget that I should be going to the Lord for everything, praying and surrendering control; He uses us and others to carry out His will and I have found that the act of praying specifically and repeatedly for Christ to be the head in my life has been crucial. The Christians I met in Madison are very literal in how they practice this. There is not one leader, one minister, one set of ruling elders. They all share responsibilities in order for the Church to function and everyone is invited and encouraged to speak during our meetings. They remind me often that God speaks through all of us so keeping my mouth shut is the exact opposite of His purpose for me. I know First Presbyterian functions in a different way, but I do believe there is value in feeling a sense of “burden” or responsibility to share the Spirit with each other. And most importantly, to trust that Christ will use you how he best sees fit. But for that to happen we must present ourselves to Him, make ourselves available as individuals and as a collective Church, part of his universal body on Earth.
D. Being Imitators of God
This is a very difficult task. Even saying it out loud intimidates me. Imitating God. The almighty, perfect, loving, just, all knowing God. How can I possibly be successful at imitating Him? The answer is that I can’t. And that is why we have Christ’s blood and the forgiveness of sin. We do not need to be perfect to reach the kingdom of God. But it makes Him really happy when we try to live a life that is full of Christ. We are not always good, honest, patient and kind. But we have Christ’s life in us and we are capable of such things. The more we include Jesus in our daily lives the closer we become to being imitators of God. Have you ever heard the saying “What Would Jesus Do?” That has almost become a cliché in our society. But that is exactly what we should be thinking. Not because we will be condemned if we don’t, but because we contain Christ and He wants to be expressed through our actions and our words. The Christians I spent time with in Madison are great at encouraging me to live a life more full of Christ and more like Christ. When I have questions about how I should act or what I should do they always remind me to pray and ask the Lord how he would want me to act or what He would want me to do. I always laugh with my friend Kimmie because she prays about what she should eat for breakfast! It seemed so silly to me at first, but I eventually understood that to her, it was about involving Christ in everything, after all, she had given her life to Him! She would laugh and pray at the same time, out loud “Lord, what time should I set my alarm tomorrow morning? Lord, why can’t I find a boyfriend? Lord, help me make more time to read the Bible!” I love that she can pray about the most trivial things, to the most important things. Most importantly, seeing her do this encourages me to do it too. That is how we as Christians need each other.
We need to remind each other of our purpose, of God’s purpose, of how important we are to the Church, how essential we are to fulfill God’s mission on Earth. We need to remind each other, that Jesus is our Lord. It is He who is the head and nothing else. And when these tasks become difficult, which they always will, it is our responsibility as fellow Christians to be there to encourage and support each other, to wash each other’s feet and strengthen each other’s faith by ministering Christ to one another. And if and when we do not know how to do that, be reminded again that we don’t need to know how…. we have God for that! We can pray and ask Him together! Hallelujah!
Lord, we thank you for the church! We thank you for being our head and our cornerstone. This morning we are reminded of how important we are to fulfill your desire and your purpose for us and we present ourselves to you. We are so grateful that you supply us with everything we need to live a life full of meaning and love. Please help us to be reminded of this daily and to continue to experience You by being together and by maintaining this unity. Lord, we open our hearts to you so that your life can be present in the world and we open our mouths so that your voice can be heard in our community. We thank you for this beautiful building where we can worship you, for all the blessings you have given us, and for every single precious and vital member of Your church. Please help keep us on track to fulfill your mission. We want to be a vibrant, mature, strong church, shining brightly in the city of Oshkosh! While we maintain this physical building, we give you the leadership to strengthen your house and body.