Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Garden, The Ark and The Church

Fr. Dale Matson

“He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:15-18)
In our Epistle Lesson for Tuesday of Easter IV, we read the following from 1 Thessalonians chapter 1: “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. The Thessalonians' Faith and Example We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. Not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.” (1-8)
As each year passes, my love for the church, the mystical body of Christ grows stronger. These few verses from St. Paul are the work of the church in a nutshell. The church is the new garden and the new Israel. The church is also the new ark where God’s people are gathered in faith, hope and love. While Noah’s Ark preserved and conveyed the breath of life in animals (Genesis 7:15), the church is the ark of spiritual life. While Noah waited in hope for a sign from the dove that would return with an olive branch, we await in hope, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the return of our Lord in power and glory. As the dove brought hope to those on the Ark, the Holy Spirit descended on the church. Once the waters had receded, God again commanded humans and animals to be fruitful and multiply and repopulate the earth. It is also the command He gave to Adam and Eve. God is a God of life and fruitfulness.
As I reflected on this, it occurred to me that the great commission is essentially an extension of this same command to be fruitful and multiply.  However, Paul was talking about Spiritual procreation. It is the work of the church to be fruitful and multiply spiritually by spreading the Gospel message. Paul’s praise of the Thessalonians was that they had received the Gospel message in faith. They were passing on this word of the Lord as a labor of love and they remained steadfast in hope, even though they were being persecuted.
      The church of Christ, like the garden and ark is a place of fecundity. The church is a necessary combination of missiology and ecclesiology. We are to dress and keep, protect and persevere and be fruitful and multiply. Our works do not save us but carried out in faith, they demonstrate Godly obedience and hope of spiritual offspring. If we lose sight of our commission and fail to pass on this spiritual life, then we lose sight of who we are as a church and why we were called into the body of Christ. In fact, if we lose sight of our God given mission, we are no longer even a church. We are simply a collection of dry bones in a whitewashed tomb. Be fruitful and multiply. Amen   

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