Jesus Has Not Left the Building! - Pentecost 14A
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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
September 10, 2017 at 10:45 AM
Central Passage
Matthew 18:15-20

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: Pentecost 14A, September 10, 2017

Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20


Jesus Has Not Left the Building!


            On December 15, 1956, the organizers of a rock-and-roll concert in Shreveport, Louisiana made a serious mistake. They placed Elvis Presley in the middle of that night’s lineup of performers. Being the phenomenon that he was, you can imagine how the audience reacted. They could not be quieted down so that the rest of the lineup could play. Promoter Horace Logan got on stage and, in a last-ditch attempt to quiet down the crowd, uttered these memorable words, “All right, all right, Elvis has left the building. I’ve told you absolutely straight up to this point. You know that. He has left the building. He left the stage and went out the back with the policemen and he is now gone from the building.”


            “Elvis has left the building,” has been part of the American cultural lexicon ever since. But I wonder sometimes if, in the church, we think the same thing about Jesus.


            In our congregational constitution, line 3.01 states, “All power in the Church belongs to our Lord Jesus Christ, its head. All actions of this congregation are to be carried out under his rule and authority.” But what does this mean for us? Do we think that Jesus is like an absentee landlord, far away, unlikely to return anytime soon? Or do we perceive him to be present, when “two or three are gathered in (his) name”, as he says he is in today’s Gospel reading? Has Jesus left the building, so to speak, or not?


            It’s hard to be a Christian sometimes, there’s little doubt about that. We worship a God whom we cannot see; a Lord whom no one has seen in the flesh for 2000 years. Sure, there were a number of post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus. All of the Gospels agree that women were the first witnesses. Paul also documents a number of appearances in 1 Corinthians. “He appeared to (Peter), then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me (1 Cor. 15:5-8).” But Scripture is also clear that the time of these appearances came to an end. There was a time when even the first disciples had to figure out the direction of the church without the direct presence of Christ. Acts tells us of one such case in which the early church had to determine just how much of the Jewish law was incumbent upon Gentile Christians. Did Gentile Christians have to follow the Torah? Did male Christians have to be circumcised in accordance with the Scriptures? The answer to these questions turned out to be no.


            But those actions in Acts, even without Christ’s immediate presence, were carried out under his authority. They were done, mindful of his deeper presence in and among their proceedings. This is why Peter asks those present, “Why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the (Gentile) disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?” Jesus was really and truly present there at that first council in Jerusalem, nearly 2000 years ago.


            After all, Jesus promised that he would be present. He said as much in our Gospel reading today from Matthew. These verses are set in the context of bringing a member who sins back into full communion with the church, but they can mean any kind of decision the church has to make. When two or three (or more) disciples of Jesus are present, not just in worship, but to conduct the business of the church, he is there among them. Jesus has not left the building. Jesus is not an absentee landlord. On the contrary, the crucified and risen Christ is among us, fully present in the hearts and minds, bodies and souls of the believers present. Jesus is present at council meetings. At constitution committee meetings. At mission and ministry meetings. At meetings of the Grace Village board! At any kind of function in which we have to struggle to discern God’s will for us and for the wider church, Jesus is present among us, guiding us, leading us.


            And what is Jesus guiding us to do? Chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel gives us some strongly worded hints! Feed the hungry, water the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, take care of the sick, visit the prisoner. In other words, do what Paul exhorts the Roman church to do in our second reading today, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Love, in this sense, is not measured by our feelings toward someone else, but in how we act for their good. Our acts of love are responses to and reflections of the love we have received from Christ, freely, without cost, as pure gift.


            I think that’s partly why the ELCA put “God’s Work: Our Hands” day on this day in September, traditionally the Rally Day of many congregations. When we perform works of love for our neighbor, whether it is giving to ministry partners like Grace Village, collecting school supplies for the local schools or soap for Lutheran World Relief, we are remembering what the purpose of our congregation is in God’s wider mission to the world. God’s mission is to redeem the entire world through the love of Jesus Christ, shown in his life, death, and resurrection. Our purpose in that is to be a reflection of that redemptive love to our wider community. When we do some kind of act of love, we remember that God’s mission has a much wider scope than Zion Lutheran Church in Hartford City, Indiana. We see, on one hand, that our congregation is but one reflective point among many. But on the other hand, God has given us at Zion our own particular purpose in reflecting God’s love and light. God has given the campus ministry at Grace Village its own purpose in reflecting God’s love sand light. We have been called. We have been saved. And we are sent.


            God help us to remember that Christ is always among us, as he promised he would be. We have not been abandoned, but we are supported and guided by the Spirit of Christ in our work to the community and to the world.


            Let us pray.


            Lord Jesus, help us reflect your saving love and light to our wider community and to the world. Help us to love others as you have loved us, and remind us constantly that you are with us, especially when we work to discern your will for us as a community of faith. Amen.


© 2017, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.