God’s Rally Cry: “The Church Acts”
Are you just “playing church” or are you actively being the Church? There is a difference. Over the past 4 weeks we’ve been talking about God’s Rally Cry for the Church. First, Jesus demonstrated that The Church is for all by making a journey of hundreds of miles to give an outsider, not just crumbs, but the bread of life! Then, Jesus pointed to the fortress protecting you, his Church – the confession that he is the Christ. Firmly grounded in this truth, The Church will not fall. He reinforces you, even when it seems you are being pushed back. He makes you like a wall of bronze, reassuring you that The Church is “Tanky”. Then he turned your heart to why we never give up in this earthly battle – to win over the lost. Because The Church cares. Because God’s desire is not the death of the wicked, but that they turn and live!
You know what comes after the Rally Cry, right? The charge into battle. So, are you with me?! Are you with your Lord?! If so, respond not just with your words, but by your actions. God’s Rally Cry is: The Church acts.
Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “Of course! Why would we speak and then not act?” But there were those in Jesus’ day who were really good at “playing church,” but not so good at actively being the church. There were those in Jesus’ day who knew the Scriptures backward and forward. They could easily quote the Scriptures and readily had at the tip of their tongues a passage for any occasion. Their prayers would flow beautifully with exquisite words and passionate petitions. They followed all of God’s decrees to the “T”. They could even be distinguished by the clothes they wore with long tassels and large phylacteries – boxes on their foreheads that contained passages from Scripture. If anyone was doing all the right things, it was these Pharisees, elders, and chief priests. They certainly seemed to talk the talk AND walk the walk.
But it’s to these people that Jesus told a short parable – a simple story meant to teach a deeper truth. “What do you think?” Jesus asked, “There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did what his father wanted?” (Mt 21:28-31). Which one actually did the work?
The answer was not difficult. “’The first,’ They answered” (Mt 21:31), and so convicted themselves. What is the work the Father wants? What is the work our Heavenly Father desires? Jesus says, in no uncertain terms, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (Jn 6:29). “John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him” (Mt 21:32). Yes, you know the Scriptures, but you do not believe them because you do not understand them. Yes, you say all the right things, but these are empty words. Yes, you appear to be doing all the right things, but you are just “playing church.” In fact, it’s worse than just “playing church” because you believe not in the one God sent, but in your own words and actions – these have become your salvation, and so they are your condemnation.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, why are we here? Why do we gather week after week as a congregation? Yes, it is to hear God’s Word and receive the gifts of the Spirit through it. Yes, it is to repent of sin and be forgiven. Yes, it is to worship and praise the Lord God our Savior. But why? Because we are supposed to? Because that’s what good Christians do week after week? Or is the purpose so that you can step off the battlefield for a moment when you walk through those doors. So that you can take off the armor for a moment and bear your heart. So that you can come in weary and burdened and find rest? Is it so that you can regain strength from the bread of life, be refreshed by the living water, receive encouragement from fellow brothers and sisters in arms, and go back into battle strengthened and renewed by your Savior who leads the charge?! What we say and do here must not be left behind at the doors but be taken with you out into the world! We aren’t just playing church for an hour a week. We are the Church! And the Church follows the Savior’s charge into the battles we face each and every day.
I know how it often goes, though. I’ve been there too. Especially, for me, it happens at mission rallies or Pastors Conferences. I receive all this exciting information. I learn new techniques and glean ideas from fellow brothers in the ministry. The closing service usually has a moving sermon to “go and work today in the vineyard.” I’m all fired up in the moment and ready to serve. But… then I get back to my home and my office, and the daily tasks quickly pile up. Or, the task is a lot more daunting than I expected once I leave the safety and security of my brothers in ministry and I’m out in the thick of battle. It’s easy to say the right things, but then leave them at the door during the rest of the week.
This can result in a disconnect between who I claim to be on Sunday morning, and who my actions reveal me to be during the week. Like the second son, we too can give the right response, “I will, sir!” But then fall short on our actions. Brothers and sisters, this should not be. It should not be that we bear fruit here on Sunday morning, but then leave those fruits behind and live the rest of the week like a fruitless tree. Are we living two separate lives? Are we playing church here on Sunday morning and living a completely separate life the rest of the week? The Church is here to act. The Church is here to be salt and light – not just among ourselves, but in our homes and communities! Not just for an hour a week, but every day. Do not honor God with your lips but keep your hearts far from him.
It’s easy to say the right things and fail to follow through. Jesus words convict us too. “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Mt 21:31). Yes, these blatant sinners – considered a lost cause, unworthy of being ministered to – are entering the kingdom ahead of us because they believed when John showed them the way of righteousness and called them to repentance and we have convinced ourselves that playing church is good enough – that by going through the motions we are doing the right things.
See the problem here. It’s easy to play church, but we sometimes fail to be the church. And this lack of action, shows a lack of what?… What is it in your life? Is it a lack of commitment behind the words you speak? Is it a laziness of faith that assumes everything will be taken care of by someone else, so I can sit on the sidelines? Is it that you have not examined your gifts to see how you might serve? Is it a lack of trust in your Savior who goes with you into every battle and is your strength and power – knocking down enemies and changing hearts with just his word? See the problem here. Sin is not just found in actions. It can be inactivity as well.
Thankfully, that’s not the only part of the parable. Thankfully, there’s another side to it. “[The father] went to the first [son] and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went” (Mt 21:28-29). This is the son who did what the father wanted. Despite his initial response, his sinfulness, this son “changed his mind.” And guess what that word for “changing” his mind can also mean? “Repent.” It’s the same word that Jesus uses for “repent.” Very literally it means to “turn.” There is still time for repentance. “Repent!” Ezekiel says, “Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (Ez 18:30-32).
That’s exactly what the tax collectors and prostitutes did when they listened to John the Baptist. “John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did” (Mt 21:32). Remember what I said earlier, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (Jn 6:29). They trusted in the One God sent and believed it when Jesus said they were not a lost cause, but that they could turn and live! Though the elders and chief priests could recite Scripture, these sinners actually understood and believed it!
You are not a lost cause either. You too can turn and live. The Psalm we would have sung today – if we were doing our full service – is Psalm 25, which says, “Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good” (Ps 25:4-7).
Brothers and sisters, there still is time to repent. Though we have at times been like the first son – saying no to our Father and living in sin – there is time to repent today and receive the righteousness Christ won for you! And, though we have been like the second son – saying all the right things, but not following through with action beyond these doors – there is time to repent today.
What might that look like? It might be, not just saying, “I’ll pray for you,” but actually doing it! One thing I’ve found helpful is to do it right then and there. If I’m on the phone with my friend and they tell me something they need prayers for, I try to pray with them right then and there. Or, right after I get off the phone. I’ve done this over text too. When I catch myself texting, “I’ll pray for you.” The very next text I send is a prayer. It shouldn’t feel strange or awkward to take a moment and pray with a brother or sister. We are the Church, and the Church acts! Praying is like breathing for the Christian – breathing in God’s Word and exhaling it through our prayers.
Again, it’s not just saying, “God above all” as we confess our faith here. But demonstrating that in the way you prioritize your own calendar and events. It’s not just being here and confessing your faith to fellow Christians, but then learning how to do the same in your daily life – how to confess your faith to others. And growing in our comfort and confidence in doing this. Tell a friend, or grocery store worker if it comes up in conversation, “Hey, we just talked about that in church!” Or “Let me tell you about something that has helped me in such a situation.” Make faith your native language, not just a second language you use on Sunday.
More and more lets practice taking our faith outside of these walls, beyond those doors. Because we aren’t just here to “play church.” We are here to be the church. That means coming in these doors – perhaps weary from battle and burdened with cares. It means laying that all at the cross, bearing your heart, and drinking deeply from his word for comfort, strength, and encouragement. Then it means donning that armor of God once again as you leave this place – taking Christ to the world! Brothers and sisters in arms, you’ve heard God’s rally cry! Now let’s follow him out into our community and be the church in our words and in our work.