How to Be the Church

This sermon was preached on Sunday morning, October 21, 2012,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Fr. Ken DeVoie.  


What you’re noticing me do this morning is I’m doing a little bit of a teaching liturgy with Deacon Joseph . . . because beginning next week, you’re going to have what’s called a presanctified liturgy or a deacon’s mass . . . you will be receiving the Eucharist weekly from a pre-consecrated Eucharist. And so what I’m teaching them to do is really how to do a service without the priest there, so it’s wonderful you’re moving in a great direction.

I just want to, again, thank you for welcoming me so warmly, welcoming me here with you, and I just want to talk about – really, I want to encourage you, from this point on . . . now that the Bishop has ordained Joseph a Deacon, you are now sacramentally moving into the reality of really being a full Orthodox parish. You’re a mission station, you’re a mission parish, so really what you need to focus on –  and I want to just kind of encourage you this morning to focus on – is learning the liturgy, learning the services, things like that, but not forgetting the focus of evangelizing. Not losing the focus of going out and getting to bring people to Jesus Christ.

The importance of the Church, and why Jesus left the Church in the world was to continue to do everything that He did while He was in the world. And what He did was He preached the Kingdom of God is at hand. He preached it. We see that in Matthew chapter ten (10), where Jesus sends the Twelve out, and He says, “Preach the Kingdom of God. Preach that the Kingdom is here, and then demonstrate its power.” He says, “Cast out demons, raise lepers, cleanse and heal the sick and do all of these other things.” So that’s what we are to continue to do, is to go out, preach Jesus Christ and continue to demonstrate the power of the Kingdom of God.

Now we have come into the Orthodox faith. We have come to the Church. It is the purest church on the face of the earth, but that doesn’t mean that it’s perfect. It means that there are people in it. And in the Church, the best way to look at the Church is as a hospital for souls. In a hospital, there are sick people, aren’t there? Well, as a hospital for the souls, we want people to come to the Church, to come to Christ, for healing of soul, for healing of body, for healing of mind, for healing of emotions. To really begin to have God restore to them for all the years the locusts have eaten.

People – how many know that life is tough? Have you figured out life is tough? Life is hard. You know, economics are bad and finances are tough. We live in a very, very harsh world. A very, very cold world. And so we come to the Church to be renewed in God. But it’s also important to remember is we don’t “go to church,” you are the church. So when you leave this place – we come, we gather weekly to worship God and to fellowship with one another, but we gather so that we can scatter. Let me say that again: we gather so we can scatter. You come to be refreshed in God. You come to be nourished in the Sacraments. You come to be filled with God’s grace. Why? So that you can scatter out into the world to grant the Good News of Jesus Christ. To bring the message to people that God loves them, that God is not mad at them.

There are an awful lot – it’s amazing, I was driving down here, and I mean, there are a lot of churches around. I mean even churches across the street from one another. You’ve got a Full Gospel Assembly here, a Baptist church here, a Church of God in Christ here, a Methodist church over here. You’ve got all these different flavors of Christians out there. We almost have to think of like, where did all of them come from? Well, if you trace them through the history back, [you discover] that they came from us. It’s that they are our brothers and sisters, separated. They love Jesus Christ, they love His scriptures. They’re not necessarily operating in the fullness of the doctrine of the Church, and they’re not in communion with the Church. But they’re no less our separated brothers and sisters, and we need to reach out to them, in love. But very often, because of their separation from us, some of their doctrines and teachings have gotten distorted.

And one of the things we see in the Western Church is this angry God. God is almost made – created to be this kind of like an angry Santa up there who’s keeping a list of all the things that you do wrong, and he’s just waiting for you to step out of line, and to punish you. You have a very angry, wrathful God. Well, that’s not the God we see in the Scriptures. It is not the God that the Church preaches.

God is not mad at you. If God were mad at us, He wouldn’t have sent His son Jesus Christ. God wouldn’t be forgiving our sins. God wouldn’t have Himself gone up on the cross. All we see in God’s redemptive grace is love and compassion and mercy and forgiveness. That doesn’t mean He winks and nods and blesses every little thing we do that’s wrong, and the sins in our lives. But what God does is forgive us, and the message that we need to carry from this place is to the world, to say, “God is – God loves you, God is not mad at you. God has forgiven you. God promises He’s never going to leave you. He’s not going to forsake you – not you, not your children, not your children’s children.

God is a god who keeps promises. We break promises all the time with one another, and we hurt each other. God’s not capable of that.

So we gather in the Church, which is a hospital for the souls, with other people who are in need of healing and redemption, and God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness. And we receive it. So what we need to do, when we profess it – in a minute, we’re going to stand and we’re going to recite it: the Creed, which is, “I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.” That word “apostolic” means “ones who are sent.” And so as the priest in the Church, I am commissioning you, and saying I am sending you now, wherever you go – to your workplaces, to your families, to your friends, to your neighborhoods, wherever you go.

You don’t have to beat people up. You don’t have to roll the Scriptures up and poke them in the eye with it. But demonstrate – demonstrate in your conversations, demonstrate in your actions, demonstrate your love of God. Demonstrate that you understand that God has forgiven you, that God is in love with you. And God wants an intimate relationship with you. That’s the message that we need to bring to people. And there are people, no matter where you go, who are hurting and dying for that message.

They all know something’s wrong. I don’t need to tell somebody that, “Did you know you’re a sinner and going to hell?” I mean please, tell me something new. Tell me something I don’t know. Give me the good news. The good news is God loves you. God is not mad at you, God has forgiven you. So avoid, as we come into Orthodoxy, and we do other things, is avoid – we need to throw off that Western legalism that we’ve come out of. We don’t want to exchange it for liturgical legalism or any of those other things. We want to make sure that we radiate and we shine the love of Christ to other people, by serving them, by caring for them, by praying for them, by being a friend to them. And so that’s what we need to do.

I am very, very excited by what God is doing here in Omaha, and I still chuckle when I drive into town and I see [population] 300 on the sign. It’s you know, the church – did you know the average size – the median size of the church in the United States is?

Amy Gleason: Fifty?

Father Ken: You’re close. Seventy-five (75). Yeah, we tend to see on TV these megachurches with twenty thousand (20,000) people on it. Those are very, very rare. The median size church in the United States is seventy-five (75) people. So, you’ve only got a little bit further to grow and you’ll be the average size of a church in the United States. So really if you think about it that way… If you’ve got thirty people in this church, you’ve got ten percent (10%) of the town of Omaha. Think about it that way <laughs>. Not everybody’s from Omaha, but in the sense of – you will develop as a regional church. As you begin advertising, as you begin to grow, and catechize, and things like that, but don’t ever, ever forget the gospel message of Jesus Christ.

I’m going to big churches now, that have been around for a hundred years, and have million-dollar budgets, they’ve got all the good things, and there are a lot of people sitting in the pews that have been there their whole lives that have never had that conversion of the heart. In the sense that it’s very, very important that the information of Jesus moves from our heads to our hearts. God’s interested in our hearts. He’s not interested in the information we have in our heads. Knowing the catechism and knowing all the saints is wonderful, very important, and good, but unless our heart is in love with God, all that other stuff just doesn’t matter. But falling in love – keep falling in love with God, just, you know, rekindle constantly that fire.

It says it eight times in Acts and Luke, it says, “Be filled with the Holy Spirit.” The implication is we leak. You know, it’s kind of like, the sense of – he says be filled with the Holy Spirit. All Christians who profess that Jesus is Lord have the Holy Spirit. And you will be receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit [on your] Chrismation day, [when you are] anointed with oil. But Paul says – actually, Luke says, in Luke and Acts – those two books, nine times, “Be filled with the Holy Spirit.” So it’s kind of like you know, the image of there’s a – I noticed this morning when we came in, there’s a little furnace over on the wall. And I saw the little pilot going. Which means – let’s look at that as every person: we have the Holy Spirit, and it’s that pilot light. But what he did is when he went over is he turned up the knob, and what happened?

<Congregation makes “floomp” sound>

Father Ken: It flashed. I think that’s what Luke and the apostles are saying is what,  “Be filled with the Holy Spirit.” We all have the pilot light. But the idea is to kindle those things in our lives so the Holy Spirit is on fire, that burner kicks in, so it heats the entire – the pilot light stays warm, but it doesn’t heat the whole house. When you turn it up, the whole house is heated. When we’re on fire, when we’re filled with the Holy Spirit, it constantly says to be filled with the Holy Spirit, renew that spirit within us. Then, we can warm others. We can warm others. So we need to, as Christians, constantly rekindle and renew that fire within us.

But don’t forget, ever, God’s not mad at you, God loves you, God is forgiving. His promise is that He’s not going to leave you – not you, not your kids, not your kids’ kids. That’s good news. That’s a good message. And that’s the message we need to take to other people. That we’ll bring them in, we will catechize them, we will continue to grow Christ’s church here.

But also remember that as you drive by all these other Christian churches, the people coming in, they love Jesus. They love Jesus. And it’s easy to criticize. Avoid criticism. Avoid being condemning. Avoid being triumphal, and saying, “We’ve arrived.” I’ve seen, in many ways, I’ve seen much better evangelism and much better outreach from those who are not necessarily in doctrinal truth, that we can learn from. In the sense of, “Don’t forget, we need to go tell people,” we need to go bring that message. . . . As God raised up the Babylonians to teach the people of Israel some things, so every once in a while God brings these other people up, just to teach us not to forget certain things.

We need to remember to evangelize. We need to remember to spread the gospel. We need to remember to serve. Just sitting in the pews and being comfortable is not what we’re called to be.

Where Paul says, “I live in a tent, but my home is with God.”In other words, the image is that the body we live in right now is temporary. A tent is not a permanent structure. It’s not meant to be permanent. He says, “I live in a tent, but my home is with God,” so if we’re living in a tent, that means this life we’re living right now is temporary. Thank God. <laughs> Thank the Lord that it’s temporary, because it hurts sometimes, and it’s painful and it’s difficult. But knowing that our home is with God, that we’re just passing through this place, and if this is not our permanent home, let’s not set up camp like we’re going to be here forever. Let’s invest in those things that we know are going to last forever, and that is in souls, that is in the Kingdom of God. And that is what God really wants us to do. Is willing to take that message. Can I hear a Southern Illinois “amen?”

Congregants: Amen.

Father Ken: It’s okay as Orthodox to say “amen”, “Hallelujah”, & “praise God”. God’s not calling us to be cold robots here. It’s a passion.

You know, it’s amazing, we go to – I’m from New England, so I love the Patriots. And the last few games have been like, we get so excited and so passionate about our sports teams, and different things. We go to our kids’ events and we get excited and things like that. Well, we should get excited about Christ.

We should be excited about that, I mean, gosh, there’s nothing more important in our life that could have ever happened than coming to know Jesus Christ. That is the greatest gift that any human being can receive, and we should all be jumping and clicking our heels, and you know, having tailgate parties, too. You know it’s just – think about all those things we do for silly games. But the passion – take that passion for Jesus and bring it. See, it’s contagious, by the way. . . . It’s contagious. It’s love. . . . when you come together on Sunday, and the liturgy – the liturgy is a quiet and contemplative thing. We’re praying, and we’re very – we’re really entering into that worship that’s going on in heaven. And one of the things I don’t know if you’ve ever talked about in your catechism, but it’s important to realize is, we say the Lord’s prayer: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We’re going to say it in a few minutes. . . . How many of you believe the Lord’s prayer?

<all raise hands>

So when we’re praying “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” we need to ask ourselves how is worship in heaven going on? Oh! Wait a minute, throughout the Old Testament and New Testament, the prophets and John, the apostles, describe what worship in heaven looks like. And do you know what it is? There are altars, there’s incense, there are angels singing “Holy, holy, holy.” There’s a white robe army. There are all of these things. It’s liturgical. You know, there’s the altar of incense, and the Lamb’s supper, there are all these things going on.

And so if we’re here on earth saying, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we have to say, “Well, how should we be worshiping?” We should be worshiping modeled after the worship that’s going on in heaven and that’s exactly what we do.

When we process in, you know, it’s the procession – the cross comes first. You go back to the ancient days, and it says in First Corinthians, chapter four, it talks about how the apostles are made spectacles at the very end of the procession. Well, if you know anything about the ancient days, it’s like with Rome, we see Romans and everything else. When Rome goes and conquers a country, is when they process back into their capital, is the banner of the conqueror comes in first. SPQR was Roman. You see that marching in, if you saw the movie Gladiator or whatever.

Well, when we come in, under the Victor, the banner of Jesus Christ, that’s when you see the procession come in. The banner of Jesus Christ comes first. Then the incense is – actually if you were to have incense, the incense would go first. We’re entering into the throne room triumphantly  by our prayers, which is the incense. The cross, which Christ is the Victor, and then people procession, and the priest is at the very end – or the bishop – not because he’s the most important, but because he’s the least important. It’s – he’s covered because he really – it’s a covering – the collar is a slave’s collar. We’re yoked, we’re slaves to Christ, so we’re at the very end of the procession, as the apostles were. So the most important, the Victor cross comes in first, so we’re triumphantly entering into the Kingdom of God.

And at mass, we’re not calling God down onto the altar, what we’re doing is we  – God is lifting us up into the eternal worship that is going on in heaven. So the Eucharist, the Lamb’s supper – we are connected throughout time, and history, and everything else, when we’re entering into the Eucharist, and what happens in a few minutes is when we enter into that time of prayers, and invoking the Word of God is heaven and earth kiss, right here on this altar, in Omaha, Illinois, and that’s united with the altar in heaven, and that’s united with Christians throughout the world. It’s seamless.

When God is – we’re entering into that eternal worship that’s going on in heaven, and that’s like holy cow. It’s not size. It’s not building. It’s not numbers. It’s what God is doing amongst his people.  And so it’s really, if you think about it, the Apostles were twelve, and there are more than twelve here right now. And so we’re entering into that worship and it’s going on eternally with God. And we sing the “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and the Sanctuses and all these other things. It’s a wonderful, wonderful thing.

So, Sunday is about our communal worship together, entering into the worship in heaven, but the rest of the week, our Bible studies, our catechisms, all those other things, are to equip you for not being inside the church. It’s to equip you to be outside the church, and to be the Church in the world, and to bring other people to Christ. So Sunday is about us worshiping God.

The rest of the week is about equipping you to be out in the world, to be Christians, how to cope and how to deal, how to apply all the Christian truth to your everyday lives, but also how to bring people to Jesus Christ. So take the passion, take the love, take the forgiveness, mercy, grace, and all those things that you’ve received from Jesus Christ, and share it.

You know, good news travels fast. I mean, babies are born, and what? The phone lines get rolling. How many pounds, how big, everybody finds out really quickly when a baby is born. What better news is there than Jesus Christ? Maybe we just are a little too familiar in the United States. We’ve heard it over and over again. So maybe we need to speak less and demonstrate more. And so love. Love. Love our neighbors, love your friends. If your neighbor’s putting up a fence, or working in the yard, put down what you’re doing and go over and help him. You don’t have to beat him over the head with Jesus, just show your Christian love. Care for one another. Amen? Amen.

Congregants: Amen.

Father Ken: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. I invite you to stand as we dismiss.


This sermon was preached on Sunday morning, October 21, 2012,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Fr. Ken DeVoie.  

About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
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1 Response to How to Be the Church

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