Do you know anyone who says, “Things are great and getting better every day”? I don’t either. I tend to be a pretty optimistic person but it’s true that things feel more and more chaotic. Things feel more intense than ever before. Everyone seems so divided. Everyone seems on edge. People report feeling overwhelmed, tired, and distracted.
And as Christians we have questions for God – don’t we? Over the last couple years, people have asked me the following questions. “Where is God?” “Why is God allowing this?” “What is God up to?” No one asked those questions ten or twenty years ago like they do today. Christians ask these questions because they are experiencing a world that feels unnerving and chaotic. The news reports show that our culture is growing in their hate of God and anything that would be called Godly. Foundational things we counted on that made us feel normal in our culture, are changing, and changing quickly. And it’s hard to wrap our minds around what is happening because we have never experienced this before.
To make matters worse, the Church has been deeply impacted. As I talk to Pastors over the past couple of years, Pastors have never seen people in churches more on edge and out of focus. Churches have never been shut down before. Churches have never tried to reopen after being shut down – that continues to be a mess. Churches have never seen such division and passion over masks and politics while at the same time ignoring all of Jesus’ teachings on loving your enemies. Then the follow up questions from people in Church are, “What is the church doing about culture?” “When can the church get back to normal?” “Is the church even relevant today?”
Recently I was with a friend who doesn’t live around here. He grew up in Church and attends Church. He and his wife helped with a church plant years ago. He and his wife were on a mission’s trip with us in Venezuela before it fell. We were talking about the Church, and we got on the subject of the Church’s response to culture and if the Church is even relevant anymore.
I shared my perspective from scripture, and I said, the Church is God’s body for the world to see.
You are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. NIV 1 Corinthians 12:27
The problem we are facing is that people have begun to believe that the church is like a huge faceless corporation like Google, or Facebook, or Microsoft. And the large Church corporation, they believe, has nothing to do with them. If I attend or not, it makes no difference. If I give or not give, it makes no difference. If I walk with God or not, it makes no difference. They don’t see that they are the Church. They don’t understand the Church as scripture explains it. They don’t understand that their personal decisions determine the direction of the Church.
Because of this, many Christians believe the Church and the paid people in the Church, like any big corporation, really need to just step up. While at the same time research of the American Church shows, Church attendance is dropping, giving is dropping, volunteerism is dropping, and the younger generations show little interest in Church. Yet the expectations of Church or the Church leaders are the same if not even higher.
I ended with my friend. The truth is, the Church couldn’t be more relevant to what is happening in this world today. The problem is, the Church is getting weaker and weaker because people believe it’s a large faceless corporation that doesn’t need them. They don’t see their role. They don’t see that they are the Church.
For us today, I wanted to give you a snapshot of the church. Five facts about church and a forecast for Christianity in America.
Fact 1: 2022 church attendance has dropped at least 28%.
Fact 2: Generation Z, 31% report no religious affiliation, an increase from 22% ten years ago.
Fact 3: 80% of attenders tithe about 2% of their income.
Fact 4: 38% of pastors are considering stepping away from full-time ministry.
Fact 5: Estimates say as many as 15,000 churches will face this tough decision to close or merge with other churches. Those in more rural areas have been hit especially hard.
Forecast based on trends. PewResearch.org reports, in 1972, 90% of people in America claimed to be Christian. In 2020, 64% of people in America claimed to be Christian. If the trend continues, they claim that is possible that by 2070, between 35% to 54% of people will claim to be Christian [Article: Modeling the Future of Religion in America]. That means around 50 years ago America was 90% Christian. And 50 years from now America may be between 34% to 54% Christian.
Please hear me clearly. In general, the local Church in America is getting weaker and dying. That means, God’s body for the community to see, is getting weaker and weaker. Please allow this to impact you. That means, because of choices people are making, we are the generation that could see our culture become godless.
I want that to be the context as we read the Parable of the Great Feast. Let’s pray and ask God to give us a heart that is ready to learn what Jesus is trying to teach us.
1 Jesus also told them other parables. He said, 2 “The Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a king who prepared a great wedding feast for his son. 3 When the banquet was ready, he sent his servants to notify those who were invited. But they all refused to come!
4 “So he sent other servants to tell them, ‘The feast has been prepared. The bulls and fattened cattle have been killed, and everything is ready. Come to the banquet!’ 5 But the guests he had invited ignored them and went their own way, one to his farm, another to his business. 6 Others seized his messengers and insulted them and killed them.
7 “The king was furious, and he sent out his army to destroy the murderers and burn their town. 8 And he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, and the guests I invited aren’t worthy of the honor. 9 Now go out to the street corners and invite everyone you see.’ 10 So the servants brought in everyone they could find, good and bad alike, and the banquet hall was filled with guests.
11 “But when the king came in to meet the guests, he noticed a man who wasn’t wearing the proper clothes for a wedding. 12 ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how is it that you are here without wedding clothes?’ But the man had no reply. 13 Then the king said to his aides, ‘Bind his hands and feet and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
14 “For many are called, but few are chosen.” NLT Matthew 22:1-14
Weddings today look differently than the weddings in the Bible. When Jesus references a wedding, it wasn’t a couple hour event, it was a weeklong feast. And the wealthier you were, the more people you would invite. And in this parable, Jesus says the King was hosting the wedding. This wedding banquet doesn’t get any bigger than this event. Almost like a Royal wedding in Britain.
To be invited to this wedding would have been a huge honor and it would have been a huge time commitment. To ignore or refuse the invitation would have been shockingly rude to the King. And if ignoring the King’s invite wasn’t bad enough, to mistreat His servant inviting you was like treason against the King.
Here is what this parable means. The kingdom of heaven was compared to a wedding feast. God prepared this feast for the Jewish people and invited them all to attend since the days of Abraham. For hundreds of years, God invited the Jewish nation to accept His invitation. What did they do? Generation after generation, they ignored God. They didn’t trust in God. They were hard hearted and refused to come to the wedding. You see this in Israel’s history of constantly rebelling against God. That’s why you see an entire generation dying in the wilderness after being freed from Egypt.
What does God do? He keeps sending His servants to let them know the feast is ready. How did Israel treat God’s messengers? They insulted and killed God’s prophets through the years. What did the Prophets do? They begged the people to understand how much God loved them and to take God seriously and to make God first place in their lives. But the Jewish nation refused.
What does God do? God is angry and upset so God decides to not limit His invites to the Jewish people. He invites everyone. All Gentiles are now invited. God sends out his servants to find everyone and share the good news. Everyone is invited, the good and the bad. Finally, the wedding feast is full of people.
In the celebration, the King notices someone who wasn’t dressed properly. The banquet was about honoring the King’s Son but this man wasn’t there for the right reasons. He was willing to enjoy the fun and eat the food but, in his heart, he had no love or honor for the King or his Son. The King sees how disrespectful the man is and throws him out.
This man represents how we can abuse God’s grace. Someone who doesn’t take Jesus seriously. We can enjoy all the good things God has to offer us while at the same time refusing to change our attitudes, our behaviors, and our self-centered ways. God’s grace doesn’t lead us to radical life change.
For the religious leaders hearing this, they were already angry at Jesus, it just made them more angry. He comes into Jerusalem and everyone celebrates Him. He disrupts the buying and selling in the Temple. He heals people. They confront Jesus with, “Who do you think you are?” Then Jesus confronts them in public with parables that are about them. In Sam’s talk last week, Sam read that the religious leaders knew Jesus was talking about them. They were the wicked farmers in the parable and they wanted to arrest Jesus. In this parable Jesus continues to be very clear about who God is, who they are, and what was going to happen to them. Remember the part where the King would send his army to kill the murders and burn the town? They knew what Jesus was saying.
What does this mean to us today? God is inviting you into His kingdom. He has sent you His servants to invite you to the greatest wedding feast ever – the Kingdom of God. Before you respond, I want you to know what it means to say ‘yes’ to God’s invitation.
Big picture, what is God up to? The Son of Man came to find and restore the lost. MSG Luke 19:10
Jesus didn’t come to earth for a vacation. He didn’t come to earth to complain about politics, the financial markets, or to even build a successful life. He didn’t come to binge Netflix. He came to sacrifice His life. He came to defeat the curse of death. He came to find and restore the lost.
How will God do this? What is God’s plan to make this happen after Jesus left earth?
18 He told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and earth. 19 Therefore go and make disciples in all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and then teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you; and be sure of this-that I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” TLB Matthew 28:18-20
Jesus gave His mission to people who make up the church. It is now our mission to create a place, a church, that loves people, heals people, and leads them into a relationship with Jesus.
What is our role in the local church? First, recognize the Church isn’t a huge, faceless, organization that will continue on without you. The Church is you. The Church is God in you. That means you, with everyone around you right now, are God’s body for the community to see. Let that sink in for a second. The Church is you. The Church is God in you. You matter. How you live matters. Your decisions have implications.
Second, recognize we need the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit who breathed life into Jesus is the same Holy Spirit we need to bring life into us at Church. To stumble into Church with no heart prep and hope that something special happens, that’s pretty naïve. Again, the Church is you. The Church is God in you. That means you bring God into Church with you. You bring your heart condition into Church with you. You bring your ‘God focus’ into Church with you.
That’s why we are inviting you into our Worship Night. And that is why we are walking through discipleships that lead you into a deeper understanding of how to be in a relationship with God.
This is what is recorded when the first Church began. I want to read verses from Acts 2.
2 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them…
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd… 40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. NIV Acts 2:2-4,14,40-41
If you consider yourself a mature Christian, that means you understand this. You understand God is in us so we bring God to Church with us. You understand what is at stake, so you walk with God during the week looking forward to coming together on Sunday. We pray and ask God to anoint us with the Holy Spirit when we get together.
Let’s get really practical. Think about two Churches with 100 people who attend.
Church 1: It’s Saturday night and they all stay up till 3 am for whatever reason. They wake up late, super tired, feeling foggy to the reality that it’s Sunday morning. They struggle to decide if they will even go to Church. All 100 decide to go to Church. They stumble in. No heart-work. No prayer. No time with God. They walk in with raw feelings from their relationships from the past week. Raw emotions from the week before. Their minds are not focused, just dazed and confused.
Church 2: It’s Saturday night and they all have fun but realize tomorrow is Sunday. They all wake up on purpose. They pray. They process last week with God. They talk to God that morning about their heart condition. They ask God to send the Holy Spirit. They come to Church expecting to meet others and enjoy God.
Which church do you think has a better chance to enjoy the Holy Spirit and introduce the Holy Spirit to every visitor who comes that day?
Please hear me. You are the Church.
Does this mean it is wrong to stay up to 3 am and come to church tired? I was in Philadelphia and got home at 1 am. Does this mean we have to be in perfect spiritual shape coming to church? Obviously, no. It simply means, like a parent with a child, I can be the adult in the room. I can manage my life as an adult. I can meet with God before I go to Church to prepare my heart.
Real quickly, can you imagine what would happen in the local church if every Christian who has walked with God for more than a 1 year, came to Church with God focus. They came to Church with the Holy Spirit and were ready to serve others?
God is inviting you into His kingdom. But before you say, ‘Yes’, I want you to think about it. What it means to say ‘Yes’ to God is that you will join God in what He is doing.
That means, the Church is you. As disciples of Jesus, we look to scripture. The obvious implication is that you will follow what scripture teaches. Love God. Love others. Give. Serve. Grow. If I do these things, God’s body, the Church or the community to see is stronger. If I choose not to, God’s body, the church for the community to see will be weaker.
To join God in what He is doing I understand, Church is me. The Church is God in me. Church is not a faceless organization that continues on without me. And as we meet, we are dependent on the Holy Spirit to bring us to life.
Please hear me clearly. In general, the local Church in America is dying. That means, God’s body for the community to see, is getting weaker and weaker across America. Please allow this to impact you. That means, because of choices people are making, we are the generation that could see our culture become godless.
Do you wish the Church would stand up and do something that would force our culture to see God?
Do you believe that the Church is a big faceless and powerful corporation or organization and it doesn’t need you?
Do you believe that you have no role in the local church? No matter what you do, the Church will continue on? So, you don’t need to purposely love God, love others, give, serve, or grow?
Do you see our need for the Holy Spirit to bring us to life?
Do you see bringing the Holy Spirit to Church begins with us at home?
Which Church would you want to be a part of? The Church that stumbles in with no God focus, or the Church that is passionate for God?
What is the condition of your heart all week long before you come to Church?
Do you believe I am the Church? God in me is the Church?
Let’s end with this.
Jesus also told them other parables. He said, “The Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a king who prepared a great wedding feast for his son. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servants to notify those who were invited.”
How do you respond?