‘I told you the most important part of the message exactly as it was told to me’ (1 Corinthians 15:3 CEV).
For several years I subscribed to Facebook. It was a way of keeping me in touch with people I cared about but whom I rarely saw face to face. Gradually, however, I noticed Facebook’s pages filling up with all sorts of messages that I neither wanted nor cared about, most of them advertising.
So I deleted Facebook from my devices and now I rely on family and friends to send me what they want me to know. It means that I don’t see or hear as much as I used to, but it’s not nearly as stressful, and what I do get is the stuff I need – major news, grandchildren getting older and family and friends having special celebrations. No longer do I have to trawl through all the distractions to find what matters.
It can be like that also in the church and in our faith life. Things start well, but gradually they become cluttered with all sorts of distractions. Important issues arise, and they seem to matter, but in the end they take us away from what matters. Numbers, finance, property, tradition, good works, constitutions, governance, processes and yes, even doctrine. All good things, but not so good if they become the main message and we no longer focus on Christ and his death and resurrection for us.
So, as with Facebook, and in life in general, we must learn to filter out our distractions to find what really matters. In 1 Corinthians 15 St Paul tells us just what that is: ‘Christ died for our sins, as the Scriptures say. He was buried and three days later he was raised to life, as the Scriptures say …’ Significantly, he then lists the people to whom Christ appeared after his resurrection, right down to himself. So he’s saying that the most important thing isn’t just information: it’s people, Christ’s people.
Christ’s people – the church – and the gospel message belong together. Properly speaking, the Christian church is the ‘assembly of all believers and saints’, as we read in the Augsburg Confession. The church exists on earth wherever baptised believers gather around God’s word and celebrate holy communion. God uses these external means to actively stir up and strengthen our faith. So we must get busy with the most important part of the message, and not allow ourselves to become distracted.
We were reminded of this just recently, when we celebrated Holy Week and Easter. Then we heard emphatically that Christ truly did die for our sins, that he was buried and three days later was raised to life. We heard this through the testimony of those to whom he appeared after his resurrection. We are part of God’s church today because of the witness of multiple generations of believers, each making sure that they handed on the most important part of the message.
And that’s why the church goes on, in order to live out the gospel of Christ’s victory over death, and to share that message with the world, so that everyone may have life in him.