Reflections on Sermon 59: "God''s Love to Fallen Man"

The faithful and busy lay people of Saint Clair Avenue Church of the Nazarene in Toronto, Ontario, taught me—then a neighborhood teenager—how to fish for perch and pickerel and to dream about muskies in Canadian lakes and rivers. Among these people was my unforgettable fishing mentor, Mr. Paddle. He knew his way around in the rugged forest wilderness and in the crowded streets of Canada's largest city. I looked up to him, and others, as trusted models of the Christian life.

As we talked and enjoyed God's beautiful world, I felt I was learning how to be an adult. Now, from a more mature perspective, I see that the real motive of these lay leaders was to commit their time and talents to help lead a young person to Christ and into a lifetime of serving Christ in a changing world. As they expressed their interest in me they taught me by word and by example to follow Christ and to fish for the souls of people. They had a charge to keep, and they kept it.

These faithful believers understood that it takes the whole Christian community bonding and sharing their faith to prepare the next generation to faithfully follow Christ's call in their world. Mr. Paddle, and countless others in that saintly congregation, were true to their corporate charge, and their imprints have remained on my Christ-designed life map. They, and the church family shepherded by godly pastors, introduced me to Christ's Church as a community of interdependent Spirit-filled and Spirit-directed people of all ages.

These ordinary Christians lived before me as the Church-the body of Christ commissioned by Jesus to gently and intentionally reach out to lost and needy people, and to nurture them to follow their own personal calls from God. My widowed mother deeply appreciated this outreach of Christian love. She encouraged me to attend that nearby church and then she became a member.

Who really shapes the history and lasting contribution of a denomination? Who really presents the true nature of Christianity to our neighbors and our contemporary culture? Who holds open the front doors of our churches and helps visitors feel at home? Every person who is committed to a local Christian community and to its core beliefs and practices can make the back doors of our churches less attractive.Christ-like pastors are at the heart of this healthy Christian community as they are called by God to organize, instruct, and equip us through the teaching of God's Word, and by example. Then every Spirit-filled member of the Christian community is charged to be Christ to our world. We are to be one in the bond of His love.

What makes Christ's earthly body, the Church, attractive to our neighbors and to our culture? The Apostle Paul addressed that question in a way that crosses the centuries and will provide an answer until we lay our trophies at Jesus' feet. Evidently Paul wanted to showcase the bond of Christ-like love that made the Philippian congregation a model for all time. In his letter to the church he prefaced his encouraging remarks with, "I have you in my heart" (Philippians 1:7).

The neighborhood church is most attractive to people when the word gets around that those in the church love them.

That love and concern can be the threshold that brings bruised people face to face with Jesus, who loves them with an eternal love.

Jesus explained this in John 13:35, where He stated that the presence of His love in the community of Christians was convincing proof that He was Savior and Lord. That kind of love has always characterized healthy churches in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition. What better way can a Holiness church be defined? When we accepted God's call to holiness, we were charged to embody agape love. It's what we confessed when we repeated the vows of church membership.

Christ's self-giving love in us makes His earthly body healthy and attractive in our world. This has become even more critical as other rapidly growing non-Christian religions impact our world. 'Jesus' love in a congregation is more than the sum of the love expressed by individual saints. This corporate love is the expression of the Body of Christ that shouts 'welcome home' to everyone who comes near. It is the Spirit of God showcasing Christ's love in a group composed of differently shaped sanctified earthen vessels.

Love is at the heart of our charge to keep as God's people. So, who really shapes the history and lasting contribution of a denomination? We do! We—the communities of everyday faithful Christians who offer Jesus' love to our neighborhoods. God's divine charge to us, through the Holy Spirit's presence, is to be Jesus' earthly body to our neighborhoods, our cities, and our worlds. We have this charge to keep.

Gordon Wetmore is president emeritus of Nazarene Theological Seminary.

Holiness Today, November/December 2006

Please note: This article was originally published in 2006. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.