A Church Without Walls

by Rev. Dan Dennis

Isaiah 58, is one of the great chapters in the book of Isaiah, in all of the Bible, really all of human literature. The problem was the people thought they would measure how they were doing by this. "Well, I fasted a long time today. I had these real deep experiences. I learned a lot. I felt a lot. I was deeply moved when we sang." In other words, they measured by, "What did we receive during worship, this one little hour when we were in here?"

     God says, "No, not at all." God measures by, "What did they (the people) give during the rest of the week when they were out there?" Gathering together to worship and learn and have community is a real good thing to do. Your growth will be stunted without it. I hope you make a very deep commitment to do it on a regular basis. I hope you do that for your children, but here's what's critical. We do not gather for our sake. We come to rest up and recharge and get nourished so we can go into the world and be the church.

     As a church, we want to reach up to God, have a transforming relationship with Jesus. We want to enter into authentic community with each other. We do that so we can go out into the world, so the world, can flourish.  

     I'm so grateful we can gather. I'm so grateful we have places to do that. We all want to be fed by God's Word, to be inspired by worship, to be nourished by being all together, to be loved and encouraged, but we don't do this for ourselves.

     We don't do this to create a safe, little cocoon where we can escape from a world of hurt and need and risk and pain. The church exists for the world. The church's place is in the world. Here's the message we want to send when we gather. "Everybody is welcome. Nobody is perfect. Anything is possible. Receive and get out into the world that is waiting."

     The world around us is waiting for what matters most to God, and it's what the real church is called to. In the name of Jesus, for the love of God, feed the hungry. House the homeless. Clothe the naked. Care for the sick. Visit the prisoner. Help jobless people find work. Help illiterate students learn to read. Help dying people find hope. Help orphans and widows. Help lost people find God.

      So, I don't want you to come to church; I want you to be the church. I believe God has an Isaiah 58 mission for you in his world. I want to call every single one of us who is a follower of Jesus to not just come but to identify and own the mission God has for me, for you, in the world God loves. It doesn't have to be grandiose.  It doesn't have to impress anybody. It just has to be real.

     I want to run through a few categories of need in our world. Where do you find yourself experiencing a tug that says, "I have to do something about this?" Maybe it's education. Some of you loved school. You loved teachers. You loved tests. You loved grades. Other students thought you were a nerdy little kid, but now God can use the spiritual gift of nerdiness.  

     We're involved with school districts. You could tutor a child. You could be part of sponsoring a classroom. Maybe you didn't like school, and you still don't, but you have a heart for senior citizens. I don't know if a culture has ever tended to worship youth more and discard aging folks more than our culture.

     God can use you to be a friend to people everybody else has forgotten, who are kind of discarded. Maybe you didn't like school, and maybe you're not that crazy about old people (although you're going to be one someday), but what breaks your heart is the problem of poverty. Maybe the problem of homeless people is something that just breaks your heart.  

     Maybe your heart is kind of pounding right now because you want to be a part of tearing down the wall of racism and prejudice and bigotry that has broken God's heart for centuries.  If you ever visit the Holocaust museum in Washington or in Israel you realize we can always be just a generation or two away from the Holocaust. There is such a long history of antisemitism in our world. Golly, it must break God's heart.  

     Maybe you have a heart for somebody in jail or in prison. Prisons can be utter hellholes. When a little community of faith gets started in one, it can light up the darkness.

     When God gets hold of somebody there, it can be one of the most powerful stories you can imagine. Don't wait for the perfect opportunity. Don't wait for the perfect strategy. Don't wait until you have everything figured out. Just take one step toward Isaiah 58. Volunteer. Pray. Read something. Go on a trip. Do something.  

     What you'll find is it's a lot easier for God to get involved in a life that is already in motion than in a life that is dead still. Don't wait for a perfect opportunity. Don't wait to figure everything out. Just take a step. Just ask God to help. So how was church today? We don't know yet because it's not about what happens here inside the walls. God is tearing down the wall.   God's plan is to have a church with no walls. We want to be that church with no walls. The most beautiful church in the world is the church that is actually in the world, in broken down neighborhoods and under resourced hospitals and despair-filled prisons and dilapidated classrooms, where there are forgotten children and lonely seniors and at-risk babies and abused women and neglected veterans.

     I'm so glad you come to Otterbein. I hope it is always a great gathering for you. I hope you are encouraged and nurtured and inspired and touched by God. Now go out and be the church!


Rev. Dan Dennis