Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Every congregation that I have known and served has had a unique personality in the same way that every human does.  Of course, that unique personality is often determined by the character of the individuals worshiping there.  Some congregations are always warm and friendly, until you accidentally sit in their pew. Some freely greet you with a friendly handshake during the sharing of the peace, but then they refuse to make eye contact with you when you are awkwardly searching for a place to sit at church coffee Some congregations sit quietly during the prelude, while others are so active and noisily chatting that you can’t hear the music playing.  No two congregations are exactly alike. One thing, however, is for certain, regardless of age or size or denomination, there is no perfect church.

It’s a very poem of mine.

I think that I shall never see

A church that’s all it ought to be

A church that has no empty pews

A church where people never get the blues

A church whose music is always great

A church where people are never late

Such perfect churches there may be

But none of them are known to me

If you could find the perfect church

Without one fault or smear

For goodness sake, don’t join that church

You’ll spoil the atmosphere

But since no perfect church exists

Where people never sin

Then let’s stop looking for that church

And love the one we’re in.

Oddly, if there was a perfect church, for the Apostle Paul it would have been the church in Berea. Yet he wrote no epistle to the Bereans. In the Bible there are two letters to the willy Thessalonians who drove the apostle out of town twice and one letter to the unjust Philippians who beat him and threw him into prison, but none for the church in Berea. Now being a Berean may not sound much like a compliment, certainly nothing worth pursuing.  But in scripture we read that the Bereans were of more noble character.  That is what I would like to share with you today. For certainly that church, if not perfect, would be worth visiting.

In the Book of Acts, St. Luke makes a clear distinction between the Jews in the synagogue in Berea and those in the synagogue in Thessalonica. In Thessalonica there were a few who believed Paul’s testimony of Jesus as the Christ, but others formed a riotous mob, attacked Paul’s hosts, and even turned the whole city into an uproar. However, when Paul came to Berea the Jews there received Paul’s words with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if what Paul said was true.  The Bereans were, as St. Luke writes, “of more noble character.”  I like that phrase.  That’s how it was translated in the King James Version of the Bible, and even in the old Revised Standard Version that I knew as a child. Unfortunately, the New Revised Standard Version translated the word “noble” as “more receptive” which is terribly dull.  “Of more noble character” should be a quality worth pursuing.

In the ancient world, nobles and those of noble birth enjoyed not simply greater rights and privileges; but they were obliged with greater responsibility to serve and benefit their city and kingdom.  Portraying the synagogue in Berea as noble was describing a congregation that was aristocratic by birth, open-minded, generous, and tolerant. They had qualities that were associated with “good breeding” so they receptive to the good news that the Apostle Paul was sharing with all people, regardless of their station in life, ethnicity or gender.   Regretfully, as soon as the ruffians in Thessalonica heard that Paul was preaching in Berea, a full two-days journey away from their city, and that his teaching was being received eagerly, they travelled to Berea to agitate the crowds.  And once again, Paul was forced to leave for his own safety. This time the believers accompanied him to Athens, while Paul and Timothy remained in Berea to instruct the new followers.

Over time, with only one brief mention in the Book of Acts, and no epistles to the Bereans to speak of, the name Berea might have completely disappeared. After all even the name of the city has change in modern Greek. Today it is known as Veria.  Fortunately, the name Berea re-emerged in 1773, when a Scottish Presbyterian minister named John Barclay founded the Berean Church in Edinburgh. The name has since been taken up by other Protestant groups based on the church’s historic emphasis on studying scripture. You can even find a Berea Lutheran Church in Richfield and Inver Grove Heights. Are they perfect congregations? Well, they certainly know their scriptures.

So what were the qualities of noble birth that the Apostle Paul experienced in his short visit to the city of Berea that St. Luke wanted us to note? Those are the qualities which should embrace and foster in our own attempts to be a more perfect congregation here at Lake of the Isles?

Certainly, a perfect congregation should dwell in the scriptures and receive them eagerly. It must be the central source of study, encouragement, inspiration and worship for it is where we meet God.  A noble regard for scripture requires a personal humility, and a willingness to question yourself, your motives and your desires in relationship to the word. The Bereans were willing to recognize their failings. The Thessalonians were not.  My friends, the first noble step for any congregation is to acknowledge the power the scripture to challenge, change and transform.

The second quality of the Bereans was their openness to examine and study the scripture. Let me remind you, the Bereans did not have personal Bibles that they read and carried with them to the Synagogue.  That only happened after the invention of the printing press and the Protestant Reformation. No, the Bereans gathered in the synagogue every day to hear the learned men discuss and review the scriptures.

Surprisingly, their meditations weren’t limited to protecting and defending the God of the past. The Apostle Paul was preaching a new gospel to them of Jesus the Messiah and the resurrection of the dead, and rather than ignoring it and repeating the last seven words of the church, “We never did it that way before,”  they eagerly accepted it. However, they didn’t just blindly acknowledge Paul’s words as truth. They sought to verify what he was saying through the scriptures. They wanted to find out for themselves.  That is what a noble congregation should encourage you to do.

A third quality of the Bereans was loyalty. I can’t imagine that everyone in Berea agreed with Paul and all his teaching, but what was remarkable was that they provided him with safety in times of trial. They were loyal to their shepherd. When the apostle’s enemies arrived from Thessalonica, the Berean believers protected Paul by getting him out of the region. They did not turn him over to his enemies or disassociate with him as the ruffians from Thessalonica might have expected. They were loyal and watched over and protected their shepherd. That is a noble quality for any congregation.

Alas, there is no perfect congregation that always welcomes God’s word eagerly, examines the scriptures enthusiastically, and provides their shepherd with complete loyalty.  And frankly, as far as I have seen, I have never known a perfect pastor either. Still, I’m glad and honored that with all our imperfections, you do trust me. But I would encourage us all to be a bit more like the Bereans.  Yes, we are all called and invited to learn eagerly from God’s Word and, no matter who the pastor is, to investigate new teachings in comparison with the scripture.

But since no perfect church exists

Where people never sin

Then let’s stop looking for that church

And love the one we’re in.

My friends, each one of us has a responsibility, a duty, to seek out the truth. It is to be of noble character. So, for your sake and mine, verify that what I’m saying is true and dedicate your own time and energy to discovering that promise that Jesus Christ is Lord. Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.