Proper 28B/Ordinary 33B/Pentecost 26
11And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” 13and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” 14For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. 15And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, 16“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,” 17he also adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” 18Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
19Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
William Willimon, chaplain at Duke University, was invited to preach in an inner-city church. The service, with its long preliminaries, lasted 2 1/2 hours. When it was finally over, Willimon was exhausted and asked the pastor, “Why do these people stay in church so long?”
His friend replied, “Unemployment runs nearly 50 percent here. This means that when our people go about during the week, everything they see, everything they hear tells them: ‘You are a failure. You are nothing because you do not have a good job, you do not have a nice car, you have no money.’ So I must get their eyes focused on Christ. Through the hymns, the prayers, the preaching I say to them, ‘That is a lie! You are royalty! You are citizens of the kingdom of God!’ It takes me a long time to get them straight because the world perverts them so terribly.”
The world is constantly pressuring Christians to conform to its values. We need to read God’s Word and encourage one another so that we will be able to keep alive a strong sense of who we are in Christ.
- Why go to church? Because God uses the exhortation and love of fellow believers to reassure us that the world’s message is a lie and that God’s good news is true.
- The world will try to pressure us
- To fit into its godless mold;
- That’s why we need encouragement .
We find ourselves in the book of Hebrews, written to a community in Rome that was being persecuted by Emperor Claudus, and seeking to understand the covenant with Christ. A community of believers that needed encouragement in the most dire of circumstances. The author has spent a considerable amount time talking about Jesus and blood. I wonder if those who heard this letter were fed-up and asked “Enough of all that talk about Jesus and blood already. Just tell us what to do.” After all, after almost endlessly teaching us about Jesus and his work, this week’s text finally teaches us what it means to follow Jesus, and to encourage others as part of the body of Christ.
God invites God’s adopted children to draw near to God with what verse 24 calls “love and good deeds.” Those who proclaim and hear Hebrews 10 may be surprised to think of that not as, first of all, a way to get close to each other, but as a way to get close to God. Yet the Preacher insists that when we do things like love our enemies and care for creation, God somehow draws us closer to himself.
Yet we naturally prefer to let someone else do that sometimes-hard work. So Hebrews’ Preacher challenges us to strongly encourage each other to do things like mentor vulnerable children, share the gospel, feed the hungry, and pray for our leaders.
God invites God’s children to draw near to God by what verse 25 calls “meeting together.” While we usually think of that as meaning we should go to church, the Preacher doesn’t actually say that. He simply calls Christians to meet together. So, he may have in mind Christians meeting together not just for worship, but also for fellowship, food, study and even service.
After all, God has graciously adopted us into God’s family. God has transformed you and me from God’s enemies into God’s children, and from strangers into siblings. So, when Christians meet together, we come to a kind of family reunion.
Yet Hebrews’ Preacher insists meeting together is more than that. When we meet together, as Tom Long notes in his commentary on Hebrews, whether it’s a high mass or a prayer service, whether in a cathedral or house, with hundreds of other Christians or just two, God draws us close to himself.
Yet even us, preachers understand why some people give up that habit. We get that worshipping by ourselves on a mountain trail can seem far purer than meeting with the motley bunch that shows up in church on Sunday. On top of that, as a colleague notes, “we just get tired in worship and … of worship.”
What’s more, as Rev. Tom Long points out, there may be more drama on TV, nicer people at Starbucks and a better view at the beach than in church. And no one in those places will try to twist our arms into giving money, serving on committees or teaching Sunday School.
Yet we profess that when God’s adopted sons and daughters let God draw us near to himself by meeting together, remarkable things happen. We do what we will, by God’s grace, do for all eternity. We practice for that day “When every knee should bow in heaven and on earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.”
Yet when we meet together, especially for worship, God also catches us up in a mysterious heavenly drama. As God draws us near to himself, we’re somehow caught up into the great choir of angels and saints who are also worshiping God. When we join our voices with the angels and saints, we are lifted up – we are encouraged – we are nourished to go out into the world and share Christ’s message of love.
In a letter to the editor of a local newspaper, a man complained that he saw no sense in going to church every Sunday. “I have been attending services quite regularly for the past 30 years,” he wrote, “and during that time… I have listened to no less than 3,000 sermons. But, to my consternation, I discover I cannot remember a single one of them. I wonder if a minister’s time might be more profitably spent on something else.”
That letter sparked many responses. One, however, was the clincher: “I have been married for 30 years. During that time, I have eaten 32,850 meals — mostly of my wife’s cooking. Suddenly I have discovered that I cannot remember the menu of a single meal. And yet, I received nourishment from every one of them. I have the distinct impression that without them I would have starved to death long ago.”
The Bible assumes the importance of going to church, and the only admonition to do so appears in the context of the danger of forsaking the practice (Hebrews 10:25). We need help to keep our faith and hope from wavering (v.23), and to love and do good works (v.24). Just as physical food keeps us alive and strong, so also the spiritual nourishment of teaching and fellowship are necessary for our survival.
Commentary provided by Dennis De Haan, Tom Loing, Amy Peeler, Doug Bratt, Susan Hedahl, Susan Eastman and Richard Carlson.