Hebrews 10:11-25 CEB
Every priest stands every day serving and offering the same sacrifices over and over, sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when this priest offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, he sat down at the right side of God. Since then, he’s waiting until his enemies are made into a footstool for his feet, because he perfected the people who are being made holy with one offering for all time.
The Holy Spirit affirms this when saying,
This is the covenant that I will make with them.
After these days, says the Lord,
I will place my laws in their hearts
and write them on their minds.
And I won’t remember their sins
and their lawless behavior anymore.
When there is forgiveness for these things, there is no longer an offering for sin.
Brothers and sisters, we have confidence that we can enter the holy of holies by means of Jesus’ blood, through a new and living way that he opened up for us through the curtain, which is his body, and we have a great high priest over God’s house.
Therefore, let’s draw near with a genuine heart with the certainty that our faith gives us, since our hearts are sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies are washed with pure water.
Let’s hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, because the one who made the promises is reliable.
And let us consider each other carefully for the purpose of sparking love and good deeds. Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near.
Today, we close out our time in the book of Hebrews, hopefully sure in the knowledge that we have been forgiven and redeemed by Christ’s action on the cross and his resurrection. Now, we are eagerly waiting for Christ’s return, rather than anxiously trying to be good enough for God. We know that we cannot earn God’s grace or favor because Jesus has already accomplished that. Instead, we now face the real question in our closing selection from Hebrews, “How now will we live?” Nothing looks the same on this side of God’s grace. Our lives do not play out the same way, and we no longer think and act as we did before. We no longer have to linger on the threshold of God’s house, wondering if we are good enough to enter. Instead, Jesus has thrown open the door, warmingly welcomed us in and showed us where we might move into God’s presence. When we ask the question of how we will live now, we will live together with each other and with God as a holy, loving, and grace filled community!
Looking at the advancements humanity accomplished in the last century, from motor vehicles to computers and landing on the moon, it feels as though we have done more in the last century than in all the previous millennia of human history. When something new comes along that changes our lives in a major way, we are no longer the same on the other side. For instance, I am reminded of the town of Ten Sleep, which famously gets its name because it was a rest stop for native peoples traveling between camps around present day Casper, WY to camps around present day Bridger, MT. For these people, this stop was ten sleeps from either camp. Now, we have motor vehicles that are capable of making the journey in about four hours and some change. Now, going on a journey to another town or even to places in town is no longer an all day affair but a quick trip. What do we do with the time? The same is true of living now on this side of Christ’s resurrection. Hebrews quotes Jeremiah that describes God’s plan best, “I will place my laws in their hearts, and write them on their minds.” Jesus has allowed us to stop worrying about living up to the law but rather live into our new found relationship with our God. The time and energy spent on trying to make ourselves good enough for God can now be devoted to something else. That time can be devoted to living as a community of Christ.
Hebrews describes to us what this looks like this morning, commenting that we must be sure to not stop meeting together with other believers. Hebrews even hints that some believers had stopped being in community, preferring to be alone instead. This all raises important questions. Can we be Christians in isolation? Can we be Christians without community? I mean after all, our restored relationship with God is assured, so what need is there for other people? Before rushing to answer though, let us first consider the nature of sin. When we turn away from God, the Apostle Paul defines that as sin. Often in sin, we not only mar the image of God within our own souls but in the souls of others as well. We have placed our desires as the most important thing. Sin then becomes something that isolates and disconnects us from God and from one another. To be holy must be the opposite of this, to draw closer to God is to instead be connected to one another. We are all moving into God's presence through Christ. The curtain dividing us from the divine has been torn aside, leaving the way open. When we draw closer to God, we will draw closer to one another. To be in isolation and apart from community is to live by sin’s example, not Christ’s.
We have this wonderful opportunity before us to live a new life. We have this opportunity to live holy lives, filled with the power of God’s presence and love and grace. We have an opportunity to make this love and grace abound in our communities and in our world, and we cannot do it without one another. To answer the question of whether we can be a Christian in isolation and outside of the community, the answer is no. If you need further proof, I would invite you to ponder the words of Hebrews this morning from verse twenty-four. Here it invites us to “consider each other carefully for the purpose of sparking love and good deeds.” Now, the word consider, at first, sounds like we are slowing down to ponder and think, but I love that the word consider can also describe how we are drawn toward an action. We are being drawn toward an action while living in community, and that action is to spark love and good deeds. Our translation says “spark,” but other translations use “stir up,” “encourage,” and “provoke.” Now, I do not know about all of you, but I do not see how I can stir up or spark or encourage or provoke someone else to love and good deeds if I am not in community with them. Friends, we are invited to live new lives in God’s house, and our sacred task becomes helping each other to live into these new lives fully.
At the end of this week, we had our annual Church Conference for the United Methodist side of our church where we completed the important business of the church to be ready for 2022. It was a wonderful time, and I am glad so many folks came! Now, I do not simply state this in hopes that more folks will attend next year, instead, I am reminded of a video that we watched during that conference. Our Bishop, Karen Oliveto, shared with us a scripture from Ecclesiastes 4:12 that a “threefold cord is not quickly broken.” When we are together, there is much we can do. We can do amazingly powerful acts of ministry and show up in this world as Christ’s agents in a way that individually none of us could ever accomplish. Look at our own church, a federation of the United Methodist and Presbyterian churches for over a hundred years, and on their own, each might have been fine, however, it is without question that the good work this church has done over its century of history was possible because these two denominations were in community together. A single strand snaps, two cords last a little longer, and that threefold cord is much harder to break. As the Bishop shared during her video, it is because of this property that the threefold cord is so common in the daily lives of people throughout history, and it is fitting that we should be like this cord, as our common thread is community.
In the end, we become meddlers, we become the kind of Christians that deeply care and know each other. We are to be involved in each other’s lives and care about one another. As soon as someone new enters our midst, they should not only see that community but experience it for themselves! I am reminded this morning that Christ once said that his Father’s house has many rooms, and that is a blessed thing for us, there is always more room in God’s house. There are always more people to be our neighbors, and then our family and then one body with all of us. Our new life is not for us alone, but it is instead for everyone. Today, tomorrow, and all the days to come, where can we gather together as a community of faith and stir each other up to show love and do good works? Where can we encourage each other as we live in community? Jesus has saved us, and it has changed our lives and this world forever. Let us live into the light of that change, of this new life to be the kind of community where mercy and compassion and love and grace and peace are the common thread that binds us together! Amen.
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Pastor Paul Grossman