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Coming Out: Leaving Comfortable Places, April 16, 2023

Hebrews 11:1-3,

The theme of this new message series is “Emerge: A Metamorphosis Moment.” The caterpillar’s instinct about cocooning — entering the nurturing dark of gestation — is paralleled in the story of Jesus’ birth from the womb of Mary, the dark of the burial tomb from which he emerged, and our own willingness for transformation. Today, “Coming Out: Leaving Comfortable Places!!”

“Emerging” is a crucial part in the Christian story and in our story as followers of Jesus. But it also means trusting the Divine when we aren’t sure what’s “next” for us. Will we allow ourselves to trust in the dark where transformation begins?

We can't talk about Tombs and Cocoons without mentioning Barbara Brown Taylor's excellent quote from her book, Learning to Walk in the Dark. She wrote, " life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.”

The physiology of metamorphosis for caterpillars has always fascinated me. In particular, is this sense that when a caterpillar becomes a cocoon it stops being a caterpillar. A caterpillar doesn't go into a cocoon — it becomes a cocoon. All of the ingredients to be a cocoon were inside the caterpillar the whole time.

So too are the ingredients of the butterfly. What kind of ingredients for future potential possibilities exist within us and in our church?

It is important to remember that when the caterpillar becomes a cocoon, there is no caterpillar left. The cocoon effectively has goo inside, and nothing recognizable of the caterpillar remains. The cocoon is a state of reconstitution, transformation, transfiguration, even. One can only imagine what happens in the consciousness of the cocoon when it is neither caterpillar nor butterfly. Is it dreaming? Is it planning? Is it experiencing what is happening within itself and outside of itself?

As ever-emerging spiritual creatures, we cannot contain ourselves — the “selves” God has created us to be. Coming out as people and as a church from what we have known into a new identity is filled with anxiety and unknowing. Emerging will take effort and surrendering to “the assurance of things hoped for” even though we cannot yet see what the future holds.

This passage is at the root of my definition of faith: "The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."

Originally, this of scripture is referring to God's revelation in Jesus Christ. The resurrection was witnessed by no one, and Jesus only visited a few people before he ascended into heaven, pierced hands and all!

For all of the new followers of Jesus, faith was required when they had not seen with their own eyes Jesus' signs; not heard with their own ears Jesus' teachings; and not felt in their own hearts Jesus' love.

The thing to remember about this passage in Hebrews is that the author has written it to convince Jews about the power of Jesus. Doing so, of course, would put Jews in an even more precarious position. Early Christianity was a time of religious persecution. Why should a Jew believe that Jesus was the promised messiah? Or that he actually was raised from the dead by God? Believing, and living as if they believed such a thing, would be risky. It would separate them from their own faith communities. In some places, it might put them in trouble with the law.

Remember we are speaking here of the historical context of early Christianity which partly grew out of Jewish communities. Modern-day Judaism is a fully-formed beautiful way of honoring and worshiping GOD. Together Christians and Jews are waiting for the Messiah; We believe Jesus is coming back. Our Jewish siblings are waiting for the first visit of the Christ, and these Hebrews fly beautiful colors of a fully-formed faith.

I’m going to walk us through a few Scriptures from The Letter to The Hebrews to help us get a better understanding of where our faith in GOD the Father, Jesus the Son, and The Holy Spirit might take us.

Hebrews 4:12, “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” GOD’S Word is so very powerful. If we will commit to spending time in GOD’S Word it will help purify us, our faith, our conviction, and our ministries.

Hebrews 4:16: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Friends, we can go to GOD with all of our needs: personal, family, community and especially when we cry out to GOD for our church.

Today’s scripture Hebrews 11:1-3, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”

Hebrews 11:6, p. “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

Then the writer of Hebrews takes us through a kind of “Faith Hall of Fame,” in the rest of chapter 11, of the folks who had deep faith: Abel of Cain and Abel; Enoch, Abraham, Sarah, Joseph, Moses; and in verse 32, the author writes, “And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets,” more folks from the Faith Hall of Fame.

The writer lists many of the rewards of faith; but also helps folks understand some of the persecutions folks faced because of their faith, by listing many of the bad things that still can happen to folks who have deep faith in GOD.

One of my favorite Scriptures is from Hebrews 12:1-3, p. 1008, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Friends, I believe our ancestors are watching us cheering us on to run the race that is set before us, to Love GOD and Love Harmonie Church, and Love our neighbors!!

The section title above verse 3 is: Do Not Grow Weary.

3 “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”

My friends, stepping out to HAVE FAITH in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior creates vulnerability, like becoming a chrysalis and taking the time to metamorphose into a butterfly and then leave the comfort of the chrysalis, is understandably terrifying. But if this metaphor says anything to us, it is that the rewards are incredible. From crawling on the leaves of a milkweed plant to taking flight and migrating across a continent, the Monarch butterfly shows us the incredible possibilities that come with taking the risk of changing, and then going forth being changed.

I just want to remind us about a Scripture in the very next book of the Bible after Hebrews, James 2: 14 and following, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

The “right theology” and “right doctrine” is NOT AS IMPORTANT AS FAITH IN ACTION!!

Just think of how powerful a courageous church with faith and actions to be transformed by a God-given vision for its future could be! For what kinds of "things hoped for” or "things not seen" can our church have assurance and conviction enough to take risks, and possibly take flight by committing to them with faith and actions?

Our closing hymn was #839 GOD Be With You

I closed the service by reading the “Benediction” offered by the author of Hebrews chapter 13 verse 20-21:

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

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