Hebrews 10:23-25 One of the greatest preachers and teachers of our time, in my estimation, is Rev. Dr. Fred Craddock. I had the opportunity of hearing Dr. Craddock preach at the Festival of Homiletics in Chicago about 10 years ago. He wrote the commentary on in the New Interpreter’s Bible, that I use. This is how he began the Hebrews’ commentary, “The Christian faith grows out of and is sustained by the conversation between the church and its Bible. From this engagement, generation after generation, come the beliefs, the ethics, the liturgy, the purposes, and the relationships that define the Christian faith. To be sure, other voices enter the conversation, invited and uninvited, affecting the language used and the conclusions reached; but the primary and most influential partners are the community and the book.”
“Of course, not all persons in the community are equally engaged in the conversation; some prefer to be silent, and some are silenced. Neither do all the books of the Bible participate equally. The reasons for this unevenness usually lie in the contents of the writings themselves, but not always. Sometimes there is quite a distance between what a document has to say and the church’s willingness or ability to hear it. The Letter to the Hebrews is a case in point.” End Quote.
My friends, Hebrews is not an easy read; BUT it’s a powerful witness to who Jesus is.
I want to share so much of Dr. Craddock’s great writing, but time does not permit. I think I’m going to share a message series built around Hebrews next year!
My friends, no one walks the discipleship journey alone.
We are striving to help folks understand how we can grow in our faith. The second practice to which we commit ourselves is PRESENCE. Prayers, Presence, Gifts, Service, and Witness are the commitments we make to Jesus Christ.
Our presence in community through corporate worship and small groups is essential to the biblical understanding of discipleship. Today we will look to scripture’s teachings about community and how our presence can CONNECT us more deeply to God and others as we seek to follow Jesus and Make New Disciples.
Today’s ScriptureHebrews 10:23-25, this time from the Message Translation, “So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.”
Verse 24 in our pew Bibles reads, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…” Other translations use the words, “provoke,” or “irritate” one another. The word can also be translated “pester.”
Provocation can, of course, have a negative sense; but the word also has a positive sense of disturbing the apathetic or fearful person into activity. But we’ve got to speak the Truth in LOVE! Stiving to help people move closer to GOD without making them feel guilty.
The author to the Letter to the Hebrews encourages his audience in chapter 10, stressing how working together in community can provide assurance for weary disciples. The author is writing to a community facing mistreatment by their neighbors and at the very least spiritual lethargy that threatens community solidarity and also their pursuit of salvation. While 21st century Christians in the United States are certainly privileged and not-often the victims of religious persecution, most modern churches can recognize spiritual lethargy among their congregations.
This is the stuff where we can make a connection. We want folks to feel so blessed by GOD’S Love they will share GOD’S Love.
Just after today’s scripture we hear this wonderful blessing in Chapter 12 verse 1 and following, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…” Friends, let that sink in, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…” Wow! To me that is such a real blessing to know our ancestors are cheering us on!! And it also makes me feel challenged when I fail to do what I supposed to do.
The scripture continues, “…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, 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.”
The author of Hebrews also offered this challenge in chapter 12:12 and 13, “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.”
The GOOD NEWS is that NO ONE walks the path of discipleship alone. There is no such thing as a solidary Christian practice (Spiritual hermits are actually not alone, they are set apart from their community for a period of time. Some hermits might even claim community with the communion of saints!). John Wesley is explicitly rejecting going it alone; he called folks that tried this “holy solitaries”. He insisted on the importance of community for becoming Christlike. There is no such thing as a self-made individual!! Wesley said, “Directly opposite to this is the gospel of Christ. Solitary religion is not to be found there.” “Holy solitaries’ is a phrase no more consistent with the gospel than holy adulterers. The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social, no holiness but social holiness.”
(John Wesley, 1739 edition of Hymns and Sacred Poems)
Hope and I had the outdoor skills to live life on the side of the mountain, but we realized we wanted be part of a community. Jesus to be a follower of his we had to be hooked to the vine; the church to produce fruit.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu often taught about the African concept of ubuntu; he side “my humanity is inextricably bound up, in yours…a person is a person through other persons.”
Methodist Missionary E. Stanley Jones once said that “everyone who belongs to Christ belongs to everyone who belongs to Christ.” (Jim Harnish, A Disciple’s Path: A Guide for United Methodists Companion Reader, 38)
Presence is a two-fold practice: #1 We gather; and #2 We go forth.
We must gather in Corporate Worship! Your commitment to be present in worship does not happen just by showing up on Sunday mornings.
We join together for The Work of Worship! Yes, showing up is part of it. Being present in worship means fully entering the four-fold liturgy, “the work of the people.”
2. Hearing the Word
3. Responding to the Word
4. Going Forth
Small-Group Community: small groups are where the real task of working out one’s salvation takes place. Real congregational care and growth in discipleship happens within the care and accountability of small groups.
Since 1993 I’ve been in one, two, or three small groups at the same times. It was through small groups that I heard my call into ministry. Small groups range from Bible studies and covenant groups, to affinity and social/fellowship groups, to service and mission teams.
Margaret R. Miles, a powerful church leader wrote in her book, Image as Insight, “If Christian faith were simply a system of ideas, a conceptual scheme, or if it were a subjective state, physical presence at the corporate worship of a Christian community would be unnecessary. It would even be a distraction from concentration on certain ideas or the cultivation of a certain attitude. But Christian
worship is not primarily a gathering of the like-minded. It is a gathering of human bodies to be with one another in the acknowledgement that human existence originates in and is drawn toward love. Worship is primarily response in kind to love, the origin, center, and goal of life, because of this, vision, the engagement of attention and affection, is a fundamental aspect of worship.” END QUOTE (Margaret R. Miles, Image as Insight: Visual Understanding in Western and Secular Culture. Boston:
Beacon Press, 1985, p. 151)
Small Groups help us in two important areas of our Christian Walk that the author of Hebrews want us strive for: tenacious faithfulness and a continuous pilgrimage toward the city that is to come—that is, possessing both stability and flexibility—Christ is the model. Jesus was unwavering in faithfulness to GOD and undeterred as the pioneer leading his people to Glory.
FOLKS, PUT YOUR FAITH INTO PRACTICE: BE PRESENT!!
• Pray daily for the church, its ministries, its members and its leaders.
• Weekly attendance at worship if in town and not sick. Consider worshipping online if sick or out of town (or check out another church out of town).
• If not already in a small group, consider joining one or speaking to me about starting a small study group.
Here’s a prayer for this week:
“Lord, help me not to become self-assured in my faith but to strive for a better relationship with you, GOD, and your people always. Help me to love my church family even when it is hard. Be with our church, its ministries and our leaders. In Jesus’ Name I pray…Amen.”
Benediction from Hebrews 13:20-21, “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, 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.