My sermon from October 9th, 2011 based on Hebrews 10:19-25. 2nd of 5 in “Better Together” series.
This morning we continue a series we are calling, “Better Together.” Over the course of these five weeks we are acknowledging and exploring two realities. The reality that as individuals we are better off when we bring our gifts and our resources together and combine them with others and the reality that as a community of faith, we are strengthened and made better as each person contributes. Both as individuals and as a community of faith we are better together.
If you were with us last week you heard a bit of the background for this series, the promises that people make when they become a part of a United Methodist faith community. I shared a bit about my perspective; a perspective that is much more concerned about and interested in engaged people who have a sense of belonging within the community of faith over and above people who might call themselves members, but really have no connection to the community.
You might remember that I talked a bit about the asterisk that is in our church directory next to the names of those people who are members. In the end I’m not terribly concerned about how many asterisks we have in the directory. My concern as a pastor is not to help you get an asterisk next to your name. My concern as a pastor is to help people grow in God’s love for them and to help them grow in their relationship with others through living as the community of faith. Whether you’re a member or not, doesn’t ultimately matter to me. Whether you’re a member or not, I believe this series of messages can speak to you about how to continue growing into the kind of person that God calls you to be and how to share the gifts and resources and skills that you have been given with a community of faith. I believe that as we promise to live as brothers and sisters in Christ as a part of a community of faith, that we are better together.
Again, when we pledge to be a part of a United Methodist faith community we pledge to support that body with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. Last week we began by talking about the reality that we’re better together when we pray together.
As we talked about prayer last week I invited you to consider a couple of realities regarding prayer. First of all, know that there are no right or wrong ways to pray. Last week at the second service I mentioned my friend who plays upright bass in a little bluegrass band. He jokes that 90% of being a good bass player is having a bass. Similarly, I’d say that 90% of having a good prayer life, is having a prayer life. Prayer can be 5-10 minutes of intentional time carved out during our days to be in prayer. Prayer can be an ongoing conversation with God throughout our days, giving thanks for that is good, asking for strength in the face of that which is challenging. As we pray with and for one another as a community of faith we are strengthened, we are better together.
The second way in which we’re called to support the community to which we belong is through our presence. We can’t fully support a community of faith from a distance; we must be present and engaged in the community.
Now, admittedly there are some who due to physical limitations can’t be present with us in worship, this is not at all to diminish their worth or their value as a part of this community. When physical limitations keep someone from being present with the body, they are often more regular and consistent in praying for the community or supporting the community with their gifts. At our best, when we are all able, we are called to support Christ and Christ’s work in the world through our church in each of these five ways.
As the basis for our conversation about the importance of being present together, both for our own sakes as well as the sake of the community, I want us to explore a passage from the book of Hebrews, “21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let 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. 23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
An important aspect of being a part of a community is to meet together to support one another. In this passage the author of Hebrews invites us to be intentional about three different things as we grow in our faith.
In verse 22 we are invited to approach the presence of God. This is an invitation that we receive not because of who we are or because of anything that we have done, but because of who God is and the way in which Christ’s redemptive work established or reestablished a connection between us and God. We are invited to approach the splendor and glory of God’s presence in a variety of manners, in the beauty of a sunrise, the magnificent colors of fall, the miracle of new life being born into the world. But even above and beyond all of those little ways in which we are called to connect to the presence of God we are to be present with God in times of corporate worship, when we come together with others.
Secondly, in verse 23 there is an invitation to hold fast to our hope that is in God. We don’t have hope because of who we are or what we have done or anything that we have earned. We have hope because God who has promised to love us always is faithful. We are invited to experience God’s love and to be reminded of those promises when we come together for worship and when we gather as a community of faith.
And in verses 24 and 25 we hear an additional invitation, “24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” We are invited to provoke one another to love and good deeds. We are invited not to neglect meeting together. We are invited to encourage one another. I want to unpack each of these invitations a bit as we talk about the importance of being present together.
The call to provoke one another to love and good deeds is a core part of how we are better together when we are physically present with one another as a part of the community of faith. Active and vital faith communities are engaged in service to their community and the world, they study together, learn about God together, wrestle with big questions about life together, and they support one another in tough times. As individuals and as a community of faith we are better as we gather and encourage one another to love and good deeds.
The invitation to not neglect meeting together means that ideally we will be in worship each week. As I mentioned earlier, some people experience physical limitations that make it difficult to be with us in worship on Sunday mornings. For others it is the demands of life – soccer or other sports that now play games on Sunday mornings, commitments to family that come as a priority. Admittedly a generation or two ago these types of things weren’t conflicts. The truth is, they are today.
Still, we are called to be physically present – to be intentional about this. How many times a month are you going to be here? This is one of those if you fail to plan you plan to fail kinds of things – figure out what your habit, pattern, routine can best be, establish it, stick to it.
Now the call to be present with one another in the community of faith, but the call is more than a call to be physically present. When we are physically present we are also called to be mentally and emotionally and spiritually present. Now this can be a challenge! Often we are physically present somewhere, but our mind and our spirit and our energy are somewhere else entirely. Be present, hear what’s going on in people’s lives, get to know the people around you, ask questions, listen, be intentional about growing in those relationships.
As with everything in our faith journey, my hope is that we might work to take incremental steps so that we might be more intentional about being present with the community of faith. And so that when we are physically present we might be more intentional about truly being present and engaging with one another.
Many different times in my life I have tried to develop a different pattern or routine when it come to how I exercise or how I eat or how I spend intentional time connecting with God. Countless times I have heard people talk about how you have to do something for three consecutive weeks before it becomes ingrained as a habit. I would believe this to be the case when it comes to daily tasks like eating or exercising, but I would imagine that it is an even longer period of time when it comes to a weekly activity like being present for worship as a part of the community of faith. If it isn’t a habit, it will take some work to get into that routine, but I encourage you to do so.
Many of you know Harriet Mark. Harriet is a long time member of this church. Many of you have said things to me in the last months about how Harriet was one of the first people to greet you and to make you feel welcome when you first came to our church. This summer, shortly before I started here in early July, Harriet had been in a great deal of pain. For a couple of weeks she hadn’t been able to make it to church and finally a trip to the doctor revealed that Harriet was going to need surgery. I believe it was after I had been here for two Sundays that Harriet had surgery. I went to visit her in the hospital after her operation to see how she was doing and the first words out of her mouth were about how much she hated missing church and about how sorry she was that she hadn’t been here for my first couple of Sundays.
It took Harriet several weeks to recover and regain strength and by the time she made it back to church she had missed more weeks consecutively than she probably misses through the course of most years. I remember standing in gathering area on the Sunday morning that Harriet returned. I had my back to the front door visiting with some people and when they saw Harriet come through the front door they were filled with joy. I turned and saw Harriet who was also filled with joy. Being back for worship clearly meant a great deal to Harriet and having her back clearly meant a great deal to others in the congregation. A couple of weeks ago I asked Harriet if she would tell us a little bit about what it was like to be gone from church and what it meant for her to be back. I want you to hear what she had to say.
When you’re used to being in church there’s just no substitute for it at home…
We are made better when we are present with the community of faith and allow others to nurture us, nudge us, support us, challenge us, and walk with us through life.
The community of faith is made better as we all gather together and are present to do the ever important work of taking care of one another and reaching out to the world.
I invite you this week to be mindful of the ways in which you might be intentionally present, both physically as well as mentally and emotionally as a part of this community of faith. As you do these things I trust you will be able to experience God’s blessings and that you will have the opportunity to be a blessing to others, to experience the realty that we are better together.