READ: Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25
We hear it a lot… I’ve even said the same words: “I don’t think I want to go to church today.” Where do we even begin to address what’s wrong with that statement? First, we can say, “Well, the church feeds you.” Second, we can say, “Well, the church isn’t a building; it’s a people; therefore, if you’re a person who gave his or her life to Christ, then you’re the church. Third, if you don’t feel like going to worship, well, then you have to question, “Am I really a Christian?” That one there sounds pretty harsh and a bit judgmental. Oh, we don’t like to hear stuff like that… It makes us very uncomfortable… I sure don’t like it. But we really do have to question what it means when we don’t want to gather together as the church that we claim we are and give praise to the one who rescued us from eternal death. Cuz that’s really what we’re talking about at the end of the day, isn’t it? Well, you’re all here this evening, and those who aren’t probably attended a service on Sunday. I’m by no means pointing fingers to trying to guilt folks into coming to worship; after all, you’re here. That’s tantamount to preaching to the choir. But I want to look at this text today in Hebrews because there’s a pretty major nuance that needs to be said. So let’s put a pin in the argument and question we just asked and discussed, and look at this unique pericope — or passage — in our text today. Hebrews OK, Hebrews… It used to be believed that Paul wrote this letter. We know that it most likely wasn’t Paul, but maybe Paul’s people — what we might call Pauline. We know that Christians were being persecuted, but not martyred — killed — yet. So that puts us before 100 AD. We know Jesus had been killed, though, so that puts us after 33-34 AD. We also believe the Temple hadn’t been destroyed yet, and that happened in 70 AD, because if it had been destroyed, the author or authors surely would have included some reference to that. We do know that the letter was written to a diverse group of people — Jews and Gentles — who were living in Italy. So our best guess is probably around 65 AD — before the major persecution and destruction of the Temple, but late enough to know the mission field was vast and some persecution had been occurring. Why does that matter? It matters because this, among other things…: Everyone was waiting for Christ to come again and save all of God’s people from the suffering they were enduring, both by the Roman Empire as well as those who felt it right to eradicate Christ and Christianity from the earth. In other words, they were waiting, and they were suffering. Sacrifice The writers of Hebrews addresses a couple of important things here. The first is this: You are not being punished. Nothing you did brought on the persecution and fear of persecution that is real in their world. So there’s no need to try to earn back God’s love. Why? Because God gave his only Son for the forgiveness of sins that whoever believes will have eternal life. Sound familiar? The writers say in Verse 11 that: “Every priest stands every day serving and offering the same sacrifices over and over, sacrifices that can never take away sins.” Why can’t the our sacrifices take away our sins? Yes, because Jesus already did that. “(Jesus) perfected the people who are being made holy with one offering (or sacrifice) for all time.” (Verse 14). We cannot pay for our sins because Christ already paid for them all. Imagine walking into the store that sells eternal life and saying, “I’d like to buy eternal life.” The clerk looks at you, looks up your name and says, “Oh, you already have it; Jesus already purchased it for you. You’re good to go.” Why then do we live our lives still showing up at that Eternal Life Store day after day — sometimes multiple times in a day — trying to buy eternal life that we already have? The writers of Hebrews are trying to convey this message to the people, too. Why? See, they’re being persecuted. Threatened. They haven’t seen Christ’s second coming. And by aligning with Jesus, they put their lives on the line, too. Same reason the apostles all split when Christ was sent to the cross, and even after. Remember that picture? They’re all hiding in the upper room with the door locked. Then along comes the resurrected Christ? Are we not doing the same thing? Locking the doors behind us? The folks from the Hebrews letter needed to be taught this: Your persecution and suffering is real; but that doesn’t mean you have to keep on trying to buy your salvation back as if you’ve done something to lose it. The price for that has been paid in full and is good forever. Afraid So why are we afraid, and what are we afraid of? Why aren’t we just living like a bunch of Hippie Jesus Freaks, always smiling, giving up all that we own and singing Hallelujah hymns and shaking tambourines night and day? Well, that’s because we still hurt. We still suffer. Evil is persistent in the world. Sometimes, we’re even persecuted. What is the answer? From our reading tonight, it’s simple: You and me. We already know that our lives are in Christ, and we will live eternally united together — all who believe and confess Christ as their savior. We know that part. And you can know that part and even say it in Latin, but not feel the need to come to “church.” That’s that pesky “personal relationship with Christ” that is only a fraction of who we are called to be. The second part is this, and we might just as well read that last paragraph in Hebrews 10: “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.” (Verses 24-5) Isn’t that interesting? “Don’t stop meeting together with other believers … which some people have gotten into the habit of doing.” “Encourage each other.” The Church What does it mean to be the Church? It’s to be the people of God. What does it mean to be the Body of Christ? It means the same thing: To literally be the people of God. All means the same thing. How are we the people of God? We gather together. Why? To encourage each other. Why? Because despite our free and gracious gift of eternal life, and despite that we can live in the kingdom right here and now tonight, suffering still exists. Illness, violence, persecution, aggression, meanness, separation, racism, sexism and all the other isms… Pain, death, suffering is very present in our world and in our lives. Nearly 50 deaths in the California wildfires, another mass shooting, children taken from their front yards, diseases and illnesses that take our families too soon, natural disasters, human-made disasters, war and violence, starvation and dominance… These are very real things in our lives. Can you fix them alone? No. Can you fix them through Christ? Yes. Is Christ standing here before us ready to calm seas, cure illnesses, put in place the hypocrites destroying our sacred planet and our sacred lives, and resurrect the dead? Is he? Do you see Christ here? Yes. I see him in you, and you, and you, and you, and all of us, and me. This is what it means to be the Church. This is what it means to be the body. Not body, like an assembly; Body as in Christ’s body. We are Christ, and we represent the only chance that Christ can heal, resurrect, cease war and pain and suffering. But we cannot do it alone. To be the body, we have to be the body. We have to come together. That’s the only way we can encourage each other to be Christ — together. So many people I hear say, “Well, I watch Jimmy Swaggart,” or “I find God in the woods alone.” That’s great. But that’s not what Jesus did. Could you imagine? We simply hear about this Savior, but never really know him. And that’s somehow good enough for Jesus? It never was. Jesus broke bread and prayed and wept and suffered with us all in acts of solidarity and love. When we don’t come together in Christ, we’re trying to make Christ into a king sitting on a lofty throne in a castle isolated from the world. Is that a personal relationship? It’s not who Jesus is, and it’s exactly NOT what Jesus commanded us to do, and it’s definitely NOT what Jesus wills for us… …especially when he gave us the Holy Spirit to bind us all together as his body to bring the kingdom now into this world. We cannot be the body if we aren’t all together as the body. That is why we are here tonight and whenever we gather in Christ’s name.