We Are His House
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During the last two weeks we’ve looked at what the preacher to the Hebrews had to say about Christ. Specifically Christ’s divinity and sovereignty in chapter 1, and the humanity of Christ in chapter 2. We’ve talked about the importance of listening for God to speak, and being careful to bring our ships into port. The idea that followers of Christ are family has been introduced – that Jesus had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.
What kinds of things are testing us? What kind of things are causing us to be in danger of drifting? We said in week one that this congregation was tired. We get that. What words did they need to hear? What words do we need to hear as we prepare to gather around the Lord’s table this morning? Let us pray.
I Got All My Brothers and Sisters With Me
What words did this congregation need to hear? They needed to hear words about who they were. About what it means to be the church. I always like to ask “What is this passage about?” It’s a description of what the church is and a call for the church to be the church. It’s most fitting that we are looking at this passage on a morning that we gather together as a family around this table, because that is what we are. The preacher gets right into this idea. Therefore brothers and sisters. This is what we are. We all get the idea of loving our families – most of the time (though if your family is anything like mine we all have our moments). They say you can’t choose your family. On our best days though we understand that we are called to love and to care for our families. Oftentimes we may feel a sense of pride that we love our families. I’m a good person, we say, I look after my family. This is generally expected. It’s nothing to feel a great deal of pride about. As Chris Rock once said of people who do feel proud of this – “You’re supposed to!”
The concept of family has been extended in Christ as the head of the household of faith. Remember when Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene and said “Tell my brothers I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” If we take these words seriously, then we begin to see ourselves as caught up in this Christ following enterprise as members of a family. I like to say that the church is not merely a volunteer organization. We are not merely a group of people with like-minded interests getting together to hear speeches and sing and carry out acts of altruism. We are not simply an affinity group. I often look around our church and marvel at the eclectic collection of people that God has brought together here. Where else could that happen? Brothers and sisters caring for one another and caring that we don’t drift and watching out for one another and encouraging one another because drifting and leaving the church is not merely ceasing your involvement in a volunteer organization – it’s more like leaving home. And that’s heartbreaking.
What’s God’s will for us? That we be made holy. Be holy as I am holy. That was the line. Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. Be set apart. Holy partners in a heavenly calling. Sharers together in Christ. Sharers with Christ. How can we do this? How can we heed the call to be shepherds? We don’t look very holy very often do we? We don’t feel very holy at times do we? We come into this family realizing our own lack of holiness. Our own need for God in this. Woe is me for I am a man of unclean lips. Get away from me Lord I am a sinful man. Your sins have been forgiven, Isaiah is told. Do not be afraid, Simon, from now on you’ll be catching people. I’ll enable this in you. Pray for it friends. Pray with the Psalmist create in me a clean heart and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Pray that our stony hearts will be made into hearts of flesh. That’s a really good prayer! When we give the invitation to the table we’ll say Come not because any righteousness of your own gives you a right to come but because you need mercy and help. In this way we become partners with Christ. Imagine.
I say “imagine” because there are things beyond our seeing. If you’re a follower of Christ you’ve been called and you’ve responded. If you’re not the invitation to respond to the call is before you. Either way the invitation to respond to Christ’s call is before us every day, as long as it is called today. The word translated as “heavenly” here is “existing in heaven or in the heavenly regions.” In other words beyond what is readily apparent to our eyes. The preacher will come back to this idea later with his definition of faith – the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. What is not seen is key for us if we’re following Christ. The transcendent. It doesn’t mean that we’re called to ignore what’s going on around us. Overlook needs. Be so heavenly minded that we’re of no earthly use. Both of these things came together in Christ after all. The ineffable. The sublime. The mundane. The material.
But I want to say something about the unseen thing. It’s always going on and we need to be reminded of it. We need to use words to remind us. We need to be reminded by songs, by symbols. When we break the bread we’re reminded that it is the body of Christ, made up of many members. When we hold up the cup and ask “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ?” we should all respond “Amen” if we believe it! The unseen thing is key. Otherwise we’re simply a group of people eating little pieces of bread and drinking out of little juice cups in unison. I want God to make us aware of the unseen thing, the heavenly thing. I want God to make me aware of the heavenly thing. I’m keenly aware of this each time we have our Saturday night service during the Out of the Cold season. If Christ is not present there then we’re of all people most to be pitied. Ten or fifteen people gathered at the front of the church. Me doing my best to lead singing. People shuffling or limping forward to receive the bread and the cup. If all that was going on was what we could see, you could observe that scene and ask “What good is this doing?” Knowing that Christ is there, we know that in the midst of a lot of suffering and pain and sorrow, we’re declaring that things will not always be this way. We’re joining ourselves to that great cloud of witnesses that surround us. Those who have gone before. Those who are taking part in the heavenly worship even now.
Speaking of those who have gone before, the preacher ends his first sentence by bringing things back to the one to whom all things must always be brought back. The pioneer and finisher of this faith – Jesus. The original word order has the name at the end for emphasis. Consider the apostle and high priest of our confession – Jesus. “Consider” here is not really strong enough. It’s the same word that Jesus uses when he says “Consider the ravens; they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them.” Consider this. It means consider attentively. Fix your eyes upon. Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace. How are we doing with that – taking the time to fix our eyes on Jesus? What does that look like for you? How do you do it? It’s key. Consider the apostle and high priest of our confession. There are some great lines in the 123rd Psalm about this – “As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, until he has mercy on us. Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us...” We’ve had a lot of dogs around the church office lately. It makes me think of these attentive dogs, watching the leader of their pack. As the eyes of dogs on their leader, so our eyes are on you...!?
Whom are we considering? The apostle and high priest of our confession. Jesus. The only time in the entire New Testament he’s called an apostle. One who is sent. The one who was sent for us. The one who sends us in the power of his Spirit. As God’s apostle he represents God to humanity, as one writer puts it. As high priest he represents humanity to God. One of the Latin words for priest is pontifex. It means bridge. Jesus is our bridge to God. Jesus stands in the breach between us and God. In his humanity he was faithful to the task that was set before him. He continues to be faithful in making intercession for us – pleading for us before God’s throne.
He stands in the breach for us. Which should remind us of someone else who stood in the breach. Someone else who was a priest. Moses and Aaron his brother were among His priests, the Psalmist sings. (Ps 99:6). Moses was a paragon of faithfulness. Of doing what God asked him to do. He’s included in the Faith Hall of Fame that we’ll look at in the few weeks. He stood in the breach. When the Israelites forgot God their Saviour who had brought them out of Egypt and God said He would destroy them, Moses stood in the breach before God. Moses was faithful in all God’s house. He built a house for God – an actual house, though it was more of a tent. The tabernacle. Moses followed all the instructions. Moses was a piece in God’s building. Moses was a piece in God’s salvation plan. He spoke to God face to face. “ Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.” (Deut 34:10)
Until Christ came along. Christ is the builder. Moses was a part of the plan. Christ is the plan. This is not to denigrate Moses. It’s to say that he was pointing forward faithfully to the one who was to come. Our apostle and high priest. Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that would be spoken later. Christ, however, was faithful over God’s house as a son.
So what does this mean for us? Christ is a son. Christ is our brother. We’re all brothers and sisters in Christ. Easy to say. It takes a lifetime to comprehend what this means. The preacher then brings it back to what it means to be the church. What does it mean to continue Christ’s work in the world? What word might God have for us today regarding this whole thing in which we are engaged together friends?
We are his house! We are God’s house. Living stones being built into a spiritual house. Each stone playing its part in the construction of the building. May God make us good stones! We are the ones who are called to be sent. Where is God sending us? We are the ones who are called to be bridges. We are the ones who are called and enabled to be experiences of Christ for others. For whom is God calling us to be a bridge? We are the ones who are called and enabled to stand in the breach for others. We are called to pray for others when they can’t pray for themselves. We are called to hold on for others when they are not holding on for themselves. We are the ones who are called to remind people of God when God has been forgotten, or when memory no longer serves. What might this look like for us?
Confidence and Pride
A conditional phrase follows this news. We are his house if we hold firm the confidence and the pride that belong to hope. How well are we doing as a church? Is it the number of people coming on a Sunday? Is it the size of our budget? Is it how full our calendar is? How are we doing in holding on firmly to the confidence and the pride that belong to hope? The word for confidence here was used for the ability of Roman citizens to speak their mind freely. Do we hold onto the way that Christ has opened for us to speak freely to God? Do we have the courage to boast with pride of what God has done in Christ, is doing in the power of the Spirit of the risen Christ and will do when Christ returns?
These are things we’re called to do together. I’ve been saying that faith comes by hearing. In a few moments we’re going to hear “This is my body, given for you.” “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” Let us proclaim these things with the confidence and pride that belong to hope and say Amen.
In his book on Hebrews Tom Long describes it this way:
‘When does the church engage in confident, even boastful speech? When it stands at the baptismal pool and proclaims over something as risky and unpredictable as a human being, “You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.” When it sits down at the bedside of one in fevered pain and calmly reads the words of the psalmist, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” When it stands at a graveside and is bold to say, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” When it audaciously says to those who would pollute the air and water, “The earth is not yours but the Lord’s” and to those who would build walls between human beings, “Do you not know that God shows no partiality.”’
Friends - may we as a church continue hold firm to the confidence and pride that belongs to hope, rooted and grounded in the one who calls us brother and sister.