What Are We Doing Here?
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“What Are We Doing Here?”
19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 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.
What are we doing here? This is the question I want us to look at this morning, in light of the passage that we are looking at in Hebrews 10. What are we doing here? What am I doing here? It’s a beautiful late spring day. There are many other places we could be. What’s brought us to this building? Maybe it’s out of habit. Maybe it’s because our parents make us. Maybe we feel that we’re searching for something – something to bring meaning to our lives. Maybe we don’t know why we’re here. I want to look at what the preacher to the Hebrews says about why the church – why the house of God gets together, and what this might mean to us
Throughout these weeks we’ve talked about the congregation to whom this sermon was addressed. They were living in a society whose values often seemed at odds with the Christian message – the message that in view of what we have been created for – to love God and to love humanity, and in view what God has done through his son Jesus and continues to do through his Holy Spirit, it is God who is owed our ultimate allegiance – not the Roman Empire, not the state, not the acquisition of things, not in focussing on how much we produce and consume, or whatever else our society portrays as having ultimate importance. This community of faith was feeling pressure from their society, and they are in danger of drifting away from the message they had received. Some have even stopped coming to church.
And so this brings me back to my original question – what exactly are we doing here? Why do we feel that God has something for us to do here? Is it merely a sense of tradition? Is it so that some people with like-minded interests can get together, sing some songs, and listen to someone give a speech? Or is there something more to it. Is there more to all this than meets the eye? Let us look at our scripture from this sermon we call the Letter to the Hebrews and see what God may have to say to encourage us here this morning.
The writer of Hebrews has spent 10 and ½ chapters telling the readers and listeners what God has done in human history. We’ve seen Christ’s divinity and humanity described. The church as Christ’s family. Rest. Being transformed (speaking of more than meets the eye) into the image of Christ. Last week we looked at Jesus as our great high priest – as the mediator and guarantee of a new covenant, as the once and for all sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world. In chapter 10 we get to what you would call the “So what”. This is fairly typical for the letters of the NT – the author begins with describing the nature of God – God’s love, God’s grace, God’s justice, God’s forgiveness, what God has accomplished in human history in the person of Jesus, and then turns to what this implies for us. Note that our passage starts in v 19 with “Therefore”. When we see therefore in the Bible, we need to look before it to see what it is there for – but the reason it is there is contained in the same verse – since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way he opened for us through the curtain – that is his flesh.” In other words, what had once represented separation – the curtain of the temple through which the high priest could only go once a year – has been changed through the flesh of Christ into the way in which we might approach God. We have a great high priest over the house of God – and the house of God is the church – and by church I don’t mean this building but what we call the “church universal”, whose head is Christ and who is bound together by the Holy Spirit – connected to God in mystical union and connected to one another. We are connected to one another through the Holy Spirit. When we see one another, even if for the first time, the Spirit in me should be recognizing the Spirit in you! So – we have the confidence to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus, a new and living way has been opened for us, we have a great high priest over the house of God – in light of all these things, says the preacher, what is a good and proper and fitting response..... as the next three verses show, the proper response is threefold – faith, hope and love.
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. (v 22). I’m asking the question “What are we doing here?” – and so I’m going to talk about faith hope and love from the perspective of corporate worship – our worship together like it’s happening here this morning, and indeed happens every Sunday morning throughout the year. Worship is about much more than this of course, it’s about presenting our bodies as living sacrifices, but I’ll be speaking about the gathering when I say worship here. “Let us approach” – note this is something we do together. Do you read this verse and feel inadequate? I do. Look at it again – “Let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith...” Do we feel sometimes that we’re approaching worship with something less than a true heart? Do we feel sometimes we’re approaching worship with something less than a full assurance of faith? It’s normal. If we were approaching worship on the strength of our own hearts and the strength of our own faith it might be bad news. But we’re not. We’re approaching worship together based on the faithfulness of God. We’re approaching worship based on the fact that God is faithful – which means in other words that when God says he is going to do something, God does it. When God says that a new and living way has been opened up for us through Jesus, he means it. We approach him not on the strength of our own conviction, on the state of our own hearts, but with hearts that God has promised have been sprinkled clean from an evil conscience – with bodies that have been washed with pure water. The preacher is talking about baptism here of course – and no matter how we practice baptism, it is an outward sign of the cleansing that is ours through our relationship with Christ. And so we approach in faith. When it seems our faith is weak, remember that it’s predicated on the faithfulness of God. When our faith is weak we can pray “Lord I believe, help thou mine unbelief.” When our faith is weak we can rely on one another’s faith. A man was brought to Jesus and cured based on the faith of his friends who got up on a roof and lowered him down. We can support one another in faith.
V 23 reads “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.” He who has promised is faithful – he who has promised does what he says he’s going to do. What has he said he’s going to do? He’s said that one day we’ll hear a voice saying “See – the home of God is among mortals, He will dwell with them, they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them he will wipe every tear from their eyes Death will be no more mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Rev 21:3-4) Things are not always as they seem, you see. That’s why this passage is often read at gravesides- to remind everyone there that things are not always as they seem – that we are not merely putting a body in the ground, but that we hold onto this hope that one day death will be no more, and when I say hope it’s not in the sense of “I hope it won’t rain today” it’s in the sense of trusting that God who is faithful will do what he said he will do. And so we hang onto this hope. We preach about, we sing about it, we pray about it. We say “Thy Kingdom come” which is a prayer not only for Christ’s return but for the Kingdom of God that has already been established – the kingdom that we are invited to participate in – to hang onto this hope like a bunch of grade school children holding onto a rope when they’re doing the walking school bus thing and the teachers are saying “Hold onto the rope kids” and the kids get it because kids know they need help – they need that rope to stay safe – and kids know that there is a reality beyond what we see with our eyes don’t they? Don’t they..... We’re able to hold onto this rope because Christ is holding on to us! In Phil 3:12 Paul talks about pressing on like someone racing toward a goal – toward our hope – and he says “Not that I have already obtained this, or have already reached my goal, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”
Things are not always as they seem. In Romans 8 Paul writes that we hope for what we do not see. But it’s an active hope. While we wait for the day when God will wipe every tear from our eyes, we ask God to show him where he is at work today. We ask God to work in us and through us to bring about his reign – to bring about his love, his grace, his mercy, his justice. Our hope is an active one. It’s not one that merely sits back and waits for things to happen. And this active hope results in active love and good deeds....
In v 24 we read “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds...” Love is something that we can’t do on our own. We can’t do it on our own. We can do faith on our own to some extent. We can commune with God on the dock. We can enjoy time with God in solitude, under the stars or in our backyard or our closet or wherever it is that we enjoy quiet time with God. We can do hope on our own. We can hang onto that rope in that “walking school bus of hope” - and when we feel like we can’t we can cling to the fact that Christ has taken hold of us. We can’t do love on our own. Love needs an object. Paul wrote that faith, hope and love remain, but the greatest of these is love. We do love together. Someone wrote on this that “The expression of love is possible only in community.” We get tired don’t we? We get discouraged. Some of us have been following Christ for a long time, we know it’s not always an easy road. We need to be walking along this road together – encouraging one another in love, and in deeds of love. We need a place where we can talk about what God is doing in us and through us and how God is enabling us to live out in our deeds the kind of love he has for us – God’s forgiving, unconditional, grace-filled love! We need to be able to boast about what God is doing through us, remembering that we are not boasting of ourselves but boasting of our Lord...
Not Neglecting To Meet
Our passage ends in v 25 with “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.” This brings us back of course to my original question. What are we doing here? Why are 70 of us gathered in this church this morning? We could hear better guitar playing somewhere else. You could hear better speech making somewhere else. If all there was to this exercise was what we can see with our eyes, and the songs and words we hear, and the bread and wine (or grape juice) we taste, and the church smells that we smell (that are so familiar!) and the feel of the hymnals and Bibles in our hand and maybe the discomfort of sitting in a pew – there’d be little reason to come...
But we see things from a different perspective don’t we? Things aren’t always as they seem are they.... We see something else. “Not neglecting to meet together... but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” We see the day approaching, the day when God will dwell with us and we will be his people and we will know even as we are known. When we gather together to worship we are pointing to this unseen reality. There is a minister in Vermont named Garret Keizer who wrote about his experience in a small Episcopal church there. He describes a Saturday night Easter vigil service which was attended by him and two other people. This is what he writes:
The candle sputters in the half darkness, like a voice too embarrassed or overwhelmed to proclaim the news: “Christ is risen.” But it catches fire, and there we are, three people and a flickering light – in an old church on a Saturday evening... The moment is filled with the ambiguities of all such quiet observances among few people, in the midst of an oblivious population in a radically secular age. The act is so ambiguous because its terms are so extreme: the Lord is with us, or we are pathetic fools.” (Keizer, A Dresser of Sycamore Trees, p. 73)
Either the Lord is with us, or we are pathetic fools. “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Cor 15:19) I believe the Lord is with us, my friends. Do you believe that? The Lord is with us. I believe that. We are gathered here today to take part in a mystery that’s beyond our seeing – to be part of a story so wonderful we’ll never fully grasp it until that Day comes.
So this morning the preacher has reminded us of what we’re doing here in this beautiful church right in the geographic centre of the largest city in Canada. May we know that our faith is upheld by the God who is faithful. May we hold fast to the hope that is ours. May we encourage one another in love and deeds of love and grace and mercy. May we be reminded that there is more to our lives than meets the eye. That the Lord is with us indeed!