Last week, I mentioned my gratitude for the fact that we no longer have any reason for animal sacrifice. . . and I remain grateful for that, but Jesus’ entering once and for all into the holy of holies – the place where he freed us from the constant cycle of sin and sacrifice – his entry into that place had a far larger effect than just stopping the very physical cycle of sacrifice and the sprinkling of blood and ashes in the sanctuary.
If you missed the sermon last week, it’s out on the kitchen counter and in the narthex for you to read, but I can sum the main point up by saying this: We have a confidence now, knowing Jesus and living under the fulfilled covenant. We can be confident that as followers of Jesus, we are forgiven. We are baptized into his life and we no longer have to live in guilt or fear or darkness. We live in the confident knowledge that we have a purpose. In the Holy Spirit, we are given the ability to live as God intends us to live – abundantly, fully, with great gusto, full-tilt, head-first, no looking back – amen?
God didn’t just drop in a new covenant and expect us to figure it out on our own. Jesus said he would leave his Spirit with his followers to guide their way. None of us are perfect listeners, but what hope we are given in knowing that we do have a light for the path. We do have a guide for the treacherous journey. What hope we are given that things are different now and forever more because Jesus came for us.
We abuse and misuse that word “hope” these days. I know I do it all the time. “I sure hope it stops raining” or “ I hope I get some new slippers for Christmas this year.” What a waste of a really great word! These are really just optimistic desires. Sure I want it to be sunny out and I’d like to have a new pair of slippers, but I’m not really putting any real expectation in those things. If it rains, it rains. Big whoop. If I don’t get new slippers, I wear the old ones until the after Christmas sales or my birthday. It’s a first-world problem and a minor one at that.
We use the word hope to mean, “I would like” or “It would be nice if.” We use it to communicate our desires, but the Concise Oxford Dictionary of the English Language says this about hope:
1 a feeling of expectation and desire.
▶ a cause or source of hope.
▶ grounds for hoping.
2 archaic a feeling of trust.
1 expect and desire
2 intend if possible to do something.
Desire AND expectation. Intention. Expect and desire. We don’t have hope in the guidance of the Spirit as in it would be really nice if the Holy Spirit showed up and gosh, we sure want the Spirit to show up. NO! We can expect the Holy Spirit to be in us and among us, guiding us and showing us how to live into our lives as Jesus’ followers – as lights in the world, salt of the earth, the city on the hill! What God promises, God does. There is no wishy washy wanting God’s promises to come through for us. We can expect God to make good on those promises.
We don’t always see the results we expect, though. That makes it hard to truly hope with desire AND expectation. Think about Abraham. . . he was promised his whole life that he would be the father of many people and a great nation. Abraham had only two sons when he died. He never saw the nation his children became. Moses never saw the promised land, in spite of the fact that it was the promised land. That doesn’t mean God wasn’t faithful to them. God made good on those promises. Abraham’s son Isaac was the beginning of the great nation of Israel, about whom the rest of the Old Testament tells. After Moses died, his people did in fact make it to the promised land. Sometimes, we can’t see the fulfillment of God’s promises from our little perspective.
That’s why we’re called to live in community with one another. We need each other to see the whole picture.
I love the GPS on my phone. I have a notoriously bad sense of direction and having a GPS saves me hours of being lost. I know some people feel like having a GPS would make them lose their sense of direction, and that’s a fair concern. But I never had a sense of direction to lose in the first place. I got lost in PortVue on my way here the first time I drove to this church. There is a favorite family tale in my family about how when I was a teenager, I once got lost in the parking lot of the local library. To my credit, the exits were small and not well marked.
There have been many times where I turn on my GPS at home, drive to a place I’ve never been before, and when I get there I have no idea what part of the city I’m in or how exactly everything connected together to get me there. All the map on the screen of the GPS shows you is what’s immediately in front of and behind you. And it only shows roads, not landmarks. (Actually, that’s not entirely true. My phone will warn me if I’m within about 2 miles of a coffee shop because it assumes that’s where I’m headed. It really is a frighteningly smart phone.) If I really want to know how the place I am and the place I came from are connected, I have to step back and find a birdseye view – I have to open a full map. A map is the effort of a whole bunch of people who have worked together to show the whole picture. Sure, we can get from one place to another with just the limited view of what’s immediately around us, but community is the map that gives us the fuller picture of what’s going on. It’s a culmination of different views and perspectives put together for a bigger picture.
That’s why the author of Hebrews tells the church not to give up on meeting together. We’re not a pack of lone rangers. No church, no family, no community, no denomination can survive as a group of individuals looking out for themselves. We need one another because without a community, it’s really easy to see only what’s immediately around us, to lose our hope and to forget God’s promises and faithfulness! We need to be around people who can tell us, “Look! That’s God moving in your life!” or “Listen! That’s the Holy Spirit trying to tell you something important!” Or as the author of Hebrews says, to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” We need other people to point us to and remind us of a bigger picture and promise.
It’s great that in our country we have the opportunity to be who we are and work our way up and look out for ourselves, but when we take individualism too far, we get churches full of people looking out for their own salvation or good reputation and that’s disaster for a church. One of the biggest things keeping this little church community right here alive is a sense of community and commitment to one another. That’s something we as a congregation must hold onto and nurture and help to continue growing if we really want to move forward.
That’s hard, for sure. People are annoying. I live with four other people, so I can say first hand that even my favorite people in the world are annoying sometimes and I’m confident that I annoy them too. That happens in church as well. We can’t help ourselves. Even the closest of friends don’t always agree on everything. Spouses don’t agree on everything. Siblings don’t agree on everything. How can we possibly imagine that a community of people from different families and backgrounds will agree on everything or even on most things? We’re going to disagree on paint colors, building projects, worship, hymns, theology, budgets, curriculums, schedules, you name it. But the author of Hebrews say, “So what? Big deal! Don’t give up!”
We’re a community not because when we come here we secure something for ourselves or because this is where we can all look alike and think alike and talk alike and dress alike and smell alike and whatever alike. And thank God, because that would be BOOOOOORING! That would not be the abundant, dynamic life that this passage is talking about. It would not be the life that we are enabled, by the Spirit, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, to live. It would be a shadow at the very best. . . just like the old sacrifice system was. We might as well just keep sacrificing goats and bulls and sheep.
On the days when we are feeling the most down and hopeless, when we are feeling beat up, tossed in the gutter, messed up, and totally forsaken. . . you know. . . the days where staying in bed seems like a way better idea than trying to face going to church. . . those are the days we need each other most. When we can’t figure out how to get to the other side in one piece because we can’t agree on what kind of bridge to build. . . we need to listen to one another more than ever. We can’t give up on meeting together.
We are the people of this covenant. All of us. The ones sitting up front, the ones sitting in the back, everyone in between. Even the people who didn’t make it here today. We are all part of this and we need one another. We need one another to point to our shared hope – Jesus.