First Reading Psalm 112
Second Reading Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Gospel Reading Luke 14:1, 7-14
Sermon “Being the Church”
This morning we come to the conclusion of a series of readings over the last 4 weeks from the book of Hebrews. We heard the wonderful role call of faith and the stirring words of charge saying (Hebrews 12:1 NLT “ Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” Then last week we talked about the stark contrast between the frighteningly awesome scene at Mt Sinai with the giving of the law …. and God coming to his people in human form – in the person of Jesus, the Christ. Through his grace, we are adopted as sons and daughters of God, and the dreadful power of the law to condemn us is broken for all eternity. And yet, as children of God, we do have responsibilities. But these actions are not commanded; These actions are motivated out of love and gratitude – trusting in God to see us through.
We live by faith, in community with each other and with God – living in Obedience in gratitude for what has been given to us. That is what it means to be “The Church”. We need to talk about what the church really is; Particularly at this time of impending dislocation for this congregation. You see the church is not a location on Google maps, though you can now find where we currently meet that way; the church is Not a structure of stone and concrete, wood and glass – though that is where we are now gathered; No, the church is a community, a fellowship of believers who love and support each other, welcome any and all who come, and who reach out to those outside the fellowship with the love of God. And so, let’s spend some time this morning examining today’s scripture passages for direction and guidance concerning what it means to be together – bound by the love of God.
The final chapter of Hebrews begins with these words: Hebrews 13:1-2 NIV  Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.  Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Here we have a clear two fold emphasis – First, love for those within the fellowship – those in this particular congregation, as you already do very well. That is one of the truly lovely and winsome things about this fellowship is how you care for one another. Secondly, the author of Hebrews would also have us love and care for those of other congregations as well. Not only Presbyterians, but also Methodists, Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Baptists, Disciples, Congregationalists, Orthodox – whatever the name on the sign or no sign at all, wherever people are gathered in the name of Christ Jesus – there are our brothers and sister in faith. But the author of Hebrews, and for that matter, the rest of scripture too, doesn’t stop there. We are urged to reach out to others in welcome and hospitality.
Do you remember the story in Genesis where Abraham greeted those three travelers that came by his tents? Let me refresh your memories a bit: (Genesis 18:1-5 NLT)  The LORD appeared again to Abraham near the oak grove belonging to Mamre. One day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day.  He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground.  “My lord,” he said, “if it pleases you, stop here for a while.  Rest in the shade of this tree while water is brought to wash your feet.  And since you’ve honored your servant with this visit, let me prepare some food to refresh you before you continue on your journey.” “All right,” they said. “Do as you have said.”
Recall how they promised Abraham and Sara a child in their old age? And how two of them turned out to be angels and the third one – well some say that one turned out to be the Lord himself! So the writer of Hebrews says: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” True Hospitality reaches out in generosity and is not concerned with being transactional, that is I did this for you, now you must do this other thing for me. That was the game that the Pharisees were playing in the Gospel reading, and why Jesus told them to extend invitations and grace to one’s who could not reciprocate. We are to give as God gives to us.
The text goes on to exhort us to care for all, especially naming those in prison and those being mistreated. The Psalms passage this morning describes they way the Godly live out their lives: Psalm 112:6-9 NIV  Surely the righteous will never be shaken; they will be remembered forever.  They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.  Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.  They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor, their righteousness endures forever; their horn will be lifted high in honor.
Do you hear that calm, bedrock assurance that responds in generosity? It is similar to the thought in the Hebrews passage when it says: Hebrews 13:5-6 NIV  Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” Here is a simple truth, those who feel secure and loved, seldom covet someone else’s stuff. Instead they tend to be confident and generous. Because God has said “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Those who live in trust and faith can say in return: “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” It is wonderfully freeing to live this kind of life.
This is the kind of faith that Jesus demonstrated here on earth through his ministry, life death and resurrection. He faced many obstacles and much opposition, finally he even faced a cross – all with perfect trust in his heavenly father. Perhaps this illustration might help. I recently read an account that went something like this:
A group of scientists and botanists were exploring remote regions of the Alps in search of new species of flowers. One day they noticed through binoculars a flower of such rarity and beauty that its value to science was incalculable. But it lay deep in a ravine with cliffs on both sides. To get the flower someone had to be lowered over the cliff on a rope. A curious young boy was watching nearby, and the scientists told him they would pay him well if he would agree to be lowered over the cliff to retrieve the flower below. The boy took one long look down the steep, dizzy depths and said, “I’ll be back in a minute.” A short time later he returned, followed by a gray-haired man. Approaching the botanist, the boy said, “I’ll go over that cliff and get that flower for you if this man holds the rope. He’s my dad.”
Oh, that God might give us the faith of that boy! Have you learned to trust the Lord like that, my friend? If anyone else holds the rope, I dare not go. But since Jesus is holding me fast, I can never doubt. Are you willing to say, “If my Father holds the rope, I shall not fear”? As first John puts it 1 John 4:15-18 NIV  If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God.  And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.  This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.  There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
Fear is certainly not the opposite of faith – that would be apathy and that’s a different sermon. However Faith is certainly the best antidote for fear and worry. And I have come to think that fear and worry are some of the most pressing reasons why the church is often not what I should be. Why do we not welcome the stranger into our midst? – fear and suspicion most likely. Why are we not more generous with the needy and the poor? – Again out of fear and worry that there might not be enough for us.
Now the process we will be going through the next few months may seem a bit frightful. The prospect of welcoming strangers into our fellowship is one thing, but walking in a being strangers in another fellowship – now that is another thing entirely. I get it. But the word I want you to hear this morning is that the risk is worth it. We can venture into new territories because God holds us securely. We just need to trust and to approach new things with a sense of openness and humility. To understand that there are many ways of honoring God, some quite different than what we find familiar, but equally valid and useful. When God called Abraham, he did not fully explain everything in advance, God only assured him that he had a future and that God was with Him. Sometimes that means offering hospitality and yet at other times it means receiving hospitality and opening ourselves to new relationships. The one constant is the love that we are commanded to share. That is what it means to be the church, no matter where it meets or what the sign says out front.