16”No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lamp stand, so that those who enter may see the light. 17For mother is hidden that will not be disclosed, not is anything secret that will not become known and come to light. 18Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.”
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God
7Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings; for it is well for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by regulations about food, which have not benefited those who observe them. 10We have an altar from which those who officiate in the tent have no right to eat. 11For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his blood.
13Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. 14For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. 15Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
17Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with sighing - for that would be harmful to you.
18Pray for us; we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. 19I urge you all the more to do this, so that I may be restored to you very soon.
20Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.
Over the last five weeks I've been working my way through the book of Hebrews. Each Sunday, I've preached a passage from that same book, and so we've had an opportunity to go through Hebrews together.
Now naturally, a five week sermon series is not going to be able to cover everything in a book that has 13 chapters. And as I've done a close read through the whole book, there are parts I've come across that I'd love to preach.
But that's part of the beauty of a long-term pastoral relationship. We don't have to do everything immediately. There is time to explore the richness of scripture together, and the passages we've skipped will come back around in their due time.
Hebrews is a sermon, delivered by an unnamed preacher, to a church that is negotiating it's adolescence. The congregation who first heard Hebrews preached were weary. They had been a church long enough for that initial evangelistic fire to cool. Their fuel is running out, and the preacher replenishes it with a deeper understand of the identity of Jesus Christ.
The deeper understanding equips the congregation of Hebrews the tools to embody their own identity as the household of God, with Jesus over us as the Son and heir. Secure in our faith, our way of live can breathe hope into a culture that would rather choose cynicism, we can share grace with a world that would rather look for trouble.
And as the sermon comes to a close, the preacher of Hebrews gives a final grab-bag of seemingly unrelated points. Follow your leaders, do good, pray, praise God, don't worry so much about the law... all leading up to a benediction that should sound pretty familiar to regular worship attendees around here.
At first glance, it looks like the Preacher of Hebrews is trying to shove a few final points into his sermon that he couldn't work in someplace else. It looks like this is parting advice as the congregation is already thinking about their lunch plans.
But this list gushes from a point which flows through the whole sermon: faith and action are inseparably connected. What we do and what we believe inform and build one another up. "Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith." Consider their way of life, imitate their faith. Think about their actions, live their belief.
We’ve got a rich history in this congregation, and in this denomination. As we remember the great cloud of witnesses whose traditions we have inherited, “Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”
Imitate their faith. Which is not the same as imitating their way of life. Action and faith are interconnected, but the same faith in a different time and place may take a different form. Our faith is not a to-do list. Our faith is not so tame as that. It would certainly be easier if we could check things off as we worked our way into heaven, like a clickbait article on the internet, “These 5 tricks will send you straight to heaven, you’ll never believe number 3!”
We've separated faith and action in western Christianity, having endless arguments about whether it's more important to be a "good person" or believe the "right thing." We Presbyterians, historically, have come firmly down on the "faith" side of things. We love to think about God, and we trust in his strong, sovereign arm that creates, redeems, and sustains us every moment of our lives.
But at our best, that faith has consequences. At our best, we loose our faith into the world so that both our words and actions proclaim "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." The same Jesus who is our high priest forever, who offered himself as a once-for-all sacrifice, whom we meet in the gospels, is the same one who rose from the dead, conquered sin and death, and reigns over all creation at the right hand of the LORD. The identity of Jesus Christ, as we meet him in the gospels, is the foundation of our faith and of our identity as the people of God.
Our actions and are faith are inseparably connected. Our faith is rooted in Jesus Christ, therefore let everything we do grow from our relationship with him. At our best, faith is not just something you have. At our best, faith is a verb.
That means we’ve got to faith in public. Maybe that means instead of sitting at home on a Sunday morning we gather in together in one place to worship. Maybe that means we willingly give up a portion of our income in recognition that our gifts cannot be earned, only used for the glory of God. Maybe it means interacting differently with colleagues at work, showing grace to those around you.
And it’s difficult. Our Spirit may be willing, but all too often we find that our flesh is weak. The congregation who first heard Hebrews preached was struggling with exactly that, they had lost sight of why they were living their lives differently. They had been going through the motions, but their heart wasn’t in it.
There is good news. We can rely on God’s grace. After all, we read, “it is well for the heart to be strengthened by grace.” All the rules and checklists in the world cannot offer that kind of hope, that kind of love. Our faith is not built on rules or checklists, it’s built on following Jesus Christ, who “suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his blood.”
We’ve got to faith in public. What we do and what we believe cannot be separated, because they inform one another. Our lives are different because of Jesus Christ, and in the same way our actions should be different because of Jesus Christ. “Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured.” Our faith urges us out of the sanctuary and into the world, where we will sometimes be taken advantage of, or made fun of, because our faith compels us to act differently.
So much of our world is based on fear, so much of our culture focuses on separating others, so much of our world reacts violently and angrily to any challenge. But our faith drives us to live according to the faith of Jesus Christ, who “is the same yesterday and today and forever,” and who tells us to love one another, to love our enemies, who died on our behalf while we were sinners, enemies of God. That’s our faith, how can we not put that into action.
In a world that makes us tired with all its outrage and overreaction, that wears down our hearts, we are strengthened by God’s grace in Jesus Christ. “Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.” The work of faith is difficult, but God’s grace equips and strengthens us. God’s grace helps us to do better, to live better, and to be defined by the faith of Jesus Christ rather than our own sins and selfishness.
So how will we, the people who are the Presbyterian Church of Lowell, put our faith into action? How will people consider the outcome of our way of life? How will we act differently because of what we believe?
I’ve got some ideas about how to start. In response to God’s word, we can worship God, grow in faith, and show God’s love to everyone. We can welcome those who visit us on Sundays. We can support local missions. We can raise and educate young Christians and continue to nurture older ones. We can support and challenge one another on this walk of faith, so that virtue is nourished and vice is repressed.
But that’s going to take many different forms over our journey together. I can only see so far, but everywhere I see that our faith is strengthened by grace, and that grace equips and strengthens us to go out into the world and be the body of Christ. That same grace-strengthened faith also calls us back here, week after week, so we can remember together that ours is “the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant.”
We can be at peace, in this anxious world, through the gracious love of God. Our faith is in Jesus Christ, who loved us when we didn’t deserve it, and loves us today and forever. Therefore, whatever we may face in our life together, we will make our faith a verb as we are strengthened by grace, making us “complete in every good thing so that [we] may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”