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11.18.12 Hebrews 10:11-25, Why We Worship Sermon Summary

by on November 19, 2012

You might be like Hannah—having done everything your religion tells you to cope with disappointment—only to face it year after year. If so, there’s good news from the book of Hebrews.

Summary Points

  • How prayer changes everything
  • Getting past religion to relationship
  • Three steps to the transformation of our lives and our world
  • Questions for Discussion and Reflection

Hannah had done everything she could. “Year after year” 1 Samuel tells us, Hannah and her husband Elkanah would pilgrimage the temple at Shiloh and make sacrifice to God. Hannah prayed every year to have a child. And every year she was disappointed.

What made matters worse, Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah, had several children, and she taunted Hannah. But Hannah was faithful. She prayed passionately. She fasted. She made sacrifice. Year after disappointing year.

One year she dedicated not just her prayers to God, but the answer as well. “If you give me a child,” she prayed, “I’ll dedicate him to your service.” Eli the priest witnessed her distress, blessed her prayers, and in due time, Samuel was born.

Everything changed for Hannah. And I mean everything. Not only was she now a parent, but her whole perspective on life changed. She had witnessed God’s faithfulness—long in coming though it had been—and she realized that God could change the whole world just as he had changed her life.

She wrote a song that envisioned this changed world: the weak will be made strong; the hungry will be fed; the childless will have families; and the dead will be raised to new life.

When we experience the deliverance of God—when we get in touch with our deepest needs, when we anguish over injustice, when we patiently pray and faithfully endure—when we finally see God meet our needs, the whole world changes. We begin to have hope. We realize God can solve ALL problems. So we pray for peace in the Middle East. So we serve the hungry. So we provide for the homeless. Because all these problems, we know, God can solve; because God has solved our problem.

Jesus has the same perspective as Hannah. He knows that things are not always what they seem. Hannah was childless and persecuted, but God was at work to bring into the world the man who would lead ancient Israel. Jesus’ disciples were very impressed with the temple in Jerusalem—but things are not what they seem. “Not one stone will be left upon another,” he tells them.

This came as good news, for the temple had become corrupt. Their religion had disappointed the disciples. Temple authorities and regulations had made it so difficult to encounter God. But Jesus saw the same thing Hannah did, that God can solve even the most intractable problems. God was about to liberate religion from the temple. It wouldn’t be about religion so much as about relationship.

Hebrews tells us that, after Jesus, God “will remember our sins no more.” And even more, God “will write the law upon our hearts and minds.” Religion is about following the rules. Relationship is about transformation. It’s the difference between driving using roadsigns and a GPS. With the Spirit’s presence, thanks to Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, sin no longer stands in the way, and we can live out God’s will in the world.

But how can we experience this deliverance today? How, first for ourselves, then for our world? Three clues.

1. Accept God’s forgiveness. Hebrews reminds us that Jesus’ sacrifice as high priest is “once for all.” That means it’s once for you. Jesus provides a “new and living way,” opening to all the holy place of God’s presence. With our “hearts sprinkled, a clear conscience, and bodies washed with pure water,” God has delivered us—you—from sin. Experiencing this kind of deliverance is akin to Hannah’s experience. It will transform us and our view of the world to accept God’s forgiveness.

2. Pray through provocations. We all have “Peninnahs” in our lives, those people or situations that eat away at us. Peninnah drove Hannah to prayer and patience in God. At the same time, Hebrews exhorts us to “encourage one another.” Irritation and encouragement are two sides of the same coin. Both are designed to move us to greater faith. When we are “provoked,” whether irritated or encouraged, we need to dedicate them and their resolution to God. Like Hannah and Jesus, it helps to remember God reverses things.

3. Remember that we walk by faith, and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Peninnah had many children, both sons and daughters. The Temple had “massive stones and magnificent buildings.” But things are not always what they seem. They look different through eyes of faith. Today we hear of wars and rumors of wars, of nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, of earthquakes and famines and disaster. By sight, these situations are painful. To faith, according to Jesus, these are birth pains.

Out of these pains, Jesus says, a new world is being born. That world is called the kingdom of God. It is a kingdom of reversals. It is the kingdom described in scripture, proclaimed in sermon, and depicted in sacrament, that is, baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

And this is why we worship. Hebrews urges us not to neglect meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing. We need each other. Through each other, our faith is increased. Together we receive God’s forgiveness in word, water, and wine. Only together can we provoke one another to love and good deeds. Only together can we be faithful to God by being faithful to one another. These are the things we can do only together, and only in worship.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • How does Hannah’s story inspire you to remain prayerful and patient with God? What need do you have, if you’re going to be really honest, that may take year upon year of anguished prayer before you see results?
  • Have you ever tried dedicating not only your prayers to God but also the results of your prayers? It was only after Hannah did this that she became a parent. It takes faith to pray for something. It takes even more faith to entrust the results to God. Where is your faith in relation to this?
  • In what ways is the destruction of the temple good news to you? What parts of your religion have become hindrances to your relationship with God? Is it time to enter into God’s presence with just Jesus?
  • How do the “three clues” relate to your life today? Have you fully accepted God’s forgiveness? What are the Peninnahs in your life and have they pushed you to greater faith? What are some things that appear differently when viewed through eyes of faith?


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