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10.21.18 Provocative Friendships Hebrews 10.19-25 Sermon Summary

by on October 22, 2018

Apparently preachers have shared the same question since the first century: Why do people drop out of church? In the sermon known as the book of Hebrews, the preacher urges, “Let us not stop meeting together, as is the habit of some.” Thank God for new church members! Otherwise our decreasing attendance trends would have caused our extinction long ago.

Why DO people drop out of church? In recent years pollsters have tracked the rise of the nones and dones—folks who indicate “none of the above” or who have abandoned a religious affiliation. Some of the explanations include:

  • increase in religious pluralism
  • more secularized society
  • Christian bigotry
  • the lack of practice.

We’re coming to the end of this sermon series on practices of Faith. You can begin to review the practices here. This week’s practices has to do with making spiritual friends, and I want to propose that this is one of the reasons the nones and dones are growing.

There’s a saying that goes, “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.” And there’s heat in the church. Some of the heat results from God’s Word calling us to change. It challenges our assumptions of self-sufficiency. Then we’re called to change the world, to think of the common good and not just ourselves. This is what Jesus means when he commands us to, “Love the Lord with our whole self and love our neighbors as ourself.”

These challenges produce enough heat to drive some people out of the church. But there’s another source of heat, and that’s the heat of challenging relationships.

The preacher in Hebrews calls us to, “Provoke one another to love and good deeds.” This word “provoke” doesn’t mean “nudge.” In the Greek, it refers more to an irritation that could even lead to angry dispute. Hebrews is talking about the person who gets under your skin. Instead of dealing with it healthfully, some people just find another church—or drop out entirely.

Our culture makes it easy to walk away. We’re conditioned by consumerism which teaches us that our preferences rule supreme. If I don’t like something, I keep shopping. I’ve seen this scores of times in the church. A visitor offers an enthusiastic response to our worship. They eagerly get involved but then experience something they don’t like in the music, preaching, prayers, or interactions with someone, and they’re gone.

Making spiritual friends is a practice and it takes work. It’s like physical exercise that causes some discomfort. To have a more healthy body you have to take the time to work through the pain. And doing this work is so important because the Church is one of the last bastions of social diversity.

Where else do you see social diversity? Here we have different experiences and theologies about God. Here we have differing political leanings. Here there are people of differing age, race, sexual identity, etc. Diversity is not guaranteed in the church, but it is possible. And it’s possible because we are the Body of Christ.

The human body has many diverse parts that must work together. The Body of Christ is designed the same way. In his famous metaphor, Paul reminds us that, “The hand can’t say to the foot, ‘I don’t need you.’” (1 Corinthians 12:21)

Not only did God create us WITH diversity, God created us FOR diversity. And this is why Hebrews exalts Christ as the one priest, the “new and living way” to enter God’s sanctuary. No matter who you are, or how you’re different, there is a place for you in God’s presence because Christ is our one common mediator. We aren’t responsible for monitoring who’s in and who’s out. We’re only responsible for welcoming and participating, for staying engaged when relationships get heated.

Based on this conviction of our essential union in Christ, we can be open to learning and growth. We can appreciate the differences represented by others. And we can maintain community. Yes, people irritate us, they “provoke” us. But if we stay together we learn something about God and about ourselves, and we grow to be more like Christ.

And this is why the Table is so important. At the Table we extend God’s welcoming invitation so that all can participate. We call this Table “Communion” which can be understood to mean Come and remember your Union with Christ; Come and remember your Union with one another.

For when Jesus offered the bread and the cup as his body and blood of the new covenant, he judged us all as subject to sin and beneficiaries of forgiveness. Communion is the seal upon this covenant, and since all of us are in the same boat, we may as well get along. “All the more,” Hebrews says, “as we see the Day approaching.” That Day we’ll all be together. Why not start now?

So let us provoke one another to love and good deeds. See that irritating person as your opportunity to love and to grow in love. For God’s new covenant is cultivated in communion with God, with Christ, and with one another in Spirit.

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