Faith in Action…
May the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ so fill your lives, that you without thinking look and support those who are struggling with sin. And when they come to support you, that you will let them.
I love the old movies, where the hero has to survive a gauntlet, avoiding the traps, the deadfalls, and make the decisions that mean life or death. They avoid death, if they, in the words of one of those who guided one such hero, choose wisely. (btw – that movie was released 29 years ago – so I guess it can be classified as an “oldie”!)
The hero had to be careful, he had to take his time, evaluate his situation, realize the words that had been spoken, and choose to act wisely.
In the case of the letter to the Hebrews, the idea of being careful include a deep discerning look at our situation, at the challenge we face with that sin, and the evil and unbelief it can cause in our lives.
Yeah – this passage is a call to us, this call to take a deep, hard look into our lives, and make sure about our hearts, warning and supporting each other….
For being deceived by sin is all to easy, and happens all too often.
Who Was it?
We see how easy it was, in the example provided by the writer of Hebrews.
The people of Israel, led by Moses from Egypt, who heard God’s voice and trembled. Who saw his power, both judging the sins of the Pharaoh in Egypt and in the incredible miracles at the Red Sea, and in the provision of water, and manna and quail.
And yet, as direct as their contact was, they still fell into temptation, they still sinned, and when things got hard, they didn’t trust God.
They didn’t believe.
For that is what faith and belief in God is, the ability to trust in God despite the entire world, and even your own life telling you that He isn’t there. Despite them telling you that he doesn’t care.
They struggled, oh how they struggled! They heard the very voice of God, yet still rebelled. They saw the signs of His presence, the miracles, the cloud of smoke by day, the pillar of fire by night, and still hardened their hearts
And so they did what was evil, what was in rebellion from God.
Too often, you and I join them. You might even have already asked, like the apostles, “Is it I Lord?” when He talked of the one who would betray Him.
We’ve heard His voice calling us, we’ve seen His power at work, We know both His wrath and mercy, Yet, we struggle to trust God in situations we encounter, or we all too easily forget about Him. Especially when we are tempted by sin, even what we might call the smallest of sins, or perhaps the biggest.
For the biggest of sins, the violation of the first commandment happens to us all the time. We create our own gods, something we want to trust in, something we can find hope in. and set aside the God who has revealed Himself to us, through word and sacrament, through the people that are the church.
We aren’t any better than the people of God in the days of Moses. We have all these blessings pointing to God in our lives, and yet sometimes we still turn away, we still get deceived, we still fall to scold others, rather than warn and counsel them as scripture teaches.
And so, we need to take time, to be careful, and discern what we are doing. Looking carefully at what we do, what we think, what we say!
Make Sure your (plural) own hearts (Parakleso)
It took me a while in studying this passage, to see an incredible blessing that God has given us, His people, His church.
It’s seen in words like “your” and “each other” and “you”, and “we” in this passage.
I think we hear the words, “Be careful” and “war” and “if faithful to the end, but we miss these pronouns and fail to see the blessing God gives us, when He takes us into Himself and makes us the body of Christ.
You see, when one of us baptized, when Christ’s promises are given them, they join us in His body. And the body looks after itself, each part caring for the rest. To be careful then is not just talking about individual introspection and confession, but being careful and in love, approaching those who are struggling with faith and sin, and lifting them up, helping them see God’s love and mercy revealed to them again.
We are one people, saved in Christ together, forgiven together, sent into this world together.
So we choose wisely, and care for each other, warning each other in a way that is loving and yet firm, which calls back the sinner, and assures them of the grace of God.
You see that word for warning, it’s not the kind of warning that warns you from the shore that your drifting to toward the waterfall. It dives in with a rope, catches you and helps you get back to short…
Or in Jones case, sweeps away all the other false gods, and leaves the one Chalice, the one filled with the love and mercy of Christ Jesus, that’s what a friend, a fellow member of the body of Christ would do, bringing you back to the word and sacraments, to remember and revive the word and sacraments
We are each a blessing God gives to us, when we care more for each other than the discomfort of helping someone being deceived, moving to the point of their hearts becoming evil and not trusting in God’s presence, in His mercy and Love.
As James wrote in His epistle,
19 My friends, if any of you wander away from the truth and another one brings you back again, 20 remember this: whoever turns a sinner back from the wrong way will save that sinner’s soul from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins. James 5:19-20 (TEV)
So choose wisely, make sure that all our hearts are not evil and unbelieving turning us away from God, and warn each other, so none are deceived by sin, and hardened against God. Serve one another, loving each other enough to share in God’s glorious grace, helping each other to dwell in the peace of God which is beyond our comprehension, yet in which we dwell together, in Christ Jesus. AMEN!
Devotional and Discussion Thought of the Day:
1 So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. 2 Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect. 3 And because of God’s gracious gift to me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you should. Instead, be modest in your thinking, and judge yourself according to the amount of faith that God has given you. 4 We have many parts in the one body, and all these parts have different functions. 5 In the same way, though we are many, we are one body in union with Christ, and we are all joined to each other as different parts of one body. 6 So we are to use our different gifts in accordance with the grace that God has given us. If our gift is to speak God’s message, we should do it according to the faith that we have; 7 if it is to serve, we should serve; if it is to teach, we should teach; 8 if it is to encourage others, we should do so. Whoever shares with others should do it generously; whoever has authority should work hard; whoever shows kindness to others should do it cheerfully. 9 Love must be completely sincere. Hate what is evil, hold on to what is good. 10 Love one another warmly as Christians, and be eager to show respect for one another. Romans 12:1-10 (TEV)
729 Men—this has always happened in history—bind their lives together to accomplish a collective mission and destiny. Is the unique destiny of eternal happiness worth less to the men and women of today? (1)
An odd juxtaposition occurred in the last 12 hours or so, and it all came together in the words of St. Josemaria I read this morning.
The first is one of the books I picked up on my Kindle – the old World War II novel entitled, “The Dirty Dozen” A movie was based on it, twelve soldiers sentenced to death or life in prison were given a chance to live honorably, in service to their country. Their leader is tasked with molding them into a unit, despite their differences in culture, in life, and their tendency to violence. It has some fascinating looks at why men choose evil, or passively accept it.
The second was a question asked by one the seminary students I supervise, part of an assignment, about the connection between worship and witness. Given the course, I think they were thinking in the narrow sense of both words, how a church service leads us to evangelism. I prefer to look at it in the large sense, lives given as described above, worship as our reasonable, sacrificial, lives, where each does what they do as they trust in God. This kind of worship is a living witness – far more powerful than any words we can speak. This is what worship is, this is what the sacraments prepare us for, knowing our mission is eternal, knowing that the outcome is more than us. Seeing how Christ’s mercy makes it all possible, for us to live as sacrifices, as we live and serve and love, and respect each other, as our trust in God grows.
In the Book and the movie, The Dirty Doze, such a camaraderie eventually develops. They will get their mission, they will mourn their losses, the will accomplish their mission But it is the training and serving each other that will make the biggest difference. Not the orders given, not the memories of their past. They will enter into a relationship deeper than they will want to admit to, more than they can even perceive.
We are the same, we have a mission, but that mission isn’t just what binds us together, It isn’t the hope of being known to be honorable, or being heroes. The gifts we use, the love and respect we share, that isn’t the intention either. For if it is that, we will leave people behind, we won’t see them as necessary to the mission, or that they can be redeemed full,
It is the camaraderie, that a bunch of us who could have been given up on, are being forged into His people, those He has called together, bound together in Christ, whom we share the body and blood of Jesus with together. We will go through death together, knowing that He has led us through it.
On a mission from God….. sacrficing and serving, because of His mercy!
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 3042-3045). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional/Discussion thought of the Day:
8 If I announce that some wicked people are sure to die and you fail to tell them to change their ways, then they will die in their sins, and I will hold you responsible for their deaths. Ezekiel 33:8 (NLT)
You have a duty to reach those around you, to shake them out of their drowsiness, to open wide new horizons for their selfish, comfortable lives, to “complicate” their lives in a holy way, to make them forget about themselves and show understanding for the problems of others. If you do not, you are not a good brother to your brothers in the human race, who need that gaudium cum pace, that joy and that peace, which maybe they do not know or have forgotten. (1)
I dealt with verse 8 above in yesterday’s sermon, but almost as an aside. There were other things to explore, as we looked at our nature to call God out, because we don’t think the way He works is… well.. fair. That the Lord, in showing mercy to sinners, to being merciful to wicked people, isn’t “just” or “righteous”. We explored what it means that God doesn’t rejoice when sinners die, when they “get what’s coming for them”, but rather, He rejoices when that prodigal, that lost sheep comes home. Powerful stuff, and we desperately need to understand God’s heart, and even more, to see it duplicated in our own lives.
That is where verse 8 comes in, and the quote from Fr. Escriva, which talks of the same thing, with a clarification that helps us comprehend our “duty” and why we would bear the guilt of others who would die, because we didn’t share the life transforming message of God’s love with them.
We need to tell them – we have an obligation to, but an obligation that is not from blind obedience, it is the obligation that is implicit in our being called to love our neighbor.
Let me give a favorite example. Let’s say outside you favorite restaurant sits a billionaire, and he is signing 1 million dollar checks, and giving them to anyone there. You get yours, you go to your bank – it’s legit. Do you just go home happy your have a million dollars? Or do you call a person or twenty or one hundred? Do you do so out of a law driven sense of “duty”, are you obliged to? Or are you calling people as fast as you can, demanding that they drive over as fast as possible, so they too can be blessed, because you know them, because you have a relationship with them? If you do not call someone, why would that be? Is it because you don’t have a relationship with them? Or that you are so ticked off – you decide they don’t need it?
Same thing applies here – because our salvation, our being delivered by the mercy of Jesus into the Father’s presence, is priceless – even compared to a million dollars. (we probably need to realize, to really comprehend that as well!)
And if you are a “good brother to your brothers and sisters in the human race”, you are compelled, because of your love for them, and because of the priceless gift that is theirs, to help them see it, to bring to them the gospel and therefore the Holy Spirit who will transform them, even as He grants them repentance. it is duty because of your love for them. It is the breaking of your heart as you see someone who lives, hounded by guilt and shame, or enslaved and tormented by their desires, that drives you to share with them the very thing that steals their hearts from that which oppresses them. That brings them into the presence of God, and causes them to know His joy and peace! It is phrased so delicately in the quote from Fr. Escriva – that they may not know, or have forgotten.
Calling them to repentance, calling them to be abandoned to that which has broken them… yes…that is our mission – because we love them… and can’t abide their not knowing Who we know…
God help us to do His will… and celebrate the prodigals homecoming and healing… even as we celebrate God welcoming us home.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3183-3187). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.