Nov. 14, 2021

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, your sovereign purpose brings salvation to birth. Give us faith to be steadfast amid the tumults of this world, trusting that your kingdom comes and your will is done through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.Amen.

Hebrews 10:11-14 [15-18] 19-25

11Every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” 13and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” 14For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. [15And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying,
16“This is the covenant that I will make with them
  after those days, says the Lord:
 I will put my laws in their hearts,
  and I will write them on their minds,”
17he also adds, 
 “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
18Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.] 

  19Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Mark 13:1-8

1As [Jesus] came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
  3When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4“Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 6Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

My focus this morning will be on our passage from Hebrews chapter 10, particularly those final verses that seem to say a great deal to a people experiencing in-person gathering after some time away. I must admit that I have a weird relationship to the book of Hebrews. As a whole, it would perhaps not make my top-ten list of favorite books of the Bible and yet there are a few choice passages that I absolutely love.

The book is a sermon written for a community of people who were never eyewitnesses to the ministry of Jesus. The sermon addresses a situation of malaise experienced by Christians some decades after the ministry of Jesus ended. It brings a word of encouragement to discouraged Christians. They once had a vivid sense of God’s presence and later showed bold support for others during an outburst of persecution. Yet, as time dragged on, the malaise set in. 

The author attempts to embolden them by telling of the way Jesus went through suffering into glory, making a way for others to follow. As high priest, Jesus Christ brings others into a new covenant relationship with God. People are therefore called to persevere in faith, knowing that God will be faithful.

The passage most applicable to our life together today begins with some language that may feel as distant as the Middle East: 19 Therefore, my friends,g since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

It helps to know that the inner chamber of Israel’s sanctuary was the holy of holies, where only the high priest was permitted to approach God. People like you and me simply would not have access to God. Yet here, the author of Hebrews invites all who have been redeemed by Christ the high priest to follow him into the presence of God in the sanctuary. 

The invitation flips everything. First the invitation does not refer to a physical movement into a holy place. Instead, the invitation is to a movement of faith. By holding firmly to the confession of faith in what Christ has done, people can approach God confidently in prayer and continue joining together with others in worship. 

It might be hard for us to imagine not having access to God through Jesus. In some ways that’s a good thing, it illustrates our familiarity with the miracle of the incarnation, God living among us. But we don’t want to fall into a type of malaise like the original hearers of Hebrews. 

The primary reason we read scripture, alone or in an assembly like this one, is to be reminded of the good news of Jesus Christ–bringer of salvation and healing for a broken world and broken people. God did not look down from a distant heaven and say, “There, there, it’s all right.” Instead, in Jesus, God entered into the full range of human suffering and tragedy.

The author of Hebrews has two interconnected goals: renew a sense of personal trust in this God of healing and wholeness and a revitalized commitment to life in community. It seems that this last chapter was a great time to nurture habits and practices in our personal trust in God. There was time and opportunity and need. 

Many of us experienced isolation, to varying degrees. In some cases, our bodies got sick. In other cases, our minds and spirits were hurting. I hope you found or rediscovered ways to connect personally with the God of healing and wholeness. The words from Hebrews were an exhortation for all of us, “let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” What is this “faith” the author speaks of? In the very next chapter we read, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for.” Bring to God your faith/hope or your hope/faith. And never doubt God’s own faithfulness; it is the thing that gives us hope.

In this particular moment in time, we may be more appreciative than ever that the author lifts up both the need to approach God on one’s own and the necessity of community. German Lutheran Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about this balance in his book Life Together: “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community… Let him who is not in community beware of being alone… Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.” 

Why is the embodied community part of the life of faith? Can’t we simply know that Christian community exists? Is actual participation necessary? When participation is possible, we would have to say yes, because that’s how Jesus set it up. Following Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, being Christian means being part of a meal-fellowship. 

Hearing the Word and gathering at the table is central to who we are and how we are shaped. We return to the table to meet one another and to encounter the risen Christ in wine and bread. We are sent from the table for, as this morning’s author says, love and good deeds. As the author is exhorting the original readers, so the readers are to exhort one another.  

“And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” The author’s specific words are almost eerie to me, as if peering centuries ahead into America’s culture of individualism. The writer emphasizes that these practices are best cultivated within the life of the Christian community as it comes together to worship, enjoy fellowship, and provoke one another to acts of Christlike service.

Before her Affirmation of Baptism, Diane talked about how our Confirmation classes gave her an opportunity to be around other people who had the same questions, which helped her feel more comfortable asking questions about faith. Children and youth who attend Luther Heights Bible Camp share a similar sentiment, that being around other youth who are on similar faith journeys buoys them. Jason summed this up in his quote in the recent camp publication. Reflecting on the program the final night of camp he wrote, “it gave us time to slow down, realize how much we had grown, how each of us were different but had many gifts, and God’s love for us.”

Most of us have been adults for quite a while, but I would venture to bet that each of us still needs that kind of experience. That’s hopefully the chief reason we show up in assemblies like this one. Where exactly we meet is not nearly as important as what we do: hear the Word, share the meal, pray for the world, be sent out for love and good deeds.

Dorothy Day puts it this way, “We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other. We know [God] in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone anymore. Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, where there is companionship.

We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”

Thanks be to God.

Prayers of Intercession (from Sundays and Seasons)

Eternal God, you hold firm amid the changes of this world. Hear us now as we pray for the church, the world, and everyone in need.

A brief silence.God our creator, you show us the path of life. Bless faithful people everywhere with humility as they extend compassion to those who have experienced harm in religious spaces. Cultivate healthy congregations that tell of and enact your reconciling love. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God our constant, you love our universe from beginning to end. As the seasons change, protect animals that migrate and hibernate. Bring them safely to a sheltered place and a more abundant season. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God our ruler, you write your law on human minds and hearts. Give wisdom to all elected leaders and officials to govern with insight and compassion. Make them mindful of the well-being of all people so that your world will flourish. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God our stronghold, you are present amid disaster. We pray for those affected by natural disasters (recent natural disasters may be named). Come to the aid of all survivors of earthquakes, famines, floods, hurricanes, and wildfires, and the first responders who support them. Calm their fear, supply their need, and be the solid ground beneath their feet. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God our guide, you are greater than we can imagine. Surround congregations with your expansive inclusion. Be present in the midst of disagreements, differences, and questions. Unite people of diverse viewpoints in the love of Christ. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.God our beginning and our end, your beloved people shine like the brightness of the sky. We thank you for the lives of all who rest in your eternal mercy, from famous saints to the people we have loved (especially). Assure us of your resurrection promise. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God our hope and strength, we entrust to you all for whom we pray. Remain with us always, through Jesus Christ, our Savior.Amen.

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