Church has become so boring and irrelevant for some, they attend less frequently. Others drop out and join the ranks of “Nones,” which is not a women’s religious order. “Nones” claim no affiliation with organized religion – NONE. Why attend if you’re bored? Some who leave say the church doesn’t get that “Love God; love one another” thing – too judgmental, gossipy, trivial. Spiritually they find the church anemic. People no longer talk about God in their daily lives. They rarely pray for each other – wouldn’t know what to pray for or how. Sounds like the results of the recent Pew research report. It could be. Actually it’s the state of the church the writer of Hebrews addresses. He writes to reintroduce them to Jesus; to lift they eyes from mortal priests to God’s immortal high priest, eternal mediator between God and all peoples, source of salvation. Something bigger – something more important than they have been used to.
Is there a word from the Lord for us here? We don’t have high priests, at least we hope not, nor do we take well to terms like sacrifice and suffering, and who names their kid Melchizadek? The Church of the Hebrews know well that God chooses and calls people to religious work, priests and kings, and now Jesus, God’s ultimate high priest and eternal Son. St. Swithins church, here in Hebrew-land, has forgotten, don’t care, or think Jesus isn’t enough.
God still calls people – all of us, not just high priests, low priests, or priests in between. All of us are called and ordained, marked in baptism, raised and sent to bear God’s life to the world. And look who’s here with us on this journey – people who annoy us, disappoint us, and irk the daylights out of us. God calls us all here for some unknown reason. But God knows. Sometimes we hear what God is saying. Sometimes people hear what God is not saying. Today some people are going to hear a special call from God – to plant themselves in front of their TV’s for the Packers’ kickoff at noon. They believe they’re called to a support ministry. Maybe they are. Each of us is needed – remember that. Our role is to serve God – same as Jesus. We have different assignments. So be patient with one another.
And if we grow concerned about place and status, not to worry: God’s concerned, too. God grants us all the same status in God’s reign. We have Jesus status, one that starts at the bottom and stays there. Get over thinking anyone is better or lesser. Hebrews says Christ did not seek glory. He submits himself for us – with prayers and supplications, cries and tears. That’s what God is after – our broken hearts, our compassion, our faithfulness even when suffering, death, and despair overtake us. We take our place with Jesus – slave, servant, learning obedience through temptation, suffering, and death, not around them. Jesus brings us to God to be cleansed, loved and sent out to point others toward the immortal high priest. Jesus’ sacrifice is life giving, salvation giving who reunites our hearts and commitments with God’s. His spirit and sacrifice strengthen and shape us into a cross-carrying people. He saves us by going ahead to lead us through. The closer we follow, the more we bear his life in ours – and participate in his suffering with a heart of compassion for the unlovable, enemies, and untouchables.
Writer Clyde Edgerton tells of growing up Baptist. He believed in heaven, confessed his sins and accepted Jesus as Savior. That sealed the deal. Clyde goes to college. You won’t believe this – he went to church during college days. He even attended business meetings. At one he hears someone ask, “What should the church do if a black person (other than the janitor) came to the door and asked to enter?” They respond – “Tell him he has his own church.” That did it. Clyde left that church, and never looked back, until he and his wife had children. They weren’t church people, yet still valued God, and wanted the kids to know and love God. They realized they couldn’t do this alone. They returned to see what the church had to offer. They found one – same gospel story, but a different application and interpretation of God. Clyde didn’t hear of impending doom, threats and fear, and judgment of others, like he did in his childhood. He found a church that welcomes all and doesn’t shut anyone out. He got in touch with some of the good things from his childhood church, too. They helped him believe something more important and bigger exists, and he can reach for that something bigger in times of trouble and decision. That something bigger he realized shapes him to listen, respect and learn from people he might not otherwise. Worship reminds him all is sacred and so is everyone – something bigger, more important. And he’s recovered a funny old churchy notion: “Love for neighbor is the biggest “something bigger” I can imagine these days.”
What is something bigger and better for you these days? How does the church matter for you? God still calls and chooses all who’ll accept, and as far as I can tell, nothing’s changed. Something bigger, more important? – I keep hearing Martin Luther’s command, literally, one I faithfully keep: “Sin boldly.” We forget Luther adds, “Believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.” Rejoice because God is doing something bigger and more important. Let me be clear – don’t go out and boldly sin, but if and when you do, rejoice in Christ even more boldly. Remember, God is doing something bigger, something more important through God’s high priest. And we join him with our assignment – to draw others into God’s love and life – through ours.