The Ten - Committed To Community
There is an old preachers story, which means that it’s probably not true, about a wealthy business man who was enjoying the first months of his retirement in a little resort down in Mexico. One morning as he was having breakfast he noticed a man coming in with a large bucket full of fish. The business man called to the man and asked, “How long did it take you to catch all those fish?”
The fisherman explained that he only fishes for about three hours every day. He catches enough fish to feed his family and have a little left over if a friend should drop by. He would spend the rest of the day playing with his family, walking with his wife, playing a little guitar, and in the evening he would celebrate with his friends.
The businessman seeing an opportunity to help tells the man that if he would just stay out there a little longer he could catch more fish. Then he could sell the extra fish and make some money. The fisherman asks, “And then what?”
The businessman says with your extra money you could buy a bigger boat and then stay out longer and catch even more fish. The fisherman asks, “And then what?”
Now excited, the businessman says if you make more money you could buy more boats, and then hire some men to fish for you. Eventually you could have a nice little business here catching and selling fish. The fisherman asks, “And then what?”
The business man says, “Well after 15 -20 years you could sell the business, and with all of the money you make you could retire and spend the rest of your days playing with your family, walking with your wife, playing a little guitar, and in the evening celebrate with his friends.” To which the fisherman replied, “what do you think I am doing now?”
How often do you and I spend time and effort searching for something we already have? We have the ability to spend a considerable amount of time and energy looking for the relationship with God that He has already given us. There are so many Christians consumed with fear, who think if they can keep the rules, dot every I and cross every T, then God will be happy with them. What we have forgotten is that God has always desired to have community with us. When God gave His children the Ten Commandments, it was because He desired to live in community with them. When Jesus came to this earth it was because God desired to have community with us.
Before God ever gave the first command He offered the gift of community. Moses didn’t show up in Egypt with two stone tablets and say, If you guys will agree to obey all these commands, God will deliver you from Egyptian slavery. He showed up and said, God has heard your cry and has sent me to deliver you.
In your life, God didn't show up and say, If you will keep this law perfectly then I might consider allowing you to come to my table, and offer you a place in My community. God shows up and says, I sent my Son into the world to be your Savior and Redeemer. My Son gave His life as an expression of My mercy and grace. I call everyone who is “tired from carrying heavy loads to come…
God invites us into a community with Him. Our call is to be a Church that is striving to live like Christ. Everyone is called, and it doesn’t matter what religious heritage you come from, or if you even have a religious heritage at all. God calls you into this community.
If you are struggling with your faith you are welcome into this community, because we are struggling with our faith as well. If you are struggling with sin you are welcome into this community because we are struggling with our sin as well. There is not a sin that you struggle with that is not struggled with by others in this room. We are the family of God, only because God has called us into community.
As we close out this series I want us to go back to what the Hebrew writer said about the community that God offers on Mount Sinai. Look with me in Hebrews 12. Most of us know about the faith chapter, Hebrews 11. It’s probably one of the most famous texts in the Bible right after John 3:16. While Hebrews 11 talks about faith, Hebrews 12 talks about community. You need to remember that Hebrews was written to folks who were struggling with their faith and losing their sense of community.
I would imagine that there are some here today out of habit. There are probably some here because it’s expected or forced on them by their family. I think it’s safe to say that for most people, attendance on Sunday’s has very little to do with community. I have had lot’s of people tell me, I believe in God, I just don’t think it’s all that important to go to church.
According to the Hebrew writer that’s impossible. The writers suggests that we are not only called to be apart of community, but we need community. Our souls long for times when we can gather with our community. Without those times of gathering we lose our perspective on life and our sense of values. We begin to think that the only things that are real in life are the things that we can see and touch. It’s hard to live as a Christian in a society which doesn’t think much about God or know anything beyond what they can see.
Our text today involves one of those awful breaks in scripture, so we actually need to start Chapter 12 in chapter 11:39: These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, Did you hear the description and community words found in this text? God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Therefore, since we.
I am guilty of coming to chapter 12, and the phrase great cloud of witnesses, and assuming it is talking about all the folks in chapter 11. Which makes sense because we are a church movement built on logic. I have read numerous commentaries that talk about the race, and illustrate it by saying that Able, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham are all standing on the side lines cheering for us as we run this race. But that’s not what the Hebrew writer is saying. He says that they have come and gathered among us and we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.
When the community gathers we gather with these heroes. We gather with Moses, and Jacob, and Rahab. They and you and I are called into the community of God. And we gather together to support and encourage, and cheer one another on to the finish line.
One of the things I love about the book of Hebrews, is that the writer answers the question, Why is it important to gather with your community?
There is not another New Testament writer that deals with this question, probably because the early believers understood the strong bond between belief in God and membership in the community. The early church family knew they needed to be present in the frequent, daily, gatherings of the community of disciples.
Luke writes in Acts 2:46-47: Day after day they met as a group in the Temple, and they had their meals together in their homes, eating with glad and humble hearts, praising God, and enjoying the good will of all the people. And every day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved.
It seems that by the time the book of Hebrews was written, some of the disciples had become a bit disenfranchised and began to neglecting the community. In an effort to encourage them the Hebrew writer said, Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. Hebrews 10:23-25
The writer doesn’t address all of the reasons they were neglecting the community, we do get a glimpse of one of their struggles. They were those among them that were experiencing a deep spiritual weariness. You understand the difficultly of following Jesus. They had drooping hands and weak knees according to chapter 12:12 and were in danger of drifting away; leaving the community of believers. All across our nation churches are facing the same struggle of weariness. Even here in the Golden Triangle we are seeing communities of believers close their doors as their communities dwindle.
One of the struggles the church has with the millennial generation is that we have tried to make our community attractive by doing things we were never created for. Some churches are trying to make their worship more exciting hoping to draw a crowd. My friend Sean Palmer posted this on His Facebook wall last Sunday morning: In my continuing endeavor to understand how the American church has become unintelligible to actual Christianity, I "visited" an online mega-church service. At the 20-minute mark, this is what I've seen (non-exhaustive):
Jesus Mentions: 0
God Mentions: 0
Songs sang: 3 (0 mentions of God or Jesus)
Church Name Mentions: 5
Giving/Offering Mentions: 4
Lead Singers: 3
Mentions of "not being a place for perfect people": 2
Mentions of what makes it okay to not be perfect people: 0
Jumping Guitarist: 3
Head Bangin' Drummers: 2
People In The Church Singing: 2
People In The Church Texting: 3
I'm not being critical (well, maybe a little), it's just that I don't know what this is. It is no wonder that when someone quotes Jesus, so many of us act like we've never heard that idea before.
That was Sean’s observation and it reminded me of what Jesus said to the woman at the well in John 4:22: You worship what you do not know. We have tried to manufacture community and now we have no idea what we’re worshipping. We think we’re worshipping God; but we have replaced God with ourselves. We want to worship at a place that meets our perceived needs, that excites us, or where we can mindlessly participate. Like the businessman talking with the fisherman we are chasing what God has already given us.
That’s why we wrestle with the question, why is community important? In chapter 12, the Hebrew writer gives us a simple, but powerful reason why we need to be committed to our community. In this passage, the Hebrew writer describes what happens every time we come to worship with our community. Gathering is important because, It’s in our Community where we meet God.
Hebrews 12:18-19 we read You have not come to a physical mountain, to a place of flaming fire, darkness, gloom, and whirlwind, as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai. For they heard an awesome trumpet blast and a voice so terrible that they begged God to stop speaking.”
The Hebrew writer goes back to the story from Exodus 19, right before God gives the description of this relationship. I want you to imagine for just a moment that you are at the bottom of that Mountain. Do you think that if you witnessed that scene you would have a different view of community and worship than you have right now? If you had been there at Mt. Sinai, would you have wondered why worship and community was important to God? The greatness and the glory of God would drive you to worship. The idea that God wanted you to have community with Him would be overwhelming.
The Hebrew writer says that’s not what our worship is like. He says, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands of angels gathered together with joy. You have come to the meeting of God's firstborn children whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all people, and to the spirits of good people who have been made perfect. You have come to Jesus, the One who brought the new agreement from God to his people, and you have come to the sprinkled blood that has a better message than the blood of Abel. Hebrews 12:22-24
We have been invited to a community with the living God. We don’t need high tech buildings, or jumping guitarists, or a laser light show. We understand that there is nothing holy about the bricks and mortar, pulpit, or pews. Holiness is found in the community that is gathered around the table. Holiness is found in the songs and prayers of our hearts as we say thank you to our Father who calls us into community with Him and with one another.
The most important thing we have on this earth is this community with God and one another. Sometimes I think we forget that is the whole reason we gather. Jesus said For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them. Matthew 18:20. This is not an excuse to grab a Christian and go fishing on Sunday and say a prayer and take a little juice and think “Well God was with us.” This is not a verse that says take your family camping on Sunday and as long as you read three verses you’ll be okay. The Hebrew writer is reminding us that we are in the presence of God. We gather around the table with a great cloud of witnesses; Able, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Rahab, Moses, and Jacob. But we also gather with Shirley, and Buzz, and Ronald, and Jean, and Peggy, and Pamela, and Jim, and you.
Finally, We must remember that, God established worship so that we can find community.
God doesn’t ask us to worship Him because He needs us to stroke His ego. He has angels in heaven that live in His presence who are so overwhelmed with His Glory that the only thing they can do is shout out, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God almighty who was and is and is to come. Revelation 4:8 God doesn't need us to worship Him, we need to worship Him so we can find true community.
Look back at Hebrews 12:22-24: you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands of angels gathered together with joy. You have come to the meeting of God's firstborn children whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all people, and to the spirits of good people who have been made perfect. You have come to Jesus, the One who brought the new agreement from God to his people, and you have come to the sprinkled blood that has a better message than the blood of Abel.
Worship is so much more than two songs, a prayer, a song, communion … The Hebrew writer says we have joined, thousands of angels gathered together with joy. Have you ever stopped to realize that thousands of angels are present when we gather to worship? The same angels who are overwhelmed in the presence of God, the same angels that cry out Holy, Holy, Holy are gathered with us as we gather in this community and join in the worship of God.
The writer reminds us that we are at the meeting of God's firstborn children whose names are written in heaven. Our community is a world-wide fellowship. Communities just like ours are meeting around the world to sing, We Shall Assemble On The Mountain. In Brazil, Russia, Cambodia, South Africa, New Zealand, in countless languages, Christians meet to remember the death of Jesus Christ by sharing at the table. They gather to remember the resurrection by experiencing the joy of this community.
We are in the presence of the judge of all people. The holy and righteous God who is the only one worthy to judge us but also covers us with His grace and mercy. We are in a community built on those who have lived before us, and experienced God’s grace and love. This world wants us to live for the moment, which causes us to lose our contact with the past. But in worship we find community with those who have come before us.
And in this community we meet Jesus, the One who brought the new agreement from God to his people, and you have come to the sprinkled blood that has a better message than the blood of Abel. We worship because we have been invited a community through the blood of Jesus. At our very best we are sinners who could never live up to God’s standard. We have failed as parents, sons, daughters, husbands, and wives. But in this community, we find forgiveness and acceptance.
My friend Patrick Mead says if you don’t like change you are living on the wrong planet. Our world is in constant change, don’t believe me? Just look in a mirror. We experience rapid changes in our technology. The technology you buy today is obsolete in five months. Our society is so mobile that we can’t seem to keep our friends and acquaintances for long periods of time. Beliefs and moral standards are constantly changing. There are so many changes around us which we can’t prevent. We need one area of our life that is stable to give us a sense of security.
The author of the book of Hebrews tells this tired community that Christians have the anchor for their lives. He pictures, at the end of chapter 12, the end of everything. He talks about the world’s destruction and the end of all material things. Then he refers to the abiding of those heavenly realities which cannot be shaken.
The writer draws this conclusion: We should be grateful that we were given a kingdom that cannot be shaken. And in this kingdom we please God by worshiping him and by showing him great honor and respect. Our God is like a destructive fire. Hebrews 12:28-29 In a world filled with change, we find community in a kingdom that cannot be shaken.