25 Pentecost Proper B28
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Hebrews 10:11-25 Sermon
November 18, 2012
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal and With One Voice):
2 "To Thy Temple I Repair"
456 "Approach My Soul The Mercy Seat"
WOV 699 "Blessed Assurance"
465 "Christ Is Our Cornerstone"
BUT I DON'T WANT TO GO TO CHURCH!
TEXT (vs. 23-25): “23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."
This morning I have a humorous story to share with you. One Sunday morning, a husband and wife were in bed. The alarm clock goes off. The wife gets up, gets the coffee started, and begins breakfast preparations. She started to become concerned when her husband hadn't emerged from the bedroom. So she went in to check on him, and to her surprise, he was still in bed snuggled under the covers.
So she says to him, "Honey, get up, you're going to be late for church!"
He groans and tells her, "I'm not going to church today."
She asks him, "Why aren't you going to church today? You're not sick, are you?"
He replied, "I'll give you three reasons. First, nobody there likes me. Second, the services are long and boring. And third, I just don't get anything out of it."
Then his wife said, "I'll give you three reasons you should go. First, there are a lot of people there who do like you; you just don't realize it. Second, you need to go; it will do you good. And third, you're the Pastor, and you have to be there. So get up and get moving, or you'll be late!"
This is the kind of thing we laugh about, but think of the element of truth here. The excuses that pastor gave are the typical kinds of excuses we hear from people all of the time. And when we hear such excuses, we kind of nod our heads and think, "Yeah, yeah, I've heard all of this before." There's nothing even remotely humorous about that. But when you hear those tired old excuses coming from the lips of this fictitious pastor, then it's a whole different ballgame. That's something you just don't expect to hear.
Speaking from personal experience, I can honestly say that I have had those Sunday mornings where it has taken me a bit of extra effort to get myself ready to come to church. Generally it happens when I'm not feeling the best, but I've had other more selfish episodes where I have literally groaned when the alarm clock went off, and I just wanted to roll over and go back to sleep. I'm human, and it happens. And I'm sure you have had your own similar feelings.
Let's face it, if you were to go out into our community and take a poll amongst all of the people who should legitimately be in church, but aren't in church, you could compile a list of some of the most lame excuses you have ever heard. And it's really sad too.
It's at this point where I want to be absolutely clear about one thing, and I don't want anybody to misunderstand where I'm going with this. I know full well that there will be those times when we cannot attend worship for one reason or another. People have conflicting working schedules; that happens often. People go on vacation. People have to be out-of-town for some reason. People don't feel well. People are incapacitated and can't come. People have scheduling difficulties. People will want to participate in a weekend activity. Emergencies come up. People are separated by distance. There are a whole lot of legitimate reasons that occur where people will have to miss worship. That's the way life is, and we have to be practical and understand it will happen.
What I'm talking about are the ridiculous and totally selfish reasons people have for not taking one hour out of the 168 hours in a week and attend worship. And when you boil it all down, it's almost like a little child throwing a temper tantrum and screaming, "But I don't want to go to church!"
In our Epistle lesson for today, we are dealing with a strong exhortation. Verse 25 of Hebrews chapter 10 captures what God's thoughts are on the subject of church attendance: "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching."
The first thing this passage is telling us is that problems like this were as common back then as they are today. The same attitudes toward church attendance have carried on down through the generations, and it doesn't seem to be getting any better as time goes on. Satan loves to create a lackadaisical and passive attitude amongst God's people; and when you look at the statistics that report 86% of the people in the United States believe in God, and only about 35% of the people attend church regularly, then you can see what Satan is doing with the other 51%.
Various pastors and congregational leaders have even stated that if everybody on their membership roll were to show up all at once, their facility would be too small to hold them all. In fact, if larger congregations can get 40% of their members to show up for weekly worship, they are considered to be doing well.
Today we are dealing directly with one of God's commandments. The third commandment simply says, "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy." The proper explanation of it is summed up by Dr. Luther when he says, "We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and his Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
The issue here is not whether somebody is warming a pew on Sunday, but rather it's the attitude people have toward God and his Word. The way Luther puts it, we should be asking ourselves the question: Am I despising God's Word and the preaching of it, or am I gladly hearing and learning it? Just because somebody has to miss worship occasionally certainly does not mean that they're despising God's Word and the preaching and teaching of it. It would be ridiculous to think that way.
But then there's the attitude that a great many inactive church members have in common. They figure that if their name is in a church record book someplace, then they're automatically in the Lamb's Book of Life. They've gotten the idea that on Judgment Day, God will open every dusty church register that ever existed and start ushering people through the pearly gates on that premise alone. But we know that's not true, because Jesus says in Matthew chapter 7 verse 23: "Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'"
As we look at our Scripture readings for today, God is giving us a "heads up." He wants us to always remember that everything as we know it is going to be no more. The world is coming to an end. Our life will end someday. And we have a future ahead of us. We need to be ready for that future time to come, because it will happen, guaranteed.
Because of this, listen again to verse 25 of our Epistle reading: "not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." In other words, the end is coming, you see it coming, and you need to be prepared for it. So get yourself to church, assemble with other believers, communicate with God, and don't act like a spoiled child having a temper tantrum saying, "But I don't want to go to church!"
One of the important things that we learn about in our Epistle reading for today is that church attendance is for our benefit, and not God's. We don't come to worship every week just to show God how good we are, and how we deserve to be rewarded just because we kicked ourselves out of bed on Sunday morning so we could warm a pew. People who think that way are completely missing the point.
Verse 24 of our Epistle today says, "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works." Just by coming together as Christ's family, we are able to build each other up and enjoy fellowship with each other.
The atmosphere of the body of believers is one of love, acceptance, tolerance of our human frailties, forgiveness, strength, and hope. The list of positive adjectives can include so many things. What we have through faith in Christ our Saviour is something we can all share in together.
Our Epistle lesson for today very clearly describes the Gospel message; that is, what Christ has done for each and every one of us out of nothing but pure love. He sacrificed himself for our sins, and opened the door to heaven for you and me and all who come to him in faith. Verses 16 and 17 say, "16 This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” 17 then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more." Verse 22 continues, "22 ...let us draw near 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."
Being an active part of God's family is a beautiful thing indeed. We gather around Word and Sacrament for our benefit, and for the benefit of each other. When we do come together in God's name, he promises that he will be here right along with us, and that he will bless us.
This morning, I want us to consider some of the words recorded in our Gospel lesson from Mark chapter 13. In verse 5, Jesus gives us a warning that we need to remember: "See that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray."
The true Church is the one who gathers around God's Word and Sacrament, with the main focus upon Jesus Christ and the message of the Gospel. We not only need to gather together with the right attitude, but we need to realize that just any old group that calls themselves a congregation isn't good enough. God's truth must be there too. Jesus Himself telling his disciples and us that pure doctrine is really important. Jesus is warning us that the devil will constantly be sending false teachers our way. He is warning us that these false teachers will be very popular. They will lead many astray.
We have plenty of would be Messiahs even today. It was just this past week that CNN had a special on the Jonestown massacre, where Jim Jones duped his many followers to come to Guyana, give him all their money, and then ended everything with everyone committing mass suicide by drinking Kool Aid laced with cyanide.
And there are others too. Perhaps you remember Sun Myung Moon and his claims to be the Messiah. Or maybe you remember that David Koresh of the Branch Davidians claimed to be the Messiah. One popular mainline cult claims that Christ has already set up his millennial kingdom, and he did it in 1914. Another group has a living prophet as the head of their church. L. Ron Hubbard has started the church of scientology. And the list goes on. That's pretty blatant.
But Satan works within more mainline churches too. Listen to the abomination of the Lord's Prayer that one church group is using: "Our Mother who is within us we celebrate your many names. Your wisdom come. Your will be done, unfolding from the depths within us. Each day you give us all that we need. You remind us of our limits and we let go. You support us in our power and we act with courage. For you are the dwelling place within us the empowerment around us and the celebration among us now and for ever. Amen." When the disciples of Jesus asked him how to pray, I sincerely doubt if this is what he had in mind.
The day is approaching, and Satan is attempting to lead many astray. He will work on people any way he can. He will create lackadaisical and apathetic attitudes toward church attendance. He will infiltrate churches so that their teaching will conform to human will instead of God's will. He will do everything he can to lead people away from Christ and the forgiveness he gives through faith alone.
This morning, I opened with a humorous story, which I'm pretty sure is fictitious. A pastor was trying to convince his wife that he shouldn't go to church based upon many of the arguments that people use. And this doesn't even scratch the surface of the lame excuses people have for staying away from church.
Just think of some of them: "All the church wants is my money (and you don't mind spending $100 on a football ticket). The church is full of hypocrites (and you are without sin?). Sunday is my only day to sleep in (so sleep in on Saturday and get to the golf course a bit later). The church is too cold (bring a sweater)." The bottom line is selfishness, and the picture we have is of a little kid throwing a tantrum and saying: "But I don't want to go to church!"
I'm going to close today with another story. It is a scene from the television program from some years back called "That 70's Show." In that show, Tommy Chong played a burned-out hippie by the name of Leo. One Sunday, the Foreman family is coming into church. And there in the pew sits this hippie Leo, just smiling and very attentive. The mother seems shocked. She says, "Leo, I didn't know you went to church!" And Leo replies, "I love it here. You can sing as loud as you want. That dude wails away on the organ. That dude up there tells stories. It's almost a religious experience!"
Even though this is just a fictitious scene from a TV sitcom, you have to admire Leo's attitude. He was there because he wanted to be there. And we know that when we gather together, God meets us where we are just the way we are. God wants us here because we want to be here.
So as we come together under Word and Sacrament, may we always remember the words of Psalm 122 verse 1: "I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord."