Tuesday, September 20, 2011
A House Made By God - Hebrews 3:1-6 - Sept. 17, 2011
About six months ago I began a new sermon planning process with our staff. For much of the first six years sermon titles were either drawn for the lectionary, burning issues arising from congregational life, or something that I felt God put specifically on my heart. While this has served us well, I wanted to make sure that we were addressing a passages and Biblical issues emerging from the wider breadth of God’s movement in our church family. So, I checked into how some pastors I respected developed their sermon themes and scriptures and ran across an idea from First Baptist Church, Wilmington, North Carolina. Their model was that selected members of their ministerial staff gathered once a quarter to see what passages were emerging in their personal quiet times, from across Bible study classes, from questions raised by congregations, and passages that God was placing on their hearts together as a community of spiritual leaders. This model struck me because I value the voices of our ministerial staff and thought that I could clearly see God moving in and through each of those I celebrate calling colleagues and friends. I also valued the gift of proclamation we see in several members of our church staff. I decided to approach the staff to see if they were game for this kind of process and their response was strong. You have seen the product of our first gathering over the past few months. You have heard sermons from a rich diversity of Biblical passages and have had the opportunity to hear Brad, Sarah, and Kristin find their way to this pulpit. I believe our worship has been better because of this process and that my sermons have also been stronger and even more deliberate at speaking to the heart needs of our church family.
But, there was one suggestion made in our day away that first caused me to pause with a bit of apprehension, but now brings me to you with a sense of joy and excitement. One of the suggestions made in our planning day was a sermon series on Hebrews. It is a book that speaks with authenticity about how life and faith come together, but its author is unknown and its language lacks any of those pithy summary passages that fit comfortably in a sermon format. No, Hebrews draws on a more complex sermon model born in another era and arises from the heart of those emerging from Judaism to a new faith in Christ. It is rich with images and personalities from that which lies within what we call the Old Testament, but what would have been understood at the time as the core writings of the Jewish faith. It is an important book in the New Testament and has much to offer us, but because of its format is not common sermon fodder. I believe it is worth our time and effort and can speak with meaning and purpose to who we are as a church family in this time and place. Over the next nine weeks we will move through Hebrews and hear what it has to say to us and how we might respond to God’s call in this season.
We begin with the first six verses of Chapter Three. You heard Larry Hawkins read it in its entirety earlier in our service. Now let’s take a closer look together at a passage that gives us a power picture of “A House Made by God.” There was a part of me tempted to walk out wearing a tool belt or to ask Jerry, Lee, Charles and some of the other of gifted in construction to put together a simply built façade of a house, or maybe pull out one of the prop houses of the “It’s A Wonderful Life” set and put it in place. But, I am not sure any of those images would have helped us wrap our arms around the picture our passage has in mind. Our passage begins, 1 Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. 2 He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. 3 Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. 4 For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything.
Judaism was seen as a religion of place. The Arc of the Covenant, the priests that led them in worship, the heart of the sacrificial system, and the very seat of God was tied to the Temple in Jerusalem. By the time Hebrews was written the Romans had destroyed the Temple and the Jewish people and the Christians that had emerged out of Judaism, we seeking to understand what it meant to have a relationship with God outside of that profound sense of place. We can understand. Many of us grew up with an understanding of church that seems to claim some of that same kind of place identity. When I grew up I heard pastors frequently refer to the church as “the house of God.” I remember that as a child I thought that God lived at church. I think we adopted some of this worldview from the language of the Old Testament. I also think it was a part of what carried over in the language of the Church from the days long before the reformation. We dressed for church, because we wanted to bring our best for God. We dressed our churches with stain glass because we wanted to the church to be a place of special beauty, a place worthy of an encounter with God. On Thursday I listened to Rabbi Abby Jacobson talk about High Holy Day Worshippers – the folks who come to the synagogue when it is a special festival or major holiday. We have our own version of those – people who come to church on Christmas and Easter and in times of crisis. They come to visit God at God’s place. Our passage tells us that if we come to a place like this looking for God’s home, we are looking in the wrong place.
Our passage lifted up Moses, the very model of faithfulness to the original hearers of these words. He lifts Jesus and his faithfulness to his mission from the Father over and above Moses. While Moses was completely faithful “in all God’s house,” Jesus has greater honor for He is the builder of house. He reminds them that every house is built by some one – but ultimately God is the builder of everything. In more contemporary language, Moses had helped them live as God’s people under the law, the religion of sacrifice, of place, of priests, and Temple. Jesus is preeminent because He was at the heart all of creation – over and above all that Moses established. Instead of man building a Temple to serve as the house of God, Jesus changes everything. It is God who is the builder and the place God will call home is within his people.
The theology of place is transformed. In verse five and six makes this clear. It reads; 5 “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,” bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. 6 But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory. I cannot read this and not think about 2 Corinthians 16 where we hear; For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said, “I will live with them walk among them, and I will be their God and they will be my people.” The theology of place is transformed from the brick, mortar, and traditions alive at the Temple to a theology of flesh and bones. The house of God is found within the hearts and lives of the people of faith in God through Christ. God’s place becomes the middle of our lives. I know we love the beauty of the walls and windows that surround us, but if you want to see the real beauty of God’s house, look around you at the lives he is changing and hear the stories of how God is alive and at work in the people who sit next to you.
God’s plan is not for you to visit church in times of crisis praying that God will respond. God’s plan is not to wrap ourselves in personal piety and come to this building to out of duty or obligation. God’s plan is not for us to come to a building like this one to go through the religious motions trying to find some kind of connection or in a fruitless attempt to make amends for some wrong we have done another. We gather in this place so that we might learn together how we can shape our life and faith so that God is always at home in our lives, rather than an occasional guest in moments of crisis and stress. The power of this place is it where sinners and hypocrites, fallen and the forgiven, can come together to study God’s Word together so we might learn how to better grow in our relationship with God. We come to this building to worship God together. We come to worship a God who is worthy of our songs and prayers and praise because God has made the way for us to find forgiveness and redemption so we might become at home with God and that God might make His home in our lives. We gather in this place so we can hear stories from one another of how God is moving in our lives and find encouragement in our walk of faith with and from one another. We gather in this place to find a sense of community – a sense of family – with others who seek to walk with God. We gather in this place so that we might step out in mission together; living out our faith in word and deed. We gather in this place because we know together we can better understand what it means to be the people of God and to walk in God’s way. In the truest sense, God is in this place only when the people of God gather within its walls.
If you have come looking to find God in this place – while it beauty make create a positive setting for the journey – God does not live in a home of brick and mortar. God seeks to make his home in the midst of your heart – your life – and your way of life. Through faith you are the house made by God. So often when we look in the minor we see our flaws. God sees something very different. God sees the beauty in you that you were created to demonstrate. You display the beauty of redemption, more beautiful than any stained glass window. You are wonderful. You display the love of God that makes you His own. You are the house made by God that God might be on display in your life and through your faith. You see, the picture of you living for God and God being at home in your life is more beautiful than any church or Temple made by man with brick and mortar can begin to depict. It is a living story of life with a living and loving God. It is your story – it is my story – it is the story of all who come to God through faith. Thanks be to Jesus Christ who through the power of a cross and the resurrection tomb transforms the theology of place- and made the way for us to become the home of God.