Friday, January 10, 2014

Being in the Presence of God: A Sermon by Lay Leader Bob Ellis


HEBREWS 12:18-25

In the letter to the HEBREWS, the author was describing how he felt as a member of the Christian Faith.

This was written at a time when some of the early Jewish converts were apparently thinking of leaving the fellowship.  Or perhaps they were thinking of using some of the Jewish ceremonies in their worship.

So the author of this letter, whoever it was, was attempting to encourage these friends whom he must have known well.

He reminds his readers of the “Good old days.”  The days before Jesus.
You have not had to stand face to face with terror,
flaming fire,    gloom,    darkness   and a terrible storm
as the Israelites did at Mt Sinai when God gave Moses the law....  and we remember that even Moses went to the mountain with fear and trembling.

They have seen Jesus, which seems to mean that they no longer have to be afraid of God.  The author reminds them, “you have come right up to Mt Zion, to the city of the living God.”

That, I would suggest is our heritage as Christian People.   That, I believe is the truth about Christian people in worship.  (and that is who we are, Christian people in worship.)

That, I would suggest, is true whether we are worshiping in the church, or we are worshiping alone in some other setting, for God is with us all the time and everywhere we find ourselves.

This is not something that will happen in the future: he says, “YOU HAVE COME....   I believe that is true.
We come into God’s presence whenever and wherever we worship.

In the Wednesday Bible Study Kathy asks us what the scripture means to us and our living.  That makes a lot of sense to me so I am going to tell you some of the meanings this particular scripture has for me.

That is the first thing to note....the writer says, ‘you have come right up into Mount Zion, the city of the living God.”

This says to me that we are in direct contact with the living God.   We are not bound by the past.  We are not bound by the old idea that people cannot live together in harmony;   
the old idea that we have to compete with one another for God’s love; because there is no limit to that love.

Our horizons are wider than the old, restricting, narrow way of looking at God.  The spiritual world and the world of our life are entwined.

God draws close to us through all the ordinary relationships we have..     If we are going to learn anything about God it will be right here;
If we are ever going to acknowledge God as part of our lives it will be right here in this secular/spiritual world.   I believe that is one to the truths shown to us in the birth of Jesus.
That is why I find it imperative to attend church every week;  I find it difficult to maintain my belief that God is with me in all of the minutia of living unless I have taken time to consciously focus my attention to God who is within me.  When I miss that worship my life begins to go flat.

William Temple once declared:
“All of life oght to be worship;
but we know quite well there is no chance it will unless we have times when we have worship and nothing else.”

A philosophy teacher asked our class what are the things which are real -- the things that  last.
We named desks, buildings,  things like that.
The teacher named spiritual things, like love.
I believe it is those spiritual concepts which open our lives to their deepest meaning.

Then the author of this book reminds us that this is not only a spiritual fellowship;   it is a UNIVERSAL FELLOWSHIP.

For me this author is speaking of the community of God when he says,

We are not alone, we are part of the church universal.
The United Methodist church talks about a part  of that
when it speaks of the connection.
It is, of course, a great thing to be part of a local congregation of God’s church.    To be able to say that this building where we worship is dear to our hearts; that it is important to us.
It is also important for us to remember that we are part of a fellowship which is much wider than this congregation.
Luther Robertson was a Christian.  He happened also to be farmer and a member of a local congregation i served in Ordway, Colorado.  Once, when the church was going through one of it’s periodic fights he said,
“Too many people let their religion get in the way of their Christianity.”

I have seen that happen all to often in the church;  we build barriers; we build up walls and shut folks out.

Right now the issue is how we think about sexuality and marriage, or the way we interact with folks with different religious beliefs.  In the past it has been the status and role for women;  or the equality of the races.

We narrow the meaning of our faith when we build limits;  when we latch on to one emotional issue;
a certain creed, or right now we set up barriers around sexuality.   In one way or another we say: 
“she”  or  “He” is not our kind of people.

So our taste  -- or judgement  -   or temperament becomes the determining factor which restricts the fellowship of God’s people.
The fellowship is impoverished.

It is clear to me that none of these barriers have been able to confine the movement of the holy spirit with in God’s people.
God’s grace does not recognize any of our restrictions.   God simply moves around, or through the walls we have build to shut some.
I am strengthened when I realize that people around the world are worshiping God.
They are not all using the same name that I use for God, but they are expressing the same feelings; they are thanking God.......just as we are.

The author also seems to say that we are part of A DIVINE FELLOWSHIP.      ...”and to God who is judge of all;   and to Jesus who has brought us this wonderful new agreement.”

I believe this author is reminding us that Jesus has shown us what God is like.
There is a story about Leanardo DA Vinci when he was painting the picture of the last supper.  According to this story a friend was visiting him and commented on Da Vinci’s skill in capturing the fine details of the chalice.    The artist then painted the chalice out, saying:  “That is not what I want you see,  I want you to see Jesus face.”
O believe that every time any of God’s people come together anywhere, there are folks present who are perplexed, if not almost without hope in the face of the difficult questions which life keeps pushing at us.
I know that when I reach that place I want to see  Jesus face.  I don’t want someone to expound on their philosophy of life:  I want someone who will be Jesus for and with me;
someone who will stand with me and show me that they understand what I am going through.

A little boy noticed his neighbor sitting on his porch sad because of the death of his wife.  The little boy went over and sat with him.  Later, when his mother asked him what he did, he said “I just helped him cry.”
(That, I believe, was being Jesus.)

There is a story about a man who was known as a theologian.  He knew the Hebrew language almost as well as his native English.  Among his students it was rumored that he prayed in Hebrew.  So two of them listened outside the door of his office and this is what they heard from this great teacher:
“gentle Jesus, humble and mild,
  look upon this little child, 
pity my simplicity,
suffer me to come to thee."

I would suggest that there is no prayer with deeper meaning.     I would see Jesus..

I hear this writer suggest that every time we come to worship we are coming to see Jesus

THEN there is one other fact about the fellowship:  it is a REDEEMING FELLOWSHIP.
The writer uses terms which are very different than those I would use....sprinkled in the blood.

But no matter; the truth is that we ARE part of the fellowship of those who have been redeemed.

I believe that Jesus is showing us that God never writes  us off;   God always loves us;  God is always ready to forgive us.

There is a moving scene in a book I once read.  it is  about an old country doctor who was reaching the end of his life.  He was out walking and happened to meet a friend whom he asked to read to him from the Bible, as his eyesight was failing.  “Just shut the book and let it fall open where it will.”  The friend did so and it opened on a much read page:  the story was of the penitent sinner in the temple.  “GOD, BE MERCIFUL TO ME, A SINNER.”                                

I think that no matter who we are we all come to that point.  “GOD. BE MERCIFUL TO ME, A SINNER.”

We may wonder if God can be merciful to me, the one who had tried God’s mercy so ofter;
how much grace can God have?
how much patience can God have?
Jesus teaches us by his life that God’s forgiveness has no limits.  God is always ready to forgive us.
So I believe that Frederich Buechner is correct when he says that when we pray our prayer of confession we are not telling God anything new.  But until we confess them our sins are the chasm between us.  When we do confess them they become the bridge


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