final sermon.

31 Aug
For those of you were weren’t able to worship at Grace on Sunday –
(Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16)

As I arrive at this morning – my last morning with you here at Grace – and to this sermon, I reflect on my year of partnering in ministry with you. It’s hard to believe that a year has passed since you welcomed me into this congregation. I felt the Hebrews text for today speaking in wonderful ways to my year with you and to the congregation here. I first read the text and felt myself beginning to tear up – tears of joy that my year is finally done and over! (shaking head) No. That is definitely not the case. So not true. I am saddened at the thought of leaving. This has been a wonderful year in ministry with all of you – you are welcoming people in a wonderful community. But still, in a way, they are tears of joy too. In talking with someone about being sad because I’m leaving, he reminded me that it is a happy day too. Not because you’re happy to be getting rid of me – I hope – but happy because it has been a good year. If it hadn’t been a good year, I wouldn’t be sad and I wouldn’t be teary-eyed. There is celebration here today too – a celebration of this community and the ministry you do.

This section of Hebrews teaches us how to live as a community of faith in an indifferent world. We are worshipping on Sunday morning and that puts us in the minority. Each of us could easily count ten people that we know that aren’t in church this morning – either with us or across the country. I don’t need names – not looking to throw blame here – but just think about it. As we sit here, we’re not the majority. More and more, we find the secular world overwhelming, systems that put us as Christians on the outside, part of the few. This section in Hebrews is why we are different from the broader culture, this is the life we practice. Just the other day, someone told me, ‘You know, it’s not always easy to be a Christian.’ No! It’s not. It is not always easy to live out these things that the author of Hebrews directs us towards.

This selection from Hebrews almost reads like those books you will find on the shelf at the library in the self-help section. The books that promise they can help you live your best life now. Books with the top ten ways to reach personal success. Seven steps for living at your fullest potential. It gives instructions, ways to live. But the difference here in Hebrews is that living life to the fullest has little to do with yourself. Living your best life is tied to the best lives of others. There is no self-talk here – no direction to develop a healthy self image. It doesn’t tell us to focus inwardly on our own lives, or to give direction to a selfish vision involving only yourself. To live as a community in Christ, a community of faith, is to be a family with open hands, hospitality, and care for all people. Living our best lives, our lives to the fullest, is connected to the quality of the lives of those around us.

Much of what the writer of Hebrews commends us to do is what I have witnessed within this community in the past year. I read this passage and can think of examples, of places where I have seen this faith lived out – places where your concern, your focus is outward, reaching to others than yourself was practiced and shared.

Remember those who are in prison, as though you are in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. We could add these statements – remember those who work eight hours a day for $2 as though they are your neighbor and you’re working alongside them. Or remember those who are in the midst of a natural disaster – a nightmare – as though you are there beside them. In my time with you, I’ve seen this congregation go to work and put your faith into action to meet our neighbors. You’ll remember that we collected items for health kits, shortly after the earthquake in Haiti. The donations kept coming and – in the whole process of it – we put together well over 400 kits with supplies to spare. 400 kits! Those toothbrushes, washcloths and other supplies that we had an abundance of, that were left over, were recently sent to Kenya to be shared with our neighbors there. A cousin of mine was embarking on a month-long trip to an International Village in Kenya and, together with his travel mates, they packed their suitcases with those extra supplies we had. We had hundreds of toothbrushes, plus many washcloths, bars of soap, and combs to give.

He sent these pictures to share with you – pictures of the women, the students at the secondary school, and the children in the orphanage who received these goods were happy and appreciative. Connor, my cousin, wrote in the description of the pictures that he had never before seen someone so excited about a bar of soap. You gave them a bar of soap. These women that you see work for eight hours a day, often with their children on their backs, and earn $2 for their labor. The children in the orphanage were excited to have their own toothbrushes – they have nothing more than the clothes on their back so to have their own toothbrush is awesome. You gave them a toothbrush. More than a toothbrush – more than a bar of soap. You gave them love, gave them hope, and, through action, showed them that they have worth, even when the rest of the world easily casts them aside. We remember those who struggle, who are in need, and who call upon their neighbors to help them in their despair.

We live abundantly and focus on what Hebrews tells us in regards to this – keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have. We had an abundance of health kit supplies to share. We all have an abundance of things – including money – when we think about our neighbors in the world. So often we connect our best life, the improvement of our life, to money. That’s what many of the self-help books claim – that these skills will lead you to be more successful. What does success often boil down to in our culture? You’ll earn more money. Our culture tells us that when we have more, things will be better.

Hebrews calls us to live our life free from the love of money. Money isn’t what should be loved or worshipped. Instead, let mutual love of each other continue. Give love to your fellow believers in the community. Love to strangers through hospitality. Welcoming people, being a congregation that welcomes the stranger is a vital way to demonstrate love. Sometimes it’s hard to envision what that looks like at Grace in Dawson. We’re not in a metropolitan area where new people are consistently in and out. I’ve learned that there aren’t many strangers in Dawson. People know pretty much everyone and, well, people are related to pretty much everyone. Just the other day, someone made a connection for me – did you know that so-and-so is so-and-so’s grandma? No. I had no clue! In a year here, I still haven’t figured out the many ways in which people are connected and families are intertwined. Though the immediate people around us may not be strangers in that sense of the word, we can use our connections to evangelize, to preach the Christian gospel, to live our lives with the same mind that was in Christ. Perhaps there are strangers to the gospel, strangers to the love of community that need an open hand, an inviting word. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, or people you know well, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Hebrews instructs us in the midst of this community of believers but not just here – outside the church doors we’re called to live in this way. I leave for another year of school in St.Paul, saddened to say goodbye but looking back with such gratitude. That’s my story this morning. When I walk out the doors, that’s where I’m heading. As that is mine, all of you have your own stories. I don’t know where you’re going after worship this morning or what is heavy on your mind. Changes in health. Transitions to a new school year. Worry about a family member. We come from different places with our own stories and we’ll leave this place of worship to continue on our own way. As we go, we remember that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Jesus is forever faithful to us – that never changes. Our stories change. We change jobs, family situations, locations but God’s faithfulness does not change. I make this comparison lightly – not wanting to compare God to Santa Clause on too serious a level – but think of how children ask, after they have moved houses, “will Santa know that I’ve moved? Will Santa find me in our new house?” After that change, our response is always – of course. In a similar way, we change. We sin. We make mistakes and stray from the life we’re called to lead. Will God still be faithful to me after I’ve done that? Does God still love me? Our response – yes. Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever. He continues to be faithful here and faithful in all of our lives as we leave this place and go out into the world. Jesus’ never-changing faithfulness sets us free – through him, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God. Because of God’s faithfulness, we’re given grace and we’re transformed. We’re empowered to be a community that loves and gives and thinks of our neighbors before ourselves.

Our reading this morning concludes with this verse – Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Last week, we read about the Sabbath and the meaning of worship. That on the Sabbath day we rest but we’re also freed. We are freed in worship. What the author of Hebrews gives us here is worship too – do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. That is worship. That is living your life as worship. When we care for others, when we feel ourselves freed to help our neighbors, when we preach the gospel to others – that life of worship is pleasing to God.

I leave you with the challenge to continue your lives as Hebrews calls us to live. To continue to mutually love. To show hospitality. To remember those who are in pain. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have. There are so many gifts in this congregation to share – share them! We are called to be good stewards of what God has given us – to share what God has given us. Continue to find ways in which to help your neighbor, to be a light to others, and to live your life as worship towards God. I have been blessed to be a part of your community for a short year. You have shown me love, hospitality, and welcomed me in so many ways. Together as a community, I felt us reach out to remember those in pain, to worship the unchanging God, to continually offer praise to God. My life in the past year has been linked to yours – we’ve grown together, cried together, and prayed together. I pray that as we all leave this space and go out to different places this morning, whether out for brunch, to work, or to St. Paul with a packed car, we remember that our best life is linked to the best lives of others. That we’re all connected. That Christ’s faithfulness does not change. And we’re called to love one another always and have our neighbor be forefront in our Christian lives of worship. Always let your mutual love continue. Amen.

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