Sermon ~ Sunday ~ August 28th, 2016 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson
Hebrews 13: 8
Ever since the Age of Enlightenment with its scientific revolution had it impact on the field of Biblical studies readers and scholars alike have pondered over just what kind of “book” Hebrews should be considered.
One seminary professor joked that the funny thing about “The Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews” is, that is a perfect name for this piece of literature except, that it was not written by Paul, it was not written to the Hebrews, and it is not an epistle!
As early as the end of the first century there was no consensus as to the author with more than three persons considered authors of this “word of encouragement” which the anonymous author calls this piece. In the writing we call Acts this same term is used to describe what we now refer to as a sermon.
Whatever it is and whoever wrote it, Hebrews offers wisdom to those in the church who want to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ. The writing, among other things, has to do with living faithfully in the midst of the wider society as people who are obedient to the Messiah while not being all that impressed with how the world does business. In other words, we might title this writing “Adaptation: Can We Roll with the Punches?” Most of us would say that being able to adapt is a sign of not only a healthy person but also a healthy church.
I love the old story John Chandler would tell me about old Bert Hawser, who lived up there in Batchelder’s Grant, an unorganized township a little north of where I grew up. Seems he had the occasion to make a trip down to Boston. His kids wanted him to see Fenway Park before he expired. First time he’d ever been outside the shadow of Caribou Mountain.
He took the Pine Tree Bus line out of Fryeburg to Portland where he and Mildred and a couple of the younger children boarded the Downeaster train. In a little over 5 hours he found himself on the ground floor of the John Hancock Center down there on Trinity Plaza. Right there, inside the lobby, he stood transfixed with the elevator. He watched as this older, rather haggard, looking woman hobbled into the elevator. In a few minutes the doors opened and out smartly stepped a young attractive woman! To which Burt hollers out to his youngest son, “Efie! Quick, go get your mother!”
This little story told many ways would not be understandable or as humorous unless we recognize that someone who was not technologically advanced was part of the story. Yet all of us, to one extent or another, are victims of technology that seems to continually outrun us. In times gone by, people knew how to fix their own cars and use a telephone. Just this week, talking with the fellow who works on our vehicles, I was told that it is getting to the point where car manufactures are designing the technology so that one is just about forced to take it to a dealership for repairs especially if it involves some computer technology. Seem even independent mechanics are losing the race against technology! (Unfortunately it maybe an unfair track they are forced to compete on!)
In a very real sense we are stuck with change – for better and for worse. It is almost every human being’s destiny to either change or face the alternative of getting run over by everything and everyone in society. As an interesting quotation puts it: “Some people will change when they see the light. Others change only when they feel the heat.”
In our scripture today (at least in part of it), we are reminded of one truth that seems to never change. The writer of Hebrews puts it this way, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and forever.” (13:8) Hold on to that!
Who is the congregation to whom Hebrews is addressed? Thomas Long professor of preaching at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, speaks of the “tiredness” of the community addressed in Hebrews, tiredness that comes with the territory of living distinctive and faithful in the midst of wearying circumstances.
I see so much of us, and I see so much of myself, in this description that it is frightening. I am tired and I know many of you are tired. We think we know what we need to do as a church and as a people following in the manner of Jesus Christ, but we grow weary. We volunteer in the Food Pantry, hospice programs, hospital guild, library, fine art councils and music councils and drug councils and school councils and community government councils and church councils . . . and you get the picture!
And I think I know what it is that is making us tired. It is not that we do not believe anymore. We have faith in our church, in our community and in God. But we are weary of trying to keep up with all the change that keeps coming at us faster and faster. Every time we seem to have something down pat, then things change. We have to adjust and adapt to things we thought we had a firm grip on. We have to accommodate things that we thought were under control. We thought we had command of these things and then a new cell phone comes out or a new remote control enters the house! And we don’t have any children in the house to teach us how to use them!
Unfortunately, none of us has the luxury to fail to change or even to simply ignore it. Change is too powerful. A healthy church can adapt to the changes that take place in its surroundings. In our context the downward population trend of young families and retirees. We can see how this has impacted our church’s education programs! Our trend toward becoming more and more of a seasonal community and therefore a seasonal church! We have committees that either do not meet or struggle to meet in the months of January through April say nothing about the summer when so many are so busy. We have folks understandably that move away to be closer to family. And then there is the increasing population of religious “nones” and “dones” in our society as a whole.
We need to adapt the things that used to work and try new things that might work better. By the way, there are no guarantees, no sure fired “Three easy steps to improve the life of your church.” I’m sorry. It will be trial and error! Mistakes will be made and this will be okay. It will have to be.
We need to find new ways to connect with people with God and with one another.
Our pursuit to adapt never ends. We have to constantly change the ways in which we share the message of the gospel. It is part of what it means to be a disciple. At the same time we have an eternal message: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
A healthy congregation as a living organism must also adapt to its circumstances in order to retain its significance. All the sympathy in the world little benefits the body of Christ without the ability to adapt and change.
While the truth of gospel never changes, our world radically changes and with increasing speed. This fact requires a healthy congregation to adapt to new methods and models for ministry. The challenges posed by contemporary culture will never slow down nor will they wait for the church the “catch up!”
How will this congregation adapt? Which is a less obtrusive way of saying how will you/we adapt? This is not something we can put off on the next generation.
Leo Tolstoy once said, “Everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself.”
So my challenge for us this morning is this:
When you leave worship today, ask yourself or pray,
“Jesus, with your help, how can I change the world for the better and for the sake of the gospel?
And most importantly, “Jesus, where will this all start with me?”