Pastor Walther / Pentecost 15 / Hebrews 13:1-8 / The Reality of Christ
I’m sure you’ve had the conversation pointed at you: “Oh you're in the WELS? Isn't that the really strict synod?” We often shy away from that conversation with our tails between our legs, ashamed that we belong to such a “strict” synod. However, when I hear that question and statement, I’m actually proud of the WELS. Yes, we are still sinners and we make mistakes. Yet, we take God's Word as Gods Word, not some book that would find itself on the shelf next to Harry Potter or next to the self help books! I’m happy that we are a “strict” church because that means we are preaching God's Word! Rooted in God’s Word, we also understand reality. The reality is that we have to deal with the shame, the guilt, the tension, and the problems of being sinners.
The writer to the Hebrews and the people that he wrote to knew nothing different. Many of these people were a mixed bag of Jewish and Gentile backgrounds. After being instructed by Christian teachers about Jesus, these early Christians began to live for Jesus and outside people took notice. Unfortunately, people hated Christianity because they were different, different in what they believed in and how they lived. In fact, many Christians were imprisoned because of what they believed in. These early Christians felt alone, and because they felt alone, they began to reach for something familiar. They were going back to their old way of living before Christianity or they were going to the familiar ways of the world around them. The writer to the Hebrews recognized this loneliness and encouraged them with God’s Word.
When people close themselves off from the world, the natural next step is that they will feel alone. This section of Hebrews encourages us as Christians not to close ourselves off from other Christians, but if anything, to stay more connected, to encourage each other, and to build that unity. That is the amazing blessing of being part of a Church body; we have that support system with the people. Of course, it’s easy to turn away from the needs of our fellow Christians, which is why we need that reminder again from God's Word not to be so self centered but to help others that are feeling alone, whether they be our fellow Christians in prison, or whether they feel imprisoned at home, or even if they are in need of a mentor. God's Word gives to us that encouragement and the heart to care for people.
God's Word also reminds us of the blessings that this world tries to ruin, like marriage. Marriage is viewed as silly and unnecessary. More often than not, nowadays, people live together before getting married. They test their commitments to each other and if they pass the test, then they will get married. Foolishly, people don’t realize that you can’t test commitment. You either have it or you don’t. But with this mindset, if they do ever get married, so many marriages end in divorce. So their argument is: why commit if it’s only going to end in divorce and when you can sample the milk for free, as they say? These are the thoughts that get passed down to our children: that sex is more important than the person. Did you know that statistically half of all teenagers have had sex before high school graduation. There are studies that by the time kids are 8 years old, they are already seeing pornography. And do you know where they see it? The parents’ phone. We think that porn doesn’t hurt anyone. But, it always hurts those whom you are closest to, leaving people feel inadequate. God’s gift of marriage is a beautiful blessing, but it becomes something completely different when we don’t view it as a blessing and we fail to keep it that way, whether we be single or married.
God's Word also reminds us of the blessing of money that has been ruined by the world. It doesn’t matter if you have a mansion or a mini-home, the things we have or don’t have often become our pride. They become our god and our boast. And what would happen if God took ONE of those things away? We’d be lost. God’s gift of money is also a beautiful blessing, but we are reminded that we have something with much more value that is at stake, our eternity.
Yet, we can’t escape the reality of the world around us. We are by no means perfect. But, people often view Christians and Christianity as sort of a Leave it To Beaver fantasy, as if all the lawns are perfectly manicured with the white picket fences, with smiling husband coming home to smiling wife and smiling children. Do you honestly think that’s the audience the writer to the Hebrews is speaking to? Do you think that’s who we are? Maybe some of us have been blessed with the same job for 60 years, none of our family is in prison, we’ve never had a divorce. But the reality is that for most of us this is who we are.
We have family members in prison. Granted, the early Christians were imprisoned for their Christian beliefs. Regardless, we still have family in prison. It doesn’t mean that our sin isn’t worthy of incarceration. It’s just that their sin was viewed that way. Does that mean that God loves them less? Does that mean that we shouldn’t continue to keep them and their family in our prayers? Imagine the strain having a convicted felon in the family. Imagine the shame that the family has. Imagine the need for comfort from God's Word and from friends and family. But where are we? Often worried about ourselves and we fail in supporting each other.
The reality is that many of us haven’t kept the marriage bed pure. We aren’t always coming home to a bed with our spouse, but we come home to an empty bed caused by divorce. Sometimes we have come home to a bed that isn’t our spouse, but a girlfriend or boyfriend. Sometimes, our people have sexual urges that aren’t natural but what some people try to call natural. We become addicted to pornography and pass it off as the normal thing to do. People try to lighten the feel of adultery by calling it a fling or an office affair, but we fail to call it what it really is: sin.
The reality is that many of us are worried about money. We convince ourselves that we don’t love money and that we are content with where we are in life, but we worry about a lost job. Some of us literally wonder where our next meal may come from. Some of us may wonder if life even has a price tag and if it really is worth living for.
We hear the words of the writer to the Hebrews and we try to preach it to people, but see how we have failed to live by these words, and how we feel the guilt of our sin. We not only live in a world of broken relationships, but we are also the ones with the broken relationships. We not only live in a world fueled by sex, but we are very much the ones stuck in the trap. We don’t always show it, but we feel alone because our sin. We feel alone because of our guilt when we hear God’s law. We feel alone because we are Christians, and people don’t understand the spiritual battle that we struggle with on a daily basis. People don’t understand that we want to live a certain way to honor God. This is why we need God's Word. This is why we preach God's Word in its truth and purity. Because we are dealing with real people, affected by sin, in and around us.
It’s interesting that the writer to the Hebrews mentioned to remember your leaders, to consider their way of life and to imitate them. It’s not that the Christian generations that went before us were perfect. It’s not that our pastors and teachers are perfect. It’s not that the apostles or disciples were perfect. If I were to imitate the apostle Peter, would I cut everyone’s ear off in the name of the gospel? Would I attempt to walk on all bodies of water to prove that I’m a follower of Christ? No way! But we are to remember what they preached, the Word of God, not just the law that points out our sin, but the gospel. We desperately need to hear what Christ did for us, that He didn’t give to us the responsibility or the power to get to heaven on our own, because we would fail. What Christ did was simply to remove all your sin and any trace of guilt caused by that sin. God didn’t say, “Never will I leave you or forsake you, if you are a good person.” No, He says, Never will I leave you because Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. God is with us always, because he loves us!
We need to hear that reminder that we aren’t alone and that’s also why we need the support of each other. We need the encouragement from our Christian family to see Christ as the Forgiver and also the Motivator to flee from our sin. Continue to use the network of our Church to build each other up when we feel alone because of our sin. Use the tools that we have among us like friends or our pastors to talk about issues like marriage or money. The WELS website called Conquerors through Christ is also another amazing encouragement that speaks to the issue of pornography. Conquerors through Christ gives hope to those who feel alone because of their sin.
However, we will never be able to handle our problems on our own. We can’t change our heart for the better. We can’t change our heart to make God love us. But see how the Word of God changes our hearts. See how it changed all of the apostles and disciples’ hearts from self-centered people to Christ centered and servants of their fellow Christians. See how God's Word removes the curtains on the reality of this world as we see it’s selfishness and its shallow core. See how God’s Word gives us the things that we need most: comfort for our ailing hearts because of the effects of our sin, peace knowing that we are forgiven for even the worst of our sins, motivation to live for Christ, and the awesome reminder that God never second guesses his promise. Jesus isn’t looking at our mistakes questioning if dying on the cross for you was a huge mistake on his part. He would never do that because He is the same today as He was at the beginning of time. His love for you has never changed and it never will. The reality of Christ is that He and His love are with you always. Amen.