(A sermon based on Hebrews 10:19-25 preached at the First Baptist Church of Fitzgerald, Georgia on Sunday, November 6, 2011)
Encouragement is one of the most important gifts that we can offer each other in our homes. Indeed, home should be a place where we build one another up and where we offer strength to each other. After all, the world is tough and out there we can get beaten up and beaten down a lot and we need for home to be a place where we are accepted and loved and encouraged. How do we encourage each other in our homes? We encourage each other by our presence—by being there for each other, by our example—by living in ways that others can follow, by attitude—by being positive and supportive, and by words—by speaking in ways that build up and lift up.
The condition that must exist if we are to encourage each other in our homes, though, is that we be there. Absentees can’t encourage! Moreover, in being there we must be invested; we must give ourselves over to the dynamics of being a family.
So I am glad that you are here at home—we are a family, you know!—to worship this morning and, since you are here, I want to talk with you about why it is so important that you are here and why it is so important that you keep on being here Sunday after Sunday. I want to talk about why it is so important that we invest ourselves in the life of our family of faith and in the lives of each other.
There are lots of reasons that we come to worship, of course, and we should never forget what the main reason is: we come to worship to praise God for who God is and what God does and especially for the fact that God is our Savior who saves us through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Let us remember also that when we come together—whether we come together to worship through praise, to worship through fellowship, or to worship through service—we come together as the family of faith and it is so important that it is together—and not alone—that we come. It is as John Wesley said, “Christianity is a social religion. To turn it into a solitary affair is to kill it” [Will Willimon, retrieved from http://www.northalabamaumc.org/bishop_column_recent.asp on November 1, 2011].
In coming together as the family of faith we affirm the truth that we need God but we also affirm the truth that we need each other. And in acknowledging that we need each other we are on our way to encouraging each other.
On the one hand, it is surprising that we Christians need to be reminded of the importance of coming together for worship. On the other hand, our Bibles bear witness to the fact that Christians have always needed such reminders. So in the book of Hebrews we see the writer telling first century Christians that he did not want them “neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some”—just a few decades after Jesus lived, died, and rose again, church folks were already in the habit of not participating in worship!
It is important to remember that worship is a way of life; Paul in Romans reminds us that we are to “present (our) bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is (our) spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). We are in God’s presence all the time and we are Christ’s followers all the time and we are indwelled by the Holy Spirit all the time and we are doing the work of the people of God all the time. So we are all in this together in all things and at all times.
Why do some Christians neglect to meet together? In the case of those first century Christians, there could have been several reasons. First, some may have felt spiritually superior to others and thus felt like they just didn’t need to be with everyone else; they had outgrown the group, they thought. Second, some may have feared being publically identified as Christians with the risks of persecution such identification could bring. Third, some may have maintained their allegiance to their former life in Judaism and may have fallen back into their old worship and fellowship patterns; they were attending both synagogue and church and it became easier just to attend synagogue.
Why do some of our church family members neglect to meet together? Oh, some of them have reasons like they don’t like the preaching or they don’t like the singing or they don’t like the temperature in the sanctuary or they don’t like this or that; we all have things that we don’t like. Some did not invest themselves properly in the life of the church, perhaps through their own neglect or perhaps through the failure of others to invite them in. Some have not given their following of Christ the priority in their lives that is appropriate or have failed to understand that they do not do their following alone and that they thus need to be with other Christians. Some have been discouraged by hypocrisy, whether their own or someone else’s.
Some have decided that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. Our former pastor Gene Wilder recently wrote a newsletter column in which he talked about “Greener Grass Syndrome.” Pat and he decided to take an autumn vacation to see the leaves in New England. After noting that the scenery there was pretty but not spectacular, Gene wrote,
Ironically, “spectacular” is the word I most often use to describe the fall landscape of East Tennessee. The beauty I see from my own back porch is without comparison. No New England hill rivals the beauty of the Smoky’s foothills. No New England color is more vibrant that the colors that wash across the landscape that surrounds our church, and no grass is greener than the grass outside my own back door.
It’s easy to get caught up in the Greener Grass Syndrome, isn’t it? Instead of fully appreciating the blessings we have we convince ourselves that the greatest blessings lie in other pastures. We look at our job, our family, our income, even our church and long for something we don’t have. We long for something on the other side; but the other side rarely lives up to our grandiose expectations. More often than not, greener grass is just an illusion, a mirage born of discontent, a fantasy woven with the threads of an unappreciative spirit.
Sadly, those who become fixated on the other side don’t get greener grass. They just become blind to the beauty outside their own back door. [Gene Wilder, “Wilder’s Words,” The Messenger (Newsletter of the First Baptist Church of Jefferson City, Tennessee), October 25, 2011]
Those with ears to hear, let them hear!
And, if you truly believe that the grass is greener elsewhere and you must try out that pasture, please know that we bless you on your journey even as we commit to celebrating the green grass that is right here. I know--we have our stuff. But it is our stuff and we will work with it and through it. After all, as Erma Bombeck once said, "The grass is always greener over the septic tank."
Let’s not find excuses not to meet together; instead, let’s come together as a church family to encourage one another and to lift one another up. What are some ways we can do that?
For one thing, we can be here with each other in our worship services. Never forget that the main reason we gather on Sunday mornings is to praise God. Think for a minute, though, about how encouraging we are to each other when we are here together. Think about how your smile or kind word might mean the world to someone on a particular Sunday morning. Think about how much encouragement and energy we give each other when our pews are full. Think about how much our singing together means to each other; just the other day someone told me how they were encouraged by another member’s singing—something that person probably doesn’t even realize. We encourage each other by being here. And, while being here every time the doors are opened is not a measure of the quality of our faith, I must mention how we can encourage each other by our presence on Sunday and Wednesday nights and at our special services of worship, too.
For another thing, we can make an effort to get to know each other. The writer of Hebrews said we should “consider how to provoke one another in love”; we inspire love in each other by getting to know each other and by sharing our lives with each other. Let me make some radical suggestions. First, come to Wednesday night supper and when you come, sit at a different table and talk with different people from time to time. Second, sit in a different section and in a different pew with different people every once in a while. Third, have some folks to your home for dinner or dessert but when you do, invite some close friends and some church members that are not part of your “group.”
For yet another thing, we can join together in ministry and mission efforts. The author of Hebrews also said that we should “consider how to provoke one another to…good deeds.” The church offers all kinds of opportunities for us to come together in doing good deeds. For example, when we have a PACK (Planned Acts of Christian Kindness) Day, call a friend and say, “Let’s go do that together!” Let’s inspire and encourage each other in positive ways to do the good work of ministry together.
We have the blessed opportunity, given to us by the saving actions of our Lord Jesus Christ, to be a family of faith that approaches God together, that affirms our faith together, and that serves God by serving people together. Let’s let our church home be a fellowship of encouragement. Let’s come home so we can encourage one another with the grace and love of the Lord!