Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
Free to Drive
Summer B, Separate summer sermons, mostly from Lectionary, preached August 28, 2022, at the 930am worship
This summer Caitlan and I have stayed with the lectionary readings, and today is no different.
We will pray, then hear some advice, warnings, and wisdom from…
Scripture Hebrews 13:1-16
13:1 Let mutual affection continue (among you).
2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that, some have entertained angels without knowing it.
3 Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them, (remember) those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were in their bodies.[a]
4 Let marriages be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled, for God will judge those who misuse sex, or who cheat.
5 Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for God himself has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” 6 So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not worry. What could anyone do to me?”
7 Consider your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; observe the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 (so) Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. For (example) it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by regulations about food,[b] which have not benefited anyone who observes them.
(10 We have an altar from which those who officiate in the tent[c] have no right to eat, 11 for the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. 13 Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear abuse like he endured.)
14 See, here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is coming. 15 Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.
16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
This is the word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God)
I remember how I felt when I was finally 16, finally had my driver's license, finally got permission from mom, and would finally be driving to school by myself for the first time. It wasn’t that far. For three and half years, I had ridden my bike to school. But finally, I was free. I would be driving.
Mom’s list of worries and warnings and reminders in order to get that permission was ridiculous. When she finally said yes, I wasn’t excited. I was exhausted. I felt like she didn’t trust me. I felt like she was saying I was stupid or careless. The whole point of driving myself was to feel free and grown up, but I felt lectured and scolded like a little kid.
Fast forward 20-something years, and I remember letting our boys loose in cars. I gave them warnings, only some of what came to mind. I felt like I was showing respect for them and self-restraint, but I bet they remember it differently. “I know Dad… I got this Dad.” I did love them and trust them, but I know how inexperienced they are and how rough and unpredictable the world can be. I wanted them to be excited, to feel free, and to enjoy, but also be very aware and careful, so they wouldn’t be harmed or do harm, and make it home safe.
When I read a list like this in Scripture, I find myself in between those places. The author of Hebrews is preaching to the church, worrying, advising, reminding us, the congregation with a long list of what to do and not do, how to work and play and live beside one another, in church, and in our lives.
I wonder how it felt to them, back then? Did they hear Paul’s concern and love for them, or did they feel scolded? “Good grief. We aren’t that bad.” Did they sense Paul’s wisdom, or did it feel patronizing? “Geesh, does he think we are children? We know right from wrong.” Did they understand the importance of Paul’s advice for their wholeness and peace, or did they feel scolded. “This isn’t what we needed to hear. He’s just making us feel guilty. He needs to be more positive.”
This letter wasn’t written directly to us, but when we come to church, we read old letters, and we pause a minute and try to trust and believe the worries and warnings and advice of those who came before us still carry truth into our lives today. So let’s read the list again, and imagine with me this list of worries, advice, and warnings being preached right at us.
1 Be kind to one another. How does that feel, to be reminded to be kind?
2 Give extra-special attention to strangers. How does that feel? How are we as a congregation when it comes to old friends versus new ones?
3 Remember those who aren’t free, or who suffer, as if you are in their shoes or in their bodies. How does that feel? When we come to church and talk about those in our world who are not fully free, and who suffer, how does that feel to you? Does that feel too political for church?
4 Honor your marriages and let God judge other peoples’ relationships. How does that feel to have church talk about the health of your relationship, but to suggest you not judge or condemn others for theirs?
5 Don’t make decisions for money or for what money can buy. How does it feel to you for the church to advise us how to use money?
7 Follow leaders who talk the talk and walk the walk. Think about faith leaders the world really admires in hindsight. How does it feel to be called to follow in their footsteps, to take up their causes and bear the abuse they endured working for the city that isn’t here yet but is coming?
8 Don’t get distracted by strange rules to earn God’s love or forgiveness. 12 Jesus suffered so we would know God loves and forgives us. How does it feel to hear Christ’s faith, Christ’s faithfulness makes all the difference in our lives, and our faith in words and deeds is doesn’t earn anything, it just says thank you.
13 So go suffer so others might know God loves and forgives them as well. 14 This world is broken. Imagine one that isn’t, and sacrifice your time praising God, doing good, sharing what you have, and feeling God smile. How does it feel to hear church is the place we love one another, we honestly look on those who are suffering, and we go suffer right beside them until Kingdom comes.
Now, if we come here looking for God’s love and forgiveness, yes, that is here. That is always here. The God we know in Jesus the Christ suffered in order to sanctify the people by his own sacrifice. For those of us who know, or believe, or hope this is true, here, we say it over and over again. We tell one another, “what was is washed away and new life begins. In Jesus Christ, we ARE forgiven,” and not because of what we have done but because of what God did in him, not because of our faith or beliefs, but because of His faithfulness to the very end on our behalf. That truth is always true here.
But if we only come here looking for reassurance, we aren’t heeding the wisdom and warnings of scripture. When we come to church, we read old honest letters to churches with issues. It isn’t church if we only read uplifting poems and told funny stories. We come to church to join ourselves to one another and to God in worship, and pray prayers together, sing songs together, and hear a message together. It isn’t church if we stay away, aren’t together, if we do our own thing, participate and support what we like and agree with, but complain about or discard the rest. We come to church, then we go outside into the community to help build the kingdom of God, the beloved community that isn’t fully here yet, but is coming. It isn’t church if we care about rules and traditions inside but not kingdom outside. We come to church to remember and talk about those who are not free, who are suffering and hurting. It isn’t church if we come to get what we want, and not consider what they need.
So I wonder, how does it feel? Do you feel like scolded children? Remember, you have a driver's license and keys to the car. You are empowered and permitted, encouraged even to drive. So go, enjoy, be free, AND be very aware of everyone around you. Be careful, be kind, and come home soon, and bring a friend.
To God be all glory and honor, now and forever more, amen.
Now, blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow be with you, this day, this night this moment and forever more. Amen.