October 24, 2021   Hebrews 10:19-25 Matthew 3:18-27


          Dr. David Geier, leadership and burnout speaker, shares lessons from the world’s best athletes and coaches. In his article, “Ingredients That Make the Best Teams Successful”, he asks the question: “What is it about the great teams that take them to the top? Is it the leader? Could having the best leader, manager, or coach be the key, regardless of who is on the team? Is it having the most talented people? Is a star athlete or executive the main ingredient to team success? Or are there other factors, or a collection of factors, that help some teams reach unbelievable heights while other groups never get off the ground?

He concludes that there are a few traits that successful teams share:

          Successful teams have leaders who are open about what is expected of each person. The best teams have leaders who help each person grow.

It may initially seem as if the success of a team depends on its leader. However, reading the entire article you see that there is a golden thread.

Listen to these:

Every team member has a role on great teams.

Great teams work together to raise the overall performance of the team.

Winning teams work together for common goals.

It is all about teamwork! The importance of teamwork has been confirmed by research of multiple institutions.

          This truth is present throughout the book of Hebrews. It is in fact very simple, albeit it extremely important: The place of people of faith is in the communion of saints. In other words, faith, at least Christian faith, is not something that I do on my own. Christian faith is not just about me and my personal relationship with God! Faith, Christian faith, belongs in the congregation. One could say, it is about teamwork!

          Yes, the heart of Christian faith is the congregation. One could even go as far as to say that the one who believes is not the individual, but the collective church. Here at church we confess our faith in God, here we offer our prayer and praises. In the congregation we find support and inspiration to live faithful lives. This is where our faith is kindled. It is here where we journey together as a collective body of believers. This is where we work as a team to serve faithfully, to love deeply, to trust fully, and to care compassionately.

          You see the overall image in the book of Hebrews is one of a worship service. And the book is in fact a sermon. Jesus, our High Priest is at the right of God and He intercedes for us. God’s worshiping people is journeying together in the wilderness, on our way to what God is promising; to God’s future. And on this journey, we support each other, we encourage each other, we provoke each other, and we strengthen each other – one great procession on our way to the city of God, the new Jerusalem!

          There are many references in the book that we could highlight to illustrate the importance of journeying and working  together as a team. Let me focus on Hebrews 10:22-25.

          The author points out that Jesus, our High Priest has prepared for us a way to God. We have now free access to God.  Then he mentions four things that the congregation should do. And three of these are faith, hope, and love!

  1. Let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

The author calls on the congregation to approach God with a true heart and full assurance of faith. He then reminds them of their baptism. Christ has cleansed us and washed us – therefore we can approach God in full assurance. One commentator points out that “full assurance with sincerity but without faith is not Christianity, while full assurance of faith without sincerity is merely emotional self-indulgence”. Is it possible that we don ‘t remind ourselves often enough about our baptism? The message of baptism is that God takes the initiative in our salvation. And therefore, we can approach God with faith knowing that we indeed have free access.

  • Let us hold fast to the confession of our hopewithout wavering, for he has promised is faithful”.

The confession of our hope simply refers to the content of our faith, what we confess on Sunday as a congregation, that what we collectively believe, that what we hope without wavering. How much time to we spend on thinking about the content of our faith? How precious is our confession? Do we find it hard to talk about our faith? Do we think that it is the job of the ministers to think about and talk about our faith, to study what our confessions mean? Let me remind you that in our tradition we don’t have “laypeople”. We are all equal, we all have the responsibility to know what we confess, we are all part of the church, and we all have to understand, believe, and we all have to engage in ministry! Now, this is not always the case. Not all are always involved, thinking about and studying the articles of our faith, or engaged in ministry. The author of Hebrews does not make any secret when he says: “let us (all of us) hold fast to the confession of hope……”

  • Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds….”

This is clear, is it not? There is almost no need to add commentary to this truth. Provoke one another to love and good deeds. This implies that we take responsibility for one another – for what we do and what we don’t do. Instead of turning a blind eye on the problems or suffering of others, we have a collective responsibility to be involved. You see, in a society that values individualism, it is easy to say: “It is your problem. Deal with it! Pull yourself up!” In the congregation, in the Christian faith it is, or should not be the case. We are indeed our brother and sister’s keeper. We are responsible for each other. We have to encourage and provoke each other to respond to our faith by doing good deeds, by taking care of each other. Last Wednesday I had an interesting conversation with a member of our church about the benefits of being part of this church family. What came up time and again was that, at CCRC, you are never alone, you always have unconditional support, you always have someone who is journeying with you! This is how it should be! This is the only way all of us will be able to persevere in a cold and harsh world – for we have each other.

  • Let us not neglect to meet together but encouraging one another ..”.

Sometimes people will say that going to church is a habit. They say this as if it is not a good thing to be in the habit of going to church. It is right and good when people have the habit of attending worship services, when families come to church. Our concern is that after 20 months or so of a pandemic people may break this habit, or they have adopted another habit – a habit of not coming to church. The author is saying that in his congregation, back then, some people adopted the habit of neglecting to meet together. And he says, that this is not good, as a matter of fact the author is saying it is dangerous and bad. Back then these gatherings were more than just a worship gathering on a Sunday morning. According to the book of Acts they gathered every day, breaking bread and praying.

          However, the point is still that the purpose of these gatherings was to glorify God and to mutually encouraging one another. Worship that is sparsely attended, or not attended at all, can chill the heart of the believer. By contrast, regular attendance confirms and strengthens everyone on their journey.

          Mutual encouragement, recommended here, is mentioned against the backdrop of the approaching Day. You will recall that the author has already pointed out that the journey of faith can be challenging, and some may, after a while feel they want to give up and give in. He is now saying, don’t for the finish-line is in sight, the day is coming, not long to go!  Hang in there!

So, the author sees our faith as belonging in the church. The congregation is the place where Christian faith is confessed and lived. It is here where we are strengthened and encouraged. This is where we collectively worship God.

          This of course does not mean that the church, or this congregation is perfect. I have never been part of a more faithful, generous, encouraging and supporting congregation than this one. But we can still do better, and we are not perfect. We too are on a journey through the desert, we are also a wandering people, who have not arrived at God’s city. We too have our temptations and distractions. We too at times are tired, and we too sometime are straying, losing our vision and enthusiasm. We too sometimes feel we are losing hope, and we too pick up bad habits. We too sometimes forget to take care of others or we don’t always encourage others as we should.

          However, the church is all we have. The Church is the only place where we begin our faith journey, where we start to hope, and where we find our faith. The church, this congregation too, is flawed. Your ministers are imperfect, we all fail at times, but this is what we have! And therefore, we have to encourage and be willing to be encouraged, love one another and be open to receive love, we have to be willing to provoke and to be provoked.

The book of Hebrews wants to inspire, encourage and warn. It warns the congregation about temptations that are real. And the way it does these things is to remind us of Jesus Christ, the content of our confession, it reminds us of our responsibilities toward one another, it points out that we have brothers and sisters, a cloud of witnesses, it reminds that those who came before us went through similar challenges. They were people just like us, wrestling with the same kind of doubts, uncertainties and fears. The author urges us to keep our eyes on Jesus and on each other. The only way we will make it to the end of our faith journey is when we keep our eyes on Jesus and on each other. Teamwork will get us to the finishing line!  

One of the verses of a spiritual hymn, “When the Saints Go Marching In”, reads “Oh, when the saints go marching in Oh Lord I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in

          Faith is to hear these words, every step of the way, while we persevere, while we encourage others, and while we are encouraged, while we keep our eyes on Jesus and on each other, “O Lord I want to be in that number.” Amen.