Hebrews 10:23 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching. NIV
So why would the writer of Hebrews make a point to tell us to keep meeting together? It sounds like some people are tired of meeting together and are giving up on it. I can totally understand that, relationship and community can be tough can’t it? It also sounds like community is a really big deal and we are seeing here in scripture that we are being encouraged not to give up on it…well that is where we are headed today as we continue this How to wreck your heart series. Do you want to wreck your heart? Do the opposite of what we read here. When community gets messy abandon it and go at life on your own.
You know the last couple of weeks have been really tough for me in a lot of ways. One of my closer friends growing up passed away and there is just nothing good to say about it. It was really tough to get the news and try and process a man dying young with a young wife and beautiful little girl. What was amazing about my friend was he was an incredible musician. He had such soul and such depth and he touched so many people. It was amazing to hear so many people speak of the deep connection they had with him. His funeral was coming and it was just kind of looming out there. I was going to see people, some of whom I hadn’t seen in 20 years, and well let’s just say I was making some different choices back then. But as difficult as it was to say good bye to my old buddy…was as amazed as I was at the people. I saw so much love and just couldn’t get over the deep caring everyone had for one another. And frankly, I was amazed at just how many people showed up to pay their respects. You know what I saw true community in action there. It was humbling to see this community of people coming together and rallying around this moment. I walked away from that just in awe of that. People lined up for blocks just to hug his wife and child. As I processed this all over the next few days I just kept coming back to the friendships, relationships, and community that rallied around Chris’ death. It was awesome to see and sadly it just seems so foreign to me. It’s so rare in the circles that I run in to see such a genuine outpouring of love in community. I saw no one worried about where they should be in line. No one cared who sat in what seat, or who knew Chris the most. There was no rankings and titles…and I have to say, I am not used to this. It touched my heart to see the support and love for this young family left without a father…and also made me realize that most of this community would never step foot in a church…but they seem to have something down that most in a church don’t have…and frankly that hurts me. Most of them have been hurt by religion somewhere along the line and don’t want to engage into church at all; and what breaks my heart is that in many ways I totally understand their stance. As I watched this seen unfold all day during the longest funeral service I have ever been at because of all the people…something in my heart said “This is what the Church community should look like.” I felt this incredible burden for the church. This is what the church community should be…yet inside churches we often see community gone bad. Posturing, ranking, bickering, and judging often hits the church community and we see tons of broken hearts and broken relationships…and there I stood watching these people rally around this beautiful family. No one cared about what was in it for them, no one was worried about any of that nonsense. It was pure. It was real and it wasn’t what I thought I would was going to be walking into on that day…and it certainly isn’t what I’m used to seeing in the circles that I run in today.
So why is it that the church community just can’t seem to get along? Why do we make this so hard? Maybe it’s because Christianity is so complex? But while I have heard people talk about how challenging this Christian life can be, I have a hard time with that…because Jesus made it pretty simple. I mean Jesus never seemed to make things very difficult did He? I mean he really broke down Christianity to just two simple things right?
Matthew 22:37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” NIV
Jesus says here’s all you need to do…love God and love people. While that sounds great, people don’t always make this easy on us do they? People can be rough, they can get under our skin, and they can hurt us at times can’t they? Then once we start adding the church world to it, things can really get to crazy. I mean if you think about it, Jesus was always being confronted and was fighting with specific people wasn’t he? Do you remember who they were? Even here in Matthew 22 when he is explaining the simplicity of being a Christian he is responding to the Pharisees…who are trying to catch him doing something wrong! So who were the Pharisees and Sadducees and teachers of the law? They were the church people of the time. Men who were paid to know the rules of church better than the rest of us. They were even paid to identify Jesus when he came to this Earth and they completely missed him…and constantly fight and bicker with him, eventually they will kill him. So we have looked at the first thing that I thought may be destroying community in church setting and that is that maybe Christianity is just so complex that we struggle to get together and unify as a people. Well Jesus messed that theory up because he told us that really what we need to do is love God and love people…that doesn’t sound all that difficult does it? So there must be something else going on. There is a story that I think may help us here today, it’s been in my mind a lot lately and I want to share it with you today, because in this story we see what community should be. We also see community gone bad. In this story we also see what really matters to Jesus.
Mark 2:1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . .” He said to the paralytic, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” NIV
This is a really cool story with a lot going on in it…and I think it may help us start to make some sense of some things here in this area of community because in this story we see true community…
First thing we see is that Jesus is preaching and people are pushing to get into the service. This looks like a church service does it not? Well maybe not the people clamoring to get in part especially during the NFL Football season but I digress. So this place is packed with people. Now here’s what is really interesting there are four men carrying a friend that needs the healing power of Jesus. He is paralyzed. He can’t walk. But they can’t get to Jesus and why is that? Because all the good religious folk have crammed themselves into the building, and there is no way for people who truly need Jesus to get to them. Look at verse 6 again…we are in a standing room only situation, people are shoulder to shoulder just jammed into this room flowing out the door, and who’s sitting comfortably in the front row? Some teachers of the law. They have the best seats in the house just chilling in the front row…because hey, they are a little more holy than everyone else right? I bet this type of thing just broke Jesus’ heart for them. They have pushed out all those who deeply need Jesus outside the building and they can’t even think that there are some who need him who can’t get to him because of them! This is so wrong. If the church was showing God’s love would these 4 friends really be climbing on and tearing a roof apart to get to Christ? NO, if the community of God understood what mattered these men would have been given the best seats in the house.
We also see what community should be in these four men who love their friend and are willing to do whatever it takes to connect him with Jesus. This is what the church community SHOULD look like. They didn’t need a seat in the house…and they were going to do whatever they could to connect their friend in need to Jesus and let’s look again at what is so deliberately written here in our scriptures…
5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Jesus looked at THEIR faith…and forgave this man of his sins. Can you see it? Jesus values these men’s love and service and ability to believe in Him…enough so that they would do anything to help their friend find healing. This is such an amazing story. Even more important to me was that these men were willing to overlook the negativity and the snobbery of the “church” and kept moving forward looking for a way to get their friend to Christ. These four men are what the church community needs to look like.
You know I was thinking a lot about this story, and about community and church and how weird things can get…and I kept thinking for many of us we know what it feels like to be the person on the mat. Who needs help and is somehow redeemed by God through the help and love of another person. Often times when you experience this type of redemption and friendship you just want to go out and do this for others…it is contagious and it is beautiful and often leads to many others coming to know Christ because of the inspiring love and saving grace that we feel. But you know what I couldn’t escape in this story today. It’s the four men who made this happen. It’s the four men who wouldn’t say no. It’s the four men who were pushed away from the door…who couldn’t get close to Jesus. It’s how they responded that really is hitting my heart today. I don’t know about you but I know how it feels to be hurt and to feel like less when it comes to being around good religious church folk. I have felt weighed and measured and like I was less than the people sitting comfortably in the church building and I have to wonder how I would have responded to this moment. I don’t know that I would have continued on, engaging and serving and loving this man that needed help. I may have just left…upset, bitter and feeling like the church had let me down. But these men were so focused on getting there friend to Jesus that they would not be stopped…well now we see something we need to stop and look at.
Let’s go back to my buddy’s funeral. Was that a room full of perfect people? No, there is no such thing as a perfect person right? We know that we have all sinned. So how was it that this room full of people who hadn’t been together like this in decades was able to come together in such unity? How was so much negativity able to be overlooked so we could all just love each other? Well they were there for a common goal and they had something to rally around…it was Chris’ death, and a little girl and young widow that needed help. So you may say well, duh Sam everyone could have community and unity and love like this when you are rallying around something so special.
Well as the church we get to rally around the greatest cause, the greatest gift there ever could be and that is Jesus and the gift of salvation that we have been given and now we get to help others experience this! This is the greatest most amazing thing there is to rally around…the mission of Christ!
2 Timothy 1:9 (God)who has saved us and called us to a holy life-not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. NIV
There is no greater mission and there is no greater rallying cry than this…it’s Jesus, a blood stained cross, and an empty tomb! This should be the rallying cry that allows us to push past our differences, to get past our own selfish desires because you have experienced the love and grace of God! You have experienced salvation! You have been on your mat, and Jesus has entered your life and you now can walk out of the room with your mat in hand and you have the honor to do the same for others! So we have the greatest thing possible to rally around and to focus on but so many of us seem to stay outside of community. I know for me personally I haven’t experienced a ton of healthy community inside of a church setting. That sure hasn’t gotten easier as my career has changed from General Superintendent of Lobar Inc.’s Electrical Department to Pastor at Mountain Ridge Church. For me I often feel like one of those people outside of the building wishing that I could get inside the building…how about you?
So how is it possible that with Jesus and the gift of eternal life to center around we can’t seem to get out of our own way? It’s not because Christianity is complicated Jesus told us it’s not. We should just love God and love others. And it’s not because we don’t have something amazing to focus on and rally around because we have the greatest cause their ever could be and that is the gift of grace and salvation through Jesus! So what is the deal?
Well I can tell you it’s because you have an enemy. He is going to do whatever he can to keep us focused on our own flesh, and to do things on our own. He destroys so many hearts by having them experience rejection and judgment and hurt inside a church setting. He wants you alone. Do you see it? It terrifies him to think that a church community could ever come together…and the closer you get, the harder it may be. All through scripture we are reminded of how important relationships can be in our lives…
Proverbs 27:17 As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. NIV
I love that verse. We learn time and time again that through scripture that we are designed for community, that it’s in true relationships (not through Instagram followers and Facebook friends) that we are far better than we would ever be apart. Solomon reiterates that thought towards the end of his life in Ecclesiastes…
Ecclesiastes 4:9 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: 10 If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! 11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? 12 Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. NIV
So here’s the deal, we were created to be in community…and I could go from scripture to scripture and show you how you were designed for community and that you are better together than you could ever be apart but I want to stop right now and show you how to wreck your heart today because this sermon is winding down and I haven’t gone there yet.
Do you want to wreck your heart? Never engage community, and when it gets hard, or life gets messy, or people hurt you never go back to community. Engage life completely on your own and you will be devoured by life.
You have an enemy who knows that when a community comes together and rallies together it can become an unstoppable force for Jesus…so do you think it’s ironic that we struggle to find unity inside a church setting? No! It is opposed! Your enemy wants you alone! Check out how Peter describes him…
1 Peter 5:8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. NIV
You have an enemy and Peter would say he is like a lion looking for someone to devour…well where do animals find safety from a hunting lion? They find safety in their herd. They gain strength in community in the numbers of who they are and how they stand together. The lion is trying to separate and grab the weak ones who stray from the flock. It’s no different for us in the spiritual battle that is waging all around us. You enemy wants you focused on everything and anything but Jesus. He wants you walking into your relationships with selfish desires. He wants you walking in here every Sunday focused on yourselves and at some point you will be hurt, or let down by someone here. Do you know why? It’s because we are people and we make mistakes. It’s in those moments that you have a choice to make…will you walk away? Will you take your ball and go home? Will you throw your hands in the air and say I’m never doing that again. If you want to wreck your heart you will go it alone.
You know this will never be a perfect place. Just because this is a church and it’s filled with people who love Jesus it doesn’t mean that there still won’t be issues, and hurts, and mistakes made. I mean we are just people and there is a world outside of this building that needs to know the amazing good news that Jesus loves them and has saved them just as He has saved us! So we have some choices to make. We can do the easy thing…which would be to quit on the church community and pack up, dig a moat around our home and never engage community again. Which leaves you wide open to the attacks of the enemy. Or we can engage something so much greater than any of our own selfish desires or we can engage a mission that is far greater than any of our wants and needs…and we can do it inside this beautiful mess we call a church family. We can engage the mission of Christ!
When we look at this beautiful story of Jesus healing the paralytic I feel like we can see what the church should and shouldn’t be. I think for many people they would look at the people in the building listening to what I’m sure was an incredible sermon and they would say that is “church.” Well, it is part of it but I have to wonder how many of these people were pushing to Jesus for themselves while ignoring those who truly needed Jesus all around them. They were so focused on hearing the next great message from Jesus that they literally were blocking people who really needed him. What I find beautiful is these four men who were not going to take no for an answer in connecting their friend to Christ. They weren’t bitter and hurt because people were in there way. They didn’t just look at all the selfishness around them and say you know what this is what church is I want NO part of it. They over looked all the negativity and were not going to take no for an answer and I believe as the pieces of that thatch roof fell all over Jesus and those snotty Church leaders of the day…Jesus couldn’t help but laugh with joy that someone finally got it. I’m sure the religious leaders weren’t happy getting dirty…but I believe Jesus loved it. Those four men show us what community and what it should be. Were they perfect? No, and I am sure of that because they are people…but I know they understood and were focused on Jesus fully…and I know how much Jesus loved it because he looked at their faith and forgave this man in need of his sins.
You know community and relationships are difficult. They can be messy and inside the church walls it can get really messy really quickly. This is who we need to be as community, looking past our own selfish desires with a passion to help others experience what we have experienced and that is the saving grace of Jesus.
So what did we learn today? Today we learned that Christianity isn’t hard, it’s all about loving God and loving others. We learned that community is essential and it will be opposed. We learned that at no point will community be easy or perfect, but we learned that we are better for it.
So really the choice is up to you. When things get messy and life with others gets challenging who will you be able to stay on mission like these four amazing believers of Jesus? Will you be able to ignore the negativity and the hurts to do something greater? Or will you play the victim, and just turn around and say, I’ll never do that again! You are better together than you could ever be on your own…but the reality is you will have choices to make to stay in the safety of this beautiful mess we call the church community, or to go it alone. Frankly, going it alone in this world leaves you totally exposed to your enemy.
I challenge you today to engage the God mission, and stay focused on the simplicity of the Jesus mission…we are to love God and love others. As a church let’s not get so caught up in what we need that we lose sight of the people in need, the people who need to experience the healing power of Jesus just like we did. You want to wreck your heart go it alone, maybe it is easier than dealing this all the mess that is relationship with people…but it is a sure fire way to wreck your heart and why the writer of Hebrews warns us not to give up on each other!
Hebrews 10:24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching. NIV