Readings from the Scriptures Hebrews 10:11-25 NRSV
And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,” he also adds, “I will remember[b] their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 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. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Try a Little Kindness
About 20 months ago, give or take a week, I believed that the very next time I would be standing in front of this lectern, looking out at all of you, I would have just run upstairs from the downstairs kitchen, still wearing my apron, ovens on, the smell of lunch starting to waft through the halls, ready to announce:
… today for your dining pleasure, we have a scrumptious Irish stew, served with a side of homemade soda bread, and for dessert, warm apple crumble and ice cream … pay as you can …. the most important part of our lunch is having you at the table ….
About 20 months ago, the menu had been set. The shopping had been done. Kitchen crew volunteers had confirmed their willingness to help.
But, as we all know, 20 months ago the world essentially came to a grinding halt. We had no way of knowing at the time just how long it would (or will) last.
20 months ago, I thought … OK … we have to stay at home for a week or so … and my head went to lunch Sundays… the volunteers have worked so hard, month after month …we’re tired … so maybe a break isn’t a bad thing…
…..this will give us time to better plan for Easter breakfast, and the egg hunt, and Easter lunch …
And when that couldn’t happen, I thought, OK … maybe the May long weekend …
…and then maybe something for Canada Day??
…..Well maybe the bbq after the Blessing of the Animals service….it’s outside….
… Umm.. maybe Thanksgiving ?…. We’ll do a special Thanksgiving lunch …
….Well, Surely we will be able to get together for Mashed potato martinis …. Right?…..
And, one by one, we started going through them all again ….
…St Patrick’s Day
… the BBQ
…Thanksgiving lunch …
Together, thanks to technology … separated because of COVID … not allowed to come together at the same table
At first, 20 months ago, there was fear – fear of the known and the unknown. If I’m to be completely honest, a part of me was okay with being given ‘permission’ to escape the world by being told to stay at home.
Days turned into weeks … that turned into months. Even though periods of anger and despair crept in …even though, at times, I felt like I was being punished for something I didn’t know I had done …. before I knew it, staying at home was more comfortable. Staying away from people – even the people I love and hold dear … Staying away felt safer (and in many ways, it still does)…
Safer to the point where I had to have a long talk with myself before I was ‘okay’ being here today.
My “okay-ness” with staying at home, my ‘okay-ness’ with shutting out the world and staying away from people was very much on my mind as I reflected on the scripture for this morning. A lot of the emotions and realities of the last 20 months came flooding in, especially as I was continually drawn to verses 24 & 25 of our Hebrews text:
Let us be concerned for one another, to help one another to show love and to do good. Let us not neglect .. let us remember… to meet together … let us encourage one another all the more…
At the time this text was written, Christians had been suffering persecution for many years, so much so that Jewish converts began leaving the Christian church, returning to their familiar Jewish traditions and customs. This letter to the Hebrews, in part, stressed the importance of persevering, of continuing to meet together, of loving and supporting one another.
I have never been persecuted because of my faith, so I’m not about to suggest I know anything about what that might be like. But for the early Christians who were returning to what was familiar – to what was safe – I think I might be able to understand that. Even if a life in and with Christ offered a more promising, fulfilling life … even if being with other believers offered support and strength and encouragement … returning to what was familiar felt safer. That part, I get. After 20 months of staying home, staying away from people and gatherings, regardless of easing restrictions – staying home feels safer.
So, I started asking myself: what is it that I miss about Lunch Sundays? Why am I so focused on it – almost obsessing about it – when I read this passage?
Lunches were a LOT of work, no question, which is okay. But it was really “people-y”! I don’t miss the sore back and the aching legs & feet after all was said and done on a Sunday afternoon.
So what IS it that I miss so much?
And the answers started mentally piling up.
- the very early morning hours on a Saturday or Sunday, alone in the kitchen downstairs, often at the sink, readying things for the volunteers … talking to God … yes, sometimes out loud. Could I do that at home, at my own sink? Absolutely – I often do. But somehow, it felt different downstairs. Once a month, that kitchen became sort of my own wee sanctuary;
- the physical act of helping to prepare food for my church family – the measuring and chopping and peeling and making a mess and cleaning it up – yes, I miss that;
- but more than that – I miss the community that developed within that kitchen
- the laughter, the tears, the sharing of the good and the not-so-good;
- the safe space we instinctively created – a space to safely share our lives in that moment – the important events, the daily struggles & joys, the silly events, that gardening & recipe tips, the planned adventures, the treasured memories;
- the coming together of different people, from all different walks of life, some who may never have had the chance to work together before … each one offering his or her own gifts, all coming together with one common goal – not just to feed people with food … although that was important … but to bring people to the table, together, where even if only for 30 minutes, a community was strengthened … bonds were formed …. conversations and laughter filled the room …A place where all were & are welcome, and all around the table were & are equal.
I miss that. I miss the ‘being together’.
And yet, in my “here and now” moment, I’m still okay staying away – staying home where I feel safe. That’s me. I’m there, in both places.
I have to say that we here at SJR have done an amazing job of coming together while remaining in the comfort and safety of our own homes. Like most of the world, we have managed to take ‘coming together’ to a new level .. for worship, faith study, SJR Reads, mid-week groups.
That ‘coming together’ piece is at the core of who we are as followers of Christ. I do understand that technology can’t completely replace people.
But again, like me, some are still torn, because with constantly changing and often confusing rules and restrictions, staying home feels safer.
This realization brought to mind a story I read about a man who had once been active in his church but, for whatever reason, stopped going. After a few weeks, the minister decided to pay him a visit. When the minister arrived, he found the man sitting in front of his fireplace where a warm, welcoming fire was roaring. Without saying anything, the minister took a seat beside the man and the two sat in the silence, watching the flames.
After a few minutes, the minister reached for the tongs and pulled a single, burning ember out of the fire and set it off to the side on the hearth. Before long, the ember’s flame reduced to a mere glow, and then it went out completely, eventually growing cold. The two men sat in silence a bit longer, and then the minister took the tongs again, picked up the dead ember, and put it back in the middle of the fire, where it sparked back to life. Still in silence, the minister got up to leave. The man spoke for the first time, saying, “Thank you for your visit, and especially for the fiery sermon. I’ll see you on Sunday.”
From the very beginning, in the book of Genesis, we were not meant to be alone. We are meant to connect, to belong, to accept and be accepted by others. We are meant … called … to be together, to share ourselves with one another. Fellowship is part of our calling as Christians.
Perhaps that call is what makes all of this so much harder.
Called to be together. Separated by a pandemic.
“Being together” will look different for each one of us. The very definition of ‘being together’ has changed for us over the past 20 months. “Normal” is different now. There is no cookie-cutter solution for ‘being together’, especially not in today’s pandemic world.
Life has a way of sometimes wearing us down. We know that. From time to time we may get discouraged. Sometimes our spirit may not quite have the spark that it could; we may feel our strength waning. That’s why we continue to need each other.
We are called into loving relationships – with God and with each other – whatever that looks like for each one of us – relationships that encourage and support us, and where we can offer the same to others.
As I continued to reflect on our Hebrews text, I was overcome with some truths in my world:
It’s really difficult to stay sad or despondent or even angry at the world when you are surrounded by people who clearly care about you …
- people who are kind and supportive, no matter what …
- people who continually SHOW what it is like to care – they live it in so many different ways…
- people who smile when they see you – even if it’s under their masks – letting you know instantly that that they are glad you are in their presence in that moment…
- people who will laugh with you, cry with you … listen, share …or just be with you, in silence ….
- people who won’t shy away from a COVID-safe hug that almost takes your breath away, a hug that in the moment of that hug, nothing else matters …
- people who find ways – behind the scenes – to do what they can to make even just a moment of your life a little bit better … a little bit brighter …
- people who, without even thinking about it, share the Christ within themselves with you and others around them.
I was reminded, too, that kindness and encouragement need not be grand, nor pre-planned, not when it’s genuine and from the heart. Maybe it’s an act as simple as being in line at the grocery store, realizing that the gentleman behind you – the one wearing the hydro orange vest, probably a construction worker – holding a hot ‘to go’ box – is undoubtedly on his lunch break. He’s on the clock, but is patiently waiting his turn in line to pay. You let him go first. He is so touched by this simple act that, after paying for his lunch, he waits before leaving the store to catch your attention and again say Thank You.
Showing is teaching. The encouragement and kindness that we give lovingly and freely will often inspire others to do the same.
I have little doubt that one day, that construction worker will let someone else go first. Maybe he already has.
We never know which one of us will be the ember, taken out of the fire, that needs rekindled with just a little encouragement, a little kindness.
We never know which one of us will be the one to rekindle a fading ember or spirit that needs it. So we continue to be called to live and give kindness and encouragement to everyone who comes into or is in our lives.
THAT is church.
THAT is each and every one of you.
YOU continue to inspire me to share the Christ in me with others.
And some day … some day … we WILL once again meet in the kitchen.
We WILL once again gather around the table together to celebrate, to laugh, to share not only a meal, but to share the Christ within each of us with one another.
May it soon be so. Amen.