Good Friday, April 19, 2019
Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Hebrews 10:15-25
There’s a type of disconnect that some people who go on a trip to Israel, to see the Holy Land, discover. They want it to be the real experience of walking where Jesus and his disciples trod.
Several say they want it to feel worshipful. However, visiting a Byzantine or medieval church building just isn’t worshipful for them at all.
Some people in worship have no more communion with God than they could by contemplating cold stones on a Jerusalem sidewalk. Sadly, this can also be said about going to a regular church from an era 2000 years later, right now here in Edmonton, in 2019.
Maybe there are people who once looked forward to worship. They have pleasant memories of times with God and God’s people, but today they have no verve or zest, no vigour or vitality, which penetrates their lives through worship. It feels hollow and empty, a habit that used to be significant but now is as dry as the dust of the wilderness in Israel.
It becomes like that of a priest in Jerusalem’s ancient temple who, as Hebrews says, “stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins.”
It could be that worship withers for people because they’ve forgotten that Jesus didn’t suffer on the cross just for the worst of people and problems, or even for the best of people and their potential. He hung on the cross for all of us, Jesus died so that even we could rekindle our expectancy for a burning, passionate experience with God.
No matter how much people enjoy criticising worship on the drive home from church, the book of Hebrews points us toward a problem that’s deeper than craving for novelty or yearning for the good old days in worship. Our dullness comes from a deeper source. The problem is deep within us, and that’s where God promises to make the real changes in worship.
Somehow we have come to a place where we’ve chosen not to face God. Did we maybe lose the faith we had as children? I recently saw a child-like faith in action that blew me away. This nine-year-old was inspiring me greatly. Her eyes light up as she talks about her passion to help people. Let’s call her Natasha. I couldn’t help but ask her why. Her reply was, “Because God loves people and doesn’t want them to go hungry either.” Her donations from knitting and selling scarves reached over $360 a year and was helping a local charity, as well as a women’s shelter. As I think of Natasha’s passion to help, it reminds me of Jesus, who passionately came to our messy planet to live with imperfect, broken human beings like us.
“This is the covenant that I will make with them…. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds” (Hebrews 10:16). Here’s where God aims to meet us, right at the centre of our being that the Bible calls our heart.
God offers more than a twinge of peace, a spurt of inspiration, or an interesting new thought. The cool spring water of God’s love gushes up from a deeper source. When it truly springs up within you, you can’t stop it: water everywhere, the Spirit washing us of our sins and refreshing us into eternal life. Worship flows from God to us, not the other way around; it floods us with the presence of a God who will suffer for us. Thus, worship can be painful, even life threatening; yet it is infinitely hopeful.
No wonder there’s no joy in worship. How can you get excited about worshipping a God when you have a broken image of God? The folks in the Old Testament, be they ever so bloody or shortsighted, shouted for joy in the presence of the God they worshiped.
The book of Hebrews takes us to the deepest problem that God promises to address. “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more” (Hebrews 10:17). This cuts toward the centre of the whole big problem. It’s a cleansing of our hearts and the forgiveness of our sins.
We’re not all such terrible people. It’s just that we’ve chosen to go our own ways, to form our own opinions, and to clutch our own values. We slowly push God out of our daily decisions. We’ve chosen not to pray about daily, mundane matters. We pretend we don’t want to bother God with such trivialities.
We need forgiveness, we need it like we need our life’s breath.
How can we truly return to God? How can we face God again, when we’ve consistently slipped so far away?
For Israel, their guarantee of God’s forgiveness was seen in their twice-daily worship services. Morning and evening in the Jerusalem temple they offered sacrifice to God. By an animal’s life dedicated to God the ritual helped people understand the seriousness of sin and the costliness of forgiveness. Most people felt satisfied with such worship. Some did not. How could a ritual with an animal assure us of God’s acceptance? Our Lord Jesus, just a few blocks to the west of the temple, suffered on a cross for six hours on a Friday we call “Good,” which means good for us anyway. On this Friday, we remember how serious sin is and to what lengths God goes to demonstrate love and forgiveness to us.
Our text says that Jesus has opened for us a new and living way into God’s presence. We have confidence to come back to God because of what Jesus has done — not because of what we’ve done, thought, or said, not because of what we’ve intended or promised; thus our confidence in approaching God can’t be erased by the promises we’ve broken or the resolutions we haven’t kept. God reaches to us through Christ and delivers God’s inscribed and embossed invitation through Jesus’ scarred hands. The invitation reads: “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.”
Our text proclaims, “He who has promised is faithful.” We accept God’s invitation and attend worship expecting to meet God here because God is faithful.
In response to God’s love and faithfulness, the book of Hebrews says we need to do three things: Continue to gather with one another for worship, cling tightly to our hope in God, and encourage one another in the ways of Jesus Christ. After we’ve met the great and good God, the faithful God who keeps promises and grants us unlimited access through Christ, and after we encourage one another in the faith, then remaining hopeful and continuing to gather regularly for worship isn’t that hard to do. In fact, going to worship expectantly now is natural for us, because we experience again that worship has become supernatural. Amen.
1.) Much of this message takes inspiration from a sermon with the same title at CSS Publishing, Inc., “Sermons for Sundays in Lent and Easter: Toward Easter And Beyond”, by David O. Bales
Copyright 2019 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church
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