A sermon by Matt Fitzpatrick
August 25 2019
All right, let’s start off with prayer and then I want us to read the Apostle’s creed and confess our faith as a family. Dear heavenly Father, thank you so much for providing a place where we can come to be with you, that we can be guaranteed your presence here. This is where your Word is, where your sacraments are. This a place where we know that we are with you and you are with us. Thank you for this family that you’ve gathered to yourself. I ask Lord that we can hear from you today. In Jesus name. Amen.
Now let us confess our faith to God and to one another. So, I ask you, Christians or what is it that you believe? I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ his only son, our Lord who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day, he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From there, he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen.
Today’s scripture reading is found in Hebrews chapter 12 verse 4 through 17. This is the reading of God’s word.
Hebrews 12:4-17In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’ It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.”
This ends the reading of God’s Word.
Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, I ask that you allow us to hear your words clearly, that it is a source of comfort and not confusion. That we can be assured and rest knowing that we are part of your family. I ask this in Jesus name. Amen.
I don’t think you have to be listening too hard to pick up on the potential theme of this passage.
The word that this author of Hebrews was really trying to drive into his audience, which is discipline, is not the most valued word for our time. Discipline is a topic that we veer away from, especially within families and how we treat our children. It’s a topic that I don’t know if we fully know how to talk about it. So, I want to give you a little bit of context to who the author of Hebrews is addressing. In the previous weeks, the author has been focusing on persecution from the outside the church. Persecution that comes from the world and the devil, but now the author is shifting his focus to us and to our sin, the internal struggles that we deal with in this life. He announces there’s a loving father who disciplines us.
His audience was newly Christianized Jews, and he’s writing to the ones that have been scattered in Rome. At the time of the letter, persecution was ramping up in Jerusalem. Rome was cracking down on the Jews and Jerusalem. Because of that, Jewish nationalism was on the rise. A modern day example, when nine 11 happened, everyone was proud to be an American. And all these issues that we had between us ceased for a moment. His audience was hearing about all the bad stuff that was happening in Jerusalem, and they were experiencing this pressure from their friends and family to support their old Jewish way of life, to follow the Law like they used to, to offer up temple sacrifices like they used to, because those things were integral parts of being Jewish. And these new Christians are finally realizing the cost of being Christians, that it’s a shift in identity and the temptation that they were facing was to turn from Jesus for meaning identity and security. They were being tempted to look back to the law, to the temple, to their heritage. For the Jews, the law and the temple was their mother. It was the thing that raised them.
For them to say, “No, we can’t do that stuff anymore. Jesus accomplished sacrifice for us. We don’t have to sacrifice in the temple anymore. He fulfilled the law. We don’t have to be subject to that anymore. He’s freed us from that that way of life,’ to say that is like saying, “I don’t need my mother anymore and I’m abandoning her.”
This is the tension all Christians must face. Where do we go to for security and identity? Do we go to God or somewhere else. We find ourselves entertaining the voice that says, “I will identify you. Don’t listen to God.” This is where God disciplines us and says, “Hey, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. You’re not like that anymore. You’re part of this family, and it’s greater than you can imagine.”
I was trying to figure out a modern day example of discipline. There are very few modern day examples, because we don’t want to discipline anyone. Let everyone do whatever they want. But then the moment they do something awful, we just go straight to vengeance and justice and skip over discipline. So, I was praying about it, and God brought back to my mind a movie I just watched recently. I’m not going to tell you what the movie is, because that would be a distraction. But I will give you the basic ideas that are super helpful. In this film, the main character, Billy is an orphan. His story begins as a three year old. He’s with his mom at a fair, and his mom just won a prize, a little globe compass on a key chain. Billy is wading through the crowd while holding onto his mom’s hand, and he drops the key chain. Of course, he lets go of his mom’s hand and runs after the compass. Once he grabs it, picks it up, he looks around and all he sees is strangers. He doesn’t see his mom, she’s gone. The cops find him, and he waits with them as fair empties out. His mother never shows up.
He enters into the foster system. He’s an orphan. He then runs the gamut of foster homes, abandoning them whenever he feels like he has a lead to his mother’s location. He’s chasing after his mother, but this chase always leads to dead ends and usually broken laws. So, by the time he’s 13, his case worker gives him a choice. “You can e,ither go to juvie, or there’s this foster family that’s read your case file and is willing to take you in despite of your record. You can go with them instead of juvie.” Billy begrudgingly agrees and goes into the foster home.
The family is surprisingly awesome. I was not sure where they were going with it, but it was amazing. They were really healthy. The parents were loving. They grew up as orphans and they’re trying to make a secure, safe home for kids who had been orphaned. They currently had five other foster kids that are well established, loved members of this home. But Billy doesn’t care. In his mind, he’s still an orphan. At the first sign of trouble that, he reverts back to what would do as an orphan. He runs, does his own thing, separates himself, doesn’t tell anyone where he’s going. He just runs off. The foster parents are worriedly trying to find him. Off on his own, things don’t work out the way he imagined, so he finally goes back to the foster home.
When he enters the house, the foster parents take him up to his room, and they yell at him! I was shocked. They’re yelling at him, but it was good healthy yelling. They were expressing their fears and their concern for him. They were saying, “You’re not an orphan anymore. You don’t have to live like this. We care about you. We were worried about you. We want you to live here, because you’re safe when you’re under our roof. You’re safe.” They are disciplining him. They’re putting structures and limitations in place to keep him safe. This is what God is doing to us. He’s saying, “You’re part of my family now. I know you have the sin in you that makes you go after other things and makes you want to live and figure things out on your own. But that is not who you are anymore. You’re part of this family. I care about you. I want you to be safe and being safe means you have to follow my rules and work within my parameters. And also I just think you have a lot to offer to your other brothers and sisters. So when you’re here and you’re submitting yourself to my discipline, you’re becoming a productive member of this family. You actually can love your brothers and sisters, because they need that love!”
Well, Billy, at this point, is not repentant. He’s just embarrassed. I don’t know if you recall the end of our Bible reading that talks about Esau giving up his birthright, it says he couldn’t get it back, even though he sought it with tears. Esau wasn’t repentant. He was just upset that he didn’t get what he wanted. It’s the same for Billy. He’s not repentant. He doesn’t actually care about this foster home. He’s just upset that things didn’t work out the way he wanted them to.
So, the story continues, and the first chance he gets, the first real lead he has for where his mom is, he takes it. He abandons the home again and doesn’t tell anyone where he’s going. He does the same thing all over again and he runs to go find his mom. Where does he find her? He finds her in dingy little apartment complex in a seedy part of town. Billy knocks on the door. She answers. She says, “Who are you?” He’s holding out the compass he’s faithfully carried for the last 10 years. He’s says, “I’m home. I followed the compass. I found my way back.” She responds, “What? Who are you?” “I’m your son, Billy. I’m so sorry for leaving you.” And then he begins to repent to her. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I should’ve never let go of your hand. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. But I found my way back home. I found it.” And she stops him. She’s says, “Billy, you didn’t lose me. I saw you with the cops, and I just figured you were better off with them. I was 17 then, your dad was in jail. I was in over my head. I didn’t know what I was doing. I just figured you’re better off.”
This is where Billy’s false story dies and reality is exposed. This fantasy mom that he had carried in his head doesn’t want him and doesn’t love him. He runs back to the foster home with tears of repentance. He runs back to a home and family that cares about him, that wants him, and that loves him. This is the discipline that God offers us.
God wastes no time to reveal our false narratives for what they really are. He shows us our fake mothers who don’t want us. He’s says to you, “Oh, you think money’s going to save you? Okay. Let’s just see how that story plays out real fast and how fickle money can be. That’s something that doesn’t want you or love you. Oh, you’re going to look to your job for meaning, security, and identity. Yeah. Let’s see how that works out real fast.” This is the discipline that God’s walking us through. He works us through them in real quick cycles because we are His kids. He says, “Let’s see how that plays out quickly. I don’t want you to chase these stories for the rest of your life, because they just lead to a dingy hallway with a mom who’s waiting for you to leave, so she can shut the door and tell the new guy that she’s with that no one was there. That’s who you are in these falst stories, no one. But to God you’re someone, someone worth loving, someone worth caring about. You’re someone worth disciplining.
God disciplines us, because He loves us. The pain we experience is the pain of letting things die, letting these broken stories and these dead-end narratives die. But the pain is terror that lasts for moment. The pain of discipline lasts for a moment, but it produces eternal peace, the peace of righteousness.
I have struggled with understanding the meaning of the peace of righteousness. What does that mean? How do I get that? It seems like such a nebulous term. What does righteousness mean? Is it the peace of perfection? The Lord has slowly been working the reality of the peace of righteousness into me over the last several years. It’s the peace of rightness, of being right with someone. It is the peace of being right with God, your Father.
You have all had moments in your life where you had a family member or a boss where things were not right. Can you put yourself back there or maybe you’re under that right now? There is this general anxiety that’s always underneath everything you do when you’re around that person, but when things are right, things are a lot easier and better and nicer. There is peace. That’s the peace of righteousness. That is what God’s offering. “You’re part of my family. You’re under my discipline.” And as you live under that, you live in the peace of being right with your heavenly Father. Things can be messy and crazy here, but with God, things are right. I’m loved. I’m where I need to be. We submit to God’s discipline, because it lasts a moment but produces eternal peace. We reject the immediate comforts of the world and the devil, because they last a moment and produce eternal isolation and despair.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for caring for us, for actually loving us, for wanting us. Thank you for even taking the time to train us, to discipline us, to make us productive members of your family, your household where we can receive your holiness and your peace. We can be right with you, because we’re part of your family. Lord, I ask that you continue to give us the faith that submits to your discipline. We ask this in Jesus name. Amen.
For the next couple of minutes, I want us to do some meditative silence. What I would like for us all to do, because I need this too, is for us to close our eyes and imagine approaching God the Father. Activate your imaginations, approach God the Father ,and just sit with him. Sit in the reality that He’s promised to be here. He’s promised to be where two or more gathered. Res in the reality that He loves you. He cares about you. I think we often have this distant father figure, who is usually mildly upset with us and wants more from us than we can give. So ,instead I want us to picture Him just being with us, sitting with us, enjoying our presence. Let’s do that for a couple minutes.
Father, forgive us. We confess, we’ve been offering ourselves over to sin. We’ve let it rule over us. We renounce it, we renounce our sins. We renounce every way that we’ve given ourselves over to sin, and we dedicate and consecrate our lives to your rule and your discipline. I ask that the atoning blood of your son covers our sins and cleanses us. May Your holiness possess us totally and completely Jesus’ name. Amen.
Now we will move into our time of offering, and this is an area where we get to exercise submitting to God’s discipline. It is something He’s commanded us to do. It helps us move money into its proper place from being a ruler over us. And we put it under the feet of our Father. We confess, “You were just a tool. You do not provide for us. Our father does. This does not reign and rule over my life. God does.” And then we thank God for the stuff He’s given us.
As we move into the Lord’s supper, I want to recall the opening verse for today’s reading.
Hebrews chapter 12 verse 4,
Hebrews 12:4In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”
That statement, it’s not a judgment against us. It is our salvation statement not an accusation. It’s our exoneration. We have not struggled against sin to the point of death. You and I have not done that. Jesus has. Jesus has struggled to the point of death for our sin. He resisted it to the point of being sacrificed on a cross. He shed his blood. His body was broken for us and through the Holy Spirit, we now get the resistance of Jesus Christ. So even in our submission to discipline, we do not do this alone. It’s not something we have to figure out by ourselves. It’s something that Jesus is giving us and says, “I’ve done the work for you, and I will continue to lift up your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees. I will be with you and carry you through this, because I want you to be part of my family.”
As we come up to this meal that our Father has prepared for us, that our older brother offers up for us through his body, we are healed through his blood. We are saved. He took the bread and he says, “This is my body, which is broken for you. Eat of it. You’re part of the family. You receive my peace, eat of it.” Likewise, he took the cup and he poured it and he said, “This is my blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins. Drink of it. You receive my holiness. This is who you are. I’m re-identifying you as my holy, loved children. As you come up, think about this. We’re part of God’s family. We’re not alone. We get to do this with one another.
Let me pray and then come on up when you are ready. “Heavenly Father, thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you for giving us your resistance against sin. It’s not a struggle that we have to do on our own, but it’s something you’ve done for us. Thank you Lord. We receive your forgiveness now in Jesus name. Amen.” As often as you drink of this cup. You proclaim the Lord’s coming death and His coming again. You’ve confessed that He’s a part of you. He’s in you and with us. Go in peace and serve the Lord.