Last weekend, a dozen members of our congregation’s leadership teams went on retreat to spend time focussing on the future of the congregation. Our main topic of discussion was around the idea of being a ‘Simple Church.’ This is a complex congregation with a lot of activity, so we began to imagine how things might look if we simplified our activity to help people find a greater sense of peace and rest through a growing faith in Jesus.
Part of simplifying a complex congregation is working out what is central to our identity as a Christian community. It is kind of like packing to go on a trip. Once we realise that we cannot take everything because our luggage is limited, we begin to sort out what is necessary from what isn’t.
In this morning’s reading, we are given a picture of what the writer of the letter to this group of early Hebrew Christians thought was necessary for them. There is more throughout Hebrews about the nature of Christian community, but here we have list of the things the writer wanted the people receiving the letter to keep in mind that he hadn’t talked about yet. We can look at a shorter version of his instructions like this with an additional thought on each from me:
- Love each other as brothers & sisters (even though we don’t always get along, family love means that we are still there for each other when we need it)
- Show hospitality to strangers (when was the last time you invited someone from the congregation you don’t know well over for a meal?)
- Remember those in prison or being mistreated (possibly this was more about Christians who were being persecuted than convicted criminals)
- Honour & remain faithful in marriage (even for single people, this is about keeping promises and remaining sexually pure)
- Be satisfied with what you have (hard to do in a consumer culture like ours)
- Remember those who taught you the Word & follow their example (this is about modelling ourselves on others who display maturity in the faith)
- Offer a continual sacrifice of praise (this is about how we speak and what we do with our bodies every day of the week [see Romans 12:1])
- Do good & share with those in need (the things we give to others we also give to God)
There is a lot we could talk about on each of these 8 points, so If you would like to discuss them in more detail, we will be looking at this reading in Wednesday’s Listening to God’s Word Bible study (please contact me if you would like more details).
How many of these do we practice regularly? Ideally, everyone involved in Christian community would regularly practice all of these. What I would like us to consider, however, is which are we neglecting the most? Then, I would like us all to challenge ourselves to choose one and commit to putting it into practice at some stage over the next month. If you want to up the challenge, maybe think about choosing one a week for the next month, or one a week for every week until you have done them all.
It is critical, however, that we engage with these practices for the right reasons. We believe that every good thing we have is a gift from a loving God who blesses us because he loves us and wants the best for us. God wants to share his blessings with others and so he asks us to live like this as acts of grace to others, trusting in his grace for us. We can therefore think of each of these like this:
- Our community of faith is a gift from God, so treat each other like family
- We say grace before meals to acknowledge that our food is a gift from God; he also wants us to build strong relationships with others as we share our food together
- We thank God for the freedom to worship him in this country, but there are others who do not share that freedom
- Remember that your partner in life is God’s gift to you
- God has blessed us with so much; why would we dishonour him by being unhappy with what he has given us and wanting more?
- God wants us to remember that the people who have helped our faith grow strong are a blessing from him
- God gave us everything in Jesus’ death and resurrection for us; if Jesus gave up his life for us, we can also praise him with our whole lives
- When we trust that God will provide for all of our needs we can share what we have with others
Following these instructions really is about encountering God’s grace to us in all of its forms in every aspect of our lives, and then sharing that grace with others. That is what Christian community is about – encountering God’s grace to us through Jesus by the power of his Spirit and then encouraging each other to share that grace with the people around us, especially those who need it most and deserve it least.
As we begin to consider what our congregation could look like if we were to simplify, this reading from Hebrews gives us a good place to start. There are a lot of activities we engage in as a congregation that are not included in this list from Hebrews. What could our community look like if we focussed our time and energy on what God gives us to do in Hebrews 13? How would you like to be part of a community where you could encounter and grow in grace like we read it here?
More to think about:
- Which of these practices in Hebrews 13 do you find easiest to do?
- Which is the most difficult for you?
- What could our congregation look like if we focussed on putting these into practice & helping others put them into practice?
- How can each one point you to a deeper trust in God’s grace & goodness?
- Which one(s) will you commit to putting into practice over the next month?