Confession of Hope

woman in black jacket and black pants sitting on white staircase

Year B Pentecost 25 – 14 November 2021

Next week is the Reign of Christ Sunday. It is the culmination of the entire year’s readings. It is the focal point of our faith. It is our Hope!

Today’s reading in Hebrews is the final preparation for the Lord’s Second Advent. It speaks about Jesus’ finished work of his first coming. It tells us he is waiting to use his enemies as a footstool as he sits on his throne. It talks about a covenant between God and God’s people. It promises that sins will be forgiven and forgotten. Jesus Christ provided a new living way. We can now dare to approach the very throne of the Creator. Our hearts are sprinkled clean. Our bodies are washed.

All of this in the Hebrews text to bring us to the challenge of verses 23-25. That challenge will be focal point of our sermon today.

  • Hold to the Confession
  • Provoke others to Good
  • Encourage to Gather

As we go through this text in preparation for the Reign of Christ, let us keep one life principle in mind:

Life’s meaning is discovered in urgency.

You may be aware that I spent time in the finance industry. Most of that was the insurance side of things and that began in a sales department. I learned a lot about communicating the Gospel from sales. That sounds horrible, I know; especially as salespersons have such terrible reputations! So I better explain.

You see, urgency is widely used across sales and marketing campaigns because it works. If you can communicate the urgency in a situation, you can increase engagement by prospects. If you can add to that urgency a sense of scarcity, you can boost conversions from prospects to clients.

We are coming close to Christmas. I say that but it is not even December! Why do we feel like that? You know you need to buy presents and you need the right gifts, but you don’t need them for another 6 weeks. Where does that pressure come from to buy now? The sense of urgency is in the marketing campaigns.

You’re browsing a couple websites and some nice perfume pops up to buy your spouse. You scroll down a bit and promptly read “Christmas Day: order now for on-time delivery.”

And that is it: you need to order now for the perfume to be delivered before Christmas.

Urgency is a part of human nature. We find out what is important to us when under pressure. It works in sales & marketing because we have an internal witness that validates the principle. Life is short – like steam from the water jug when it is finished boiling. We will soon face God. What choices do we need to make right now in preparation for that day?

Hold to the Confession

It is imperative you hang onto the confession of your faith. Jesus tells us we are in the beginning of the end times (Mark 13:7-8). It is most likely things will get worse before they get better.

Many Christians today are like Christ’s disciples of old: they are more concerned about “When?” (Mark 13:3) instead of “Who?” Our focus, according to both the Book of Hebrews and Gospel of Mark, is to be on Jesus, not prophetic events (Hebrews 12:2).

Christ’s disciples were encouraged not to follow messianic figures who claim to know when the prophetic times will be fulfilled (Mark 13:5-6). Too often Christians are so focused on the news they neglect the “good news”. Christians become absorbed with interpreting current events through prophecy that they ignore their confession of faith.

Hold to the Confession!

If you truly believe we are living through or on the verge of apocalyptic events, why do you not hold to the confession? The confession is not about prophecy. The confession is not about antichrist or pandemics. The confession is about Jesus Christ and his gift of eternal life. The confession is about his birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and yes, his return. The confession is designed so that you focus on Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith.

Jesus is coming soon… for it is appointed unto mortals once to die and then after that the judgement (Hebrews 9:27). Don’t worry about whether Jesus will return in clouds or when that will be; worry about the fact you may not live past this day. Are you ready to meet him?

Hold to the Confession!

Provoke Others to Good

Perhaps you feel I am being somewhat provocative. Thank you! For that is the admonition in our text: to provoke one another to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24).

Jane Williams, in her Lectionary Reflections, notes how “all of today’s readings are set against the background of a disintegrating world, and all see that as something joyful.” The Indian born theologian appreciates the hope discovered in the midst of persecution. I like how she peals back our Christian pride to provoke us to good.

In the work of Jesus, everything is already accomplished. We may not always see and feel that, caught up as we are in the middle of the Anguish, and Hebrews does not want immunity from reality for us. It says we  step into Jesus, into the suffering, torn flesh that is our hope and our reality. The assurance that we have in Christ Jesus is not an assurance of protection or tranquility… but just a total dependence on god.

Jane Williams, Lectionary Reflections: Years A, B & C (SPCK: London, 2011), 127

Do you realise how simple of a task we have been given? The Hebrews text says we have to learn to live together in love and kindness, “encouraging one another.” It is almost insultingly simply for we want to charge around with a sword and wield judgment on society. But remember, Jesus said in Mark that is what imposters do. Christ’s disciples work at living together in Christ.

Encourage to Gather

You will notice how our sermon text ends: “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” (Hebrews 10:25).

The timeliness of our message is Providential. It is hard to believe that I stood behind St Johns pulpit on the first Sunday of Advent to start our current cycle in the church calendar. Who knew when we began this journey together November 2020 that we would end the lectionary year in November 2021 under lockdown, prevented from gathering together.

As the newly installed pastor of this congregation, my biggest concern is for those sheep who have strayed afar and do not want to return to the fold. They have gotten into the habit of not attending church. They are happy with secular advice that gathering is not necessary for your faith. It is! Don’t expect non-believers to understand that fact. 

The Christian life is not just about endurance, it is about sanctification. We must allow God’s sanctifying power to work within us. That power works in us individually and collectively. The “new and living way” opened up for us by Jesus includes corporate worship and encouragement.

It is not easy to follow Christ’s call to embrace new life – it requires sacrifice, absolute dependence on God, and the support of others who are following a similar way… Messages from our culture are often oriented toward self-gratification and self-protection and run counter to the path of discipleship… The Church serves as a Community where people can and should receive accountability and support as they seek to live as disciples of Jesus’ new way.

Paul Scott Wilson (editor) Abingdon Theological Companion to the Lectionary: Preaching Year B (Abingdon Press: Nashville, TN, 2014), 323

As a Church, we are called to move beyond piety as individuals, praying by ourselves at home, to embrace communal practices of witness. It is both, not either/or.

Conclusion

We did not read this week’s Old Testament reading. There we find the story of Hannah. We learn she too felt like many do today. Often, we live through situations that feel hopeless. Hannah was trapped in a polygamous marriage, taunted by a sister spouse, and felt divinely cursed by an empty womb. Instead of getting angry with God, she chose to go to the Temple and seek God in prayer.

Hannah’s song of deliverance displays a powerful understanding of God. She learned that sorrows must be experienced to produce a song of deliverance that can be shared by the entire congregation.

Are you in a “catch 22” situation right now? Do you feel trapped in a relationship void of hope? You are in a position of power. You have the right to be heard by God. You have a voice to be heard. You have permission to express your grievances. My prayer is that St Johns Papaptoetoe is a safe place for you to articulate your concerns and, like Hannah, a place where you will one day be singing praises again.

Prayer of Application

Ever-living, Timeless God, before the earth was formed and even after it shall cease to be, you are God. You create all moments of our lives, giving each its meaning and purpose. Strengthen us to witness continually to the love of Jesus Christ, that we may hold fast in times of trial even to the end of ages. Break into our short span of life and show us those things that are eternal, that we may serve your purpose in all we do; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in unity with the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Presbyterian Church. Book of Common Worship (p. 393). Presbyterian Publishing. Kindle Edition. Integrated with Scripture prayer (series 2) from Vanderbilt Divinity Library, the Revised Common Lectionary online (https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/prayers.php?id=229)

You can watch the sermon as part of worship service on our YouTube Channel here.

Published by St Johns Papatoetoe

Presbyterian Church, Hunters Corner, Papatoetoe, Auckland, New Zealand belonging to Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ).

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