11/12/2000, Thanksgiving and Pledge Sunday, Year B
his first century letter was written to persuade Jews to have their Old Testament faith completed by accepting Jesus as their Messiah and it was also written to keep Hebrews who had already accepted Jesus from falling back into the old way. The author (possibly Paul) speaks of, "..a new and living way that Christ has opened up for us through the sacred curtain, by means of his death for us." (v.20, NLT). The very first followers of Christ were all Jews and they seem to have expected all other Hebrews to fall in line, accepting Christ as their long anticipated Messiah. Many did as do many still.
Several weeks ago Marilyn and I were invited to a dinner meeting hosted by the Government of Israel's Ministry of Tourism. The purpose seemed to be to assure Christian leaders that we could expect there to be a resumption of Holy Land tours as soon as the current hostilities pass. There was a better than expected attendance due to the fact that most of us had never had a five course dinner at the Ritz. We were seated beside a wonderful couple. Murray, the husband, is the Director of "Messiah Ministries." Murray explained that he was a Jew who had accepted Christ as a teenager and had led many of his family to also become what he calls, "Jews who have had their faith fulfilled in the new way of Jesus the Messiah." The stated mission of our denomination is to "Make Disciples of All People." This new way is indeed for everyone.
New Testament salvation is by faith in Christ from the first tentative step to the grave and beyond. Verse 22 describes our mature experience of "full assurance of faith." (NRSV). Inward and spiritual assurance come as a result of both God's implantation of His Holy Spirit and repeated experiences of both joy and adversity in which God's promises are found to be trustworthy. My cat Ginger trusts me because I have cared for her for sixteen years. When she was a kitten and was sick she would hide, but nowadays she seeks me out.
Personal salvation is based on what we read in God's Word and on what we hear said about the potential for new life. We observe others leading redeemed lives as a result of their faith adventure with God and we assume that there must be a reality behind the subjective cumulative experiences of persons we trust. Perhaps a parent or pastor led you to first have faith in Christ. Sometimes a trusted teacher or coach can have a dramatic influence by his/her actions and words. Ultimately however, we jump into the venture by faith and hope
Since God's Promises are true we can think of tomorrow as a future that is sure and certain: I like to call it "Our Future Reality." God will always do His part in fulfilling the promise, the only question is whether we will fulfill our promises to Him in cooperating with Grace. We march into the future with hopeful hearts as we trust in His continued blessings.
The entrepreneur starting a new company begins with an idea, perhaps a new approach to an old problem or a new product that he/she feels will meet a need and make a profit. The risk is based on a careful study of past experiences and a reliance on objective principles. However, ultimately the venture is seized with faith and hope.
In verse 23 our text tells us to "..hold tightly to the hope we say we have for God can be trusted to keep his promise." (NLT). Our hope is based on God's faithfulness on which we have come to rely and trust. Secular hope will ultimately disappoint, but Hope implanted by God will sustain. If it were not for divine hope our hearts would sometimes break. "Hope unbelieved is always considered nonsense. But hope believed is history in the process of being changed." (Jim Wallis, "The Soul of Politics.") Hope is in the future, but is in the process of becoming a reality based upon God's promises.
These same principles and experiences also apply to our community of faith. Verse 25 says, "And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near." (NLT). The local church is absolutely essential to our personal spiritual pilgrimage. We need others in order for ourselves to grow, and we need others in order to become a blessing in ministry. The New Testament knows of no isolationist Christianity. Folks in Christ seek out their fellows and build little brown churches in the wildwood and sometimes cathedrals. Salvation always calls us to an outwardness beyond our personal boundaries. Indeed, we are called into the whole world to reach out to others with the fullness of the gospel and its grace.
In our great church we can look around and see that together we are achieving positive results. We feel that this same growth will continue in the future. Thus, we can reasonably expect that our resurgence will be an ongoing reality in the future. We are experiencing God's faithfulness as we work and walk together. Our faith grows as we learn and do and worship amid like-minded friends. Our oneness in the Spirit is our future hope, assurance and vision of tomorrow's reality. Fortified by this life giving faith and hope we will remain faithful in our promises to God. There is great joy in giving to a church which is making such an impact in our community. Our gothic cathedral, lighted in the night and standing tall and stately in the heart of the capitol of the South, is a ministry in itself. Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters has raised its estimate of how many folks see our televised worship each week to one hundred thousand souls. That figure may include channel surfers and dimpled chads.
The future of our church is in our hands as we support it with our: positive prayers, our faithful presence, our financial gifts, and our loyal service.
Your church is worthy of your magnanimous giving: your pledge, your tithe.
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor