Welcome Home (August 25, 2019)
Brothers and sisters in Christ, welcome home. How are you doing? Does this place feel like home to you? Is it a place you feel like you can unburden and relax? Slump down into your seat and just know from this place that everything is going to be ok? Some of you would, no doubt, answer “Yes! This is where I’m comfortable. This place feels like a warm hug.” Others of you, though, might answer, “Home? This is supposed to feel like home? It’s never felt that way to me. I feel like a stranger. Sometimes, I even feel like I am not wanted. No this place doesn’t feel anything like home to me!”
Sometimes things don’t feel the way God intends. Sometimes things don’t seem the way they really are. In fact, nowhere is that more true than in Hebrews 2 where we are told something remarkable and unbelievable. Are you ready for it? “Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters” (Heb 2:11). The eternal God of the whole universe is your brother! And if that’s not hard enough to comprehend, Hebrews chapter 1 underscores just who Jesus your brother really is. He is the “heir of all things” (Heb 1:2). He is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Heb 1:3). He “sustains all things by his powerful word” (Heb 1:3). He is the one about whom the Father says, “Let all God’s angels worship him” (Heb 1:6), and “Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever” (Heb 1:8). Yes, Jesus, your brother, is also called the one who “laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of [his] hands” (Heb 1:10).
To think that this one calls himself your brother?! He is the one who willingly “was made lower than the angels for a little while” (Heb 2:9). He is the one who “is not ashamed to call you brothers and sisters” (Heb 2:11). It’s as if you had a brother who was world famous, rich beyond your wildest dreams, and powerfully influential in all he does. And yet he doesn’t hesitate to associate with you, to welcome you into his home, to go into your home, and be right there with you. A real down to earth kind of guy.
To try to put this into perspective, you can think of the Chevy Chase movie, “Christmas Vacation.” In this movie, you are introduced to his character’s down-and-out brother-in-law who drives up in a beat-up Winnebago. His raggedy niece and nephew, and his snarky in-laws pile out. It’s not a pleasant sight. They say you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family. And yet, Jesus did pick you as his family! He willingly put his name on you when you were baptized and continues to strengthen your family bonds through the Word and the Lord’s Supper. He humbled himself to the point of being “lower than the angels for a little while” (Heb 2:9) because he wanted you in his family.
The dumpster-diving God leaves his perfect Triune Family in a pristine, sinless heaven, was born into the dumpster called earth to search through the filth and rubbish of this fallen world – for you, and for you, and for you. He’s the Lord who chose to live with you. He’s the Lord who chose to be your brother. And he didn’t just spend an extended weekend with you. He spent 33 years of what must have been an absolutely mind-numbing existence. A 24 hour revolting experience if you contrast heaven and earth – his riches to rags story.
But he did this willingly, lovingly, compassionately so that he could “bring many sons and daughters to glory” (Heb 2:10). Jesus took my sin and your sin, and the sins of all people upon himself and did what we couldn’t do. And you get the forgiveness and holiness you so desperately need! You and I get to bask in all Jesus’ glory!
Actor Kevin Bacon recounted when his 6-year-old son saw Footloose for the first time. He said, “Hey, Dad, you know that thing in the movie where you swing from the rafters of that building? That’s really cool, how did you do that?” I said, “Well, I didn’t do that part – it was a stunt man.” “What’s a stunt man?” he asked. “That’s someone who dresses like me and does things I can’t do.” “Oh,” he replied and walked out of the room looking a little confused. A little later he said, “Hey, Dad, you know that thing in the movie where you spin around on that gym bar and land on your feet? How did you do that?” I said, “Well, I didn’t do that. It was a gymnastics double.” “What’s a gymnastics double?” he asked. “That’s a guy who dresses in my clothes and does things I can’t do.” There was silence from my son, then he asked in a concerned voice, “Dad, what did you do?” “I got all the glory,” I sheepishly replied.
Our brother, Jesus, not only lived for the people of this world, but he, “tasted death for everyone” (Heb 2:9). I think of just a couple weeks ago, we were sitting at the table eating dinner. And the rule we try to enforce is that we have to sit at the table until we finish all the food on our plate. Well, Nehemiah starts off strong, but very quickly fades, and soon is doing anything but eating. I finally get him to eat his last bite, but there’s still his cup of milk. By now, the milk is warm and not the least bit pleasant to drink. It probably has some crumbs in it from whatever we were eating as well. Who on earth would volunteer to drink that glass of warm milk to free him from the dinner table? Very few of us would do it willingly. In contrast, your brother, Jesus, was willing to drink death to the dregs for you. What a brother!
Verse 10 then goes on to explain that Jesus was made “perfect through what he suffered” (Heb 2:10). That word for perfect means “complete,” or, “to bring to a goal.” Without suffering, Jesus would not have been a complete savior. So it was fitting that he should suffer and die. After all, it was his goal to bring “many sons and daughters to glory” (Heb 2:10). And since the Father’s and the Son’s wills are in perfect alignment, the Son willingly went along with the suffering.
Verse 11 is the bombshell that we began with. “Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters” (Heb 2:11). Many people are ashamed of their families. Perhaps your father is the town drunk. Perhaps your mother is a mess. Maybe your sister has known too many men, or your brother has been in trouble with the law more times than you can count. And so, you are ashamed. You are ashamed to admit your relationship. You are concerned with what others will think of you if they know you are related to him or her.
If ever there was a brother who had a right to be ashamed of his siblings, it is Jesus. He ought to have disowned us long ago. He ought to hang his head in shame at even knowing us. If we were him, that’s surely what we would do. But he is not like us. He is the one who has made us perfect through his suffering. He is not ashamed to call you brothers and sisters because he has made you holy in his sight. He is as proud to call you a brother or a sister as someone whose sibling won a gold medal at the Olympics or was elected to high office. Jesus points to you and says, “He is my brother! She is my sister!”
And he is here with us this morning. Just as surely as I am standing right here in front of you, as surely as that person is seated next to you, he is here. Listen again to what Jesus says to his Father, “I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly [in the congregation] I will sing your praises” (Heb 2:12). Isn’t that amazing! Jesus is joining us in our worship this morning. Even as we praise him, he joins us in praising his Father. Of course, he is here to do more than be worshiped by us and worship with us. He is here to give to you – to give you his forgiveness so you need never fear his anger. To give you the promise of eternal life so that you need never fear death. To give you his strength so that you need never fear temptation. “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb 2:18).
I think of my grandma in Hong Kong whom I lived with before Ruby and I got married – and after, in fact. I learned very quickly that I should never eat if I was on my way home. Because she was incapable of allowing anyone to walk into her home without giving them something to eat. She was always thinking of me and buying snacks for me. She’d pile them on my desk for when I was home. When I went home, she insisted on feeding me a meal – and there was always more. Our brother Jesus treats you the same way. When you enter this house, he insists on feeding you. He always has more for you. He knows precisely what your needs are and provides the spiritual nourishment to meet those needs. He feeds you in his word. He gives your forgiveness in the absolution. He gives you strength for your faith in the Lord’s Supper, and much more. It’s no wonder Jesus’ brothers and sisters love to visit his house! He feeds you well here! And invites you to come often.
Certain places just evoke certain feelings. If you were raised in a warm, loving family, the thought of coming home immediately brings joyful thoughts to mind. Some of my strongest memories were finally arriving home for Christmas break after a long semester of school and what seemed like an even longer drive home. There was the smell of a freshly placed pine tree ready for decorating. Music softly playing in the background, and a hot meal always ready. But of course, there were the faces of the people I longed to be with. People who just understand you, and place no burdens on you.
But not everyone was raised in such an environment. For some, the thought of their childhood home brings feelings of sadness or loneliness or lovelessness. In the same way, some Christians have had wonderful experiences in God’s house. They have found caring and supportive brothers and sisters in Christ. They have found warmth and welcome. But, others have not. Some of you have experienced unloving attitudes and actions. For some of you, this place has never felt like home. In part, this weak “family feel” could be due to our culture’s tendency toward isolation rather than from actual unloving attitudes or actions. In our society, some people don’t even know their neighbors. They leave for work, close the garage by remote, and return to the same cocoon in the evening. Sometimes that extends to this place and people don’t connect with others at Sunday worship. People come and go with a degree of anonymity – or at least without a deep connection to others. Maybe we feel more like distant cousins than brothers and sisters. But we do care – and want to improve our caring – for those cousins.
Sadly, it’s not always that simple. Sadly, sometimes it is that brother has hurt sister, or sister has been unloving toward brother. This is why Every Member Sunday affords us the opportunity to repent of our sins against brothers and sisters in Christ. We beg forgiveness from Christ and from one another for every unkind thought, every hurtful word, every self-serving action. Were we upset about something so silly as how to do this or that? Were we simply too selfish to consider how our words or actions impacted others? Were we too busy serving ourselves to think of how we might serve those around us? For all of the ways we have failed to be the brothers and sisters God has called us to be, we repent.
And, even as our loving Lord assures us of his forgiveness, we look for opportunities to show his kind love and forgiveness to the fellow members of our church family. Who is hurting? Who needs help? How can I serve? What can I do? This attitude of love and service to our brothers and sisters creates the kind of home we all long for. It is a place where we can find encouragement as we face an increasingly hostile world, hope when we feel hopeless, and help when we feel helpless.
As today’s first reading from Ecclesiastes put it: “Two are better than one…. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up…. A cord of three strands is not easily broken” (Ecc). We are not wired to exist as rugged individuals. We need one another. God has designed us to be this way, and God’s design is for us to be family in Christ.
People often ask if someone can be a Christian without going to church. Technically, of course, they could. There are those who are, for a variety of reasons, unable to be active in a Christian congregation. But, when we consider who is here when we gather as we are this morning – our brother Jesus and our Christian brothers and sisters – we might answer this questions by saying, “Who would want to?” It would be like asking if you can be a member of your family without ever visiting your parents’ home. Technically, the answer is “yes.” But, I can’t for the life of me imagine why anyone would want to.