Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ Hebrews 2:9-18 ~ Sunday, October 27, 2019
If you have grown up in a warm, loving family, the thought of coming home immediately brings joyful thoughts to mind. Some of my strongest memories were arriving home from after-school activities to the smells of a homecooked meal and the warmth of being with family. The holiday season is nearly upon us, a season frequently filled with nostalgic thoughts and memories, songs and shows that reflect on how warm and wonderful it is to be home!
I’m curious: Do you feel that way when you come this place? For you, does this church feel like home? I’d love it if everyone were able to honestly and enthusiastically answer, “Yes! This is the place I long to be because this place is home to me. A place where I’m known. Where I’m safe. Where I’m loved.”
But I also realize that thoughts of home aren’t necessarily warm and wonderful for everyone. Maybe you grew up in an emotionally cold home where warm feelings were rarely spoken of and demonstrated even less. Maybe your home wasn’t a place of affection but a place where you witnessed abuse or even experienced it. Maybe home reminds you of never feeling you could be good enough to make someone else happy or step out of the shadow of a sibling who seemingly could do no wrong. Maybe home felt lonely because you rarely spent time together as a family even though you all lived under the same roof.
Does coming to church feel something like this for you? You might be surrounded by people, but you still feel alone, disconnected. Or maybe you’re struggling with disappointment because you expected that your church family would draw closer to you in a time of need or crisis, but instead barely anyone even noticed, much less asked how you were doing or offered to help. Or worse, maybe you’ve struggled coming to church because you’ve been hurt by fellow Christians. Something was said, something was done that hurt your feelings, wounded your reputation, maybe even caused doubts to creep into your faith not just in the church but even in God. And now you feel defensive because you’re hurting and your walls are up and you’re not going to leave yourself that vulnerable to church people ever again. It’s hard enough to deal with unloving attitudes and actions out in the world, but when you run into them here in God’s house, from those who are supposed to be God’s people?! Well, it’s hard to feel really at home when that’s been your experience. If this in any describes how you’re feeling today, I want to thank you for summoning the courage and pushing yourself to be here, in church, today. Thank you for giving church, for giving your church family, another try.
Starting today and over the next few weeks, we’re going to be talking about what it means to be a family of faith, brothers and sisters in the family of God. But my intent isn’t to talk in idealistic terms that only exist in a perfect world. I’m taking my cue from the writer to the Hebrews who sets a tone of authenticity as he talks about life as the family of believers and Jesus’ relationship with us in in this sin-infected world when he says: “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” (v. 11). “Not ashamed” – there are two words that describe our reality as family of God in this world. Let me explain.
Sometimes our family causes us to be ashamed. Has a family member ever embarrassed you? They said something or did something and instinctively you thought, “Oh, I hope nobody realizes that I’m related to him or her?” They do something ridiculous in public, and you feel compelled to tell people, “We’re not related!” Have you ever given Jesus reason to be embarrassed to be associated with you? Do you think Jesus is ever embarrassed by how quick and easy it is for you to spread around the juicy details of what’s going on in someone else’s life behind their back? Or maybe you’re thinking, “I would never do such a thing!” and it makes you swell with pride over how much better a human being you clearly are than those that do – does such an attitude warm Jesus’ heart or make him want to hide his face? What affect does it have on Jesus when you twist, bend, and distort the truth to get what you want? Does he beam with pride or is he thoroughly embarrassed when truth is what you speak though your motive for sharing it is anything but love for the other? How humiliating do you think it is for Jesus when you claim to follow him, yet insist on doing things your own way even though it flies in the face of what Jesus teaches in the bible? Jesus forgives us so we can let go of wrongs and start to heal. What do you think it does to Jesus then, when you would rather hold on to your hurt and fixate on your pain?
If ever there was a brother who had a right to feel hurt by and ashamed of his siblings, it is Jesus. He ought to have disowned us long ago. And if we were to trade spots and he were to do to us what we’ve done to him, I have a hunch we would have broken it off with him a long, long time ago. Thankfully that’s not the way things actually are. Despite what we’ve been like toward him, we are forever blessed because he is who he is.
And who is that exactly? He is the One who loves us despite all the reasons we give him to turn away from us and paid the highest of prices to forgive us. America has had the chance to see an illustration of all this in the last few weeks, playing out in the lives of several people in the Dallas, TX area. What was shared there reminds and reinforces just how special and significant it is when Jesus says to us, “I forgive you.”
Perhaps you’ve heard about the trial of Amber Guyger, the off-duty Dallas police officer who shot and killed unarmed Botham Jean in his own apartment. Guyger said that she had entered the apartment believing it was her own and that she shot Botham Jean believing he was a burglar. The fact that Guyger, a white police officer, shot and killed Jean, an unarmed black man, and was initially only charged with manslaughter resulted in protests and accusations of racial bias. At Guyger’s sentencing hearing, Botham’s brother, Brandt Jean, took the stand and shared that he forgives his brother’s murderer. He said he wants the best for her, not even wanting her to go to jail. The emotional scene concluded with him asking permission to give his brother’s killer a hug. Permission was granted and Brandt Jean embraced Amber Guyger before the judge’s seat.
The scene is an incredible glimpse into the even greater compassion and forgiveness Christ shows each of us! And he did it by suffering, yes, even dying for us. And Jesus did so, not simply to let us off the hook, but actually adopt us as his brothers and sisters! Even more amazing: he didn’t *just* suffer and die for us, he did so because of us. Though we have done the crimes, he willingly and voluntarily paid the ultimate price before God for us with his very life.
Our brother, Jesus’, forgiveness is incredibly powerful, deeply moving. His love for us is so extraordinary, so inviting, so moving, that it draws together even though we’ve caused embarrassment, or hurt or pain to our spiritual brothers or sisters, yes even when we’ve been on the receiving end of such words and actions by those who call themselves our brothers and sisters too. Welcome Home Sunday provides the opportunity to repent of our sins against our brothers and sisters as well as the opportunity to forgive our brothers and sisters for every unkind thought, every hurtful word, every self-centered action.
In saying this I’m not suggesting that forgiveness makes the wrongs of what happened disappear, miraculously turning back the clock as though those things never happened. Take the Jean family as an example. Even though the Jean family forgives Amber Guyger, that doesn’t bring Botham back to life again. Botham Jean’s mother talked about the forgiveness her son, Brandt, shared, while also being real about the pain brought on by sin and about the way in which forgiveness works to heal. She said to the congregation where her son worshiped in Dallas: "Forgiveness for us as Christians is a healing for us, but as my husband said, there are consequences. It does not mean that everything else we have suffered has to go unnoticed. We're leaving Dallas this week, but you all must live in Dallas and you all must try to make Dallas a better place.” In other words, forgiveness isn’t about pretending like sin never happened. It’s about summoning the courage and finding the power to face what sin has caused, but not letting sin turn you bitter, but in forgiveness in addressing it and its impact to find ways that you can help make things better!
Isn’t the writer to the Hebrews telling us something similar when he says: “Because Jesus himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (v 18)? When we’ve been sinned against by a brother or sister in the faith and we’re tempted to lash back or withdraw, to hold on to our hurt and isolate or pay back and create further division, Christ and his forgiveness helps us forge a new way, a better way forward. Living in the peace of forgiveness empowers us to correct what can be corrected, to change what must be changed, and where hurt and hate want to bring division and isolation, to commit to loving and helping and healing. How does Christ’s forgiveness move you to change? How does it motivate you to help make this place a better place? How can the forgiveness and love we’re experiencing today usher in a new day for this family? How will you be different going forward? What is being made new in us today? Who is hurting that you can help? Who is discouraged that you can lift up? Who is lonely that you can be a true friend to? Who is being tempted that you can strengthen in the good fight of the faith? This attitude of love and service to our brothers and sisters creates the kind of home we all long for. A home where peace and joy and healing is ours because Jesus welcomes us here as his brothers and sisters, and by his own blood and through his own sacrificial, forgiving love, knits us together to be genuine brothers and sisters to one another. What a blessing it is to be family with Jesus together and to be family under God together with each of you! That’s what makes it so good to be here, together! Welcome home! Amen.