Envying The Wrong People
Many people live every day with despair.
They are discouraged, hopeless, and feel they have no purpose in life.
Near to all of us is an institution that addresses these problems.
The church can help us find a new life that will be a help and an encouragement to us in our daily walk.
(Read Hebrews 10:23-25)
Several years ago the ministers of a major city gathered at a prominent church
for their annual Christmas party.
Sometime during the evening, one of the custodians of the church found a tiny boy
standing in the hallway crying.
A quick investigation revealed that the little boy belong to no one in the building.
Parking lots and every room in the church were also checked without any success.
The police were called and within moments they sent bulletins to the radio and TV stations
throughout the community.
Late that evening there were reports that an out-of-the-state car had stopped at a service station
north of the city.
Someone in the car asked if a boy had been found at a downtown church, and the car then disappeared.
The parents of the child were never found.
The little boy was placed in a splendid Christian home where he was raised in an atmosphere
of love and care.
The morning after the little boy was found, a news reporter reporting the incident began his story
with this sentence:
"Someone trusted the church last night, and the church came through."
The church has come through countless times in its history.
Because it has survived, its place in human affairs has been of strategic and supreme importance.
I didn't always feel that way.
As I was growing up, my mother made me go to church on Sunday, and I would pass all my friends
still on the playground playing ball and having a good time.
I envied all my friends whose parents didn't make them go to church, and whose parents never went to church.
As the years passed by, I came to realize that I was envying the wrong people.
It was not my friends who never went to church that deserved my envy it was the people who did.
The people at the church were gaining something that would be of tremendous importance in their lives.
The author of the Book of Hebrews must of had this in mind when he wrote his friends reminding them
to meet together regularly.
He knew his readers would find things in the community of faith that they needed.
That is a thought worthy of our attention.
It is possible that we, also, may discover in the church some possessions we can ill afford to be without.
Think for a moment about some of our needs.
For instance, consider our need for strength.
In the Book of Worship of the United Methodist Church is an old prayer which contains the sentence:
"Lift our eyes above the shadows of this earth that we may see the light of eternity."
This is not only a petition, but also a reflection on life as it really is.
The world is full of shadows, and some of those shadows will fall on each of us.
I read about a man who lived shortly before World War II who believed that a global conflict was coming.
He decided to find a place where he could be safe regardless of what happened.
He studied a map of the world, and chose one of those remote and least populated island on the globe.
He moved there.
The island turned out to be Guadalcanal, the scene of one of the bloodiest battles in human history.
That man's experience is a commentary on the way life is.
We struggle for security and protection only to find that there is no place to hide.
All of us are potential targets of life's eventualities.
For example, illness is no respecter of persons.
Accidents, disappointments, crime, and failure follow us every day that we live.
Despite the advances in medicine, the death rate is still 100%.
Problems and perplexities come to all of us.
There is no place to hide.
If life is to be lived at all, it must be lived in the storm.
There is a story in the Old Testament of a man who must have been concerned about this.
He wrote, "I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness."
He was saying that he had rather be an humble servant of God than be the ruler of a kingdom.
That is a part of his message, but not all of it.
The psalmist was telling us that he found greater treasures at the door of the temple than he might have found
in the vaults of a king.
A lot of people make that discovery at the doors of the church.
They find that in the church is a supportive fellowship of concerned people who care.
They find people who have claimed and received God's protective promises.
Remember the situation in the early church.
The first Christians were considered criminals, and they were hunted down like wild animals.
Alone in that kind of world, it was easy to lose faith.
However they came together, shared their troubles, and then encouraged one another to face whatever came.
I am concerned that kind of fellowship does not always exist in every church today.
But when you find it, it is a source of strength that no one can afford to miss.
Dr. Ralph Stockman in his book, "How to Believe" wrote an interesting sentence:
"Six days a week we sit at the loom.
On the seventh day God calls us to come look at the design."
Days do get disconnected, and the meaning of life gets lost.
Have you observed how life gets broken into bits and pieces?
We go about our daily tasks trying to do little good here and there.
However the world is so vast and our contributions seem so insignificant that we often wonder
if what we do really counts does it really matter?
There is a mound of rubble in East Berlin where once stood one of the proudest buildings in the world.
In that building, the headquarters of Hitler's Third Reich, was a man who during the early 40's
was writing in his diary.
The author, Joseph Goebbels, was a brilliant man.
He been educated at the best German universities where he had earned his Ph D.
In his diaries are several references to Mahatma Gandhi.
Goebbels considered Gandhi a fool.
He suggested that if Gandhi had the sense to organize militarily, he might have hoped to win
the freedom of his people.
History has made its own judgment in the matter.
Goebbels' strategy of force failed while Gandhi's passive resistance prevailed.
Goebbles found it difficult to see the longer view, and so do we.
We struggle for a cause that is right and good, yet it appears to fail.
We give ourselves to a noble work, believing that somewhere the seeds we sow will come to a good harvest.
But the harvest doesn't seem to come.
It's so easy to lose heart and wonder if the bits and pieces of our lives make any sense at all.
There are times when all of us need to take a look at the total design.
The church is one place where that picture can be seen.
The business of the church is to remind us, as Benjamin Franklin observed,
that an Unseen Hand governs human affairs.
That Unseen Hand is determined to see that no good cause ever comes to a bad end.
Our noble efforts are not in vain.
The church has that message, and all of us need to be reminded of it.
No wonder the author of the Book of Hebrews said, "Remember to go to church Sunday."
The church also affords us a vehicle to which we may channel our talents.
I read of a person who faced the task of settling the affairs of his childhood home.
His mother and father had been thrifty people.
They saved odds and ends of everything.
Up in the attic he found a box, that needed to be closed and labeled.
On the label he found these words, "Strings too short to use."
The man said, "My mother and father were wrong I tied those bits of string together,
and used them in my packing."
There is a point to be made in the story.
Not many of us are able to achieve alone what needs to be done in our world.
Our meager efforts seem too limited to be useful.
There are global problems such as hunger, illiteracy, homelessness, and widespread disregard for human rights.
How do we get at these problems by working alone?
Most of us feel helpless and ineffective.
As a result, many of us surrender with the deep-seated sense of insignificance.
The author of the Book of Hebrews was sensitive to this predicament.
He said to his readers, "Come together and encourage one another in all good works."
He knew that in unity there is strength.
People working together can achieve what they could not accomplish working alone.
That has been evident to the church for a long time.
What do we have to offer in the task of building a better world?
Our talents and skills differ.
What one person can do, perhaps another cannot do.
If somehow our efforts can be blended, then together we can have an impact on what needs to be done.
The church is under a divine mandate to create an opportunity for us.
The church has not always lived up to its obligation.
At times it turns in on itself, and becomes detached from its environment.
But always within its structure there is a remnant of those who have a vision of what the church ought to be.
To the people who constitute this remnant, we can give ourselves, and in doing so we can accomplish
at least two things:
1. We can help the church remain viable and victorious.
2. With our sisters and brothers, we are able to be the hands of God in the world.
What are your needs?
Are you having trouble standing up to the realities of life?
Do you sometimes wonder if there is any reason for your existence?
Do you ever ask, "Can I make my life count?"
These questions are age-old.
Many, many years ago the author of Hebrews wrote: "Let us hold fast
to meet together."
Or as we would say today, "Go to church next Sunday."
What may seem to be a useless exercise can be a time when we discover some channels
and discover some insight that will change our lives.
Sermon adapted from several sources by Dr. Harold L. White