We Need The Church

Hebrews 10: 23-25

Many people live on the edge of despair.
They are discouraged, hopeless, and feel they have no purpose in life.
There is an institution close to all of them that will address these problems.
That institution that can help people find a new life is the church.

Several years ago, the minister of a major city gathered at a prominent church
for their annual Christmas party.
Sometime, during that 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 belonged to no one in the building.
The parking lots and properties near the church were checked without any successful results.
The police were called and within moments, they sent bulletins to 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 then the car disappeared.
The parents of the child were never found.

The little boy was placed in a splendid home where he would be and reared in an atmosphere
of love and care.
The morning after the little boy was found, a newspaper reported the incident,
and the reporter 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.
And because it has survived, its place in human affairs has been of strategic
and supreme importance.

I didn't always feel that way.
My mother made me go, and on each Sunday I would pass all my friends still playing
on the playground.
They were having a good time.
I envied all my friends whose parents didn't make them go to church.
Their parents never went to church.
As the years passed, I came to realize that I was enving the wrong people.
It was not my friends who never went to church that deserved my envy;
it was the people who did.
These church people were gaining something that would be supremely important to them
for the rest of their lives.

The author of the Book of Hebrews must have had this in mind when he wrote to his friends
reminding them and to meet together regularly.
He knew that his readers would discover things in the community of the church that they needed.
And, it is possible that we would also discover within the church many possessions
that we can not afford to be without.
Think for a moment about some of our needs.

For instance, we have a need for strength.

The United Methodist Church has in its Book Of Worship an old prayer which contains
this 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 it is also a reflection on life as it really is.
The world is full of shadows; and after a while those shadows fall on each one of us.

Some years ago I read about a man who shortly before World War II believed
that a global conflict was coming.
He decided to find a place that he would be safe regardless of what might happen.
He studied a map of the world, and shows one of the most remote and least populated
islands on the earth.
He moved there.
The island was Guadalcanal which was 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.
Illness is no respecter of persons.
Accidents, disappointments, and failure lurk on every path we take.
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 was truly concerned about this.
He wrote, " I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell
in the tents of the wickedness
."
This man was saying that he had rather be an humble servant of God than
the ruler of a kingdom.
That is part of his meaning, but not all of it.

The psalmist is telling us that at the door of the temple he had found greater treasures
that he might have found in the vaults of a king.
Many people have made that discovery at the doors of the church.
They find the supportive fellowship of concerned people who have found God's protective
promises to be true.

Remember how it was in the early church.
The first Christians were considered criminals, and they were hunted like 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 up on them.
That kind of fellowship does not always exist in every church in our day.
But when we find it, it is a source of strength that no one can afford to miss.

We also have a need for hope.

Dr. Ralph Sockman 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 howl life gets broken into bits and pieces?
We go about our daily tasks trying to do a little good here and there.
The world is so vast and our little contribution seems so insignificant that we often wonder
if what we do really counts.

I have read that 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 had been educated at the best German universities where he earned his Ph.D.

In his diaries are several references 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 this matter.
Goebbel's strategy of force failed while Gandhi's passive resistance prevailed.
Goebbels found it difficult to see the longer view, and so do we.
Sometimes, 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 harvest.
Then, the harvest we expected 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 in human affairs.
That Unseen Hand is determined that no good cause ever comes to a bad end.
Our good and noble efforts will not be in vain.

The church has that message and all of us need to be reminded of it.
It is no wonder that the author of the Book of Hebrews said,
" Remember to go to church Sunday."

The church also provides us a vehicle through which we made channel our talents.
I read of a person who faced the task of settling affairs of his parents in his childhood home.
His father and mother had been thrifty people.
They saved odds and ends of everything.
Up in the attic this man found a box which was neatly 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 an used them in my packing."

There is a point in this 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.
Many people are baffled as to how to solve global problems such as hunger, illiteracy,
and widespread disregard for human rights.
How do we solve these problems working alone?

Most of us feel helpless and ineffective.
As a result, many of us surrender with a 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 a another cannot do.
If somehow our efforts can be blended together, we can have an impact on what needs to be done.
The church has a mandate to create that opportunity for us.

The church has not always lived up to its obligation.
At times it turns its focus in on itself and becomes attached 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.
In doing so we can accomplish at least two things.

1. We will help the church to remain vital.
2. With our sisters and brothers we are able to be God's hands and God's voice 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 my life really count?"
These questions are age-old.

Many many years ago the author of Hebrews wrote,
" Let us hold fastnot neglecting to meet together."
Or as we might say it today, " See you at church next Sunday."

What may seem to be a useless exercise could be a time when we discover
some channels that will change our lives.


Sermon adapted by Dr. Harold L. White