The couple finds themselves up early for a change on Sunday morning. They talk about going to church, but neither really feels comfortable with the idea because it has been so long since they’ve been there. They mean to go more often but life just keeps getting in the way. Each secretly hopes the other will come up with an excuse for not going because neither thinks they can handle the looks or the comments they are sure to receive.
A young man sits alone in his car in the church parking lot. He’s got some big questions that have been weighing heavily on him for weeks now. But he doesn’t want anyone to know – not yet. He is waiting for the last of the people to leave, hoping that the pastor will remain behind long enough that he can go in and talk to him without anyone else around. But today the pastor comes out with a small group and heads toward his car. The young man quickly starts up the car and pulls out of the lot before anyone can see him.
A young woman desperately needs peace and comfort, but cannot face any questions. She knows she’s made some bad decisions. She knows others would be right to think less of her. So she waits until dark to sit on the benches behind the church and pray. She may not find God this way, but at least for a time no one can find her either.
Dear friends in Christ, those privileged to sit in the presence of the Lord week after week. To be welcomed and sheltered by Christ and His church. Not everyone finds it as easy as you to draw near to God. But then lets be honest – you don’t always find it easy either. To draw near to God is never easy. Our sins and the sins of others so often seem to get in the way. False impressions, well—crafted facades, careless words, peer pressure, convicted hearts – there are hundreds of things that would seek to come between you and this place, you and these people, you and your God.
Anyone who has lived in this world of ours knows first hand that we human beings are so obviously good at breaking things: social expectations, good habits, relationships, legal regulations, and all those unspoken societal codes. We live as broken individuals in broken communities, seeking … seeking … always seeking something to make it better, to ease the burden, to take away the pain. Some people don’t know what it is that they seek, but we do. Each soul in its own way is seeking to draw near to God. But talk about hurdles to overcome! For such people, our reading from Hebrews offers hope.
11Every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. 15And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, 16“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” 17then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” 18Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
Jesus has come to his church on earth and opened it up for the sake of broken people. In contrast to the OT priests who daily stood and offered sacrifices, Jesus has come and offered one sacrifice for all people for all time. Jesus has fulfilled the order of priestly temple service and sacrifice. His work has torn open the curtain that separated people from God’s sacred presence and place. He is now seated in the most holy place, at the right hand of God, and hears the prayers of his people. This work of Jesus offers his people access to the holy things of God. Because of the blood of Jesus, we can draw near to God with a true heart and bring our sins and our sufferings, indeed all of our lives before him.
This means there is forgiveness and a warm welcome for the lost and straying sheep. There are solid answers even for the thorniest questions. There is acceptance and mercy for those who have no right to expect them. For in Christ the debt of all sin has been paid. In Christ the prayers of God’s people are brought before the throne of heaven – and answered. In Christ there is a confidence waiting for us, that we could never achieve on our own.
19Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Here we see drawn out the implications of Christ’s work for God’s people. And the importance of this for us as a Church cannot be exaggerated. First, note that we have not one but two sources of confidence. First we have been invited, drawn to enter the holy things of God by the love, work and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And second, we have Jesus Himself, with us as our great high priest. Both of these are God’s doing – not ours. Both come from Him and are given to all alike in Christ.
And being confident in this knowledge God’s people are called upon to engage in three kinds of behavior. First we draw near to God. Not because we must. Not because it is our duty. But because it is our privilege. It is our right. It is our honour. We come despite all the excuses not to, so we can receive again all the promises waiting here for those who belong to Jesus. And we come knowing that everyone else who is here or is not face those same temptations, and need those same promises every single time.
Second, we hold fast our confession of hope. A hope that can be boiled down to this one life-changing truth – He who promised is faithful. What God says He does, no matter our part in it! That, dear friends is the assurance of faith. Knowing that no matter what our weakness, no matter what our doubts or fears or failures, God who has given us the promise of forgiveness, life and salvation in Christ cannot and will not take it back. He who promised is faithful even when we are not. In Holy Baptism God made the promise that our conscience and our bodies have been washed clean in the sacrificial blood of His Son. And that blood covers everyone and every sin.
And Third, we are asked to draw near to one another. Recognize the barriers sin throws up and find every way we can to remove them as Christ removed the barrier between us and God. Not everyone is ready to sit where you are. Not everyone feels it is their right to have. And not everyone here is comfortable with it every Sunday either. Therefore we are called by our loving and welcoming God to stir one another up to love and acts of service, compassion, encouragement, meeting together without judgment, providing the safe place and space for sinners to draw near to their Saviour. We are called by God to do everything in our power to make this church a place where people can draw near to God. A place where they can be safe from the harsh realities of this broken world. A place where one and all, the embarrassed, the doubting, and the fearful can receive the blessings and promises of God in Christ.