"The Kin-dom of God"
Since I left full-time ministry, my sermon ideas have been a little unorthodox. Before, I would follow the Lectionary and draw my sermon ideas from one or more of the assigned readings for each Sunday in the Church Year. However, lately, my sermon ideas have come from others. I will usually ask Melissa what she thinks I should preach on, or go from an idea or circumstance that is going on in our church family. As I contemplated this week what the topic of my sermon should be, I kept thinking about this idea offamily. Pastor Tim has been anxiously awaiting the arrival of Marcus, his foster son. He has been planning and preparing. And I was led, if you will, to this concept of family – namely the church family.
In the words of Sister Sledge, “We Are Family.” And I think it is important for us, as a community of faith, to see ourselves as a family, and also for us to understand what that means. I am sure, like me, you are flooded with images – both positive and negative, when it comes to the word "family."
Unlike 60 or 70 years ago, there is no mold when it comes to a family. Families come in all shapes and sizes, conventional and unconventional. As we learned in sociology, there is no longer just the nuclear or elementary family. There is a beautifully woven tapestry or collage of families today. In fact, half of all families today do not meet the definition of nuclear family. We have stepfamilies; single-parent families; same-sex families, unmarried families; families that include one or more family members from a generation; adoptive families; foster families; and families where children are raised by their grandparents or other relatives. Each has its own distinctive advantages and even challenges. As someone once said, “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.”
The comedian Jeff Foxworthy said, “We all come from a dysfunctional family… If you start feeling like you have the goofiest, craziest or most dysfunctional family, just take a trip to Walmart and you will quickly learn otherwise.”
Someone else has said, “The church family is the most dysfunctional family…” I like that! We are dysfunctional in the sense that we are abnormal and diverse. And, we certainly, put the "fun" in dysfunctional.
Like all families, there are disagreements within the church family. We are not always going to see eye-to-eye, nor share the same views, opinions or even personalities, but we are still family. We are family!
There is a fairly new word in the church’s vocabulary that I want us to learn, although the idea and concept was really set forth by Jesus. It is another word for "kingdom," the only difference is the “G” is drop and you are left with "KIN-DOM"!
In biblical times when a couple would marry, they did not build a new home or rent an apartment as they might do today. Instead, they would build onto the house of the groom’s father. This was known as an insula. When it came to a family, there would be the original room or house, and as the sons were married they would build onto the house. This was the picture Jesus was painting for us in John chapter 14, "In my Father’s house are many rooms..." This is a picture of the “kin-dom of God – where we are all kin, and apart of the family of God!
Our Scripture Lesson this morning is taken from the epistle or letter to the Hebrews. This is one of my favorite epistles because it is flooded with Hebrew imagery, terminology and typologies. This was a vital letter for the Early Church. It was Judeo-Christianity 101, especially for those Gentile Christians who weren't real familiar with Judaism. This letter helped them understand their Jewish family and roots, and the connection between Judaism and Christianity.
In Hebrews chapter 10, the author reminds us of the importance of family:
"Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching" (Hebrews 10:23-25 NRSV).
Here, within these verses we find three things that I want us to consider as important ingredients in living in the kin-dom of God.
First, the writer begins in verse 24 with the words, “And let us consider..." The word "consider" comes from the Greek word κατανοέω, which means "to think about" or "to discover." What are we to "consider" or "think about" or "discover"? "How we may "provoke one another to love and good deeds." This word "provoke" literally means "to stir up". It is an action - a verb. In the Greek it implies a positive provoking.
Notice how love and good works need to be "provoked" or "stirred up" in us and in one another.
This type of love that the author is speaking of is ἀγάπη - love. This isn't an innate quality. It isn't a kind of love that is purely emotional or a warm, fuzzy feeling. It is a selfless and sacrificial love. Agape needs to be provoked and stirred up in us. It takes an effort. We learn how to live out this love by emulating Christ. It is a love that gives, but doesn't necessarily get back. It is a love that puts other before ourselves. It is a love that sees the best in others, when everyone else is quick to see only the worse. This is a vital love when it comes to the kin-dom of God.
And notice "good works". Again, I don't naturally want to do good. Oftentimes, I want to do solely for myself. My works are typically selfishly driven. There are usually strings attached and motives behind my works. I can relate to Paul who said, "I know what I ought to do, but don’t always do it…" It is easier to do the things that I should not do, then the things I should be doing. It is whole lot easier to do for myself then to do for others. Not having a steady job, has caused me to become a little lazy in some respects. Again, we need to "provoke" and "stir up" good works in ourselves and in others. This comes in seeing the good and the gifts in ourselves and in others, and being encouraged as well as encouraging others to use those gifts.
Second, in verse 25 the author reminds us, "not neglecting to meet together..." Evidently, when the writer penned these words, there were some within the church who had stopped attending services. Perhaps for fear of persecution, or maybe they just got busy or preoccupied with other things. It is easy to fall out of the routine of meeting together. The list could go on and on as to why we stop meeting together. Maybe you got your feelings hurt, or didn't like what someone said or did to you.
But the writer wants us to consider the importance of meeting together. Think, for just a moment, how you feel on Sunday morning. You get up, probably tired, maybe you've had a busy week and are exhausted. You could easily sleep in or lounge around to rest up. Maybe you have a lot of chores or things to do, but you force yourself to go to church. How do you feel when you leave church? Refreshed, renewed, revived? It's like the gym. It is said that the hardest part is making yourself go to the gym.
This word in the Greek for "meeting together" or "assembling together" is the word ἐπισυναγωγή. It means more than just coming together. It implies connecting spiritually, physically and emotionally to one another. It implies becoming stronger. When we meet together - ἐπισυναγωγή - we become stronger as a family – stronger spiritually, stronger physically, stronger emotionally.
Finally, in the second part of verse 25, the author wants us to consider encouraging one another. This same Greek word for this "encouragement" here [παρακαλέω] is the same word used for the Holy Spirit - the Comforter, the One who walks alongside of us. This is what we are called to be and do for one another.
The world is discouraging enough, isn't it? Life is hard enough. There is so evil around us, so much bad news that we need encouragement. The church should be all about encouragement.
I mean where else can you come and hear words such as: hope, peace, joy, love, good news, forgiveness, healing, justice, mercy, compassion and etc. We need to hear those things. We need those things. This is what the church should be all about and we should be and share those things with one another. We need to "encourage" – literally "to edify" one another in the KJV, which means "to lift up".
I love the story that is told of the little boy who asked his father one day, "Dad, where were you born?" His father replied, "Well, I was born in Kentucky." The little boy then asked, “Where was mom born?" His father said, "Your mother was born in Indiana." The little boy said, "Where was I born?" His father replied, "You were born in Georgia.” “And what about my baby sister?” “Well, she was born in Alabama” said the father. The little boy thought it for a moment and he said, with a huge grin on his face, “Isn't it great that God got us all together!" We are family!
What does it mean to be a part of the kin-dom of God – the family. It means: (1) stirring up love and good works in ourselves and in one another; (2) meeting together and becoming stronger; and (3) encouraging one another. We are the kin-dom of God! And in Hebrews 10:23-25 we have the recipe for living out this kin-dom, let's apply these ingredients to our family and feast on its goodness.