When The Roll Is Called - Hebrews 10:19-25
Most of us know the hymns…we remember the words that have flowed down to us from decades gone by:
Shall we gather at the river
where bright angel feet have trod,
with its crystal tide forever
flowing by the throne of God?
Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
the beautiful, the beautiful river;
gather with the saints at the river
that flows by the throne of God.
or maybe this one
I was standing by my window,
on one cold and cloudy day
when I saw that hearse come rolling
for to carry my mother away.
Will the circle be unbroken
by and by, Lord, by and by?
There’s a better home a-waiting
in the sky, Lord, in the sky.
or maybe this one
When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound,
and time shall be no more,
and the morning breaks, eternal, bright and fair;
when the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore,
and the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.
When the roll is called up yonder,
When the roll is called up yonder,
When the roll is called up yonder,
When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.
We love those old “traditional” songs that sing of some day when we will all be gathered together some place far from here in the presence of God. The only trouble with this, my brothers and sisters, is that for most of the Bible, I would suggest roughly 95% of our Scriptures, that is not what it means to live as God’s people. Being a Christian is not about sitting around in our houses longing for a day to come where we will be gathered together in Heaven.
Through the season of Lent, we are seeking to journey down A Disciple’s Path. We are looking at the ways, as suggested by James Harnish, that the membership vows of the United Methodist Church, and living them out, can actually help us more fully live as disciples of Jesus Christ. In those vows, we are asked if we will support the church through “our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness.”
Last week we considered the first of those vows, “prayer.” We asked and considered the question, especially as it relates to the prayer that Christ taught his disciples, and that we still pray every week, “what if prayer is not about us changing God, but allowing God to change us?”
Today we come to the second of the five commitments that we make and that relates to “presence.” When we took the membership vows, or as we might be considering making those vows, we commit to being present. We are not present on some future day in heaven, but being present with one another now. My brothers and sisters, being together is part of God’s design from the first days of creation (“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’”)[i] to the time of the prophets (“I will surely gather all of you, O Jacob, I will gather the survivors of Israel; I will set them together like sheep in a fold, like a flock in its pasture; it will resound with people.”)[ii] to the Wisdom of Solomon (“And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.”)[iii] to Jesus (“Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.”)[iv] to the birth of the Church in Acts (“So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…All who believed were together and had all things in common…Day by day, as they spent much time together…And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”)[v] to Paul’s writings, (“…so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.”)[vi] to today’s reading (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.”)[vii]
These are not all the passages, but are amongst the many verses that remind us that God calls us to live together in community…not just some future day in heaven, but right here, right now, in ministry together, God intends for us to come together as His people.
The truth of the matter is, we can be good people when we are by ourselves. We can be learners when we are by ourselves. We can be spiritual by ourselves. However, we cannot be followers of Christ, disciples of Christ, by ourselves, we have to come together with one another, we have to be joined with other believers, to truly follow Christ.
“But preacher, you do not understand, I do not like those other people, they are not like me. I would just as soon stay by myself than mix with them.”
In 2007 the movie entitled Freedom Writers was released. This movie was based on the work of a teacher, Erin Gruwell, at Woodrow Wilson High School, in the mid-1990’s in Long Beach, California—only 25 miles from Los Angeles where just two years earlier race riots shook the city and the nation. The class was made up of whites, African-Americans, Hispanics, Cambodians, and others who were considered the “rejects” of the school. Needless to say, the racial tensions of the area spilled over into the classroom, and as Ms. Gruwell began teaching them, the students did not like one another one bit—yet they had to be in school and they had to be together. However, as we saw in the clip, one of the students, who struggled with feeling alone after he and his mom were evicted, came to school, was reunited with his classmates, and, as he reflected on that time, said, “I walk into the room and I feel as though all the problems in life are not so important anymore, I am home.”
“Preacher, that was a school, they had to be together, that really doesn’t have anything to do with what Jesus did or what He expects from us.”
Well, actually it does. Have you ever stopped to consider the disciples? I mean really considered who the disciples were? The disciples were any who followed Jesus, but then we consider the Twelve, those who were closest to Jesus, those, who in the Gospel of John, Jesus moved from calling followers to calling friends. Among those twelve were James, John, Peter, and Andrew who were working class fishermen; then there was Nathaniel who didn’t think anything of any value could come out of Nazareth, Jesus’s hometown; there was Simon the Zealot, one who sought the violent overthrow of the Roman Empire so that Israel could be free; there was Matthew the Tax Collector (a profession so despised by almost every Jew, because they were considered traitors of their own people); and of course, Judas Iscariot. Jesus’ closest friends and followers were as diverse as any church congregation could be…and Jesus called them to live together and to love one another: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”[viii]
To be gathered together is Scriptural…we are called to be in one another’s presence…to be here with and for one another. We could simply say that by doing this, by being present with one another, we are obeying Christ and that is how it makes us better disciples, but there is so much more to it than that. How does it help us grow in our discipleship?
Jesus told us that the two greatest commandments are to “love the Lord Your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and that the second is like it “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” We have to have a neighbor, we have to have others, to love…we practice love by being with others. And just a little while ago we noted Jesus’ words to those who would be His followers that they are to “love one another.”
In the book of Acts, as the Church came together, they first studied the apostle’s teachings…they listened and paid attention as those who walked and talked with Christ shared with them all that Christ had taught them. We are present with one another for instruction in living a Christ like life. In Acts, we also read that everyone sold all that they had and held it in common, they gave to one another as there was a need. We are present with one another to meet the needs of one another.
Our reading this morning also helps us understand more of what we gain, more of how our discipleship is increased, as we gather together, present with one another. “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering…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 reminds us again the need to provoke one another to love and good deeds—we are called to come together to hold one another accountable to make sure that we are following Christ in all that we do, say, and think. We are also called to encourage one another, to help one another through trouble times, to build up one another, to support one another in our struggles.
Loving…learning…providing…holding accountable…encouraging and supporting…it sounds a lot like a family…no wonder Jesus not only considered those who sought to obey God his friends, but he also called them family: “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”[ix]
It sounds a lot like being able “..walk into this room and…feel as though all the problems in life are not so important anymore, [we are] home.”[x]
When the roll is called, not up yonder, not in a class room, but here at St. Paul’s…as we walk A Disciple’s Path, will we be present, will we come home?
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…Amen.