Week of Sept. 23: Through our faith, we face challenges and feel gratitude


By Vicky and John Brantley

Lesson for week of Sept. 23
Scripture: Hebrews 12:18-29
 Thank you for the open access you give us to worship you through Jesus Christ.  Forgive us when we have been a stumbling block to the worship of others.  Amen. 
Harold Best, in his book Music Through the Eyes of Faith, defines worship in the broadest sense as “acknowledging that someone or something else is greater – worth more – and by consequence, to be obeyed, feared, and adored…Worship is the sign that in giving myself completely to someone or something, I want to be mastered by it.”  We worship because we want to show our thanksgiving and praise to God.
 Bitterness in the Church
 Even among the faithful, bitterness and jealousy can grow. As with Esau, the boundaries of what is fair and deserving are grey with our judgments. The words in Hebrews are a warning to be alert for the things that wedge between our relationships and call us to deal with them for what they are, not allowing division between us.    Deeply immersed in meditation during a church service, Italian poet Dante failed to kneel at the appropriate moment. His enemies hurried to the bishop and demanded that Dante be punished for his sacrilege. Dante defended himself by saying, "If those who accuse me had had their eyes and minds on God, as I had, they too would have failed to notice events around them, and they most certainly would not have noticed what I was doing."
The community of faith has a responsibility to one another to encourage and motivate each other, especially newcomers in the faith.   With Jesus came the gift of grace; the time for keeping a ledger of good works is over.  Christians follow two commandments: love God above all else and love your neighbor as yourself.  We demonstrate that among our Christian brothers and sisters first, and then our mission is to share the Word with others.  Friends love you just as you are, warts and all.  Home is the place where you are always safe and welcome.  The church family and fellowship embodies all of this.  C. S. Lewis wrote, “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. If it were possible for a created soul fully to 'appreciate,' that is, to love and delight in, the worthiest object of all, and simultaneously at every moment to give this delight perfect expression, then that soul would be in supreme blessedness.”
 Don’t Dismiss the Witness
The spiritual witness is not to be dismissed. God’s voice comes through different people and events.  It is a terrible and fearful experience to ride out the winds of a tornado. No matter how much warning some people are given, they don’t fully believe the storm will come near to them. But if that storm blows down their neighbor’s house, then they might be more motivated to have insurance, an emergency plan and a designated place for shelter.  But often it is too late. How much better it would be if we would listen to the little signs and messages of God’s work and will and not be threatened by our pride and judgment.
The writer is reminding the believers that things are not the same as they were when the people worshipped with Moses.  There was a lot of fear in that worship.  Jesus Christ ushered in a new kind of worship.  There was no need for a human high priest to intercede.  We have a direct and personal relationship with the risen Christ.
Our worship is a celebration of the living God who dwells with us and continues to create today.  We worship to offer our praise and thanksgiving for the gifts of love and grace that enable us to be the disciples God wants us to be in the world today.
We have moved from Mount Sinai to Mount Zion.
 Shaken but Saved
There is a theme that trouble will come to the faithful. Shaken does not mean crushed, bruised does not mean broken. Reframe what you have overcome and learned from past struggles where God has carried, blessed and saved us. When we are able to do this, we can begin to be grateful through our struggles. 
Again the writer is warning the readers not to be taken in by false teachers who may dazzle them with “smoke and mirrors.”  They can rest securely on what Christ has taught and follow the pattern of his life and not be led astray.  We have a faith that is strong, and with God’s help and the help of our Christian family, we can face whatever challenges life brings.
“Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my 75 years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my experience, has been through affliction and not through happiness,” wrote Malcom Muggeridge, English author.
 Take Action:  Imagine what it would be like to not be familiar with how your church worships. Share with your class how each person could show radical hospitality and passionate worship to a stranger who might never enter your church.
 “While life's dark maze I tread, and griefs around me spread, be thou my guide; bid darkness turn to day, wipe sorrow's tears away, nor let me ever stray from Thee aside.”
Hymn # 452, The United Methodist Hymnal