Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
June 13, 2021
Thoughts at the Beginning of Worship
In preparation for today’s worship, I found myself rereading portions of Joseph Small’s wonderful book, Flawed Church, Faithful God. I like the title, for it accurately describes our situation. Toward the end of the book, he addresses the situation many churches find themselves in today:
Churches in America today are anxious, not hopeful. The prospect of institutional decline leads to a frantic succession of vision statements, strategic plans, measurable objectives, and the displacement of outputs by outcomes, all dependent on the latest management trends. Hope in God’s way is replaced by reliance on the latest fads in management techniques accompanied by official expressions of optimism that sound eerily like whistles in the dark.
While I agree with much of what Small says, I also think there has always been an anxious thread within the church. But such fears have more to do with our focus on what we are doing or can do and not enough focus on what God has done and is doing through Jesus Christ. We’re called to depend on the grace of Jesus Christ and him alone. And we need leaders who bring a message of grace to us, not ones who place more burden on our lives.
After the Reading of Scripture:
We’re almost at the end of Hebrews. God willing, we’ll complete our journey through this book next Sunday. Our section today appears to focus on leadership. Our reading was bookended, in verses 7 and 17, with words concerning those in leadership over us. But there is so much more in this middle part of the 13th chapter. As we seen throughout this book, the author again circles around and brings back up topics he’s already covered.
Earthly leaders are important. They’re identified here as those who told us about Jesus. Leaders have the awesome responsibility to care for the souls the believers under their watch. It’s a humbling position and my prayer often, when writing sermons, when I am going into a meeting, or a visit is that God will be glorified and that what I say and do will not build me up but help build Christ’s kingdom on earth. Being a leader in the church is humbling. You must be grounded in the Word and in prayer and know your own limitations and shortcomings. None of us are perfect, including myself.
Jesus is our Ultimate Leader
The preacher of this letter to the Hebrews, after first encouraging his listeners to remember their leaders and learn from them by imitating their faith, turns to our ultimate leader, Jesus Christ. John’s gospel speaks of Christ as the good shepherd. Hebrews devotes much of this letter to showing Jesus’ superiority to everyone and everything else. Earthly leaders will fail. Only Jesus is faithful day in and day out. He is the same, we’re told, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
While we’re to be concerned and responsible to our leaders, the preacher who lifts Christ up every chance he has, encourages his listeners to remain faithful to the Savior. Undoubtedly, there were some leaders at the time this letter was written, who preached some weird ideas of their own. God’s grace is the foundation of our salvation, we’re told, not obeying a bunch of rules and regulations concerning food and sacrifices. Verse 10 contains a terrible truth. Those who teach otherwise are not invited into the real altar, or we might say the perfect sanctuary where the perfect sacrifice, Jesus Christ, was made.
Leaving the Old Behind
The author seems intent on us understanding that we’re leaving behind the old. Like Jesus, we’re to leave the city, which represents the old ways. Jesus suffered and died outside the city, and we are to be willing to join him and endure abuse, too. We know that the present is temporary. This world will pass away. We’re to wait and hope for this new city. While we wait with hope, we continue to praise God. For we know that God working things out.
While we have a perfect sacrifice in Jesus Christ, we’re to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others. The preacher continues, remining us to do good and to share what we have with those who are in need.
Role of the Church and Its Leaders
Our hope is in Jesus Christ, but this does not mean that the church is not important, nor does it mean that there is nothing more for us to do. Through the church, we learn of God’s grace through Jesus Christ. And through our lives and sacrifices, others may come to know the good news of Jesus as they see us life in a graceful manner.
This passage concludes with a second reminder of the role of Christian leadership. The author informs his readers that leaders are also held accountable. Then he concludes with a hope they can do their work with joy and not sighing. If they can do their work with joy, it will be better for everyone. Hebrews is aware that not all the work of leadership is easy or joyful. Sometimes leaders must make tough decisions or give counsel that others may find offensive. But it’s part of the job.
A Story about Learning Leadership
As a new pastor, I remember early on being visited by a guy whose wife and children attended my church. I hadn’t even had the chance to meet them when he stopped by this afternoon. This was before my first Sunday, and this visit made me question just what I was getting myself into.
This man had concerns. His wife was leaving him. He wanted me to tell her, offering scripture for me to quote, that she was to obey and submit to him. While he had a few selected verses to back up his ideas, he seemed to miss the point of scripture. This became apparent as I asked him a few questions.
Gradually, in our conversation, it came out that he felt it was his right to come home after a hard day’s work and drink a six-pack and smoke a few joints. He admitted to doing this every evening. He even admitted that when she confronted him with his behavior, he sometimes became violent. Without even hearing her side of the story, I was glad she was making a break. As their children aged—they were at this time an infant and a toddler—I knew this situation would not get any better. “I think I’m on her side,” I told him.
“You’re not going to help me,” he asked? He then questioned my faith and my commitment to scripture.
I told him that I would help him if he was first willing to work on his own issues. Furthermore, I told him, I certainly wasn’t going to suggest his wife and their kids remain in such a setting until he got his act together. He didn’t want to hear that. He cussed me and left.
Leadership is Tough
Leaders, responsible for the souls of others, often find themselves in a difficult situation. We are not here to agree and to support whatever people think is right. Being faithful to the gospel means there are times we must challenge people in order that they might do what is right for them, for their families, and for God. Not everybody wants to hear that.
Leaders Need Your Help
Speaking on the behalf of leaders (and in the Presbyterian system, we have shared leadership between clergy and Elders), we do the best we can. But we need your help and your prayers, and I think that’s the message of this passage. None of us, except Jesus, are perfect. Yet God works through us. For that, we can be thankful and humble. Leaders are important, but our hope is not in ourselves, in our leaders and institutions. Our hope is in Jesus Christ, and him alone. Amen.
 Joseph D. Small, Flawed Church, Faithful God: A Reformed Ecclesiology for the Real World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018), 187.
 John 10:1-18.