The Fellowship of the Incomplete
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Hebrews 11: 29 – 33, 39. Focus on why the building of God’s Kingdom is never completed but always requires a new generation to work on it. Check out Jody Sinkway and the choir following the sermon.
It took me a long time to realize that the Christian faith is not the triumph of individuals over evil, but rather a community, a fellowship of explicitly shared hopes and experiences, frustrations and failures. It has taken me a long time to realize that there is no such thing as a private Christian, no such thing as personal faith in the sense of belonging to me and to no one else.
The Bible not to mention the historic witness of our faith reminds us that from Genesis to Revelation we are part of God’s revealed fellowship, that we belong to God and God dwells among us. At the creation God says that it’s not good for man to be alone and so he creates for him a companion, a woman. In the Gospel’s Jesus says, wherever two or three are gathered that’s where I will be.
Throughout both testaments it’s to a community that God most fully reveals himself. Individuals have their heroic and personal encounters with God, but if you think about it, these tête-à-têtes are never for the benefit of the individual but always for the benefit of a larger community.
“For God so loved the world,” we are told by John; not just Israel, not just the church, not just you, not just me, but the whole wide world.
As T. S. Eliot puts it in “Chorus from The Rock”: “What life have you if you have not life together? There is no life that is not in community, and no community not lived in praise of God.”
It’s this sense of community that the church moves toward, and its largest expression is found at the Lord’s Table. Here it’s not just the living that are summoned together under the lordship of Christ, it’s all who have been and all who ever will be with whom we are joined in the most radical and mysterious of ways.
Here at this table all the barriers that we create are knocked down. It was at this table that I first came to realize that I wasn’t going to allow religious leaders to tell me who could partake and who could not. Are we not all undeserving of God’s grace? Are we not all in need of it? Who are we to say who is in and who is out? Only God and he died for all so that the whole world might be saved through his son’s death and resurrection in all times and in all places.
And though the likes of King David Peter, Mary and Moses may intimidate us as we gather with them around the Lord’s table our text in the book of Hebrews reminds us that the story of God’s redemption – the process that they began – is not complete and will not be accomplished without us.
God hasn’t created us simply to be onlookers to his great work, but to be participants in that work, because apart from us the work of these great figures of faith is incomplete. We share with them in an unfinished drama; we are forever building God’s kingdom here on earth.
Some of us building the new, some of us repairing the old, but all of us building the vision of God’s kingdom that our ancestors saw and point us toward. Not only do we depend upon them for the vision, but as the text says, they depend upon us. We cannot rest upon their accomplishments any more than they can rest upon ours. It’s a community of cooperation in which the dead, the living and the yet-to-be-here share in that glory which is the ever-unfolding revelation of God’s will for humanity in every day and age.
Think of it: Abraham and Sarah, Peter and Paul and Mary & Martha, all depend upon the likes of you and me and without us their work is incomplete. We need each other and always will, because as long as human generations come their will always be a need for you and me to tell to the coming generations the glorious deeds of the Lord and all that he has brought to fruition.
The communion of saints that gathers with us around the Lord’s table is not just a community of remembrance, it’s also a fellowship of anticipation and participation and we share this with those who have gone this way before and those who are yet to come.
When we hear the word saint many of us think in terms of a person who is perfect or someone who’s the epitome of virtue. We think of people cast in bronze or embodied in stained glass – people in effect who do not belong to the same club that we belong to. But a Biblical saint was someone who was engaged in a holy struggle, who was identified with the Christian community, who was not so much perfect as persevering. These are the people in the Corinthian church whom Paul calls saints and commends one moment for their faithfulness and at another disciplines for there lack of table manners.
They are like us, in the process of becoming, never having completely arrived. All of us who take the name of Jesus seriously and who identify ourselves with his work, his will and his church are saints by definition, and all of us whether on earth or in heaven are engaged in the constant and imperfect struggle for holiness, and as such we in this puny corner of the universe share a fellowship with Abraham and Sarah, James and John, Martha and Mary at this table.
That’s what it’s always been about, that’s why we gather at this table, that’s what it means when we sing the words to the old gospel hymn, “What a fellowship, what a joy divine, leaning on the everlasting arms of God.” Amen