**sermon art: A Cubist Prayer by Anthony Falbo
Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on September 1, 2019
[sermon begins after the Bible reading; see Luke reading at end of sermon]
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 Let mutual love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. 4 Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. 5 Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” 6 So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” 7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
15 Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
What do you need to hear today? Deep down. What’s the longing of faith that’s hard to name? I was recently talking to some people underneath a clear starry night in the mountains – when the moon is brand new and the stars pile up on each other in the darkness. The Milky Way is so vivid that it seems like you could reach out and touch it. Looking up at all those stars, you realize that some of them no longer exist as we see their light reaching us. It can feel like good perspective to look up and take in the magnitude of the universe. Perhaps our problems or experiences are right sized in the context of the millennia that fill the sky. Or, as it was pointed out to me in the ponderings of the group, perhaps an alternate experience is wondering if anything matters when confronted with the magnitude of time, stars, and night sky. These are the big questions that run deeply for many of us when we get a chance to pause in the face of something so much bigger than ourselves. These are the kinds of questions that send people into mind-bending philosophy degrees. I love that stuff and can get lost in it for hours. But what’s become more urgent in the last several years is what people need to make it through their day or maybe their week. That’s my longing of faith. The preacher in the book of Hebrews seems similarly concerned.
This is our last week of Hebrews readings in the latest run and the verses are the next to the last verses in Hebrews. I went back and re-read this short book to listen to the arc of the sermon. It’s intense! That preacher is lit up! There’s ongoing concern about perfection – better translated as completion. What makes the Hebrew church complete? Okay, yes, Jesus, who in the book of Hebrews is our sympathetic high priest who knows what it means to struggle being human so he also understands our struggles. More specifically though, the church is made complete by each other – people given to each other, for each other and the world, by Jesus our high priest. You see, hope by way of faith is a major longing in Hebrews too. The preacher asks, how do we hang onto faith and live a life of hope? By hanging onto community. A better way to say it may be hanging in community. Faith is difficult to do as a solo effort. Heck, life is difficult to do as a solo effort. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve heard somebody say, “I don’t know how people make it without a church.” From the outside, that statement can be confusing. People regularly make it through all kinds of things without church. The essence of the statement is heartfelt, though. To say it personally, I don’t know how I would make it without church. The preacher in Hebrews doesn’t know either.
There was a lot coming down for the listeners of Hebrews. Violence directed at them in particular, and violence in the world in general made life incredibly difficult and made faith hard to hold onto in the meantime. Here we share similarities at least in the violence in the world. Watching the gun industry placed ahead of human life is repeatedly tragic. Watching immigration policy dehumanize our most vulnerable neighbors is disturbing. Watching healthcare costs work against wellness for patients and families is impoverishing. You get the picture. For some of us, this means getting into the fray of advocacy and working with policymakers and voters to change how we treat each other through laws and practices. For others of us, this means tending the sick, working on marriages, and visiting the prisoners. Not so very different, really, from our first century Jesus followers in the book of Hebrews.
Amid everything going on for the listeners of Hebrews, there was a preacher who was trying to focus the community on the main things. The main things in Christ. The main things in each other. And the main things around them. Shanna VanderWel, our Minister of Youth and Family, says it this way in the latest video that launched on Friday. Shanna hopes Augustana’s children and youth have a place to be their authentic selves, become friends, serve others, and have Jesus as their center – breaking down barriers caused by stressors that they might have in life. She’s keeping the main thing lifted up for those kids and families as they live their lives of faith in the church today. It’s important to remember that many of the significant preachers in our lives aren’t necessarily the ones in Sunday’s pulpit. Shanna’s hope for the kids sounds a bit like the Hebrews preacher. Summarizing the Hebrews preacher sounds like this: continue mutual love, show hospitality to strangers, live free from the love of money, do good, share, confess faith, and praise God. These words are the final appeal about growing in faith amid difficult times when it might be easier to fade into isolation outside of community.
As Lutheran Christians, we depend on the promise that Jesus shows up in the waters of baptism and in the bread and wine of communion. That’s the baseline promise of our sacramental theology. It’s a bigger leap for some of us to say that Jesus shows up in the people of the church, the body of Christ. The Hebrews preacher urges showing up for each other in mutual love because Jesus is in the people around you. Not as perfection but in real, human frailty and in real, human hope – in the body of Christ. It’s an even bigger leap to start talking about angels. There it is in Hebrews. Show hospitality to strangers because you could be entertaining angels unawares. More than a cool notion, this call to hospitality suggests the possibility of the divine in our most human interactions.
The new Evangelism committee is forming. We’ll be focusing on two things. The first is reaching out and inviting. The second is welcoming and including. Connecting into community can feel tricky to newcomers who made a visit or two to Augustana online and liked what they saw there. More difficult is figuring out how to meet people and to have conversation beyond greeting each other in worship. Next week, between worship services, we’ll be repackaging beans and rice for Metro Caring. The week after that we’ll be started Faith Formation for all ages – from our littlest littles to our eldest elders. You’re invited into those community experiences as we grow in faith and go serve in the world. The connections we build with each other help us make it through this life and sustain our hope.
Ultimately, though, our hope as we long for completion is the reliability of Jesus Christ. Jesus, in the gospel of Luke, calls out the ladder climbing shenanigans of our wider world and calls us into community with each other. Jesus is the one who challenges our use of each other as social capital and connects us to each other in the living body of Christ that we call the church. He knows we need each other to make it through our days and weeks. The preacher in Hebrews echoes that call into community around Jesus Christ who “is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Thanks be to God! And amen.
 Matthew L. Skinner, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 1, 2019. Sermon Brainwave Podcast on https://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=1171
 Hebrews 4:14-16
 “Growing in Faith: Augustana’s Youth and Family Ministry.” Video launched on August 30, 2019. Produced by Ken Rinehart Media. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_OVD_lhRbtw
 Hebrews 13:8
Luke 14:1, 7-14 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”