19th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 22) LSB #861
Text – Hebrews 2:1
Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.
The place Jan & I live in has a bedroom in the basement. A couple years ago we had an egress window put in so the bedroom would be legal, since it now has two means of escape in case of fire. So outside there’s a large window well going down 4 feet into the ground. For some reason lots of critters are attracted to it. The most common are the frogs & the toads.
Last week we found a chipmunk down there. Frogs & toads are easy to get ahold of & remove, but the chipmunk, not so much. Our cat would have loved the opportunity to go after it, but we thought that would be too cruel. So first, we tried angling a long tree branch down in for the chipmunk to climb up on & crawl out. He wouldn’t do it.
He just sat there with his tail curled around his body, like he was content to remain in his predicament for a long time. He wasn’t going to find food or water there so the handwriting was on the wall. He wasn’t going to survive for long even if our cat did not find him.
Next, we tied a rope to the handle of a bucket, put some walnuts in the bucket & lowered it into the hole. We hoped the rodent would go after the walnuts & then we could pull it out along with the bucket. Until the bucket came to rest on the ground he ran & jumped & jumped & ran, trying to get away, with nowhere to go.
Once the bucket was settled, he curled up into his resting pose again & sat there. We needed another plan. Since lowering the bucket the first time caused him to run & jump around, we thought we might be able to catch him in midair with the bucket. We tried that for a while, swinging the bucket around in the hole, but could never get the rodent to drop in.
What we did notice however, is that with each swing of the bucket around the hole, the
chipmunk got more agitated & afraid. Finally, with what was likely a large dose of adrenaline, it was able to jump & then climb right up the cement block of the basement wall, & out the top of the window well. It then scurried off to the neighbor’s front porch & out of sight behind their flowers. The chipmunk was now set free from his prison cell.
Mr. Rodent had seemed happy to just curl up in the window well & rest. He would have starved to death eventually, like the frog carcass that was already down there. We finally scared him enough that he climbed right out. No more drifting away into the cozy slumber of death, for the chipmunk, at the bottom of our window well.
He needed someone to rescue him, but it looked like he didn’t know it. That’s where many people have been throughout history. It’s where many of the people in our nation, & in our state, & in our community are at today. People you know are in this predicament. They’re stuck in a prison cell & they’ve gotten used to it. They’ve resigned themselves to it.
Sadly, like the chipmunk in our window well, many of them also do not want to be rescued. They’re content to just sit there, with their tale curled around their body, & accept their fate. Even though it’s much easier to rescue frogs than chipmunks, from our window well, it’s still a lot easier to rescue chipmunks from death, than it is to rescue to human beings.
I’ve quoted these words of Jesus many times to make this same point: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets & stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, & you were not willing!” Those words do not only apply to the people of Jerusalem!
The fact that we’re here this morning is a sign that most of us consider ourselves to be children of God. I’m sure the chipmunk in the window well considered himself to be a chipmunk. But if he stayed in that window well for long he would have ceased to be. Our status as children of God can end as well. In the 6th chapter of the book of Hebrews the author wrote, “For it is impossible to bring back to repentance those who were once enlightened… who then turn away from God.” (Hebrews 6:4 & 6 NLT)
The point I’d like to emphasize is this: We can lose our faith in God, & commonly that happens through drifting away, rather than quitting in one fell swoop. The devil is clever enough to realize that most people won’t just get up & walk away from their Savior. However, if he can inch us away from Jesus over a period of time, we may not even notice.
That’s what the sermon text is all about: “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” That is the greatest danger to anyone’s faith in Jesus as Savior from sin – drifting away. It’s like being caught in a cozy little prison cell & the inmates have gotten used to it. They’ve resigned themselves to being trapped.
They might be toiling after worldly wealth, things that moth & rust will destroy. It might be in holding a grudge & refusing to forgive. The hardness of heart that requires strangles every ounce of life out of you. The drifting away might occur because you’ve bought the idea that you can be a Christian without going to church.
That works in theory, in an ideal world, but this world is no fairy tale. It is a place filled with the corrosive effects of sin. No one who lives in this life lives happily ever after. And the devil is constantly looking for self-confident Christians whom he can devour. In spite of all the Bible’s warnings, each of us is guilty of trying to live in our own fairy tale world.
So the author of Hebrews warns us: “…how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, & it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs & wonders & various miracles & by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will.” (Hebrews 2:3-4 ESV) The greatness of our salvation is that it comes to us absolutely free of charge. All that’s required is that we believe it to be true, & our heavenly Father even creates that very belief within us. He does all that for us, because if He does not then we are still trapped, forever & always, in the prison of our sins. As John 15:13 puts it: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
The book of Hebrews begins with these words, “Long ago, at many times & in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son…” “…how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?”
The author of Hebrews states the incomparable greatness of our Savior’s salvation for us, yet he merges it into a strong warning as well. God’s Word of mercy & grace are combined with God’s Word of warning & direction. For this sinful world they can never be separated as if they were two independent teachings.
If we neglect that great & wonderful salvation that was made known to us, if we should deliberately set aside & despise what we know to be the one way to heaven, there will no excuse for us when the Lord calls us to account on the Last Day. The drifting away may occur painlessly, but the Judgment will not.
Speculation is that the church, which the book of Hebrews was written to, was living primarily for earthly wealth & selfish desires. Their lives, plans & hopes were self-centered. Faith & love toward God, in a life of service to God, were of secondary importance at best. Revelation 3:14-20 speak of a similar church:
“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful & true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, & neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, & I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind & naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, & white garments so that you may clothe yourself & the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, & salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove & discipline, so be zealous & repent. Behold, I stand at the door & knock.’”
This apathy towards God’s Word of stinging Law & comforting Gospel is utterly distasteful to our Lord, who will not tolerate it. Christ in patient love forgives a Christian who sins seventy-seven times. Such love draws us to live in sorrow & repentance, always looking to God for mercy.
Yahweh does not tolerate a life of imagined self-sufficiency which needs no repentance & no forgiveness. To the church of Laodicea, Christ speaks a terrifying & harsh word of Law, for He would wake the church from its spiritual drifting, which has put it in danger of eternal damnation. We would do well if our ears would also hear.
“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple & fine linen & who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came & licked his sores. The poor man died & was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died & was buried, & in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes & saw Abraham far off & Lazarus at his side.
And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, & send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water & cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, & Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, & you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us & you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, & none may cross from there to us.’
And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house – for I have five brothers – so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses & the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses & the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19-31 ESV)
“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” Every sin we commit is a drifting away from our heavenly Father, but strung together with pride & indifference, they lead us a long way from Jesus. Contrition & repentance are the way back to Him, but they aren’t something our Lord leaves us to do on our own. He actually stirs them up within us, restoring us to life for the journey: “That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, & they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking & discussing together, Jesus Himself drew near & went with them.” (Luke 24:13-15 ESV)
Jesus came to rescue us from the prison of our sins, even during those times we have no clue that we’re trapped in them. Jesus never toiled after wealth. He never held a grudge. Not once did He miss being in church on the Sabbath. He lived a perfect life in order to rescue us from our failure to keep the Law. He suffered & died to pay for the evil we have done.
Now, like on the road to Emmaus, He comes alongside us, to guide, direct & lead us, even to keep us on the path of eternal life. Whether drifting or doubting, it is in Jesus we stand. Even now, here in His house, He is calling us to gather together under His wings, from where ever we may have drifted to.
By the power of His Word & Sacraments, Yahweh is calling us to be forgiven & strengthened to face each new day. Amen.
Christ be my Teacher in age as in youth, drifting or doubting, for He is the truth. Grant me to trust Him; though shifting as sand, doubt cannot daunt me; in Jesus I stand. Christ be my Savior in calm as in strife; death cannot hold me, for He is the life. Nor darkness nor doubting nor sin & its stain can touch my salvation: with Jesus I reign. Amen.
 Hebrews 1:1-2 ESV
 Hebrews 2:3a ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet