WHAT THEY’RE SAYING – REV. PAUL DAKIN

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
A sermon on Hebrews 10:11-25
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
November 14, 2021
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our
Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.


Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as
is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Hebrews 10:24-25


The world has certainly changed over the course of the last 21 months or so, hasn’t it? The
pandemic became our daily reality with the lockdown back in March 2020. Since then, life has been
different, to say the least. Vaccines and mask wearing have become normative. Businesses were shut
down back during the quarantine. Some slowly reopened with curbside service. Unfortunately, others
were forced out of business altogether. Workers’ hours were reduced and some were furloughed,
causing financial hardship for many. School schedules were disrupted. Hospitals were filled to capacity.
Intensive care units were overflowing. Health care workers were overworked and burning out. I do not
think that I have experienced anything like it in my lifetime. And I imagine that most of you would say
the same thing…
Churches responded to the pandemic in many different ways. Early on during the months of the
lockdown, you may remember that the state mandated that churches could only gather with less than
10 people present. And they could only open if there were certain safety protocols in place. (Did anyone
ever use or hear the phrase “social distancing” before the pandemic? I don’t think that I ever did…) And
during those days when in-person Sunday worship was not possible, churches tried some different
alternative solutions.
One early idea that quickly became popular was known as “drive-in church.” To do “drive-in
church,” a church would purchase a low-power radio transmitter. These transmitters could be had for a
few hundred dollars and were easy to set up. One did not need to have a broadcasting license to use it
since the signal could only be picked up within about a quarter mile radius. So folks could drive to the
church parking lot, stay in their cars, tune their car radio dials to the appropriate channel, and then be
able to hear music, a scripture reading and a sermon in their own car. This was done in order to
maintain proper social distancing guidelines when the pandemic was at its worst. Many churches did
that…but I have not heard that many churches are continuing to use those low-power transmitters.
Nowadays more people are vaccinated and the pandemic has wound down in many areas…
As the pandemic wore on, and the weather got warmer in the spring of 2020, “drive-in church”
sometimes morphed into “outdoor church.” Instead of broadcasting on a radio transmitter, a sound
system was set up outside for the preacher and musicians to use. Again, the folks sat in their cars with
P a g e | 2
the windows open (or sometimes in folding chairs) to hear the service. Being able to worship while
maintaining proper social distancing again was the goal…
Instead of drive-in church or outdoor church, many churches opted to take their worship
services online. In some cases, the worship service (or a portion of it) was prerecorded and then posted
online before the worship hour. In other instances, the service was streamed live on social media
platforms like Facebook, Twitch or YouTube. Sometimes the worship service was streamed on the
church’s website. Probably more churches did this than any other way to make their worship services
available their members. It was (and still is) popular with many churches…
But a problem has arisen. The latest figures that I have seen have stated that 71% of Americans
have had at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. Consequently virus protocols for in-person gatherings
have been significantly loosened. Now that the pandemic has been somewhat brought under control—
at least for the time being—questions have been raised as to what comes next for the church. Many are
alarmed because Sunday morning worship attendance figures of most churches over the last few
months have not returned to pre-pandemic levels.
This has church leaders and observers worried. It is currently a major topic of discussion in local
congregations and in articles intended for pastors and church leaders. One colleague of mine told a
story about what happened at a recent deacons’ meeting at his church. The church has only been
streaming its worship services after the pandemic began. One deacon stood up in the meeting and made
a motion that the church discontinue its online broadcasts. He said that he believed that this would be a
way to entice people to return for in-person worship. From what I heard, there was not much discussion
of his motion in the meeting. And not surprisingly, the motion was soundly defeated.
Some church observers and commentators have suggested that the church needs to get used to
this new 21st Century reality—the reality of fewer people attending in-person worship and the church
having an expanded online presence. Many are convinced that large numbers of once-faithful
churchgoers are not going to return for in-person worship. The reasoning goes like this: why should
people attend in-person worship—when they can sit at home in their easy chair wearing their pajamas,
sipping a second cup of coffee, and watching their church worship online? That’s a good question…and
one that churches all over the country are wrestling with…
One wonders what the writer of the book of Hebrews would have thought about these
conversations. Of course, 21st Century technology was not available in the 1st Century AD—technology
that would enable the church to record…and stream…and broadcast their meetings and worship
services. And yet, in a word that has a strangely contemporary ring to it, the writer of Hebrews
encourages his readers in verse 25 to “not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but
encourage one another, and all the more since you see the Day approaching.”
P a g e | 3
Obviously there were some members of the 1st Century church who were not committed regular
churchgoers. The writer of Hebrews does not explain why that might have been. Scholars have
suggested some reasons why as to why some were forsaking regular church participation…
Some have suggested that it may have been out of fear of persecution. The book of Hebrews is
thought to have been written just prior to the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 70
AD. If that is the case, then the Roman persecution of Christians was in full swing by the time the book
was written. After the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD, Christianity was outlawed. And Christians
throughout the Empire were targeted by the Roman government. This was in addition to the
persecution that many early Christians suffered at the hands of local Jewish officials—to which the
Roman authorities seemingly turned a blind eye. So at this time in the Empire, being identified as a
Christian could mean arrest, imprisonment, torture and even death. Wanting to avoid persecution,
perhaps many Christians decided it would be prudent not to be seen associating with other Christians.
That included times of worship…
Other scholars have suggested that perhaps some of these early Christians saw the Christian
faith as one of several religious expressions that they were a part of. They would build their own faith
“cafeteria-style”—as it were. A little of this and a little of that…They would use some elements of
Christianity that they found agreeable or helpful to them. Then they would mix in some other elements
of the pagan religions that held sway in their communities. Consequently they would participate in
Christian worship sometimes. This would be in addition to participating in other religious cults and
practices popular in the prevailing culture…
Still others have suggested that maybe some of those early Christians just had a lack of
enthusiasm for their faith. Yes, they had made a profession of their faith to follow Jesus. Yes, they had
been baptized and had become a part of the church fellowship. But their faith was apparently shallow
and lukewarm. They participated in the life of faith when it was convenient for them to do so. And when
it wasn’t, then they would absent themselves from participating in church and return whenever it suited
them…
I have been a Christian since I made my initial profession of faith in Christ and was baptized as a
nine-year old boy back in 1966. As I have gotten older, and as I have progressed in the faith, this is
something that I have learned about being a Christian. Being a Christian is not primarily about right
belief or right doctrine. Being a Christian is not about doing the right things…or not doing the wrong
things. The fancy theological terms for “right belief” and “right actions” are “orthodoxy” and
“orthopraxis.” In its essence, the Christian faith is not really about either of those things. It is not signing
on to a list of statements that you are supposed to believe about God or about Jesus.
Please do not misunderstand me on this point. Such statements of belief are essential. I am not
saying that any of those things are wrong. Nor am I saying that they are they unimportant. They are
important—very important. At First Baptist, we “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to
the saints.” (Jude verse 3) We make no apologies for that. We are steadfast in our resolve. However,
P a g e | 4
statements concerning faith and rules for how we should live as believers do not constitute Christianity
at its most basic level…
This is the main point: The Christian faith at its most basic is really about relationships—our
relationship to God through Christ, our relationships to others within the household of faith, and our
relationships to those outside of the faith. Relationships—those are really the most important things in
what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Without those relationships, and without the nurturing of those
relationships, there is no Christian faith to speak of. And no amount of orthodoxy and orthopraxis can
make up for it.
This is something that is a thread that runs through the entire New Testament. And yet, it seems
to me that a lot of Christians have only a vague understanding of the importance of these relationships
in the life of faith. Many seem to believe that rules or affirming certain statements about God and Christ
take precedence over those three relationships. But I think that the truth of relationships being the
essence of the faith is crystal clear in the Bible. I do not know how people could miss it. Here are a few
quick examples to illustrate the point. Many more could be included…
2 Corinthians 5:19 tell us that “God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, not
counting men’s sins against them.” Reconciling means drawing close and bringing into
relationship. God took the initiative to bridge the chasm between himself and us through Jesus.
And it is due to God’s work in Jesus that a new relationship with him was forged—a new
relationship that is vibrant…alive…fulfilling…and real. Connecting with God is not about affirming
certain statements about God. Instead, it is all about relationship.
On the night that he was betrayed, Jesus taught his disciples, saying in John 15:12, “My
command is this: Love one another as I have loved you.” And he went on to repeat the very
same command five verses later when he reiterated, “This is my command: Love one another.”
In this passage, Jesus is speaking to his disciples. And the point is that the relationships among
believers are to be a sign of the coming kingdom of God. Christians are to be known for the
quality of love that guides the relationships within their fellowship. In fact, I think that, when the
relationships inside of the church are as they should be, it is one of the most compelling aspects
of our faith to those who are on the outside…
In Matthew 22:39, Jesus told his disciples that the second half of the greatest commandment of
all is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This command to love is inclusive of those outside of the
Christian fellowship. It is with love that the followers of Jesus are to interact with those outside
of the fellowship. It is through relationships developed with others that will be a factor in
bringing unbelievers into the Kingdom.
This truth about the Christian faith being all about relationships is evident in the opening hymn
that we sang. Did you notice it? The final stanza of the classic hymn “Brethren, We Have Met to
Worship” begins with these words: “Let us love our God supremely, / Let us love each other too; / Let us
love and pray for sinners/ Till our God makes all things new.” There it is: our relationship to God, our
relationship to one another in the household of faith, and our relationships with those who do not yet
P a g e | 5
know Jesus. They are all succinctly stated there in those few lines. All three of the relationships that
make up the essence of the Christian faith are to be found right there…
Here’s the thing about relationships. In order for relationships to grow…to deepen…to
develop…one must be present. Genuinely present…That is true if we are talking about a marriage
relationship…or our friends…or neighbors…or anyone else. If a person treats their significant other as
many people seem to treat their church participation, then the relationship will not amount to much. A
relationship will not grow—indeed it cannot grow—unless both are present with the other. It is just as
true in the life of the Spirit as it is in the physical world. To be absent in the body is to be absent in the
relationship.
This is what the writer of the book of Hebrews was addressing. Some in the church obviously did
not feel the need to join with the rest of the community in worship. By absenting themselves from
worship, they were depriving themselves of the chance to deepen their relationship with God…and with
other believers.
As I see it, that’s the problem with online worship. Any relationship worth anything is one that
is characterized by presence by both parties. Both parties get to know one another better through
interaction on a regular basis. And while online worship may be able to fill some needs for teaching and
instruction in the faith, it is difficult for it to be the basis for growing one’s relationship to God. Because
it is a one-way street. Yes—we can observe and watch—but we cannot participate together. We cannot
sing the great hymns of faith together. We cannot participate together in the Lord’s Supper. And
strengthening our relationships with our brothers and sisters in the faith is well-nigh impossible through
online worship. The personal interaction is missing. The sense of community is gone. The value of
participating together in a common experience is lost.
So what will happen with in-person worship in a post-pandemic church? I do not know. And I
doubt that anyone else really has any answers either. Is online worship really the wave of the future? It
very well may be in the short term. But I have a hunch that sooner or later the novelty may wear off. I
think that people will eventually tire of staring at a video monitor in the hope of experiencing God in
fresh and unmistakable ways. They will crave the company of other believers as they seek to follow the
Savior. That is because relationships are very essence of the Christian life. And no technology—present
or future—can ever change that…
To God alone be the glory! Amen