Friday, May 15, 2020

Getting Back to Living

     Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 
     For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
     I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.
-John 17:1-4 (NIV)

I’m kind of in need of a haircut. I’ve been thinking of getting some clippers and just shaving it off, but I’m a little scared of what I might do to myself. Right now I’m holding off. But I’m definitely in need of a haircut.
     I’d like to watch some baseball. I’d love to see the NBA playoffs. Go to restaurants. See family and friends.
     My parents want to go to Florida. It would be nice if they could.
     I’d like to be with my church on Sundays. 
     I have it good, though. Some people — a lot — would like to be working, but don’t have a job to go to.
     Some would like to be able to feed their families, but have to rely on a food pantry.
     Some would like to be well, but are in hospitals, even on ventilators.
     Some are missing people they love who they know they’ll never see again in this life.
     In many ways, big and small, this pandemic has affected the way we live. It’s affected livelihoods, it’s bankrupted businesses, it’s ravaged health, it’s exposed the weaknesses and fault lines in our government and in our way of life, it’s interfered with our faith, it’s destroyed marriages. And so on, and so on.
     I get why everyone — and I mean everyone; I doubt anything has ever so united people worldwide — wants the stay-at-home orders to end. We want to get back to normal. I understand that, I do. I agree completely. We might disagree on how it should be done, and how quickly — where you live and how you’re personally affected has a lot to do with that, I’m sure. But I share completely in a desire to see this thing be over.
     But I’ve heard something since it started, really, and more frequently of late. I’ve heard it from people with a wide spectrum of beliefs and convictions, but it always goes something like this: “We need to get back to living.” Maybe you’ve said something like that yourself. Maybe you agree with it: “Yeah, that’s right. We need to get back to living!” 
     If you’re saying that, or affirming it, I just need to respectfully ask you a question.
     Who in the world ever told you to stop living?
     Maybe that’s the most devastating thing this pandemic has done to us: It’s exposed that our lives might be too shallow, too built on going to work and being surrounded by friends and watching sports and going to restaurants and coffee shops. It’s threatened our political beliefs and economic security and even what we thought the practice of our faith was all about. 
     But maybe that’s God’s gift in this, too. Maybe through this experience he is helping us all to better understand what living is.
     I see people around me living every day. My wife and son are living by showing love and care to each other, and to me. They’re living by serving the church, their parents and grandparents, and people in our community in need. They’re living by laughing together and encouraging each other.
     The church I’m a part of are living. Our leaders are making plans, trying to make sure we’re best positioned to help each other, our community, and even those far away to know the love of Jesus. We’re serving each other. We’re sharing what we have. We’re staying in touch by phone and text and video and letter. We’re praying and worshipping. Many are working at essential jobs — police, firefighter, postal service, retail workers, food workers, medical people — that keep things functioning as normally as possible. They’re lights in a dark place. Some have lost jobs. But they’re living by showing love to their family and friends and church. They’re volunteering. They’re staying in touch with the lonely and helping the at-risk.
     I’m surrounded, in short, by people who never stopped living. Some of them have been impacted by the pandemic as much as anyone, much more than I have, but they know that life was never about the things they’ve lost: neither the things lost temporarily nor the things lost permanently. 
     Jesus once made this startling claim: “this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” We don’t realize how startling it is because we think it’s about going to heaven when you die, but what Jesus literally says is more like, “this is the life of the age to come…”. By knowing him, you connect with God and begin living the life that you’ll enjoy in heaven now. Even though the sorrows and struggles of life here don’t go away, we experience them in the light and strength and joy of the life to come.
     If you take Jesus seriously here, you start to realize that life isn’t about our jobs or our economic security or even our churches and institutions. Life is only found in connection with God through Jesus. But it’s found there in buckets, life everywhere you look, on into eternity.
     That makes sense, of course. It’s God who gives us life in the first place. Through knowing God by knowing Jesus, we have life. 
     So if you think you need for this pandemic to be over to get back to living, think again. Jesus thought life was found in finishing the work God gave him to do. To know Jesus is experiential and relational. You don’t know him by reading a few Bible verses. You know him by doing the work God gave you to do as well. You won’t do it alone; he’ll be there with you to help you. Whatever we may lose in this pandemic is not what life is about anyway. It’s about finishing the work God gives us to do.
     I assure you, God has work for you to do right now. While everything seems up in the air, while you’re worrying about what might happen, God has work for you to do.
     Who in the world ever told you to stop living?
     There is no better time than now to put your faith in Jesus by following him in doing the work God gave you to do. While so much else in your life is on hold, use the moment to open your eyes to what God’s up to all around you, and how you’re supposed to be a part of it.
     You don’t even need a haircut. Really.    

Friday, May 8, 2020

Loving More Than Our Own People

     If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
-Matthew 5:46-48 (NIV)

     Maybe you’ve heard about the death of Ahmaud Arbery. I have to admit that I missed it for a while. A video of the incident went viral this week, though, and it’s been hard to miss. And I want to make sure my white friends don’t continue to miss it like I did.
     In February, Ahmaud Arbery was shot dead in Brunswick, a small town in south Georgia. Ahmaud didn’t die in a shootout with police, or a drug deal gone wrong, or even as an innocent bystander in a gang killing. When young black men die in those circumstances, it’s easy to put an asterisk by their deaths in our heads — something along the lines of “well, they were asking for it.” There are lots of problems with that, but one of them is that it breeds a jaded disregard for the shooting deaths of young men of color in general. And, in some circumstances, creates the deaths of other young men of color.
     That’s what happened in this case. Ahmaud was 25, not much older than my son. It’s pretty unlikely, though,  that my son would have been killed for jogging through a neighborhood on a sunny Sunday afternoon. 
     The men who killed him, Gregory and Tracis McMichael, saw Ahmaud running through their subdivision and apparently thought he matched the description of a man who had been breaking into houses in the neighborhood — at least to the extent that he was black. That was enough to compel McMichael and his son, Travis, to grab a .357 Magnum and a shotgun and chase after Ahmaud in their pickup, intending to make a citizen’s arrest. That, by the way, is legal in Georgia. Two armed men can legally chase down another man in the state of Georgia — if the offense was committed in their presence or within their immediate knowledge. 
     The problem with that, of course, is that Ahmad committed no offense, other than being a young man of color jogging through a neighborhood — a neighborhood where he had jogged before and was known. Had he been white, it almost certainly would have been assumed he was jogging. He would have received the benefit of the doubt.
     A video shows the McMichaels and Arberry meet on the street. While Gregory is standing in the bed of his pickup, Travis and Ahmaud fight for control of Travis’ shotgun. Shots are fired. Ahmaud starts to run away, then staggers and falls to the ground. Travis turns him over to see if he was carrying a gun.
     Ahmaud did not have a weapon. At no time in the video does he pull a gun or a knife. He does seem to initiate the altercation, but only after he apparently turned and jogged away from the McMichaels when they blocked his path at another location.
     I know, it’s tempting to say things like, “We don’t know it was about race.” I don’t know the McMichaels’ at all. I can’t say what was in their hearts and on their minds. But as to whether or not it was about race: Do we really imagine that a young white man running by in workout clothes would have drawn the McMichaels’ attention — even if the description of the burglar included that he was white?
     If you think so, you might want to listen to some stories of friends who are people of color. They might not like to tell them much, but they have them. Their stories will probably sound like some of the things that have happened to my friend, my brother in Christ, who happens to be a big black guy. There’s the time he was pulled over on his way to a wedding, made to lie on a dirty street in his tux, handcuffed, while the police ran his license plate and ID. There’s the time he was pushed against the hood of a police car, handcuffed again, and made to sit in the back of the car — in front of his wife and daughter — because a police officer saw him toss a burned-out light bulb into the back yard of an apartment building he owned. My friend isn’t belligerent. He’s well aware of how he looks, and even though he shouldn’t have to he tries to speak and act in ways that offset his appearance. 
     Do you really think I would have drawn that kind of attention? Any other white man?
     I’m not saying being white is a moral failing. I’m not saying that if you’re white you’re personally responsible for every wrong ever done by a white person to a person of color. 
     I’m saying don’t give in to the impulse to rush to defend what shouldn’t be defended.
     I’m saying don’t disregard the stories that people of color tell about the injustices done to them.
     I’m saying that, if you’re a white person, be sure that people of color find in you an empathetic friend who will listen to their stories, take them seriously, and be as much a part of the healing of racism as you can possibly be.
     See, the McMichaels’ aren’t the real problem. The problem is that we live in a world where racism can be found tangled deeply in the machinery of society. Sometimes it doesn’t sound like overt racism. It sounds more like, “I know them, they wouldn’t do something like that.” Sometimes it sounds like, “That’s just the way things get done around here.” Sometimes it’s more like, “We shouldn’t rush to judgment” or “Well, if he wasn’t guilty he wouldn’t have run.” 
    Jesus reminds us that it’s no trick to “greet our own people.” It’s no trick to love those who are like us (even though we have some trouble even with that). His best test of love is whether or not we can show it to those who are not “our own,” who are different, whose interests don’t line up easily with our own interests.
     You know, the way Jesus loved us.
    Jesus makes us his own by sacrificing his life for us. The expectation, of course, is that our love won’t just  follow the channel of those who are like us, who we understand, whose interests coincide with ours. It’s that our love will overflow the banks and flood our world with the kind of life-giving love that comes from God.
     That we’ll love people who aren’t “our own,” and in doing so widen our circles to include them.
     That will mean speaking out when we see something unjust. It will mean calling out racism and discrimination wherever we see it, even if it’s uncomfortably close to home. It will mean listening to people of color tell their stories, without defending or excusing, and it will mean weeping with them and being angry with them. And then it will mean standing with them and asking them how we can help to change the world.
     And ourselves.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Missed Graduation

     Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.
     We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
-Romans 5:1-5 (New Living Translation)

This weekend, we were supposed to be in Tennessee. We were supposed to be on the campus of Lipscomb University as our son graduated from college, celebrating with him and with other family. We made those plans months ago. We were looking forward to marking this important milestone in Josh’s life with plenty of joy and festivities. 
     Instead, the three of us will be home watching some sort of online graduation. There are vague promises that he can walk in December if he wants to. 
     Not exactly what we planned for.
     Understand, our “problem” is such a minor one that it requires quotation marks. We’re able to be home, together. We’re all healthy. Josh has been able to finish his classes online, Laura and I are employed but able to mostly stay home and practice social distancing. It isn’t like Josh doesn’t get his degree. Having a graduation ceremony canceled is a disappointment, not a catastrophe. And, as disappointments go, this one doesn’t hurt too much. Others have much bigger problems.
     I’m not writing this to complain, that’s what I guess I’m saying. I’m making a point.
     Disappointments happen.
     You probably know that by now. We learn pretty early in life that things don’t always go the way we hope that they will. Hope: disappointment is often tied to hope, isn’t it? Hopes get dashed, people let us down, events don’t unfold as we’d envisioned. Sometimes the disappointment we feel is fairly minor, on the order of a canceled ceremony. Sometimes it’s life-changing: a marriage ends, a job offer falls through, someone we love lets us down, a promising treatment doesn’t work. Disappointment is varied because the things in which we put our hope are varied, and I don’t suppose there’s anything in which human beings put their hope that won’t at least sometimes fail to deliver. 
     The word most often translated “disappoint” in the New Testament has to do with feeling shame or embarrassment. In fact, in a lot of English translations you’ll see something like “put to shame” instead of “disappoint.” I guess that comes from that feeling we sometimes have when we’re let down, that sense that we’re stupid or naive or gullible for having put our hope in this thing or that person. 
     The Gospel of Luke tells the story of two followers of Jesus traveling between Jerusalem and a town called Emmaus on the Sunday after Jesus’ death. As they travel, they meet up with a stranger and begin telling him about Jesus. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people,” they tell him. They go on to explain to this stranger how the leaders of Israel handed Jesus over to the Romans for execution. And then you can almost hear the disappointment as you read their next words: “but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”
     No doubt they had that feeling of shame for having hoped, that sense that they were the world’s biggest dopes. It can make you angry to have your hopes crushed like that. It can make you bitter. Enough of that, and out of self-defense you might just stop allowing yourself to hope at all, in anything or anyone, just to avoid that terrible feeling of disappointment. 
     The thing is, as much as disappointment can hurt, I think human beings need some kind of hope. That’s the only explanation I can come up with for why we come back to hope again and again. As Springsteen sings, in a song about disappointment piled on disappointment from the day we’re born until the day we die: “at the end of every hard-earned day people find some reason to believe.”
     That stranger on the road to Emmaus in Luke? Turns out he’s not so much a stranger at all. They’d been walking with the risen Lord while they talked about their disappointment, and they had no idea. Isn’t that a lesson for us? Even as we feel our hopes crushed, even as we feel shame for having hoped at all, even as we swear we’ll never hope again — the risen Jesus walks beside us. And, if we listen, maybe we can hear him say gently, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe.”
     Jesus comes to us in our worst moments of disappointment and reminds of what we should have already believed.  
     Oh, there will come times when you think Jesus has disappointed you. Those disciples on the road to Emmaus thought so. So did the ones hiding in Jerusalem. But after they knew he had risen from the grave, they never thought so again. They became world travelers to tell people about him. Some of them died for him, but went to their graves saying that they had hope. When your hope is in Jesus, not even death will disappoint you.
     If Christ is risen, if he has filled us with the Holy Spirit and the love of God, then it’s just kind of foolish to imagine that any disappointment is anything more than temporary.
    Paul says that what Jesus has done gives us peace with God and a place of “undeserved privilege” where we have the vantage point to “look forward to sharing God’s glory.” From that vantage point, the problems and difficulties we deal with in our lives just teach us how to endure, harden our resolve and help us to hope more firmly and certainly in the salvation God has for us. 
     So, if you’re feeling disappointed right now, then you’re just in the process of learning to endure and learning to place your hope more completely in God’s salvation. Disappointment can sting, and ache, and feel devastating. But one day we all will graduate. When we do, our disappointments will fade away in the light of God’s glory.
     In Christ, that’s a celebration none of us will miss.

Friday, April 24, 2020

No, Don't Sacrifice the Weak

     Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
-Ephesians 5:1-2 (NIV)

Having, as I do, Tennessee roots, I tend to want to believe the best of Tennesseans. So I’d love to think that the sign seen at a rally last week in Nashville was photoshopped. (It was not.) I’d love to believe that it was political satire of those who want to remove coronavirus lockdown restrictions immediately and completely (possible, but seems unlikely). Absent those two conditions, the sign has to be taken at face value, I guess: 
     I don’t know what this protester intended by this sign. I don’t know what she was thinking, or what was going on in her life. I have no desire to vilify her for a sign she held for a few minutes at a rally. I’m sure if I ever met her I’d think she was a delightful person. I’m going to assume that she wouldn’t advocate:
  • taking her mom or dad with COPD off a ventilator.
  • letting a child of hers with leukemia be exposed to the virus.
  • being careless about passing the virus to a spouse who takes a medication that compromises their immune system.
  • getting  her favorite stores and restaurants reopened by letting a friend with high blood pressure die.
     Sacrifices are easier to talk about hypothetically than specifically, for all of us. And, for all of us, “sacrifices” that don’t cost us anything personally are best.
     I know that most people who would like to see the country go back to normal aren’t of the opinion that we should sacrifice the weak to get there. There are differing viewpoints that ought to be heard. People I love disagree with me, and maybe they’re right about some things. Maybe, since I live in a city with over 25,000 cases and 1200 deaths and counting, some of them might accept that I see it differently. We all agree that we’d love to get back to normal as soon as is safely possible.
     I think that we’re hearing the old American debate about individual rights vs. the common good recast. There’s a sense, of course, in which those things aren’t opposed at all; all else being equal, it’s best for the common good when individual rights are protected. Maybe, though, the “fire in a crowded theater” argument holds here. All of us, whatever our politics, can think of situations in which the government must absolutely make tough decisions about limiting individual rights for the sake of the public good. 
     The stay-at-home orders in our nation (passed by individual states, by the way, not the federal government) touch on things that matter a lot to Americans: our livelihood, our right to assemble for worship, our rights to determine where we go, and when. It’s probably true that state governments have occasionally overreached. But the orders are akin to evacuation orders issued when an area is threatened by storms or floods, or the security measures put into place in airports after September 11th, or wartime restrictions for the sake of national security. Most of us don’t love those limits on our freedoms, but they aren’t intended to prevent any one person or group from doing anything. They’re to give a framework by which we can see how to give up some of our individual rights for a while in order to help take care of the public good, especially, in this case, the weakest and most vulnerable. 
     History is pockmarked with civilizations built on the sacrifice of the weak, the marginalized, the powerless and voiceless. Against ancient pagan cultures, the Old Testament sacrificial system explicitly disallowed human sacrifice, especially of children. Greco-Roman culture allowed for unwanted children to be left exposed to the elements. The Nazi party rose to power in Germany promising prosperity and security by removing the weak links: the sick, the handicapped, and those of “impure” heritage. Not to mention that Western culture was built on the enslavement of blacks and the disenfranchisement of indigenous cultures. 
     The tendency to think that we can fix our problems by sacrificing the weak is always there, isn’t it? It doesn’t take much for it to come bubbling, noxiously, to the surface. Sacrifice the weak, and whatever gods we worship will be appeased and we’ll all be prosperous and happy again.     
     Well, except for the weak. They can’t ever be prosperous and happy in a culture that requires their death.
   Christians, of course, don’t worry about appeasing other gods. We want to obey Jesus. And what we learn from Jesus is most certainly not that the weak should be sacrificed for the strong.
     What we learn from Jesus is that, to change the world for the better, we should sacrifice ourselves.
     We learn from Jesus that, if a life needs to be on the line, then it should be mine. We learn that if someone needs to give up some rights for the sake of others, then I should be the first to give them up. We learn from him to give what we have when it’s needed. We learn to consider others more important than ourselves. 
     And we learn, especially, that God is especially concerned with the way we treat those who are weak, that in Christ he is inverting our ranking systems so that the first will be last and the last will be first. We learn it, of course, not because Jesus pointed his finger and said who should die for the kingdom of God.
     We learn it by seeing him give himself to die for us.
     Paul tells us to “walk in the way of love,” and the examples he gives us set a very high bar. “Follow God’s example,” he says. And, if we need help knowing what the way of love looks like, he says we can look at the way Jesus “gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
     So there you go: if you want an example for how to behave in this difficult time for everyone, you have it. Love like God. Love like Jesus. Give yourself up as a sacrifice.
     So yes, let’s sacrifice during this pandemic. Let’s sacrifice ourselves: our time, our energy, our resources. Let’s die to impatience and fear of loss. Let’s die to selfishness and greed. Let’s give ourselves in service of our neighbors who are in need. And, please, let’s give up our individual rights to help keep those among us who are in the most danger as safe as possible.
     Yes. The weak. Let’s sacrifice ourselves for them.

     That is, as we’ve learned from our Lord, the way to change the world.

Friday, April 17, 2020


Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.
-1 Corinthians 10:14-17 (NIV)

Wes McAdams posted this on his blog, Radically Christian, this week: Five Tips for Participating in Online Worship. Here are his five. His comments on each are worth reading: 

1. Don’t Be a Spectator, Be a Participant
2. Don’t Criticize or Compare
3. Limit Distractions
4. Take Notes
5. Discuss Key Takeaways

     I thought McAdams' thoughts were obviously very timely; many Christians, probably most, will be participating in some sort of online worship this Sunday. For some, it'll be their preacher or main teacher sitting in front of a computer. For some, it'll be a multi-camera blockbuster shot with professional equipment. For most, it'll be something in between. The majority of us, though, will have the experience of picking up a tablet, phone, or computer and settling in for a prerecorded or live-streamed worship service. 
     Every week since most churches suspended Sunday gatherings at their buildings, I've had conversations with church leaders about that very thing. We ask each other how we're doing it. We share things we've learned. Some of us have maybe even compared our final products. I think most every church leader I know -- especially those whose churches haven't already been live-streaming -- is trying to learn on the fly how to do online worship.
     There are how-to videos available. (I saw one where the video went to black for about 3 of its 7-minute runtime. I didn't take much of that guy's advice.) Companies who would love to consult with us on how to do online worship better. We're thinking now about how what we're wearing will look on camera (solid colors are best), how not to look shifty-eyed (look as much as possible straight at the camera), how to frame a shot (rule of thirds), and what the background should look like (simple, with nothing that could look like it's coming out of your head). 
     Until a month ago, I never gave anything like that a second thought.
     What I haven't seen is much help for those who will be participating in these online worship services that we're all blundering around trying to create. Which is why I appreciated McAdams' post so much.
     Here's a fact: when we watch videos online, usually it's as consumers of content. I'll sometimes watch something funny someone's posted or sent me. Sometimes I'll stream an episode of Clone Wars or something. I like watching musical performances on YouTube, or maybe a clip from an old Tonight Show. (Yes, kids, it existed before Jimmy Fallon. Or even Jay Leno.) 
     I do occasionally watch a how-to video, but that's still as a consumer. I'm trying to learn a new skill, something I'll try to do for myself later. Sometimes I'll watch a video of a sermon, but it's still not the same as participating in a worship service online. I'm still consuming. 
     So what we're doing on Sunday when we watch our church's live stream is different. We're not even just watching. Or, at least, we shouldn't be. 
     It's easy enough to think like a consumer when you get in the car or hop on public transit and go to a building with other people for worship. But when all you have to do is grab the device that you usually watch The Bachelor or cat videos on, or play Candy Crush on, and you don't even have to comb your hair or change out of your pajamas -- well, it's not surprising that might not feel like worship.    
     McAdams uses the word participation in the title of his post. That immediately made me think of Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 10 -- that when we share in communion, we're participating in the blood and body of Jesus. It's a case where looks can be deceiving, right? At first glance, we're sitting in a big room together. Yes, in some churches participants (there it is again) get up and go to the front, but it still seems passive. You're receiving something. Someone hands you a tray, or you receive a wafer or a cup. But Paul says we're active. We're participating -- with other believers, and even with the Lord himself. 
     Paul makes this point because he sees a connection between participation in worship and fleeing from idolatry. Some in Corinth who thought eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols meant nothing weren't taking seriously enough the power of participation. Paul, in effect, asks them if eating and drinking the Lord's Supper means nothing as well. "You know it means something," he says. 
     It's in participation, in other words, that we show what we worship.
     That takes discipline, whether we're worshipping at church or at home. That's why McAdams' five suggestions sound kind of like work. Taking notes sounds a lot like school, doesn't it? But it will help you take a more active part. Talking about the worship with others both connects us and makes us accountable. Limiting distractions takes some planning and self-control. It's kind of automatic to criticize the production values of whatever we see on a screen, and compare it with other stuff we've seen. 
     Worship is active. It's participatory. So Sunday, when you're sitting in your living room or at your kitchen table or wherever and it's time to sing, then sing. Think of brothers and sisters from your church singing, and sing with them. God hears your voices blended with others. When you share communion, remember that others are sharing it all over the world. When it's time for prayer, lift up your prayers too, knowing that they are blending with the prayers of all the saints. When it's sermon time, dig into the text as well. Trust me: your preacher is hoping and praying that you will.
     Worship, right now, takes some sanctified imagination. I love the imagination in Hebrews 12:22-24: 
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.  You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all,  to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator  of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. 
     The writer's point is that, where Jesus is involved, worship is always more than what we see. It's a trip into the city of God. In worship, we unite with angels. And we share in worship with those whose names are written in heaven as we come to God through Jesus and the new covenant he brought about with his death. "Let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe," he concludes. "For our God is a consuming fire."
     May we all worship acceptably, wherever we find ourselves. 

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