There's one in every family: the black sheep.
The one who always does the wrong thing.
the one who seems to never fully “get it together.”
Maybe it's their own fault even, but they are always in dire straits.
Yet, because they are family, you can't just cut the relationship.
In fact, perhaps you love them even more,
Because your heart aches to see them have a better life.
However, when a similarly acting stranger crosses our path,
we wouldn't even think of encouraging or helping them to a similar extent,
because they are not family.
This is why the family dynamic is so important,
and why many organizations around the world tried to emulate it.
Yet there is really only one thing that can create it;
Today we are confronted with the reality that we have a much broader responsibility
to a much larger family
to which we are members of
through the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ.
In the letter to the Hebrews we learn that we are indeed our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.
But, as siblings, we watch each other as we create some pretty dirty laundry.
Perhaps even getting the very same messes on ourselves, together or separately.
But eventually, someone has to say,
“we need to stop doing this.
It isn't good for us.
It's not like we can hide it, because it's all over us.”
and who knows our dirty laundry better than any one? The one who washes it; Jesus.
Jesus’ entire purpose in life was to wash our dirty laundry while demonstrating his kingship over creation.
He was both the most humiliated person to live as he hung on the cross for all sinners,
as well as the most exalted as he defeated death and rose from the grave on Easter morning.
And it was this dual role which enabled him to be the Savior for all of humanity, not just some.
In Christianity, we are confronted with many such dualities; two sides of the same coin, if you will?
One of those is the law/gospel dynamic.
The law is necessary to show us how to live, but instead convicts us of unfaithfulness and condemns us to death.
The gospel saves us from the result of our sin, but shows us the price paid to achieve it's as it tells us of Christ’s suffering and death in our place.
Ignoring either is a fatal flaw.
If we only live under the law we will die in despair.
If we live as though there is no law after the gospel then we cheapen Christ’s sacrifice.
The truth is, we live in both camps.
Because we are convicted by the law we confess, repent, and are saved by the gospel.
And because we are saved by the gospel, we strive to keep and obey the law.
If this holds true for you then you must also accept that it is true for every believer.
Paul says in Romans chapter 3 verses 23 to 24, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace, as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
and in chapter six he continues, “for the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
therefore, why do we seem to pretend that we are not struggling when we are together?
Just as in our families, we need to be able to confront the uncomfortable truth
and help our brothers and sisters in the faith,
just as we would our biological families, and the black sheep we know and love within them.
And that, at times, requires difficult discussions about sin and forgiveness.
And that's the real rub here isn't it?
We don't like the un-sanitized truth.
we like versions of the world where there is no death or disease.
we like to think all of our kids are attractive and above average.
We like to think that each of us are, “basically, good people.”
while the obvious truth is far from that.
We don't live in a world run by Disney,
we live in a world run by greed, self interest, desire, and covetousness.
And when you travel in such an environment,
it's impossible to not get a little of it on you at the end of the day.
And so, if we know we are getting into messes along the way,
perhaps we might help one another in the clean up process afterward.
And we can do that by lovingly redirecting one another from those things that are not godly, to those things which are.
And we do so, not to shame and condemn, but in order to bring about repentance, forgiveness, and life change.
The entire letter to the Hebrews is about life change;
Getting Jewish believers to move beyond their Old Testament, law based, ways of thinking,
into living under the gospel.
Before Jesus came on the scene,
sacrifices and offerings were prescribed and given as a way to keep the covenant God made with Israel
until he fulfilled his end of the covenant with the Messiah.
And now that Jesus had returned to heaven,
the sacrifices were no longer the vehicle for salvation.
Jesus sacrifice on the cross made all other sacrifices redundant.
So, what were these Jewish believers to do now?
Their way of worship and life was upended!
They were to live their life for Jesus, the living gospel, and word made flesh.
And they were to continue his ministry through their work.
and part of that work was remaining in, and perpetuating, the faith.
But the faith is not just a bunch of ideas and philosophies.
It is also about responding to that in which you have placed your faith.
For the Hebrews that response was through obedience in exchange for their salvation.
But now that Christ had fulfilled that obedience, they, and we, are called to respond
by continual obedience
out of love and Thanksgiving,
Rather than making obedience the first requirement of faith,
it has become the finest example of faith.
It's as though obedience has become an output of faith, rather than an input.
And the writer to the Hebrews is warning them
that if their output is not reflective of their faith
it may be because they have begun to turn away from their faith.
As brothers and sisters in Christ, we cannot bear it to see each other leave the family, much less endure watching one another jeopardize faith by living disobediently.
As stewards of our relationships in Christ, we are hold one each other accountable for our actions.
Because actions indicate our familiarity with and relationship to the Savior,
Particularly when these relationships are not brand new.
And accountability is not just pointing fingers in blame,
but walking alongside one another, and helping each other,
not only to stop ungodly behavior and speech,
but to help turn our brother or sister in the right direction which gives honor and praise to our Lord.
Churches that aren't able to engage in good stewardship of relationships will suffer a poverty of connectedness.
Not only will sinners continue in unhealthy behaviors,
but they will be starved of the forgiveness that comes from repentance.
They will also continue to offend one another,
ironically, in their attempt at being non offensive to their lack of confrontation.
But, perhaps, worst of all for the Kingdom of God,
the unbelieving world will see unchanged people
who demonstrate no difference of life or lifestyle as a result of their professed faith.
When you and I are baptized in the family of Christ, we don't have the option to not behave like a Christian.
sure, we can choose to be the black sheep who can't seem to get with the program,
but if we choose that path of disobedience
we must be prepared to get our chops busted by those who love us in the faith.
And those of us who think we are obedient, have to consider whether or not we are.
Especially in terms of our care and concern for those among us who are errant and straying,
and, whether or not we have done what is required to help them return to the family,
and living as Christ calls them to live in response to his love for them.
So, where do we start? We all deviate from God's plan for our living under the cross don't we?
Well, let's start with an easy one that actually puts us all under the Holy Spirit's guidance,.
That way we know what we have is true honest and always good.
And not some sort of personal grudge like we might hold one against another.
And that first step is inviting someone who says they are a Christian, but who is not in worship, to return to God's house with you.
It's a friendly, and non-threatening way to remind them of the third commandment,
but also, an invitation for them to be comforted and healed by God's word which changes lives.
And even if they aren't a member of Saint John, encourage them to go where they are comfortable.
In fact, maybe you could offer to go with them.
(winkingly,) We’ll keep your seat warm here while you are away helping them return to obedience.
Or, maybe they'll want to come here with you, since you showed them your care and concern.
And when we are all under the power of the Holy Spirit by his word and sacrament,
he will guide us in navigating the other, more difficult, issues that come up.
But most especially, God wants us to love one another in such a way so as all of our relationships with Jesus are as strong as possible.
May it be so, in the name of Jesus. Amen.