“The Power of We”
19Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25not 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 10:19-25, NRSV)
“Roberta Ursrey was at Panama City Beach in Florida with her family on Saturday, July 8th when she realized she couldn't see her sons from the shore.
She spotted the boys, who are 8 and 11, screaming and crying far out in the water, she told CNN affiliate WJHG. Ursrey and her family ran out to rescue them, but they too were overpowered by the current. The family and several others who had tried to help Ursrey's sons themselves, nine people in total, were stuck. The group started waving their arms in the air and yelling.”
According to a report from The Guardian, “Dozens of beachgoers formed a human chain stretching almost 100 yards into the Gulf of Mexico to rescue the group of swimmers in danger of drowning after they were caught in the powerful riptide. “It was a wave of humanity that brings some things back into focus, that maybe we haven’t lost all hope in this world,” stated Derek Simmons, an Alabama native who quickly organized the chain and swam with his wife Jessica to rescue the stranded group.” Simmons said he was enjoying a family picnic on the beach with his mother, wife, two nieces and one of their boyfriends when they noticed people in a group on the sands close to the pier, some pointing into the water. “We thought it was a shark; we have a ton of those,” said Simmons, who moved with his wife to Panama City from Alabama last year. “We walked down to see what was going on and I asked the guy furthest out if everything was OK. He said: ‘No, those people out there are drowning; I can’t get to them because the current’s too strong.’ “I said to the guy: ‘Let’s try to get as many people as we can to form a human chain.’ If you know about ants, you know when one’s in trouble they form a chain to help it. My theory was, let’s get enough people, we’ll get out there and pull them in.”
At first, he said, people appeared reluctant, fearing they would be caught in the same riptide. “We were yelling at the beach, we need more people,” he said. Then more beachgoers raced to join the chain, allowing Simmons, 26, and his 29-year-old wife to swim further out on their body boards and reach the group who were attempting to just stay afloat. The couple first handed the children, Stephen Ursrey, 8, and his 11-year-old brother Noah, to the end of the chain, which by then had grown to about 80 people, and returned to help the remaining [family members.] Simmons said those who had formed the chain were jubilant once they realized everybody was safe. “It was pretty amazing, all these different people, complete strangers who didn’t even know each other’s names, hugging and high-fiving. Simmons goes on to report, “I’ve seen reports saying that Jessica and I were the heroes out there but that’s not true – everybody that was involved, they’re heroes. Had we not had an anchor or a chain we wouldn’t have been able to bring people in the way that we did. I come from a place where you help out your neighbor. My only thing is I would hope if I was in that position someone would do the same for me.”
In our scripture lesson this morning, we are called as people of faith to stand with each other. We are called to serve as anchors for those in our communities of faith. We are called to bear witness to the lives around us. We are called to encourage one another into loving acts of kindness and goodwill. The letter to the Hebrews was once attributed to the apostle Paul in the Eastern Church. However, scholars believe that Paul did not write this piece and some theologians believe that the author was most likely a Jewish Christian. Nevertheless, while the text ends much like a letter, it is believed that Hebrews was written as a sermon to the early believers. Hebrews chapter ten urges us as faith people to keep meeting together, to continue showing up with one another and for one another.
Associate Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, Amy Peeler suggests, in reference to today’s scripture, “ [They are all members] of God's household, but they have not yet reached God's house. She writes, “Hence, they all have need to remain together and to pay attention to each other, so that they can encourage one another toward love and good deeds. For the author, assembling together is even more pressing in light of the approaching day -- surely a reference to the day of the Lord, the day in which God will mete out judgment for all people. On this day, the children of God will celebrate on God's mountain…It is so important to stay together, because if you remove yourself from this family, you end up among the enemies…There are no distant relatives. You are either in the family or you aren't.”
As many of us today can attest, there is an undeniable power that exists within the confines of community. Being present to each other is possibly one of God’s grandest gifts. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, women’s activist and bestselling author shares her story related to the healing powers of community. In May of 2015, while on vacation, Sandberg’s husband, Dave, age 47, died suddenly due to an unknown heart condition. The couple had been happily married for eleven years and as Sheryl put it, “Dave was my best friend.” Dave’s sudden death left Sheryl behind with two young children, her 7-year-old daughter and her 9-year- old son. Sandberg has since written a book entitled “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy”. The book recounts her journey through devastating grief and loss and how she survived through the power and support of her faith and friend community. In an interview about “Option B”, Sandberg shares this touching story.
“A few weeks later, [following Dave’s death] there was a father-son activity that Dave was supposed to do with our son. Dave wasn't there and so my close friend Phil and I brainstormed who could go with our son. Phil and his wife, Marnie, were with me. We gave my son some options. But I said, "Okay, but I want Dave. Dave's supposed to do this with our son." Phil put his arm around me and said, "Sheryl, Option A is not available, so let's just kick the [heck] out of Option B." Sandberg adds, “He didn't say, "You're going to kick the [heck] out of Option B." He said "let's.” He said “We are going to.” "We are going to do this together."
As Sandberg confesses, there is a healing power in the language of “we” surrounding tragedy. Many of us here today in this room have witnessed firsthand this phenomenon in our lives. We stand in the valley of the shadow of death “with” those walking through it. We do not wait on the mountain’s peak, calling to those below us. We do not say to those in this faith family, “you” will get through. We say with our words and with our actions, “we” will get through this. We walk into the valley and we stand, we hold, we support, we encourage and we walk with those until we reach the other side, together. This is God’s gift of community. This is the power of “we”.
“ Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another...” The author of Hebrews highlights the reality that some believers have halted the practice of meeting together. Their failing to come together brings a disservice to entire community. Perhaps this appeal to the early believers is every bit as relevant to us today in the landscape of 2017. Studies reveal the steady decline in faith communities throughout the globe. The sermon presented in Hebrews speaks volumes to us today as we seek to build and strengthen our church families. Perhaps the author of Hebrews understood that only in the coming together, we discover healing. Only in the coming together are we able to encourage one another. It is in the coming together that we are able to build each other up and send one another out into the world to establish God’s ways of love.
We need more language of “we” in our world perhaps more than ever. I was moved by a story that I read recently in an exchange between a little girl and her modern day hero. Perhaps some of you may know about the new Wonder Woman film that made its debut in theatres this summer. It’s one of the first superhero films with a woman as the main character. Superhero loving little girls all over the world quickly fell in love with the film and with Israeli born actress Gal Gadot, who stars as Wonder Woman. Following a tender moment captured on video at the recent Comic Con festival, Gadot’s heroism went viral. One reporter writes, “This is why Gal Gadot is a superhero. Viral footage from Comic-Con in San Diego showed the star comforting a young fan who was wearing a “Wonder Woman” shirt and cape. But the little girl, named Ashley, began to cry when she reached the front of the line [to meet Gadot in person.] “She was so happy to meet her [role model] that she was tearing up,” her mother, Christine Keller, shared [on social media.] In the footage, Gadot reaches across the table and takes the little girl’s hand into hers. Gal Gadot says, “There’s no reason to cry, all right,” “Here we are together.” Ezra Miller, who plays the Flash in an upcoming film, chimes in, “You’re a warrior,” he says. “Your ability to cry is what makes you such a warrior. Come join the Justice League whenever you get ready.”
Here we are, together; church family. In our coming together, we serve as anchors, one to another. We rescue each other when life’s overpowering tide pulls us out and we are left standing, flailing and trying to stay afloat. When life’s triumphs and tragedies ebb and flow, we remind each other that we are in it together. When senseless acts of violence and hatred seep into our world, we stand together as forces of love and peace. We walk through death’s valleys and we hold one another tightly until we are able to regain our footing on the other side. We encourage one another to do all the good we can in our divisive and hurting world.
“ Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Here we are together. May it continue to be so. AMEN.
be with those who are not seen and heard in the world,
because of their gender or age; their caste or race;
their sexuality or lifestyle; their poverty or history.
Open our ears and eyes, to hear and see all people as yours.
God of little children,
be with all children, wherever they live,
whoever their parents are, whatever their needs,
that they would all be welcomed and nourished,
enabled to be all you want them to be.
Open our hearts and arms, to welcome all your children.
God of love,
be with all who live with fear,
fear of saying the wrong thing, fear of being labelled,
fear of themselves or others, fear of you.
Open us all to your endless love, that it might drive out fear.
be with us all, as we struggle to make sense of your world and your word,
as your church, in our communities, as your disciples.
Open our minds and hearts, to learn from you.
God of all,
Parent, Son and Spirit,
hear our prayers, spoken and unspoken,
offered from the darkness and hope of our hearts,
Be with those in our church family in need of your healing touch.
We seek to be faithful as we live out our lives. Draw us closer to you. In the name of Christ we pray, Amen.
~ written by Jenny Adams and posted on the Church of Scotland’s Starters for Sunday website. http://www. churchofscotland.org.uk/
 Peeler, Amy; http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1424