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Meditation on Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Oct. 7, 2018
World Communion Sunday
Merritt Island Presbyterian Church
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. 5 Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. 6 But someone has testified somewhere, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them? 7 You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honor, 8 subjecting all things under their feet.” Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, 9 but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. 10 It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11 For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 12 saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”
Nearly 40 women from 4 congregations participated in our annual women’s retreat at Riverside a week ago Saturday. It was a time of relationship-building, encouragement and laughter, learning and fellowship, arts and crafts (that’s what the ironing was all about), prayer and worship, singing, and liturgical dance. The theme was, “Flourish”—growing in Christ. Four women shared formal presentations with the group, telling how God is working in their hearts and lives, leading and strengthening them to be whom God calling is them to be. Several talked about recognizing their own need to take risks and embrace the changes God wanted them to make so they could grow in Him.
One lesson that I always take away from our women’s retreats is that nurturing our spiritual health and growth should be a priority for every Christian—even more important than the responsibilities of the church, our work in the world, our families and friends, and personal needs and desires. But spiritual growth doesn’t just happen! It requires intentionality—carving out the space and time in our life for spiritual pursuits “to be still and know,” as Psalm 46:10 says, “that I am God.”
If your life is too scheduled, your life is too full so that you are exhausted and don’t have enough time for prayer, worship, studying God’s word and showing God’s kindness to people in need, then you won’t experience much spiritual growth. You won’t deepen your relationship with the Lord. And you will struggle in your relationships with your brothers and sisters in Christ.
What the Lord has done for us and our relationships with Him and one another are of utmost importance to the author of Hebrews. Though it is called “The Letter to the Hebrews,” it’s not written in the form of a letter; it bears the marks of an early Christian sermon. We don’t know who the preacher was, says the Rev. Dr. Thomas Long, a well-known preacher and teacher of preachers in our denomination. He seems to be a well-educated Jewish Christian for “the Greek of Hebrews has often been called the best in the New Testament.”
The preacher addresses “a real and urgent pastoral problem, one that seems astonishingly contemporary,” Long says. “His congregation is exhausted. They are tired-tired of serving the world, tired of worship, tired of Christian education, tired of being peculiar and whispered about in society, tired of the spiritual struggle, tired of trying to keep their prayer life going, tired even of Jesus. Their hands droop and their knees are weak says 12:2, attendance is down at church (10:25) and they are losing confidence.” “Tired of walking the walk,” Long says, “many of them are considering taking a walk, leaving the community and falling away from the faith.”
What is surprising, perhaps, is the preacher’s response to spiritual weariness. He doesn’t “appeal to improved group dynamics, conflict management techniques, reorganization of the mission structures or snappy worship services,” Long says. The answer is knowing Jesus Christ and understanding what God has done for us in Him. This understanding leads us to shape our lives in grateful, faithful response. Knowing that the preacher is dealing with spiritual weariness gives a whole new meaning to the familiar passage, beginning at 12:1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”
At the beginning of our reading today, the preacher declares that the God of the Old Testament who spoke through the prophets is STILL speaking in these “last days” by a Son, not just with actual words, but through His mighty and gracious acts. The “last days” is this age that Jesus ushered in, the time of the “new covenant sealed in His blood,” as we say in our communion liturgy. The author of Hebrews declares the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ. The atonement or “purification” as the preacher says, came about through one who was without sin, the “reflection of God’s glory and exact imprint of God’s very being.”
All living creatures are dependent on God, Hebrews tells us, for he “sustains all things by his powerful word,” just as Jesus answers Satan in the wilderness in Matthew 4:4 with, “…‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
The lectionary skips to 2:5, then, from Christ’s superiority to angels to quoting the beautiful question in Psalm 8:4, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals that you care for them?” This is another important message we always hear at our women’s retreats! We are reminded of how precious each one of us is to the Lord—how much God loves us! God loves you! Have you accepted God’s love for you? Not understanding and accepting God’s love and the promise we have in His Son can lead to our spiritual weariness. This is a lack of faith! The preacher of Hebrews urges hearers to hold onto their faith, which he defines in 11:1 as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
We can’t see everything clearly now, he says. We can’t understand everything. But we do “see Jesus,” he says in 2:9. He makes himself known to us, especially in the breaking of the bread! His suffering death opened a new way of life to us. Now we’re living for His glory! We’re living for His pleasure! We’re living for His service. “Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners,” says Hebrews 12:3, “so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.” We, too, are being perfected through suffering and are enduring trials, says Hebrews 12:7, “for the sake of discipline.” Our Heavenly Father disciplines the ones he loves—His children. This is part of our sanctification, God shaping us into the people he wants us to be. “The one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father,” says Hebrews 2:11.
Jesus is not ashamed to call us his sisters and brothers!
Jesus is not ashamed of us!
In a few moments, we will celebrate our oneness with Christ and our brothers and sisters around the globe when we gather at the table. World Communion Sunday started with Shadyside Presbyterian church in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1933, where Dr. Hugh Thompson Kerr served as pastor. Presbyterian Outlook says that Dr. Kerr came up with the idea when he was moderator of the General Assembly in 1930. His younger son, the Rev. Dr. Donald Craig Kerr, pastor emeritus of Roland Park Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, was sixteen in 1933. Donald Kerr says that World Communion Sunday “grew out of the Division of Stewardship at Shadyside. It was their attempt to bring churches together in a service of Christian unity—in which everyone might receive both inspiration and information, and above all, to know how important the Church of Jesus Christ is, and how each congregation is interconnected one with another. The concept spread… slowly at the start. People did not give it a whole lot of thought. It was during the Second World War that the spirit caught hold…. World Wide Communion symbolized the effort to hold things together, in a spiritual sense. It emphasized that we are one in the Spirit and the Gospel of Jesus Christ… (The) celebration of World Wide Communion Sunday was adopted as a denominational practice in the Presbyterian Church (US) in 1936.” In 1940, when a predecessor body of the National Council of Churches promoted the celebration, the practice became widespread. Today, World Communion Sunday still carries a strong stewardship message, as it demonstrates, Rev. Dr. Kerr says, “that the church founded on Jesus Christ peacefully shares God-given goods in a world increasingly destabilized by globalization and global market economies based on greed.”
We are all welcomed at the Lord’s table—all of us sinners who long to know and serve Christ more. We come to the table to remember what God has done for us, and share the gifts he has given to us, when he spoke His love, mercy and grace, first through the prophets, and now, in the last days, by a Son.
Accept God’s love for you. Accept that God, as Psalm 103:2 says, has removed your sins as far as the east is from the west! Today, you are a new creation in Jesus Christ! So, live, from this moment on, as a forgiven people! Forgive as you have been so graciously forgiven. Give as you have so generously been given! Love as you have been so lavishly loved! Show mercy as you have been shown mercy! Walk, as Jesus walked, in the ways of peace and justice. May God’s will be done on earth, in His Church, in our homes and schools and places of work, as it is in heaven.
As we partake of the bread and cup in faith, we are strengthened, fed, encouraged, and united by the Spirit–renewed, refreshed and reconciled in Him.
Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters! He is not ashamed of us!
Let us pray.
Holy One, Majesty on High, thank you for speaking to us of your love, mercy and grace, first through the prophets and now by your Son. Thank you for taking away our shame! Unite and grow us by your Spirit that we may truly be Christ’s Body for the world—heart, hands and feet. Revive the weary. Heal the sick and grieving. Bring joy to those needing encouragement. Give peace to those struggling with anxiety. Help us to accept and experience your love and forgiveness and to show your love and forgiveness to others. Lead us to make space in our minds and lives for spiritual pursuits—for prayer, worship, Bible study, and for serving others through compassionate and generous acts. Teach us to say no to things that are not good for us and yes to the things you want for us and the wisdom to know the difference. In Your Son’s name we pray. Amen.