November 15, 2015 “A Provocative Faith”

posted Jul 5, 2016, 3:47 PM by David Hawkins
Scripture: Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25

And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, "he sat down at the right hand of God," and since then has been waiting "until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet." For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds," he also adds, "I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more." Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let 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. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And 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.

Sermon: "A Provocative Faith"             Rev. David Hawkins

You know, all of us need a kick in the pants sometimes to do the right thing. And, the reality is, not all good deeds are rewarded.

The chill in the air these days reminds me of a day about 25 years ago in Grand Junction, CO. It was in the middle of winter, and it was really pretty cold, maybe around 20 degrees. I was headed into a jazz music class at the college, when I saw a man sitting against the wall of the building outside. He didn’t have a jacket, and he looked like he was freezing. But, it was time for class, he looked homeless, I was late, I didn’t know what to do, and so I just went inside. 

But inside the nice warm rehearsal room, I felt bad about it. After all, I was the music director at the First Presbyterian Church, I had a certain reputation to uphold. and even more so, I was a Christian, we don’t let people sit outside and freeze to death. 

I decided I just couldn’t leave it like that, I had to try and help the guy. But, I really didn’t know what I was going to do. So I went to over to my friend, Rick White, and told him that I needed some moral support, would he help me for a minute. He said, sure, whatever. He had no idea what I was talking about, but if I needed his help he was there. Because that’s how bass players roll.

I guess I just felt weird about trying to talk to this stranger outside by myself. I didn’t know what I was getting into. I needed somebody with me, not to do anything in particular, just to make sure that I followed through on what I was about to do. Someone in the words of today’s scripture, to ‘provoke’ me into doing a good deed. Somebody to make sure that I didn’t back out if got weird. And it got weird.

Anyway, Rick and I went outside, and I told the man that it was simply too cold be outside in this weather, that if he would like, he could come inside until class was over, and that afterward, we would get him a bowl of soup, and then we could start thinking about some ways to get him out of this miserable cold. 

Well, he didn’t say anything. He just sat there. 

So, I said the whole spiel again, emphasizing the nice bits about the soup and the warmth, and at the end of it, all the guy said was, “go away.”

Now this was insulting. I mean, it was difficult to work my nerve up anyway to talk to him, and now he’s just being rude. So I became a little bit more insistent. 

“Hey, listen, it’s really way too cold out here. Come on, man. You’re going to freeze to death. Let’s get you inside and get you something to eat. What do you say?”

“I said, go away! I’m doing a sociology experiment for my dissertation. I’m trying to find out how many people will stop and try to help a homeless man when it’s cold outside.”

Well, of course. Isn’t that the way? I repressed the urge to kick him in the shins, and Rick and I went back inside to our rehearsal. 

The point is, sometimes we need a little help to do the right thing. Even when we’re not exactly sure what the right thing is. And sometimes that help might be just standing alongside someone else while they try to figure things out on their own. And not laughing at them too hard when they look like an idiot.

For the months of October and November, we’ve been exploring the book of Hebrews, and today is our last day. Next week, we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, and then we begin Advent.

And so, toady, we wrap up our study of Hebrews, and it’s fitting that the author provides us with an appropriate resting place.

Actually, it’s not so much a resting place, as a going place. The author of Hebrews has plans for us, and I think that he has been positioning us for this moment the entire time.

When we began our look at the book of Hebrews, I mentioned that it was worth noting that it was located in the Bible right next to the Book of James, which we had just gone through the month before. James, as you might remember, was a book that focused on the here and now of Christian faith, on the nuts and bolts, you might say, of what it means to say that you believe in Jesus Christ. 

Hebrews, on the other hands, says very little about the actual practice of faith. For the most part, it focuses on the person of Jesus, on his divinity and humanity, on the role that he played as the ultimate high priest, on the way that his eternal sacrifice replaced temporary sacrifices of the temple. 

Hebrews is a very heady book, full of wonderfully poetic phrases, some of the most well-known verses of our faith, for instance:

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” 

“Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.” 

These words, and so many, many other verses like them form a large part of the confession of our faith. And there is a reason for that. The language of Hebrews is poetic, evocative, and powerful. The language of Hebrews soars and it lifts and it describes and it glorifies. In it, we have our most nearly complete theological description of who Jesus is: human, God, priest, king, savior, servant, sacrifice. Hebrews reminds us of the cosmic scope of who Jesus is, and what he has done for us. 

But that’s not all it does.

If Hebrews had simply stopped with describing Jesus, I doubt that it would have made the cut to be in the Bible. If Hebrews had simply been a long-winded hymn of praise, I doubt that the early church would have felt that it needed to be included in our sacred canon. There is something more to Hebrews than just beautiful words of glory and encouragement. There is more to Hebrews that just a beautifully worked out systematic theology. 

Of course, it would be easier, wouldn’t it, if our faith was just about believing in Jesus? As though that that’s all there was to it, there was nothing else to think about? But as the book of James reminded us over and over again, faith is a verb, not a noun. 

And today, we find ourselves again reminded that there is more to faith that just thinking about Jesus. 

There is also the doing part. 

This is the part where the author of Hebrews stops preaching, as the old joke says, and goes to meddlin.’ This where he says, OK, now what? So what? You’ve heard all about Jesus Christ, you say you believe in Jesus Christ, you claim to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, what are you going to do about it?

And the word that he uses to introduce this kind of meddling is, “therefore.” Therefore, the author says, be the kind of people that Jesus wants you to be. Love each other. Encourage each other. Give out of your abundance. Do good things. Have courage in the face of evil. Live the sorts of lives that indicate that you take the sacrifice that Jesus has made on your behalf seriously.  Remember that you are forgiven, and that this gives you the freedom to act in ways that are powerful and life changing.

And especially - Go to church! You need each other more than you think you do.

This is where Hebrews is going. He’s describing the church. Not a resting place of faith, but a staging area, where we prepare for the next part of the climb. Not a poetic version of elevator music, not a sort of spiritual comfort music that plays in the background of our lives, but rather a stirring march that sends us out every day into a world that isn’t always going to thank us for our participation. 

Our confessions of Jesus Christ are more than just our hope and our faith, they are our strength and our shield in the work that we are called to do.

And, as the author of Hebrews reminds us, this work is work that we do together. We need each other. We need each other for support, for encouragement, for provocation, for balance, for simply standing there while we figure things out. We need one another, more than we know.

This is the gift of the church. We are, each of us, called, uniquely, for God’s own strange purposes to be here, for one another. I need you, and you need me. We need each other. The strong need the weak. The rich need the poor. The forgiven need the unforgiven. 

We don’t always know how that works. But if we value the relationship between Jesus and us, if we value the way he has placed our life above his own, then we will make every effort to value our relationships with others in the same way. This may not be comfortable. This might even be take us places we don’t want to go. This will mean placing priorities on our time and on our checkbooks. But in the end, Hebrews reminds us that it will be faithful, and that’s the hope that sustains us as we wait for the day approaching. 

Now to the Holy One
who is at work within us,
accomplishing far more than we could ever ask or imagine,
now and forever. Amen.