Saturday, October 6, 2012


Hebrews 2:5-12
“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.” Hebrews 2:9

When I began my study of this text I encountered an acquaintance’s confession in a scholarly publication. She said, 
“For most of my preaching life, I have avoided the book of Hebrews - somehow taking offense at what I perceived to be its exclusive and bloody interpretation of atonement theology.” Susan B. Andrews Feasting On The Word, Pastoral Bartlett and Taylor, eds. (Louisville:WJK, 2009) 134

My first thought was, “Amen, SISTER!”  I knew Susan Andrews as a Presbyterian minister from suburban Maryland before she was elected moderator of the Presbyterian Church-USA a decade ago.

She went on to write about finding new life and healing in some of the chapters of this long sermon called the book of ‘Hebrews’.

I understand that my ‘problem’ with Hebrews boils down to my concept of Jesus. I have a LOW Christology and the author of Hebrews has a very HIGH Christology.
Before your eyes glaze over at these terms, they merely mean what and how you think about Jesus.
I tend to focus on the life and teaching of Jesus; the Jewish man who was also the anointed one, which in the Hebrew language means the Messiah and in the Greek language translates as ‘the Christ’. What Jesus said and did has more meaning for my life than what theologians four, five, and even 12 centuries later, interpreted his death to mean.

Hebrews, likely written around the same time as most of the gospels, has a bit different perspective. One that comes from the generations after the people who knew and walked with Jesus. Interpretation of what and who Jesus was didn’t really begin until years after the resurrection experiences when followers tried to make sense of Jesus’ death. 

I imagine a repeating sermon title in those days had to be, “Why did Jesus have to die, or did he?” 
Hebrews answers the question with, “Yes, Yes he did!” and this book, really a sermon, relates a HIGH Christology, explaining how Jesus existed before time and the earth itself. How he lives still ‘seated at the right-hand of God’.
In fact Hebrews echoes the church confessions of the 4th and 5th centuries, like the Apostles and Nicene creeds, that “move directly from incarnation to the passion’. 2 John P. Burgess Feasting On The Word Theological Bartlett and Taylor, eds (Louisville:WJK, 2009) 134

“Born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried...on the 3rd day he rose again to judge...” 
If you have attended churches other than those of the Anabaptist tradition, these words may be familiar from weekly reciting of one of the creeds.

It’s not that early Brethren didn’t believe the statements within the creeds, they just refused to live by the least common denominator of words and instead chose to live by the entire NT, even the places of contradiction and tension.

Dirk Wilhelm, Anabaptist martyr

Other than our lack of familiarity with the creeds (If that is true), have you ever thought about YOUR Christology? 
It is a discussion more common at the seminary refectory table than at a fellowship hall luncheon. Yet it IS important to think about. What you believe about Christ determines the kind of Christian you are.

When you don’t KNOW what you believe, you are left at the mercy of those who would distort what Christ taught and did. One has only to watch a few campaign season ads from religious affiliated citizen groups to hear plenty of distortion and discord from what Jesus said (and how he lived).

Today, I want you to be ‘mindful’ about what you think, what you believe and what you struggle with when you hear Christ proclaimed, whether from New Testament texts like Hebrews or from TV ads, . . or even around the water-cooler at work.

. . .
This week I spent time with Father Stan and Pastor Kristen as we prepared and led the Senior Adult Day Retreat. Stan shared a water-cooler story with me. He is a bi-vocational pastor. His weekdays are spent working for the federal government and his weekends spent in ministry. The lines blurr often so many people at his ‘work’ know that he is a priest. 
One woman came up to him and said, “You are so brave to ‘come out’ at work.” Not ‘out’ about his sexual preference, but about being a Christian and a PRIEST! 
It turns out that she too is ordained and only this past week, thanks to encouragement from Fr. Stan, ‘came out’ to her co-workers, as an ordained Christian minister. 

Is your Christianity ‘OUT’ at work or among your friends?
What would you say if someone pointed you out and asked, “Are YOU a Christian?”
The most common answer today is, “Yes, but not THAT kind of Christian!”...and almost everyone knows what you mean.

As you’ve heard me say before, when we can’t articulate what we feel in our hearts and think in our heads, we are at the mercy who those who define Christianity with hate, prejudice and exclusion.
...I don’t think any of us want to be identified with THAT kind of ‘christianity’.

I do want to give you permission to not be sure what you believe. 
It’s OK not to be able to voice eery detail of your Christology but it’s not OK 
to NEVER think about it. . .
It’s not OK, to ignore decisions about what you believe, 
it’s not OK to let others define Christianity for you,
It’s not OK to remain silent, when others destroy the work of Jesus with acts of hatred.

. . .
This is why I am calling us to be ‘MINDFUL’ today. . On this World Communion Sunday. . .A day when Christians celebrate the life they share rather than argue about the places they disagree.

Sue McNiel Jacobsen

This is also why words from Hebrews are so relevant today. Because it was written to weary people who hadn’t know Jesus personally. People who were burned out by long frustrating exchanges with the world and who were having trouble keeping their churches alive. They had become apathetic believers with a lethargic faith. Susan Andrews called it the spiritual version of ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’. If it sounds familiar you know why I am concerned.

We have a vibrant congregation here, but we are influenced by a world filled with apathetic Christians who remain silent about their faith and whose only Christian ‘confession’ is “I’m not THAT kind of Christian.”

I have to confess I’ve said it too.
So I was surprised to find Hebrews a place of encouragement.
I think I needed to be reminded that the lowly Jesus I follow ‘sits’ with the Holy One, Master of the Universe, Giver of life.
I need to recall the Spark of the Divine that is within me..and you..and in all God’s children.

Can the ‘electricity of Hebrews reignite our faith’?

Will we let the lofty language “remind us of the amazing grace of God’s very imprint in Jesus. . which is at work in us, 
Sustaining us so we can endure suffering
Gifting us with joy from the inside out and 
Empowering us to be as Christ to someone else?
Bouvere Last Supper

I want to be ‘mindful’ of WHO Jesus is, today as I take these elements from His table and am reminded of all He is to me.

I invite you to mindfulness too. 
Both now as we enter a time of ‘Table Fellowship’ and in the days ahead. 
I invite you to recall the ‘tough and tender’ grace of a God who loves us unconditionally.

And will you commit and re-commit your life to following Jesus, the Christ, MINDFULLY for all your days.

Susan B. Andrews Feasting On The Word, Pastoral Bartlett and Taylor, eds. (Louisville:WJK, 2009) and
John P. Burgess also in Feasting Theological


Terri said...

Very interesting take on week or the one after, when I am back preaching on the text, I hope I remember this.

Purple said...

Thanks Nancy. I've not preached much on Hebrews for much the same reasons as you.