Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
We have already made our silent, personal prayers of confession before God this morning. But I have a public confession to make.
I’m not a big fan of preaching on the Epistle to the Hebrews.
It’s not the easiest reading book of the New Testament, which doesn’t exactly make it “preach well.” Hebrews relies on obscure Biblical characters like Melchizedek and high-churchy words like Sanctification to gets its message across. So, the challenge of making that message comprehensible and relevant to a congregation on Sunday morning can feel daunting.
For the sake of comparison, consider the Epistle of James, on which I preached just last month. When it comes to books of the Bible, James is as accessible and concrete as they come. If you boil down the Epistle of James to one sentence it would be something like: If you really believe Jesus is your Savior it will be obvious to others because your life will look like this and not like that. James’ focus is on what’s upfront and visible about being a Christian. Not so, Hebrews. Break Hebrews down to one sentence and it would be: If your life looks like this, when it could have looked like that, it’s because all of the invisible, spiritual stuff that is going on behind the scenes.
The message of Hebrews requires a sonnet, not a sentence, to get its point across. Hebrews is not so much interested in what’s upfront in the Christian life, but what’s behind the Christian life. Hebrews describes how Jesus came from the glory of God’s presence in order to reveal God’s true nature to us and to make purification for the sin that separated humankind from God, then returned to the glory of heaven. It’s as if Jesus came to set the world right, then handed it over to his followers to take care of things from there on in.
Jesus entrusts us to continue the work that he began! Which is to bear the imprint of God in us, being messengers of God’s love for the world. And to be servants to one another, providing for each other’s needs, as Jesus did. That’s what’s behind what it means to be the Church.
But when you look at what’s upfront and visible about Christ’s Church, you get a much different picture. As messengers of God’s love, we humans are prone to get in the way of the message we are to deliver; and too often just as guilty as anyone of putting what we want before what others need. The writer of Hebrews says that although all things in this world were placed under our supervision, we don’t see much evidence that we are fulfilling God’s intentions for us very well.
G.K. Chesterton once observed that, whatever else is or is not true, one thing is certain; human beings are not what we were meant to be. But despite our deficiencies, God doesn’t give up on us. In fact, the author of Hebrews claims that God crowns us with glory and honor.
These are words that should fill the Church with hope. And the reason for hope is not in what we may do to improve ourselves to be worthy of glory and honor, but in what Jesus has done for us. Clearly Jesus, as the exact imprint of God’s being and the reflection of God’s glory, is the ultimate messenger through whom God speaks to the world. As the one who suffered and died to purify the world from sin, he is the highest example of putting the greater need before one’s own.
But Christ does more than reveal God’s nature to us. The Spirit of Christ also aids us in polishing up the image of God in us, so that we also reflect God’s glory. That polishing of the reflection of God in us is called sanctification. Sanctification means to make something holy, or set apart for God’s purpose. We are made holy through the once and for all event of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. But sanctification is also a lifelong process of growing into the people God made us to be.
Sanctification happens as we make prayer, worship and service to others part of our lives, so that the imprint of God’s being and the reflection of God’s glory shines through the Church. The deeper the hidden reality of our relationship to Jesus, the more consistent our visible reflection of him to the world will be.
What makes the Church the Church is not that it is filled with perfect people, but that it is made up of people who acknowledge their imperfections so that they can be transformed through Christ’s perfect sacrifice on their behalf. Because you and I are works in progress, the Church is always a work in progress, too.
On World Communion Sunday, we confess the visible differences that divide one Christian tradition from another and are reminded that the unity we celebrate on World Communion Sunday is more of a future hope than a present reality. But what’s behind our hoped-for unity is the assurance of Jesus’ claim that we are all his brothers and sisters; spiritual sons and daughters of the same Father. We can be discouraged by the undeniable ways that the imprint of God is not always distinct in us, who are called to bear it. Or we can fix our gaze on Jesus, who can transform us into what we would never become on our own.
In sharing this holy meal and honoring what it means, we demonstrate that despite our precious and sometimes painful differences, we are all one in one Lord, whose grace we celebrate in bread and the fruit of the vine. As we gather around the table to consume the Bread of oneness in which we find unity and drink the Cup of forgiveness for what still divides us, may we all know the joy of being sisters and brothers in the great family of God. And may the imprint of God and the reflection of God’s glory, that makes up what is behind all that we could ever hope to become, grow to be upfront and visible in us, as it was in our brother Jesus.
© 2021 Raymond Medeiros
Preached FCCW, October 3, 2021