Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12 CEB
In the past, God spoke through the prophets to our ancestors in many times and many ways. In these final days, though, he spoke to us through a Son. God made his Son the heir of everything and created the world through him. The Son is the light of God’s glory and the imprint of God’s being. He maintains everything with his powerful message. After he carried out the cleansing of people from their sins, he sat down at the right side of the highest majesty. And the Son became so much greater than the other messengers, such as angels, that he received a more important title than theirs.
God didn’t put the world that is coming (the world we are talking about) under the angels’ control. Instead, someone declared somewhere,
What is humanity that you think about them?
Or what are the human beings that you care about them?
For a while you made them lower than angels.
You crowned the human beings with glory and honor.
You put everything under their control.
When he puts everything under their control, he doesn’t leave anything out of control. But right now, we don’t see everything under their control yet. However, we do see the one who was made lower in order than the angels for a little while—it’s Jesus! He’s the one who is now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of his death. He suffered death so that he could taste death for everyone through God’s grace.
It was appropriate for God, for whom and through whom everything exists, to use experiences of suffering to make perfect the pioneer of salvation. This salvation belongs to many sons and daughters whom he’s leading to glory. This is because the one who makes people holy and the people who are being made holy all come from one source. That is why Jesus isn’t ashamed to call them brothers and sisters when he says,
I will publicly announce your name to my brothers and sisters.
I will praise you in the middle of the assembly.
Alright, who likes a little mystery in their scripture? If you do, Hebrews might be the book of the New Testament for you. Hands down it is one of the strangest books of the New Testament. We do not know when it was written or where or to whom or even by whom! In fact, it largely got added to our Biblical canon because it was attributed to Paul. Not only was it not written by Paul, but it is not even a letter like the other non-gospel parts. It reads like a sermon, one that talks about Jesus in ways not expressed by the other writers in our New Testament. This sermon tackles the dual questions of who is this Jesus person and why does he matter? For Hebrews, Jesus matters because Jesus brings this final revelation from God, full and complete. God through the Son traveled into our human lives, suffered and shared in our struggles and finally in death, and ultimately took on these pains to overcome them. Christ matters because Christ knows the human heart and human life in a way that enables him to answer our deepest needs, and in turn take on these needs so we are carried with him to a place of holy closeness and wholeness with God. Christ’s revelation still speaks to us today, inviting us to journey into our lives and the lives of those around us in order to clear out the mess and allow all of us to come close to God and shine with holy light for the whole world to see!
In the opening of our scripture reading, we are told that God has spoken many ways in the history of Israel. God has spoken through diverse prophets, from figures like Moses to others like Isaiah, and God has also spoken through events in history, and through the various writings found in our Biblical text. These diverse voices spoke intermittently over the course of the Hebrew people’s relationship with God, inviting them to live differently and show the world what it is like to be the people of God. However, now things have changed with the coming of a Son, a unique figure for not being a person through whom God chose to speak but rather the very person of God speaking to us. The Son speaks to us as the final culmination of everything the prophets and history and the writings had tried to say in their own fragmented way. These words had tried to communicate to God’s people how to live holy lives in closeness to the divine. Before, this had just been for one people in one land of the world, but now this holy living is for all. Now, this call to come and dwell with God has come not through a prophet or an event or a piece of text, but rather in the suffering and exaltation of the Son. Christ, for Hebrews, came to carry us into a new relationship with God but not necessarily to carry us out of this world in order to do that.
You see, sometimes we have a strange view of holiness as primarily a kind of separation. We must separate from evil, separate from sin, and separate from the world. We may even see our own pure souls as something trapped in the fleshy prison of our bodies. All of this sees holiness as primarily purity, something to remain undefiled and separate. In a way it makes sense, holiness as a kind of separation means that we have a God that does not tolerate evil and actively resists injustice. We all want a God who will not stand by passively when we are abused and attacked! Amen? Yet, at the same time, do you see what happened there? We desire a God who is actively concerned and involved in our lives when evil happens, so on some level we understand that holiness is not simply purity and separation. Christ defies this in his death. You see, Christ crucified scandalizes the vision of God who should be mysterious and has no name and certainly no graven images like the other false gods has been carved into visible human flesh and has a human name. For others, this crucified God seems foolish as there is God who bleeds, feels, suffers, cries, and weakly dies upon a tree. Both defile a pure and separate God! Christ instead represents the other side of holiness, that of love, that of the desire to bring creation close to the bosom of God so that none of us are outside of the sight and care of our beloved Creator! Holiness is not simply found in separation, as holiness also represents our closeness to our Lord. God despises evil, but God despises the separation between the divine and humanity even more. We have a God who cares about us so deeply that Christ enters the picture and does away with the previous fragmented revelation to bring a full revelation in his body and suffering and death and resurrection to pull us all into this close holiness with God.
Christ celebrates his own humanity, calling out that he feels no shame in naming us in the public assembly and calling us his siblings before God! This is where Jesus is unique. We have a God that did not stay up in the heavens, and that did not stay apart from creation. Rather, we have a God who becomes human, to live with us and go through all the ups and downs that life’s journey has. In many ways, it reminds of a song from the mid-90s, Joan Osborne’s “One of Us?,” where in her lyrics she sings the question, “What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us? Just a stranger on the bus, trying to make his way home…” Hebrews doesn’t ask that question, but instead answers it, “Yes, God was one of us!” It is a resounding yes! That God understands us intimately because God lived and suffered and died among us. I think that is one of the most astounding things about our Christian religion, we have a God who stepped into our mess to call us home. We have a God who has experienced our needs and hungers to better answer them. We have a God who entered this world to show us all what it means to love mercy, seek justice, and walk humbly with our God. We have a God who took on death and suffering to defeat them entirely. Hebrews 2:10 describes Jesus perfectly, calling him our pioneer of salvation, one who became lower than the angels to lift us all above the angels into the direct presence of our God. We are brought into a relationship with God that makes us the very siblings of Christ, the very children of God. For Hebrews, this is no accident, but the very purpose God put Jesus on this earth. Jesus as the Son of God became fully human to carry us all into glory, that holy closeness with God.
This understanding of Christ’s purpose sounds familiar but can also be inspiring to hear again in our lives and world today. While I said before that Hebrews is largely a mystery in many ways, it is largely believed that Hebrews was written sometime in the second century, in that second hundred years after the death and resurrection of Christ. This would then mean the community hearing this sermon is one removed from those who experienced a human Jesus in life. They did not know the disciples in person or those in that first intense generation of being followers of Jesus. Instead, their challenges may have been different. They may have been burned out by Christ not returning right away. They may have had an apathetic and lethargic faith without the emotional intensity found in the newness and freshness of Jesus and the message of his followers. How about us, does this kind of spiritual fatigue resonate with any of us today? Are there days where we find it hard to muster delight in our spiritual lives? Do you find yourself hungering for something deep in your soul? Where do we hunger? Where do those around us hunger? If any of these questions resonate this morning, then Hebrews is the kind of sermon for us, one that seeks to inspire us with what Christ has done for us and what God continues to do for us with grace and love! We can now live boldly again into our faith with renewed vigor!
On this World Communion Sunday, we are invited to participate in a heavenly banquet, one where all the peoples of this world, the poor and the sick and the stranger as well as those in past generations and in future ones will gather and be fed. None of us are strangers to the mess of this world. None of us are strangers to the mess in our own lives. We have all experienced pain and suffering. God promises to answer that pain and suffering as our God is no stranger to it. Our pioneer of salvation, Jesus Christ, is our deliverer and the host of our heavenly feast. My friends, this feast has no seating limit. We do not turn any away from this table. Just as Jesus delved into the mess of our lives to pull us out and pull us close to God, we too are called to do this in one another’s lives. Holiness means we walk closely with our God, imitating the love and grace we have experienced on that walk. Holiness means to have the heart of God within our own, one that resists evil but moreover seeks to overcome evil by bringing us all into a right and close relationship with our beloved God through the Son. The holy closeness we have is not only with God but with one another. Just as we are the siblings of Christ, we are also siblings with one another. Are we in turn ready to delve into each other’s lives, to walk into the mess of the lives of all peoples of this earth and bring them the kind of hope Hebrews reminds us that God brings into this world. Christ journeyed into our mess, into sin and pain and brokenness to answer it with the love and grace and the deliverance of our God. Are we able to do the same and model Christ in our living and faith? Are we able to be the kind of holy people who do not separate from the world but go into the very heart of it to answer the hungering cries of God’s people wherever they may be found? Jesus is the final word from God, one that keeps talking into our lives and through our lives to this world! Amen.
Pastor Paul Grossman