Hebrews 6:13-20 13 New International Version (NIV)
When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” 15 And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised. 16 People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. 17 Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. 18 God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.
Patient God, we want to have things go well and to have everyone be happy and content, but all too often we stand in the way of peace and hope. We recognize that life is not a fantasy in which everything turns out just right. We know that there is strife and struggles and we stand in the midst of them. Our hearts and spirits carry the scars of the struggles and disappointments we have borne. Today we come to seek restoration, reconciliation, and relationship with you and with others. We want to overcome the barriers which prevent us from being people of compassion and hope. There is so much that needs to be done to aid in the cause of your peace and justice. Help us to become peacemakers and those who would bring hope. Give us courage to become disciples who follow your will and your way. For we ask this in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ. AMEN.
Good Morning Church,
We have all heard the saying “it’s like riding a bicycle”. It’s a simple phrase that means you never fully forget a task that you learned, and though there is a lot of truth in it, this does not always end up being the case. If we have not done something for a long time, it may take time to become comfortable doing it again. For me, I have sometimes needed a minute to regain my comfort when riding a bike, especially when it has been a long time since I have done it. This week, Stephanie and I took sometime to go and ride the rail trail. We only did 8 or 9 miles out of the 62, but it was still a great workout. Everything went fine, but those first couple of strokes of the pedals were a bit more wobbly than they had been the last November when I was last on a bike. It took a few seconds to gain that once easy comfort on the bike.
Sometimes this is how life can also feel. Even when we have experiences that we have been through before, we can tend to be caught off balance. When we get caught off balance, it can be difficult for us to right the ship. This doesn’t mean that what made us off balance was bad, because so often any change can do this, whether it is good, bad, or neutral in its nature. For Stephanie and I, going on bike rides are good. We love to feel that wind blowing on our face, listening to the birds chirping in the trees around us, and watching the country side as we ride past. And still, that initial moment, those first 5 seconds or so, are often much more difficult than the rest of the ride itself.
God never made the promise that the Christian life would be easy and filled with nothing but blessings. Are we blessed immensely? Yes, but this does not mean that everything is going to be easy. The people to whom the author of Hebrews is writing, like many of the communities we see in scripture, have struggled with faithfulness and trust in the oaths that God has given. They have drifted and neglected God’s church and have acquired a sluggish inattention to God’s people in their church community. The writer of this text is worried that their behavior has a portion of its cause in a faltering trust in God’s dependability. They no longer trust, or at the very least are struggling in trusting that God is going to see them through or remain faithful to them.
The writer wants to draw the people’s attention back to the story of Abraham and how God had been faithful to him, even if it may have taken some time. The people needed to remember God’s promises, as well as the confirmation that God offers in giving the oath as well. God uses the practice of an oath to help confirm for the people that they do not need to worry about whether God is going to show up. The oath was important because to use the language of an oath back in biblical times raised the language of the promise to a level where congregation in this book would understand the seriousness by which God is making this promise. Think of when someone is brought to court and they take an oath to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That promise elevates the rest of the words that the individual will say until they step down from the stand. The same is true for these ancient people when it comes to this oath that God established with Abraham and with them.
Now you may be thinking, Pastor, that is all fine and well, but I don’t always feel like God is there to keep me upright. Going back to my story about riding bikes, how many of us had training wheels on our bikes growing up? These extra wheels were put on our bike by someone who loved us. A parent, grandparent, neighbor, whoever. This person put these wheels on our bike to allow us to learn this skill, while also providing us support when we begin to get a bit wobbly. This is kind of how God works with us too.
When we are just beginning to explore who God is for us, God is there to provide us stability. As we grow in our ability to “ride” out this faith, God gives us work to do. Sometimes we are going to fall down, but guess who is there to help us up. That’s right, God. God will come to us in many ways. For the people of this early church community, God came to them through the words of the author of Hebrews. Now I'm sure God showed up in tons of different ways for this community, like God shows up for us in so many ways beyond reading scripture, too, but this is one way that God does show up, through love of neighbor. The author of this book is writing out of great love for the people in this community. God shows up in those moments and in that work.
God shows up when we feel off balance. God shows up when the world seems murky or uncertain. God shows up in times of transition. You want to know how? Let me leave you with a story that I believe may enlighten us to the God present in our lives.
The Parable of the Long Spoons: One day a man said to God, “God, I would like to know what Heaven and Hell are like. God showed the man two doors. Inside the first one, in the middle of the room, was a large round table with a large pot of stew. It smelled delicious and made the man’s mouth water, but the people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They appeared to be famished. They were holding spoons with very long handles and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful, but because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths. The man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering. God said, “You have seen Hell.” Behind the second door, the room appeared exactly the same. There was the large round table with the large pot of wonderful stew that made the man’s mouth water. The people had the same long-handled spoons, but they were well nourished and plump, laughing and talking. The man said, “I don’t understand.” God smiled. “It is simple,” He said, “Love only requires one skill. These people learned early to feed one another.
Again, God shows up through the love of neighbor. In this parable, those who are hungry are greedy people who are starving because they will not help one another. Those who were well feed were those who learned to serve one another. Let us feed one another, providing each other strength through the love which God placed in our hearts. Do not forget how important it is for you to show up in peoples lives, especially when they might feel off balance. God has called each of us to go and love on this world. If you are scared that you may not know what to say, trust that God will give you the words. If you are uncertain of where to go, listen and God will direct you. We are not alone in this work, but God is also sending us to be the hands and feet. And all God’s people say. Amen.