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Archive for the ‘Hebrews’ Category

Monday Morning Quarterback — Hebrews 11

Monday, March 19th, 2012

Like a cold glass of water on a hot day, like falling into a La-Z-Boy after shoveling 6″ of snow, like the first sip of coffee in the morning, Hebrews 11 is refreshing.

We’ve done some difficult work in the Book of Hebrews, so arriving at this “vacation destination”—the Faith Hall of Fame—refreshes and relaxes us. If you missed the sermon, I’d encourage you watch it. If you’ve already heard it, here are a few additional thoughts:

  • The quote from Lisa Simpson’s teacher, Ms. Hoover, (“This is nothing but dead,white male bashing from a PC thug”) comes from the episode Lisa the Iconoclast. In it, Lisa discovers that the town’s founder and hero, Jebediah Springfield, was actually the murderous pirate Hans Sprungfeld. Sometimes our efforts to paint comprehensive pictures of biblical heroes can feel a bit like that—trying to uncover salacious, hidden details about upstanding, fine, godly people. In reality, however, the Bible itself paints full, detailed, often unflattering portraits of the majority of its characters. Since the bible resists hagiography and whitewashing, we should do the same. Moreover, many people point to the honesty of Scripture about heroes like Abraham, Jacob, David, etc. as a way to reinforce the validity of scripture.
  • I had never realized before that St. Patrick’s missionary work was shaped and formed by being kidnapped. In light of that, getting blackout drunk every March 17 seems to be a uniquely unsuitable way to commemorate his death.
  • One more time, in case you didn’t get to write it down the first time around: God doesn’t have a “permanent ineligibility” list. No matter how badly you’ve sinned, messed up, fallen short missed the mark… God still extends forgiveness and still has plans for you.

You can watch the full sermon here:

Friday(?) Morning Quarterback – Hebrews 10

Friday, March 16th, 2012

Better late than never? I suppose so.

A few additional reflections from Sunday’s sermon on Hebrews 10:

  • The start of Daylight Savings Time is always a challenging day for pastors (we’re missing an hour’s sleep and a bunch of folks in our congregations completely forget the time change and miss church.) I was glad to see so many happy faces in the pews on Sunday! (The end of DST, on the other hand, is a Sunday School Teacher’s bonanza…)
  • The beginning of Hebrews 10 can seem to be trying to sneak Platonic Dualism in the back door. I’ll let N.T. Wright offer his perspective here:

At this point, and at one or two other moments in this letter, many readers have wondered if perhaps the writer is using ideas that had been made famous by the philosopher Plato. In particular, the idea of something being a ‘shadow’ rather than a ‘real form’ sounds like his well-known picture of the Cave, in which people who haven’t yet been enlightened think they’re looking at reality but are in fact only looking at shadows cast by objects that remain out of sight.
This appearance, though, is superficial. The contrast the writer is making is not, like Plato, the contrast between physical objects and non-physical ideas, or ‘forms’. As verse 1 insists, it is the contrast between the present and the future realities. Jesus, who has gone ahead of us into God’s future reality, will reappear when that future reality bursts into the present for the whole world. And he himself was and remains a thoroughly physical human being.
What was wrong with the sacrifices and offerings of the old covenant, says Hebrews, wasn’t that they were physical, ‘earthly’ in that sense. Jesus’ own sacrifice was just as earthly, just as much a matter of physical reality, as the animal sacrifices in the Temple. That always was part of the truth of Christianity, however scandalous it may seem to tender-minded Platonists in the ancient or the modern world. What was wrong was that the old sacrifices needed to be done over and over again, thus demonstrating that they hadn’t really dealt with the problem. If I have to take my car back to the mechanic every week with the same problem, that’s a fair indication that he hasn’t succeeded in fixing it. (From Hebrews for Everyone)

  • The Les Misérables film clip we watched is from the 1998 film adaptation. While it’s not quite as powerful as the musical, or as engrossing as the novel, it’s still an excellent film. I have the DVD if anyone would like to borrow it.
  • I can’t emphasize enough that the warnings of Hebrews 10:26-30 are best understood not a generic warnings against “sin,” but rather specific warnings against the repudiation of Christ and His church in the face of persecution.

You can view the full sermon here:

Monday Morning Quarterback – Hebrews 9

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Hebrews 9 was another meaty chapter in a book full of challenges.

We explored the concepts of Platonic Dualism (The world of space, time & matter is radically inferior to the “spiritual” world) and a parallel, but significantly divergent worldview, which we called Jewish Duality (The world of space, time & matter is separate from yet intertwined with the “spiritual” world, and the two will be joined together at the last day.) I suggest that the author(s) of Hebrews, along with Paul and other New Testament authors, were influenced by Platonic Dualism but ultimately upheld Jewish Duality; moreover, Christians should do the same.

A few other thoughts:

“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” – Isaiah 43 (NRSV)
You can watch the full sermon here:


Monday Morning Quarterback – Hebrews 8

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

First things first: it’s no fun to preach with a cold. And I’m sure it’s no fun to listen to someone preach with a cold. My apologies.

A few additional reflections from Hebrews 8:

  • The connection between the ministry of Jesus and the true return from Exile for the Jews shows up numerous times in the New Testament, not least in Hebrews 8 (and its reference to Jeremiah 31). N.T. Wright explores the concept in depth in Jesus and the Victory of God.
  • The true return from Exile was marked not by geography or national sovereignty, but by faithfulness to God’s original purpose for Israel—to bless the entire world.
  • For one example of how to “dwell in the word,” look here
  • As we walk along this path, allowing God to perform a divine heart transplant, it can be helpful to see signposts of progress. Here are three I didn’t have time to mention in my sermon:
    • Christlike actions start to become “second-nature.” When we respond instinctively in a Christlike way, we know that God is at work in our hearts.
    • Our “circle of concern” expands. One of the hallmarks Jesus identifies as we progress towards “perfection” (Greek to teleion; maturity or completion) is concern beyond family or friends—concern that expands to strangers and even enemies. (Matt. 5:43-48)
    • Prayer & Praise become prerequisites for daily living. Prayer & praise are baselines for Christian spirituality, and as God renews our hearts, we find them more and more indispensable.

Monday Morning Quarterback – Hebrews 7

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

A few reflections on this past Sunday’s sermon:

  • I’m deeply indebted to N.T. Wright for the understanding that Paul—along with other New Testament writers—refers specifically to the Mosaic Law (not “laws” in general or morality in the abstract) when writing about “law.”
  • For a more comprehensive look at why “one worldwide family” is so essential to God’s plan, I would encourage you to read Wright’s book Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision.
  • I didn’t have time to read & explain Hebrews 7:20-25 during the sermon. The primary point of these verses are to reinforce that God gives Jesus his priesthood, and God does it with an oath. (The “oath” (“The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever’”) is first found in Psalm 110, and the author(s) of Hebrews believe this coronation passage to be prophetic, referring to Jesus.)
  • If the author of Hebrews is right, and the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus results in “the abrogation of an earlier commandment because it was weak and ineffectual (for the law made nothing perfect),” then we have to ask why so many people still rely on the Law as a method of evangelism. In many circles (notably the neo-Reformed movement, but elsewhere as well), it’s taught and practiced that “the Law gives knowledge of sin; therefore the Gospel is meaningless without the Law.” This is why we see street preachers beginning their Gospel presentations with some of the 10 Commandments; if they convince someone they’re “guilty before God,” then they’re more likely to accept Jesus’ offer of forgiveness. While I can understand the impulse, it seems deeply misguided in light of Paul’s writings and the Book of Hebrews. Why would we try to share our faith on the basis of something that “is obsolete and growing old [and] will soon disappear” (Heb. 8)? It’s not unlike trying to arrest someone for drinking alcohol on the basis of Prohibition—a law that is repealed and no longer in effect. Understanding that the New Covenant “abrogates” the Old Covenant should push us to deeper understandings of sin, forgiveness, salvation, and evangelism.

You can watch the full sermon here.

Monday Morning Quarterback – Hebrews 6

Monday, February 13th, 2012

Hebrews 6:4-12 presents a vexing challenge to anyone who reads it. To a strict Calvinist who believes in predestination, it raises a host of issues relating to how one can “fall away,” why God would call such a person (predestined to fall away) in the first place, etc. To those who believe in free will, it throws the issues of eternal security and the limits of God’s grace right in our face.

As I said on Sunday, it takes more than a single sermon to fully explore the depths of the issue, but below are five thoughts on interpreting this difficult passage:

  • “Falling away” (“parapipto” in the Greek) refers to more than “sin.”Parapipto is what’s called a hapax legomenon, a word that occurs only once in the New Testament. We know the literal meaning (“para” is a preposition that can mean “away” or “under”; “pipto” means “to fall”), but the church has attached varying theological subtexts to the word. The theological connotations (what we mean when we say “fall away”) may or may not be accurate.
  • “Impossible” (“adynatos” in the Greek) is a tricky concept. We need to read Hebrews 6 in light of Matt. 19, where Jesus (speaking of “eternal life”) says that “For mortals it is impossible (‘adynatos’), but for God all things are possible (‘dynatos‘).”
  • Turning away from faith (what’s described in Hebrews 6) has serious consequences. We can’t abuse God’s grace a license to sin. We need to internalize this challenge.
  • Biblical warnings are always directed at “me,” not “them.” Rather than trying to point the finger at others, figure out who we know who as “fallen away,” we need to hold this passage up as a mirror, examining our own lives and faith.
  • “We are convinced of better things.This is the promise of Hebrews 6: there’s a danger in falling away and a danger of failing to mature, but there is hope for better things.

A few other reflections on the sermon:

  • I was unfair to Søren Kierkegaard. Saying he’s “impossible to comprehend” was a bit of hyperbole. The man is often difficult to understand, but he was undeniably brilliant and offered a tenacious, challenging view of authentic Christian faith.
  • I think we Anabaptists are sometimes afraid to hold a high view of God’s grace. We rightly emphasize that “faith without works is dead,” and I wonder if we worry that speaking of the grace of God—with all its embarrassing language and sweeping promises—will prevent people from living out their faith. I recognize the tension, but I also want to proclaim the rich mercies of God.

You can view the sermon below by clicking this link.

Monday Morning Quarterback – Sermon on Hebrews 5

Monday, February 6th, 2012

I want to resist the impulse to “re-preach” my sermon in blog form each week, which would waste your time and mind. However, I do want to try and use this platform to offer some additional reflections or pieces of information that didn’t make it in the sermon or may not have been clear. So, each Monday (or maybe Tuesday) I hope to offer a short post looking back at Sunday’s message.

Yesterday we continued our series on Hebrews, looking at Hebrews 5. Here are a few quick thoughts:

  • Someone remarked, with a gentle sarcasm, on “how [I was] able to suddenly, and for no discernible reason, read Hebrews 5 in the middle of it.” Fair enough. I recognize that the primary point of the message—that we are not the hero of the story—may have seemed, at best, tangentially connected to the text at hand. Think of it this way: sometimes scripture invites us to put on our scuba gear and dive deep into the word. At other times, scripture invites to jump off its springboard, exploring new heights before we enter the depths. Sometimes we need to examine the minutia of the text with a microscope, looking and language and syntax and parallels. Other times, we need to look up, look around, take in an expansive view of God’s creation & God’s story. Sometimes we need to look directly at the light, and be dazzled by it. Other times, we need to look along the light, allowing it to illuminate our world. Both approaches are important and valid—as long as we end up immersed in God’s love when all is said and done.
  • The audio clip we played came from This American Life. Specifically, it was excerpted from episode 311, “Build a Better Mousetrap” (Act 3—What Would Fill-In-The-Blank Do)
  • My understanding of why the author(s) of Hebrews devote such significant space to Melchizedek (as a response to concerns about the Jesus vis-a-vis the Levitical priesthood) was shaped by N.T. Wright’s very accessible commentary, Hebrews for Everyone.

You can watch the sermon below: