Work

This last Sunday I preached a sermon about the theology of work.  [in a few days it should be up here to listen to - don't judge please, I don't think it was one of my best!]  I used Colossians 3:23-25 – in there is the well loved “whatever you do, do it heartily as for the Lord and not for men.”  I translated that bit – and said that the literal translation should be something more like “whatever it is that you do, do it from the depths of your soul as if it were for God and not other people.”  Using a little bit of poetic license (the bit “depths” isn’t literally there), I think it’s more powerful and more true.  God calls us and gives us a vocation (from the Latin “vocare” which means “to call”) – something that He wants us to do.

I said that many people’s calling isn’t necessarily the same as their job that puts food on the table – but in either case we are instructed to do it from the soul; that is, to work hard at it and do our best.  Work hard at it – because it matters.  Whether you’re a janitor or a CEO or a stay at home mom or dad, or whatever – God wants us to do our best.  Do it from our soul.

However, someone pointed out that I had missed a couple of things in my sermon that are very important.  I just swept right past them, unfortunately – that is, one of the reasons we aren’t terribly fond of working is that it never seems to be done; you pick up  your room and it just gets messy again.  Laundry is never finished.  The lawn keeps growing.  It snows again.  There is always another thing to fix on the car.  It’s drudgery.  It never is done.  This is part of the Fall, I believe.  God told the Man that he would have pain from his work and the toil would make sweat from his brow.  Paraphrased, your work is going to often (if not always!) be repetitive and mindless or seemingly useless. In a more scientific way – entropy always increases unless it is worked upon.  I’m not trying to sound flippant, but the fact of the matter is that this side of the End we won’t have completely fulfilling work.  I mean, in some way there is always drudgery involved.  I love my job – but there are certainly aspects of it that just never seem finished; things I don’t like to do.

I think that is the key – to realize that the drudgery is the same for all of us.  We may think that rich or famous people lead lives without drudgery, but I think that is not true – their drudgery is just different I guess.  Everyone’s is.  I know people who would rather polish and clean every piece of silverware in their house and mine rather than face speaking in front of people – they’d enjoy polishing and run screaming from 10 people trying to listen to them.  I’m much more the opposite.  I enjoy speaking in front of people (analyze that if you must!), but there are lots of cleaning and organizing things that are absolute drudgery and misery for me.  I bet that while I might really enjoy a night on the red carpet and dancing and glamour, many times the same thing is drudgery for a celebrity.  “Another event?  I have to dress in a fabulous gown – again?!?  When will it ever stop!”

Part of the problem we have with repetitive work – whatever it might be – is that we feel it’s not fair.  That other people don’t have this.  We are better than this act.  And it’s just not true.  All of us have our own form of drudgery.  And we all don’t like it.  Brother Lawrence, a 14th century monk wrote a piece that we now call the “the Practice of the Presence of God” where he tells the story how much he HATED working in the kitchens; until he realized that he could enter into God’s presence whenever and whatever he was doing.  When you’re doing something you hate – and it’s threatening to overwhelm you with despair – try to talk to Him.  You might end up having a good conversation with the One Who IS.

The other thing I missed is that most of us feel deep down like our work isn’t very important – or appreciated.  For most of us, I think, this is an aspect of our jobs no matter what they are.  Although I’m sure that there are certainly careers and/or jobs – tasks, even – that feel more unimportant than others.  Motherhood, for example.  Or fatherhood, for that matter.  After talking with several stay at home moms over the years, I  think that this is possibly one of those that feels unimportant and underappreciated.  [At the risk of too much comparison, I think being a pastor is another - although in a very different way!]

Cooking three meals a day and cleaning a house; raising children who don’t pay attention to you and talk over you all the time – not having time to yourself and listening to your peers talk about their day at work and how hard it was to go to that lunch meeting today and have mimosas and salmon…going out with “the girls” and meeting someone new and inevitably hearing “so what do you do?” and feeling that immediate crunch around your heart as you answer “I’m a stay-at-home mom.”  Hearing the unspoken “just” before the title as other people say it.  Feeling judged by everyone else for NOT being a productive member of society – you’re not really making anything, are you?  As Steven Curtis Chapman’s song, Do Everything says “pickin’ up toys on the living room floor for the 15th time today/matchin’ up socks, sweepin’ up socks, cheerios that got away…”  It all seems so useless – does it matter at all?

Go listen to that song.  I love it – and not only because I like the music.  I think he’s right.  Sometimes we ALL wonder if what we’re doing matters.  It does.  God calls us into existence.  We bear His image.  EVERYTHING we do matters.  That sounds so trite -but I think it’s true.  To paraphrase another preacher I heard once – the Resurrection screams to the universe that what we do matters.  Now that’s a big comparison.  Again, I think it’s true.

The things that we do are important. All of them.  No matter how small it seems – how meaningless we might think it is, it matters.  Sweeping up cheerios that rolled away from your toddler’s grasp matters, for so many reasons.  For example – if you leave them there, they are bound to get kicked around and lost and end up attracting little rodents or bugs.  If you leave them there, it shows your toddler that cleanliness doesn’t matter – and they don’t worry about it as they get older.  It’s the smashed window theory – if you smash one window in a nice neighborhood and DON”T fix it, more windows get smashed and not fixed and it leads to more and more and eventually crime and so on.  It might not seem like much – but it matters.  [Now, does it matter if you sweep it up RIGHT NOW, or can it wait a bit while you finish playing with your toddler - that's a different post, but no, take your time....]

C.S. Lewis once said that if we actually saw each other in the splendor of who we really are – we would be strongly tempted to worship other human beings.  You – and everyone you have ever or will ever met – are amazing and wonderful and beautiful and worth more than you could possibly imagine.  Worth the Life of the 2nd Person of the Trinity.  God DIED for you.  So  yes – what you do matters.  Whatever it is that you do.

I’m trying really hard not to sound cliché or trite.  But I think that all of this is true.  Do I remember it always?  No.  No I don’t.  I wish I did.

Your job matters.  I don’t care what it is.  I don’t care what you get paid for it.  I don’t care if it’s NOT paid.  In fact, I would argue that for the most part it is the stuff that we do when we’re NOT being paid that is the most important.  No, stay-at-home mom, you might not be the effective CEO or COO of a major international corporation; you may not be a missionary to under-privileged children in Guatemala.  No, pastor, you may not be in charge of finding the cure for AIDS or cancer; you may not be using your writing skills to make tons of money and influence millions.  No, owner of a small business, you may not be piloting a fighter jet on its way to save thousands of people from the bad guys; you may not be able to donate millions to charity.

But YOU are important.  What you do is IMPORTANT.  If it wasn’t, why do it?  It may feel useless and pointless.  Folding laundry feels useless and unimportant.  But it’s not.  Making your bed in the morning is important – it tells your brain something.  Raising children is IMPORTANT!! (I should make that a MUCH bigger font!)

There’s an old saying that has fallen out of vogue in recent years, but I think strongly that it should come back.  It comes from a poem by William Ross Wallace.  “The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.”  Bringing up children is quite possibly one of the most important thing a person can do.  I don’t care if you’re the mother or the father – being a parent is hugely important.  It’s long range and the little things don’t seem like they make any difference, but life is made up from thousands – millions – of tiny little things that we do.

What we think of as unimportant is so often…hugely so.  I used to be a janitor – well, a supervisor of a bunch of janitors, but I did the work too – and I know that some of the people who worked for me thought of themselves as unimportant.  That it didn’t really matter if they did a good job or not.  It was the places where those people worked and allowed themselves to not care about the quality of their work where I did the most fire control from complaints about lost business (for the businesses we cleaned!).  A couple of those people were so convinced they didn’t matter that got depressed because they were “only” a janitor.  The pay wasn’t good, the hours were hard.  They didn’t like it.  But the work they did mattered to other people – the ones who came into the banks and found dirty bathrooms and junk all over the floor or the ones that came in and found nice clean bathrooms and dusted desks.  It matters to someone.

No matter what you do – it matters to someone.  Even if they don’t know it yet.

And more importantly, it matters to God.  Because He loves you.  I am firmly convinced that the Lord God Almighty, Creator and Ruler of the Universe, the One who is and was and will be – has a REALLY REALLY big refrigerator and hangs up snapshots of all the stuff we do.  All of us.  He’s proud of who you are – He made you!  And He’s proud of what you do.

Whatever it is.

Confidence in the Sovereign Lord

I pastor a Presbyterian church – and while there are lots of things that the denomination is doing and thinking that I think are not Biblical (more on that in the next few weeks), I love a great deal of the traditional Presbyterian and Reformed faith.  One of those tenets of our faith is the sovereignty of God.

The Triune God is the One who IS – in fact the Name He tells Moses in Exodus means something close to “The One who is, was and always will be.”  In the Greek Septuagint they translated Yahweh into something close to “The Being” or maybe “The One who Exists.”  He is outside of time, He is the One Who made it all, He is the Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer and He absolutely is in control of the things He made.

But we don’t believe it.  Not really.  When we watch the world news on a Sunday evening and read online that thousands of people are suffering in West Africa from the spread of Ebola, or that a woman from Minnesota just escaped sexual slavery in Louisiana, we don’t believe it.  We are afraid.  We worry.

We think, even when we believe, that maybe, just maybe, the Creator of the Universe has abandoned us.  And then it starts to creep in to our personal lives.  Little by little, shred by shred, we lose our confidence that God is in charge in our own lives.  And we start to compensate.  We might begin by choosing a career that will make money rather than what makes us come alive.  Or a spouse because she’s beautiful more than because when she smiles as you your soul swells.  You choose to not have children because it’s such a shame to bring a life into such a terrible world.  You start to make decisions about your own life and your relationships based on your own convenience.  Because it sure looks like not only has God abandoned the world, but He also seems to have forgotten that you exist.

There’s an old saying with many variations:  “if you feel far away from God, guess who moved?”

When we lose confidence in things – and especially in God – we begin to live our lives as if they don’t exist.  Consider losing confidence in your ability to hit a baseball.  You miss once, and you start thinking “Wow, this pitcher is good!”  But the more you miss, the more you start thinking that it might not be the pitcher, but the swing.  More and more you hesitate going up to the plate – more and more you don’t swing.  Pretty soon you just stop playing (assuming, of course, that you’re not a professional!).  You don’t play – and then you stop going to games…and you just watch the pros on TV.  We do the same thing with God.

We’re not going to figure out the question of God’s reasoning here today.  The why (at least for now) does not concern me.  Why He allows bad things to happen is not where I’m going, but rather the effect of our reaction.  When something – whatever it is – occurs to shake your confidence in what God is doing, what do you do?

You try again.  You pray.  You contact Him.  You continue to live your life as if you trust Him.  You check with Him about decisions.  You work at it until you have confidence in Him again.  Just like if you missed a swing, you screw up your confidence in your own ability and try again!  Or falling off a bike – if you don’t get back up there and try again, you’ll be afraid of the darn thing!

Confidence, like faith, is a spiritual muscle.  You need to flex it.  You need to use it.  Just like your legs or any other muscle, it only improves with training.

Request for prayers

Our church has a prayer chain, and yesterday we got a request that I thought I would share here.  The media, in my opinion, is not doing enough to talk about the atrocities being committed against Christians in N. Iraq and Syria.

But here’s the request:

 Please pray for these extraordinarily brave people.
A friend from Ohio just got a text message from her brother asking her to
shower him and his parish in prayer. He is part of a mission team and
ISIS has taken over the town they are in today. He said ISIS is
systematically going house to house to all the Christians and asking the
children to denounce Jesus. He said so far not one child has. And so far
all have consequently been killed. But not the parents. The UN has
withdrawn and the missionaries are on their own. They are determined to
stick it out for the sake of the families – even if it means their own
deaths. He is very afraid, has no idea how to even begin ministering to
these families who have had seen their children martyred. Yet he says he
knows God has called him for some reason to be his voice and hands at
this place at this time. Even so, he is begging prayers for his courage
to live out his vocation in such dire circumstances… And like the
children accept martyrdom if he is
called to do so. She asked me to ask everyone we know to please pray for
them. These brave parents instilled such a fervent faith in their
children that they chose martyrdom. PLEASE surround them in their loss
with your prayers for hope and perseverance. She was able to talk to her
brother briefly by phone. She didn’t say it but I believe she believes
it will be their last conversation. Pray for her too. She said he just
kept asking her to help him know what to do and do it. She told him to
tell the families we ARE praying for them and they are not alone or
forgotten — no matter what. Please keep all in your prayers. The
mission team is in Milaca.

The End (Revelation)

Here we are at the end of the Bible – the Book of Revelation.  Probably (at least I think so!) the most confusing piece of scripture there is; with the possible exception of Ecclesiastes.  (Again, my opinion, anyway…)

Revelation was written by John – possibly the same John who was an apostle of Jesus who was with Him at the Transfiguration and the Cross.  Possibly it’s another John – but quite likely him.  He’s the same person who wrote the three letters attributed to John the Elder – or at least closely associated with him.  Tradition tells us that John lived to be very old and died on Patmos, and we know that persecution in the Roman Empire didn’t heat up until towards the end of Nero’s reign in the mid-60s and then again in the 90s.  If John had lived to the 90s he would have been very old; certainly possible especially since we think that John was a very young disciple with Jesus.  And of course, anything is possible with God.

So I think it was John the Apostle who wrote Revelation.  I also think that it was written with an amanuensis just like Paul does – and I don’t think this particular amanuensis was terribly well educated.  The Greek of Revelation is difficult not because it is complicated or highly literary (like Luke or Paul or Hebrews) but rather because its not very good.  The grammar is bad – and therefore it’s difficult to translate into another language.

Also, it’s difficult to translate because it is just so confusing.  So many random numbers that aren’t random and so many repeats…so many of the 7 this and the 7 that and the first trumpet and the 6th bowl…and one third of the people dying, but then another third, and how many was that again?  The imagery is difficult to wrap our heads around too – dragons and beasts and “living creatures” and elders and thrones and seas of crystal…

The Greek word we translate “revelation” means something like “unveiling a mystery.”  It doesn’t mean the End Times or anything like it.  It is just a long letter to the Christian people during a difficult time when they were scared and wanting to know what was happening.  Several people have commented on the pastoral nature of Revelation, and I agree – it is a book that says ultimately “Everything seems horrible now, I know – and it’s probably going to get worse.  But then it’s going to get better – wonderful, in fact!”

I think that’s the best way to read the Book of Revelation.  I do think that there are codes encased within it; I do think that there is a great deal of symbolism that might have been of great meaning to the audience that it was written to.  I think that when it was first written it was circulated secretly and John purposefully wrote what he had seen in terms that the Christian audience would understand and that the Roman authorities probably wouldn’t.

I don’t think that Revelation is the key to prophesying the End Times and if we could just figure out exactly what John meant we would know when Jesus is coming back.  I’m less than sure (although, again, I could be wrong!) that it is a road map for the what is going to happen in the years before Christ’s return in any specific way that we could possibly understand and really interpret.  When God says through John that the Adversary is going to be locked up for a thousand years and then be released for a time….well, I’m not so sure what that means to us.  Does it mean that Satan is locked up now?  Does it mean that he’s not?  I’m not sure.

Honestly, I’m a bit hesitant about writing about Revelation at all; it’s so hard to interpret.  I do think that John wrote to a wide and scattered community of Christians who thought that they were going to die at the hands of a Roman Government and the Jewish synagogues who were angry at them and called them atheists and blamed all sorts of things on them.  I do think that the codes and secret messages were to those people – as always, the words are for all of us throughout time, but they were TO them and that’s how we need to try to interpret them.  I do think that John is writing about the Day of the Lord, but I think it is entirely possible that he wasn’t talking all the time about the End Times Day of the Lord, if that makes sense.  If we look to the Old Testament, many of the prophets seem to be talking about the Day of the Lord and be referring (even within the space of a couple of verses) to different times and epochs – like Joel appears to be referring to a specific invasion by the Assyrians or the Babylonians and then a couple of verses later seems to be referring to something entirely different.  I think that in all probability John does the same thing, where he refers to the destruction of Rome (which happened in 410AD) and possibly the Dark Ages in Europe (?) or some other disasters that have already happened to the east (remember, he’s in Patmos, an island in the Med and speaking to the eastern churches) but also refers to other End Times things in other verses.  So I think it’s VERY hard to figure out historically what he might be referring to – especially since he’s writing in a sort of code so the authorities won’t figure it out – for example when he refers to Babylon he almost certainly is really talking about Rome.  There is some agreement amongst scholars that the “number of the beast” refers to Nero the Roman Emperor.

The long and short of it is that I don’t think that I understand Revelation.  At least not the way I understand a great deal of the rest of the Bible – and maybe that’s as it should be.  The book is to all people – and the end of all things is coming and we certainly will never completely comprehend how that is really going to work.  Maybe the mystery of the Plan of God is meant to be confusing.  At the same time I think that main pastoral message of Revelation is exactly spot 0n – especially considering the times we live in, when Ebola is killing people, and ISIS is killing more, and the Western Church is paralyzed by our own disagreements with each other…the message of John needs to be proclaimed again.  “I know that everything seems horrible.  And it’s probably going to get worse.  But after that – someday – God is going to make it right.  Not just right – wonderful!”  Amen.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Following His Commands (1, 2, and 3 John)

John the Elder to various and sundry people; his letter ooze with one word over and over:  love.  I remember in my first year Greek final we had to translate a passage from (I think) 1 John – and it must have used a form of the word “love” (agape) five or six times in one verse.  It was amazing.  To paraphrase one of my friends; “Did you get ‘loving loved love love to love?'”

But I’m struck, for all that John the Elder continues to talk about love, he says things like this: “We love because Christ first love us” and “what is love but doing His commands?”  Love is following Christ.  Following Christ is love.  That’s the way it is.  His commands – to love one another as He first loved us is paramount in the Christian life.

And so as we read John’s letter, we read of love all the time.  But he also continues, as his brothers have before, to urge Christians to obey and follow God’s calling and instructions.  One of the most challenging passages in all of Scripture (I think) is from 1 John 3:9-10  “No one who had God as his Father sins, because the seed planted by God remains in him.  That is, he cannot sin because he has God as his Father.  Here is how one can distinguish clearly between God’s children and those of the Adversary: everyone who does not do what is right is not from God.”

Wow.  Just…wow.  Some people avoid the power of this verse by translating “sin” as “continuing to sin” or “sinning constantly”…but I think that does violence to the idea.  John intends – because God is speaking through him – to say that if we belong to Christ and have God as our Father, we should be able to not sin.  In fact, very literally in verse 9b it reads “because he has God as his Father he is unable to sin.”  That is, if we are truly a new creation – then we won’t sin.  Of course, I believe that other places in the Bible suggest that we will not reach maturity or perfection in this idea until the End, but the strength of this passage really does suggest that there is something different about Christians that enables us to resist sin and temptation to sin.  That we are really able to follow His commands.

Of course, to most theologians this sounds a great deal like what is called Pelagianism, or maybe semi-Pelagianism – the idea that if God commanded us to do something we ought to be able to do it of our own accord under our own willpower.  However, that’s not my aim here.  There’s a bumper sticker idea out in the world that says something like “God never gives us anything that we can’t handle.”  I disagree with all of my heart.  God gives us things we can’t handle all the time – that’s the point!  He desires to come into our lives and turn things upside down and change us into what we were originally meant to be.  We can’t do it.  We can’t follow Him on our own.  We can’t stop sinning on our own.

But with God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – we can.  Literally, when we truly belong to the Triune Lord, we will not be able to sin.  Of course, I say again that this is an aim that will certainly not be realized until the End of all things.  But it’s still something that has the glimmering of possibility here and now – that we really CAN grow in faith and love so that we can obey Him.  Really obey Him!

And that’s love.

Watch out! (2 Timothy, 2 Peter, Jude)

While these three letters seem to have little to do with one another – a letter from Paul to his son in the faith Timothy, Peter to the Christian Diaspora, and Jude (one of Jesus’ brothers) to Christians – they actually all have a similar theme.  Watch out because there are people who are going to – and, indeed, already are in the 1st century! – pervert the faith and ignore the meaning of Scripture.

Even before the first generation of followers of Christ died, there were already people who were using this new belief and new culture to gain fame and fortune.  There are greedy people who would use anything to make a buck.  Others don’t lust after money but other things and used the teaching of the apostles to justify their actions (most often sex or other illicit things like drugs…).  All three authors say the same thing!  Watch out for these people! While we’re waiting for the End Times (whenever that may be!), true Christians need to be watchful for perversions of the Good News.  Things that tell us that it doesn’t matter how we live, as long as we’re “tolerant” of each other.  People that preach that the Law (I prefer the translation Teaching) doesn’t matter at all – we can do whatever we want.  People that teach us that we need to pay money in order to be saved, or that we are saved by our good intentions, or even that Christ didn’t really rise from the dead; He was just fondly remembered by His followers and that’s why they went to be martyred with  hymns on their tongues rather than recant their faith.

While not all of these ideas are in the three letters, the basic idea is there: that false teachers and prophets were already coming in the first century.  What makes us think that we in the 21st are any different?  If Peter himself is telling people to watch out for the people that ignore the Scripture, if Paul tells us that all of Scripture (and he meant the Old Testament mostly as we know it – the New Testament hadn’t been “canonized” yet) is inspired by God and is useful and that we shouldn’t just turn away from it, if Jude tells us that there are people who learned the Truth and then turned away from it and are enticing others to join them, shouldn’t we prepare ourselves for the fact?

So much of a wide swath of Christianity these days is convinced that there is some march to progressive understanding of the faith and of God – that all of our science and our tolerance and our high-mindedness is somehow more important that what God says…I have heard people say that the miracles in the Bible weren’t really miracles, but that they were illusions or day-dreams or visions held by people who desperately WANTED to believe something amazing happened.  That when Paul gives a series of things that separate us from God he didn’t really mean it.  Or when Jesus Himself says (in Mark, for example) that forbidden sexual practices are still forbidden that He didn’t actually say anything of the kind.  [a la the Jesus Seminar etc]

On the other hand, we do need to examine the texts that we have carefully and with historic sensitivity.  For example – there’s a place in Luke where Jesus says that we as His followers need to have a “bright eye.”  If we looked at that literally, we may be very confused – but in fact it is a Hebrew idiom translated into Greek which means roughly to be generous.  We need to look at the context of the Scripture and figure out what the authors intended as well as we can from what we know about the language and the culture of the day in order to figure out what they said and what they meant.  Then we can interpret what it means for us today.  As a scholar I respect said (and I’m paraphrasing) “the Bible may be written for all of us throughout time, but it was written TO a particular culture and people.”  The context, for example, of the situation in Corinth matters to the interpretation of what Paul says to the Corinthians in his letters.  They are God-breathed to those people at that time and place and in that language and in that culture…but they are also are for us.

With all of that said, interpreting the Bible is hard work.  It is complicated, and difficult – and perhaps even more difficult to take that interpretation and make it make sense to everyone.  But the warning of Jude and Peter and Paul rings very true today – we need to watch out for people who take the Bible and God’s Word and make it spin and say something that it really doesn’t.  And to do that we need to pay attention.  We need to study ourselves and test the sayings, to paraphrase Paul – we need to figure out, with help, what to believe and what not to believe.  Any time we are met with someone who says “God didn’t really mean that…” we need to be careful.  Any time we are met with someone who says “Clearly, the Bible says *this* and everyone else is obviously wrong!” we need to be careful, because very little about a letter written almost 2000 years ago in a dead language is clear all the time.  If we are met with someone who says “The God I believe in would never….” we need to be careful – there are lot of things in the Bible that we might be offended by and disturbed by (read Judges!) but that is not to say the Lord didn’t do them!

Followers of the Way – Christians – need to be on guard and to find people they can trust to speak truth as well as they can.  Not for their own selfish gain, but for the Truth.  If Christ really is the Way and the Truth and the Life – that’s what we need to be seeking.  Not what we – or someone else – might THINK is the way or the truth for them…but the Truth.  And that takes care and it takes persistence, and it takes some knowledge (especially now that we’re so far removed from the ancient world culture!).  But it is possible to follow Him.

And I honestly believe that if we seek Him, because we are already given His Grace, even if we’re wrong about a few things we will still be found true.  As I am fond of saying, when I get “up” there one of the first questions I’m going to ask Him is this:  “How did the Lord’s Supper work?  Is it transubstantiation, consubstantiation, real presence, memorialism, what?”  And I have no doubt the Lord Jesus is going to put His arm around my shoulders, chuckle and say something like “Nope.  You were all wrong.  But you’re here with me now.  Don’t worry about it.”  \

We must seek the Truth and be on guard against false teaching and false prophets – but that doesn’t mean we always get it right either.  But seek His Truth.  Always.

Discipline (Hebrews 8-13)

So, not only is Jesus our Great High Priest, but He is also the One who entered into the Holy of Holies of Heaven – the one that was not made by human hands – and made a sacrifice that created and inaugurated the new covenant that is better than the old.  The author of Hebrews continues his thought about Jesus being the High Priest and talks about how He entered into the heavenly temple, which is very standard Hebrew thought:  Heaven is a temple, and all of creation is a temple that reflects this heavenly temple, and moreover, the temple in Jerusalem is a reflection as well.  So when Jesus provided the sacrifice, He entered into the Holy of Holies of heaven.

He also, by His own sacrifice on the cross, provided for the new covenant.  The author uses the word “covenant” in at least two ways in quick succession – the idea of an adoption into a family (which is the basic idea of covenant in Hebraic thought) and also as a “will” like a last will and testament.  Jesus, by His sacrifice, paved the way for us to come back to God, and adopted us into His family, and also gave us the foretaste of the inheritance that is due to us.  Through Christ’s death, we are now children of God, whether or not we are of Judaic descent.  And the way to show this is to have faith.

The author talks about how we all need to have faith – because some of the hearers of the Letter were drifting away and not coming into communion with the other believers.  He talks about encouragement (which in Greek can also be translated as “sermon” interestingly enough) and gathering together; which some weren’t.  He reminds them that when they first believed they were persecuted; some in jail and some lost money and land.  And in order to continue on after that, they need faith to not give up.

In chapter 11, the author goes through a great list of “witnesses” that had faith; who trusted God even in the face of difficult times or unbelievable circumstances.  Then he goes on into chapter 12 – and tells us that we need to have this same faith even though things might be hard now.  We can’t give up, because we are running a race and all these people and many more besides are witnesses cheering us on.  We are to follow the “author and perfector of our faith”  Jesus and put aside our sin and our doubts and just keep running.  Somehow, the people that have gone before us won’t enter into their rest until we, too, have finished the race.

And that takes discipline – the difficult nature of living in a world that makes fun of Christianity needs us to look on all this things as discipline.  And that God is sending His discipline upon us so that we can learn and grow and keep running.  The author compares God’s discipline to a father’s discipline in the Greek gymnasium where children were taught and educated on how to be Greek.  Kids don’t like that – even back then! – but afterwards they thanked their parents.  How much more so should we thank our God by teaching what it means to be Christian – in the discipline of faith?  We need to keep going!  Because we haven’t approached the darkness and thunder of Mt Sinai, but rather the love and hope of Mt Zion!  We are entering into God’s heavenly Temple, not one made of human hands or legalistic like the old covenant.

On the contrary – we are entering into the rest that Jesus as High Priest has provided.  And that takes discipline, because God’s way – while light, is not always easy.