20TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, 10-7-18
Pentecost 20B 2018
Texts: Job 1:1, 2:1-10, Psalm 26, Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12, Mark 10:2-16
“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son…he is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.” Hebrews 1:1, 2a, 3a
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
When our middle son, Stephen, was about two, I had to take him to a pediatric audiologist. David and I had some concerns that he might have a hearing loss. I could call him and he wouldn’t respond. I would call him louder and still nothing. I admit to getting very frustrated with him, not understanding how he couldn’t hear me when he seemed to be hearing everything or everyone else. Was it just me he was tuning out? Was this just two year old stubbornness rearing its ugly and frustrating head? I really didn’t know what the issue was but what was clear was what I was doing wasn’t working. A different strategy was needed whether or not the issue was his hearing or my frustration.
When the audiologist tested Stephen’s hearing she didn’t find any physical abnormality or problems with his reception of sound. What she did find was that he got so absorbed in what he was interested in that although my voice registered in his ears, he wasn’t attending to what he perceived as white noise. It wasn’t that he was being willful necessarily, it was that he was distracted by what was going on around him and couldn’t attend to the message I was trying to send.
Her recommendation was to get closer; to call him by name and touch him at the same time. When he could see me his chances of hearing what I had to say vastly increased. She also recommended that I speak quietly to him so that he had to pay more attention to hear what I was saying. To only get louder did nothing to increase my chance of being heard or his chance of listening to me.
These were very helpful recommendations. Changing my strategy helped not only Stephen, but helped me to re-center and concentrate on what my goal was in communicating with my son.
In today’s reading from the letter to the Hebrews, God’s changing strategy in dealing with humanity is explained. This letter, which is really a sermon, is an exhortation, an encouragement to the early church that is in crisis. In some of the most beautiful and soaring language of the New Testament, Hebrews attempts to unite the past with a revealing of God’s future that is already occurring in the Hebrew’s present.
The church is reminded of how God spoke creation into being; how God revealed God’s self in many different ways: through prophets, dreams, wilderness wanderings. But now, “in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.” And not just any son, but God’s son, who we are told “is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.”
These words are being written to a church that had known some success. They had been excited about the gospel, they had shared the gospel with their community. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and it showed. But then things got harder. They got distracted and became discouraged. They were so distracted by what was going on around them that they were not hearing the one message that truly mattered. They were losing the ability to attend to what to them sounded like white noise, background noise, and were missing God’s speaking to them. The crisis they were experiencing wasn’t just external, it was for the most part internal.
Apathy set in. People drifted away from worship and community. The writer of this sermon was trying to help them get their mojo back, trying to help them find their excitement and enthusiasm for sharing the gospel and being active in their community once more.
The writer goes back to the very beginning-not to the birth of Jesus, but to the birth of the cosmos. This is their beginning. They are reminded that they are in relationship with the Creator of the world. They are reminded that they have seen the glory of God because they have seen the Son.
In their distraction they have stopped listening. In their discouragement they have stopped seeing God’s revelation to them. They were not the only ones to have this happen to them. It is the story of God’s people time and time and time again. The writer of Hebrew’s reminds them that it was because of humanity’s hardness of heart, because of humanity’s stopped up ears and blinded eyes that God decides to come closer than ever before.
God’s Son leaves an exalted place, becomes “lower than the angels” in order to come closer to us so that we can hear and see and love again. So that we can revel in God’s glory and revelation to us.
When we stopped listening to God, God didn’t get louder, God got closer. God touched us, called us by our name, and stood in front of us in the person of Jesus. In seeing God we had a better chance of attending to the message, of not just hearing but listening to the message God was trying to communicate.
Today there is so much noise around us. It is so easy to get distracted and then to tell ourselves God isn’t present because we don’t hear anything but the cacophony surrounding us.
Being distracted leads to being discouraged, being discouraged leads to being tired, and finally, being tired leads to being apathetic. We may feel that the excitement that once characterized our efforts is gone. The vitality once felt seems to be ancient history.
But perhaps the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews was truly on to something. Perhaps reminding that young church about God’s glory, about God’s involvement with all of creation, not just in the past but in God’s intimate relationship with them in their present, could rekindle the hope and passion they previously felt.
This isn’t just a sermon to the Hebrews, it is a sermon to us. We proclaim the Living Word of a Living God to a Living people. We have seen Jesus. We have seen Jesus in the faces of the people we serve at the Market Street Pantry. We have seen the face of Jesus reflected to us in feeding the men at St. Vincent’s Haven. We have seen God’s glory in our worship and praise, our fellowship and caring for one another.
Perhaps we need to remember, too, that our true beginning was not in 1837 but in the very first words God spoke over the chaos and void and into the cosmos. Perhaps we need to remember that God’s glory, God’s Son, still sustains things by his powerful word.
Perhaps in all the noise and confusion, despair and discouragement we see and feel in today’s world, we need to be told again and again and again that Jesus is still here. That Jesus is still walking with us and among us and has experienced everything and more that we have experienced and suffered through. Because he has and continues to do so, because he has been made like us that means that our deepest wounds and our biggest fears are known intimately by God.
Perhaps it is easier to listen to the competing noise around us. We are bombarded by different messages and agendas. Our anxiety over global, national, and local issues is whipped up, stoked and fed not by the living God that loves us but by the adversary who loves nothing more than to create distance and distortion between God and God’s people. God’s message of “do not be afraid” is twisted time and time again into “Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.”
It takes more work and more time to attend to the still, small, quiet voice of the God that has tapped us on the shoulder, said our name, and proclaimed eternal love for us. It is hard work to pay attention and not be caught up in the whirlwind of anxiety and fear being proclaimed around us.
What the writer of Hebrews is so beautifully telling us is that the past mattered. That our present matters. That our future, even though we don’t see it or possibly that we do see it and fear it, is nevertheless wrapped up in God’s glory.
No matter what the future holds for us individually, nationally, globally or locally, no matter what the future holds for St. Luke’s as a community of faith, we know that it is wrapped in God’s love and God’s glory. And because we know that our future is wrapped in God’s love and glory we can go into it confidently and with hope.