Reading Hebrews – Journey Toward Hope
Rev. Doug Floyd
Summer is fading, and we are looking forward to enjoying the season when evening air turns cool and afternoons turn golden. As Michael O’Sidhail writes in “Autumn Report,”
Autumn is touching us with a summer’s afterthought.
The tilted sun hazes around the yellow-fringed
branches of maples, eking out our tapered season.
Soon an occasional dash of tangerine will singe
these leaves, as even now a few frizzled casualties
butterfly in the hint of a breeze.[i]
The season of fall is a season of beauty, a season of reflection, but it is also a season of harvest. We are in the time of late harvest festivals. From the major celebrations such as Halloween and Thanksgiving to the smaller festivals happening all across the country such as the Cranberry Festival in Wareham, MA (Oct 6-7); the Sonoma Harvest Festival Sonoma Country CA Oct 5-7; the Apple Harvest Festival – Arendstville Pa Oct 6-7, 13-14; the Keene Pumpkin Festival Keene, NH Oct 20; the various Oktoberfests happening here and Germany and even the Trailing of the Sheep Festival – Hailey, Idaho Oct 10-14.
Late harvest festivals have been held as long as humans lived together in communities. Ancient Israel was surrounded by nations that celebrated early harvest festivals, spring harvest festivals, and late harvest festivals. While Israel also celebrated these festivals, the people turned each festival into a time for remembering historical events. The barley harvest festival focused on the night when the Lord rescued Israel from Egypt in the Passover. The wheat harvest festival focused on the time when the ancient Hebrews gathered at the foot of Mt. Sinai, and the Lord gave them the Ten Commandments. Finally, the late harvest or fruit harvest festival retold the story of the children of Israel traveling through the wilderness over a forty year period. Known as the Feast of Booths or Sukkot, this was just celebrated on the last week of September.
During each of these three ancient feasts, the Israelites traveled to Jerusalem. They feasted, sang songs, read Torah passages and rehearsed the stories of their deliverance from Egypt and to the Promised Land. During this Feast of Booths, they built booths up off the ground and lived in them for seven days to rehearse the long passage through the wilderness. An entire generation died during that pilgrimage. Also, an entire generation was born and grew up during that pilgrimage.
It was a long journey toward hope through many conflicts, struggle, doubts, and fears. As we think about that long journey to God’s promise, it might help us think about the struggles of God’s people in the here and now.
The book of Hebrews address a group of struggling saints. These Christians have been walking in the way for a long time, and they are getting tired and weary. In the past, some of them were thrown into prison. Some lost property. Many lost reputations and were excluded from social gatherings and relations. At one time they knew the fervor of burning love, but now many are tired, struggling with hope, feeling discouraged, and even facing bitterness. Much like the Israelites making the long trek through the wilderness, they are losing heart in this long journey toward the call of God.
What happens when you grow tired in your life, in your faith, in the rhythms of worship that have sustained you for so long? Some people begin dropping out of church. They don’t exactly lose faith, but they do lose joy and interest in the weekly pattern of worship. They fill their lives with other activities. They may begin to question their old passion as a youthful phase.
I believe many of us at one time or another could identify with this group of Christians who struggle forward but feel like quitting, stopping, and merely drifting away. Many people in our culture have not walked away from the church as much as drifted away to other pursuits, other distractions. Some people are savoring wounds that they received from other Christians and possibly even ministers. They have grown bitter and cold against the church. Honestly, when we see the pain that some people have experienced in the church, it might be easy to understand their hurt and anger.
The words of Hebrews echo across the ages to all those weary, angry, distracted and struggling Christians in the autumn of life who have lost sight of the coming harvest and are now wandering with no feast in view.
Thomas Merton has suggested that we all must hear this word of revolution that echoes from Scripture and calls us to turn around and reface the fire of our faith. He says, “The only thing that can replace [the] intense life [of faith] is a lesser life, a kind of death.” He continues, “The constant human tendency away from God and away from this living tradition can only be counteracted by a return to tradition, a renewal and a deepening of the one unchanging life that was infused into the Church at the beginning.”[ii]
He says that the “Christian tradition, unlike all others, is a living and perpetual revolution.” We are continually re-turning, called back to the source of our faith. This returning is a revolution that does not result in the bloodshed of others, but in the act of laying down my own life I follow Christ. This kind of revolution, again and again, has resulted in the renewal of dying cultures that have lost the art of love thy neighbor as thyself.
Over the next couple months, we will meditate upon this pilgrimage will follow the words of the Hebrews to the people who are called to stay alert, be encouraged containing to walking toward late harvest festival of life in Christ.
Our lesson today was from Hebrews 2, which begins, “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” (Heb 2:1). What have we heard that we might drift from, the word of Christ. In Hebrews 1, we are told to hear and behold the Son of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Starting in Hebrews 1:1, he writes, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Heb 1:1–2).
Our God speaks. He has spoken in many times and in many ways through the prophets. He has spoken through stories and songs and sermons and laws. He has called his people to Himself; he has instructed his people in the way of life; he has promised his people provision and strength as they walk toward the promise. But now, he speaks through His Son, Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is the heir of all things. All things points to Him and find fulfillment in Him. At the same time, he is at the beginning of all things. The Father created the world through the Son. This Son, the Word of God upholds the universe by the word of His power. When we look to Jesus, we behold the very radiance of God.
The writer of Hebrews tells us don’t forget what you have heard, who you have heard. For the Son has spoken and continues to speak in His life and power. The beautiful Son of God continues to uphold the universe by the word of His power.
When and if we are weary, we do not find respite in some warm and fuzzy quote or cute animal video (which I happen to love). We cannot and will not find the strength to go forward by binge-watching yet another series on TV shows. We will not find encouragement to face a dark world by simply eating a delicious meal.
We must go to the source of all the things, the beautiful Son, the risen Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ who continues to reveal the heart of the Father and continues to sustain this universe by His Word. Even as we rehearse these truths with our minds, we ask to Spirit to make these truth resound in our hearts. We wait upon the Spirit to renew our strength, our trust in Christ.
He is the King, our King. Just as the writer of Hebrews quotes Psalm 45,
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” Heb 1:8–9.
He will not wear out, wear down, lose heart, give up, drift away or forsake us. He will uphold us when we are filled with faith and awe and when we are weary and impatient. He knows the very struggles that burden us and weary and cause us to lose heart and grow discouraged.
He has entered fully and ultimately into our suffering and temptations. As the writer of Hebrews continues in chapter 2, verse 10, “10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.”
He has fully entered into the suffering and aching of this world that causes so many to lose heart, grow weary and drift away.
[H]e himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Heb 2:14–17).
He helps us in our weariness, in our grief, in our anger, in our hurt. He helps us in our temptation. “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Heb 2:18.
As we draw near to the late harvest of history, let us not lose hope, but regain hope in Christ alone. He alone will meet in the valley of the shadow of death and lead us to a feasting place, to a great communion of love, to a table set before in the present of our enemies, to the healing balm of Gilead, to showers of mercy and goodness that will never cease to renew us and fill us with the everlasting joy of His love.