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Confession

Hebrews 4:12-16 [i]
Lauren J. McFeaters
October 10, 2021
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In the seven days since we were last together, there has been a lot of news:

  • a new total of global COVID deaths: 4.55 million, in the US: 713,000 deaths.
  • A COVID vaccine company, purposely holding back vaccines from the poor.
  • The explosion of eating disorders among our country’s teens.
  • The surge of trepidation in Taiwan.
  • Failures to stop sexual abuse within the church that has global denominations scrambling to understand the betrayal and cover-up.
  • Fire. Heat. Drought.
  • And 20 new extinctions of animals and plants.

This news grabs our minds and pierces our hearts. Some of us rage, and that’s fine. Some fall down weeping, and that’s good. Some are numb and can’t take anymore and that’s OK. Another day goes by, and we begin to believe we have no more emotional resources to life fully; no more spiritual resources to pray; no more yearning to stake a claim for our place in the world.

And just when we hover on the edge of wanting to run away, God leads us to a small band of believers in the first century who are as shaken about the world as we are. We meet the Church of the Hebrews and hear words reaching out through the centuries:

We must pay greater attention to what we have heard,
so that we do not drift away from it. (2:1)
Indeed, the word of God is living and active,
sharper than any two-edged sword,
piercing until it divides soul from spirit,
joints from marrow;
it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

 The Letter to the Hebrews is really baffling. It’s complex, lyrical, multifaceted, and unlike any other writing in the Bible. We don’t know who wrote it, where it was written, when it was written, for whom it was written. Just last week, Dave preached from the first chapter, and encouraged us saying, sit down and read the Letter to the Hebrews from beginning to end. It’s full of complicated stuff about Jesus.[ii]

And it is. As we read it, we begin to notice it’s not really a letter at all. It’s called a letter; looks like a letter, smells like a letter, tastes like a letter, but it’s a sermon in disguise: a pastoral sermon directed to a beloved church in need of the cleansing balm of confession.

You see, many linger on the outskirts of belonging, and float around the fringes of fellowship. They are weary. How can they possibly work for justice when they can hardly take care of themselves? They are drained, sapped, bored. How can they possibly encourage one another, worship beside one another, lift their voices to confess their brokenness alongside one another?

One preacher puts it this way: The threat to the Hebrews church is not that they are charging off and away from faith, but that they don’t have the energy to charge off anywhere. The threat here is that worn out and worn down they are dropping off and drifting away.[iii]

The problem is familiar. We too feel exhausted, drained, overworked, and overstretched. How do we work up empathy for others, when Sunday mornings become some of the only unstructured time in our entire week? Why show up at church? Why not stay in bed. Why not drop the kids off at church school and catch a quiet cup of coffee.

  • Hold on. There’s the distinct aroma coming in from the west, from Small World. It’s Grumpy Monkey with its bold, bright and spicy notes straight from beans from Papua New Guinea and Tanzania Peaberry. You think I’m kidding? I’m not.
  • And wait a minute! I’m getting a whiff of Relativity blend from Sakrid Coffee just south, on the corner. It’s called Relativity because there’s a direct line from the coffee shop to Einstein’s home – .5 miles. No one could blame you for worshipping at “Sakrid Coffee” on a Sunday morning.

As people of faith, there’s a fair amount of wandering off and hiding we try to do. Think about it. When do you hide from God? What do dive into to run away?

When faced with a world of brutality, uncertainty, and cruelty we hide in all sorts of things that numb us out:  alcohol, painkillers, food, cannabis, exhilarating affairs, pornography, gossip, sleep, screen time, imposing ourselves into relationships where we don’t belong.

The Preacher of the Hebrews Church, knows this is true for their church, but is somehow bold, brave, and brash enough to shout out the word of the Living God, sharper than any two-edged sword, calls us out of hiding, resuscitates and revives.

 It doesn’t matter how tired or numb we are.

  • The One who scrubs clean our hearts wants our full attention.
  • The One who died for us, wants our honesty.
  • The One who lives for us, calls us to open ourselves and share with him our deepest fears and joys; anxieties and gratitude.
  • The One who grabs us by the scruff of the neck demands our awareness of ourselves; not to numb out but to come forth to the mercy seat of confession.
  • There is no running away in the kingdom of God. There is no disappearing. There is only stripped down vulnerability in front of our Lord, because…and here it is…

Before our Lord, no creature is hidden,
but all are naked
and laid bare to the eyes of the one,
to whom we must render an account.

When all feels lost comes the very Word of God. The Word that is faithful and true. The Word wakes us up and sweeps away the sleep from our hearts. [iv]

For we do have a high priest
who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses.
We have One who, in every respect,
has been tested as we are, yet without sin.
Let us therefore approach the throne of grace
with boldness,
so that we may receive mercy
and find grace to help in time of need.

 This Word pierces us; not as a physical attack:

  • but as a skillful surgeon mending our torn hearts;
  • stitching up our emotional lacerations;
  • resetting our dislocated souls;
  • standing us upright and helping us to begin again.[v]

Laying ourselves bare before God,
is an act of faith.
Laying ourselves bare before God,
is an act of devotion.

 We render an account. Hold fast to our confession.
And approaching the throne of grace with boldness,
we receive sweet mercy and find the balm of grace.

 

Thanks be to God.

 

ENDNOTES

[i] Hebrews 4:12-16 NRSV:  Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before our Lord no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account. Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have One who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

[ii] David A. Davis. “The Imprint of Glory: Hebrews 1:1-4.” Nassau Presbyterian Church, October 3, 2021, nassauchurch.org/the-imprint-of-glory.

[iii] Thomas G. Long. Hebrews. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1997, 3.

[iv] Wayne Muller. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives. New York:  Bantam Books, 1999, 1-3.

[v] Thomas G. Long. Beyond the Worship Wars: Building Vital and Faithful Worship. The Alban Institute Inc., 2001, 17.

 

**Please note, the audio of this sermon does not reflect the corrected COVID statistics listed above**