Holding Fast in a Changing World

Hebrews 10:11-25 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

11 And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” 13 and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. 15 And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying,

16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them
    after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
    and I will write them on their minds,”

17 he also adds,

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.


Mark 13:1-8 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

13 As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’[a] and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.


Introduction

We received a magazine this week which was looking back to what life was like in the 1980’s. Now for some of you that will sound like a very long time ago. For Kathryn and I it didn’t seem so long ago although when we looked at the photos in the magazine; the clothes people were wearing; the way in which posters were produced on printing presses rather than computers; the music we were listening to etc etc, we began to realise just how much the world has changed.

There were no mobile phones in the photos which had all been taken on cameras! Remember them?

If you went back to 1980 and told those people in the magazine that less than 30 years later they would be walking around with a phone, a computer and a camera in your back pocket they would not have believed you. And yet here we are today in 2018 when I suspect that probably more than half of us have such a device.

It is a universal truth that the world is constantly changing. What varies is the speed at which change occurs.

All too often the speed with which the world changes seems frightening. What was taken as a leap forward in science for one generation becomes common place or old hat to the next.

The events of this week with the apparent deal for Brexit, or not, shows just how much the world can change in the blink of an eye.

The pace and frequency of change can make the world a scary place.

Context

Our two readings this morning have in common that things change and that often we cannot truly know what the future may hold.

In our Gospel reading the disciples and Jesus had visited the temple which was clearly a building of great beauty. However Jesus tells them that the building was not going to last for ever. There is a theological debate about what Jesus was talking about but what we do know is that by AD70 that temple had been destroyed.

In the reading from Hebrews the writer reminds his readers that the world has changed and that we have a new and living way to live our lives, and as we don’t know what is coming all the more important that we do so “as you see the day approaching.”

Background

These two passages are of course both looking towards the end times. They are our set readings for today as we hurtle towards another Advent season. Where we prepare ourselves to celebrate the coming of Jesus to earth and we think again about His return however and whenever that may happen.

Those first century Christians, who we read about in the New Testament seem to have lived in the real expectation of Jesus’ immediate and imminent return.

Yet if I understand these two passages correctly what they seem to have in common is that we are encouraged as we read them to understand that although things change, and will change in the future, we need to hold fast to what we know to be true and what unites us together.

We need to live out our lives in the light of the changes which Jesus has brought and not in fear for what the future may bring.

The Change Brought about by Jesus

Both of the passages allude to the changes that Jesus brought. They consider the place of the Temple and the work of the Priests in the religious life of the times.

The Temple was understood to be the dwelling place of God. You will remember that when the Israelites were in the desert they carried with them the arc of the covenant – they believed that to be the dwelling place of God and then eventually King Solomon built a temple where God would dwell.

In that Temple the priests would go every day, day after day to offer an animal sacrifice for the sins of the people. In a human attempt to put people right with God.

As we read these passages together we hear Jesus say that the Temple will not last for ever, begging the question for the Jew, as to where God would then dwell.

Similarly the writer of the Hebrews makes it clear that the work of the priest in ongoing animal offerings was no longer needed and that role of the priest was over because of what Jesus had done.

This is the “new and living way” as the writer of the Hebrews puts it.

Jesus life on earth, His death and resurrection changed the way in which we relate to God. We don’t need to go to a building to know the presence of God. We don’t need to sacrifice animals in the hope of knowing God’s forgiveness.

Through Jesus we know God, we become members of the Kingdom of God, and there is forgiveness and freedom for all.

Living in A Changing World

And yet for the Disciples and for the first Christians these two things were a real challenge.

They were warned that they were going to live in a climate where “there would be impostors in the religious sphere, commotions in the political and international field and calamities in the physical realm”. [1]

Sound familiar?

Impostors in the religious sphere – they would face false prophets claiming to be the returning Messiah. We face those who claim that God is on the side of one political party or another.

Commotions in the political field – they would face wars and insurgences in the Roman Empire. We face the turmoil of a nation paralysed by Brexit.

Commotions in international relations – they would face the prospect of living in a country occupied by a foreign power. We face the turmoil of strained relations across the world when no one knows what either America or Russia will do next.

Calamities in the physical realm – they would live through earthquakes. We face global warming, melting ice caps, fire in California; famine in Africa?

The world of those first Christians bears striking similarity to our own some 2,000 years later and yet once again in the remarkable way that the Word of God remains a living and active word for our time the passage from Hebrews has something to say to us.

There are three key phrases which jumped out at me:-

  1. Hold Fast to the Confession of Our Hope
  2. Provoke One Another to Do Good Deeds
  3. Do Not Neglect to Meet Together but Encouraging Each Other

Hold Fast to Confession of Our Hope

The first instruction given to those who live in times of uncertainty for whatever reason, is that we “Hold fast to the Confession of Our Hope without wavering for he who has promised is faithful”.

We are encouraged to hold on tight to what we know to be true. We are reminded that God who makes his promise does not break it.

It is in times such as we live in here in 2018 that we need to be clear as to where our roots are.

I read this recently

Can’t sleep because I am really angry about the politics. Everywhere I look is incompetence, arrogance and hate.” [2]

Maybe there are many of us who feel the same way. Having just been through our series of sermons on the Beatitudes we need to be sure that we have our deeply rooted in the love of God, God who blesses the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, those who feel persecuted.

We need to hold tight to the truth of the Good News of Jesus that we are called the children of God and nothing can divide us from that love.

Provoke to Do Good Deeds

And as a result of that love we are encouraged, in this wonderful phrase

“To provoke one another to love and good deeds.”

The fact that we know ourselves to be loved by God and we are the citizens of the Kingdom of God is not the end of the story.

We read elsewhere in the New Testament that

faith without works is dead”[3]

What are we provoked to do?

I am constantly challenged by the wisdom of Sarah Corbett and the work of her organisation Craftivists. Let me read you a part of her recent column she writes on the Lush website.

Assess your daily actions and habits to see if you can improve them to ‘do no harm’ and put your values into practice: Could your breakfast supplies be more ethical? Could you move your home energy supplier to a renewable energy company before you turn on your light tomorrow morning (you totally can, I did, it’s easy peasy and saves me money!)? Can you use less plastic each day and recycle more? Each day can you treat people with kindness and respect from the bus driver to the bartender? Your answers may be different to others because of time, resources, budget etc. available to you but you may be surprised at how much power you do have that can be used for good just by tweaking a few daily actions.

You see there are not many who can change the world but we each have a sphere of influence where we can do good, be provoked to do good and then provoke others to join us.

Not Neglecting to Meet Together But Encouraging each other

The final theme from the passage we read is an encouragement

not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging each other.”

The encouragement to meet together requires us to ask the question – why do we come here to this tent in a freezing cold Victorian barn?

What is it that makes us come back week by week?

Let me tell you what it is for me. It is not that just that I have a role to play, rather I see it as a sanctuary, a place where we come to reflect on what has gone before and prepare for what is to come. We need to meet together on a regular basis as this world is a tough place to live.

I rely on the encouragement of each person here to continue that journey of faith when it seems that the world has gone crazy.

There is a tale of a vicar who goes to see a parishioner who has stopped coming to church. When asked why the parishioner tells the vicar that he can be a Christian without going to church. True says the vicar and as she says this she takes a coal from the burning fire in the grate. She puts the coal onto the hearth and the two sit together watching the fire burn away in the grate and the single coal slowly going cold and lifeless by itself on the hearth.

Conclusion

This week of all weeks we are reminded as we head to Advent that the world is a place of constant change.    There are three lessons to take from the book of Hebrews this morning.

  1. Hold Fast to the Confession of Our Hope
  2. Provoke One Another to Do Good Deeds
  3. Do Not Neglect to Meet Together but Encourage Each Other

AMEN


[1] New Bible Commentary page 879 (IVP)

[2] John Gibbons @johngibbonsblog

[3] James 2 v 26

Chris
Christ Topping, Reader

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