The Pas Proper / Ordinary 33 – Pentecost + 26 – Trinity + 25
18 November 2018
1 Samuel 1:4-20
1 Samuel 2:1-10 (canticle)
you create all moments of our lives,
giving each its meaning and its purpose.
Strengthen us to witness continually
to the love of Jesus Christ,
so that we may hold fast in times of trial,
even to the end of the ages. Amen.
We are coming close to the end of the liturgical year. So, this means, that Jesus talks to us about the end of days. He tells us of miracles that will happen, of charlatans who will try to stand in his place throughout history.
At the same time, the letter to the Hebrews, today, touches on some points that we, with our human memories, our human need for retribution even against ourselves, doesn’t want us to see, to acknowledge or to act upon.
And combating the authors words, today is that quiet insidious voice, in our hearts, that has truly nothing to do with God. That little niggling feeling that continually tells us that we can never be free from the burden, from the stain of sin in our lives, even, and especially, when we stand before the throne of God.
And because of Jesus actions in our lives, for our lives, and for the lives of all who believe, we know that this is a human burden, this guilt, this niggling voice, this feeling that we’ll never live up to the sacrifice that God has done on our behalf.
It’s something that has plagued us since the birth of sin into the world. Something that entered our human experience along with the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil; and that is guilt.
We can see this when God confronts Adam and Eve and they each fall back on the old ‘not me’ argument.
And it continues in our hearts, through today when we want to be absolved, when we don’t want to commit the same errors, again, but we cannot let go of the burden of the past errors for which we have been forgiven.
But the author of the letter to the Hebrews talks about this.
He talks about the futility of action that doesn’t give solace, that doesn’t give rest to the soul because of the barrier between our hearts and God; the barrier that keeps God at arm’s length.
Our canticle, for today, Hannah’s prayer of thanks to God, for the gift of a child says: “for the Lord is a God who knows,
and by him deeds are weighed.
4 “The bows of the warriors are broken,
but those who stumbled are armed with strength.
5 Those who were full hire themselves out for food,
but those who were hungry are hungry no more.” (1 Sam 2:3b-5a)
Hebrews, however, talks about Jesus action, about the barriers that are broken down, about the paths that are opened up to each one of us because of Jesus ‘actions on the cross that broke down that barrier for all time.
“12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,” (Heb 10:12)
In the temple, in Jerusalem, there was a curtain, a veil that guarded the innermost part of the Holy of Holies; the most sacred part of the temple where God was thought to reside, apart from God’s people.
At the same moment that Jesus died for you, for me, for all who believe throughout all of time, that veil, the curtain, the barrier that separated all who believe from the presence of God, and vice versa, was torn in two, from the top to the bottom. (Mk 15:38, Mt 27:51)
And this is significant. This is important to us, still as we contemplate the letter to the Hebrews, today.
It’s important because when we tear cloth, paper, anything, we begin from the edge that is closest to us.
So since the veil in the temple was torn from the top to the bottom, we can see that it wasn’t torn by human means, but rather by divine breaking into our world, into our existence, into our very lives.
The kingdom of God breaks out of the bonds place upon it by humanity, by custom, by time, by our fear to be in the presence of God.
And God knows of our fear. God knows of our sin, our inability to let go of our pasts and the errors committed there. God knows of our fear to step willingly into the light of God’s love, God’s presence.
So, God answers our unarticulated, our unspoken fears. “15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:
16 “This is the covenant I will make with them
after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.”
17 Then he adds:
“Their sins and lawless acts
I will remember no more.”
18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.” (Heb 10:15-18)
We are forgiven. We are welcomed, we are upheld as the children of God that we are, but at the same time, if we don’t acknowledge Christ’s sacrifice, God’s action, the covenant proclaimed by the Holy Spirit, then how are we able to fully accept the rest of what the author of Hebrews tells us, today?
This is our crux, our cross; how to be embraced by the love of God, knowing what the enemy whispers in our ears about our pasts and our lives.
After all, we are able to study the word of God, in the pages of the bible, in the words of Christ, himself. But if all it is to us is an academic study, as we wait for Christ, for God to break down the barriers of our hearts, then we’re not pulling our own weight in a life of faith, in a life centred around the throne of God.
We have to battle from the inside of those barriers to allow the cracks in the walls that will allow God to enter, to be that living light in which we dwell in the love of God.
A life of faith isn’t just lived in theory, in hearts locked away from the world. Rather it pulls us into the world and it encourages our participation, our action, our faith to be lived out loud, in the world, in issues of justice and righteousness, in teaching and in testifying to what we’ve experienced through God’s love, through Christ’s sacrifice.
At the same time, we are invited, we are encouraged to be in God’s presence forever more. Christ has opened the way for each one of us, and we are able to live in that presence, always.
Jesus has broken down the barriers between heaven and earth. He has provided the blood sacrifice that wipes the slates clean. How will we respond to that sacrifice that all out forgiveness that makes us new every day?
Hebrews tells us: “19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body.” (Heb 10:19-20)
The book of revelation tells us:
“And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore,
“they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
will shelter them with his presence.
16 ‘Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne
will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” (Rev. 7:14b-17)
So the author of Hebrews has much in common with St. John’s vision in Revelation. And both, then relate to us, who because of the blood of the Lamb are forgiven.
It relates to us, who are invited before the throne of God, because of the sacrifice of Christ.
“21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” (Heb 10:21-22)
But still we feel held back by our guilt, by our feelings of unworthiness, for the things that are forgiven by God, that are washed white in the blood of the lamb, but still, that small voice whispers our unworthiness, doesn’t it? It just crops up when we think that all has been going well, when we least expect it to intrude.
In some ways it reminds me of the old cartoons where there was the little figure of an angel on one shoulder, and the figure of the devil on the other each urging the character between them to either the best or the worst of actions.
But the writer to the Hebrews assures us, today, that the price has been paid, the figures have been laid off and we need to trust God to guide us before God’s throne, fully welcomed, fully forgiven, fully restored to the creations of God from the beginning of the world, to the end of creation.
Where we feel the burden of guilt, of sins committed and forgiven, because we’ve asked for God’s forgiveness, we still need to set down the guilt, the leftover residue that is only there in memory.
“23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Words of love, of encouragement, filled with the light of God’s presence, words that encourage us to live into that light, and love.
As we come to the end of a liturgical year, the dawning of the hope that Christ will come again, we are encouraged to live into the promises of the passion and the resurrection, the ascension, not just today, but for all time.
Because “this priest [has] offered for all time one sacrifice for sins,” and we are free, indeed. (Heb 10:12a)