Hebrews 8.6-13, 10.15-18, Jeremiah 31.33-34
Today is a day of reform-ation. Today the preservation of the Gospel is as much a necessity as it was in 1517 when Martin Luther instructed believers purify their faith in a growing corrupt community. Hebrews aims at the same concern.
How do you make a promise? In our cultural there are lots of different ways we express our commitments to one another: pinky promise, all hands in, rings of promise and marriage, handshakes, scouts honor, hand on our hearts in pledge of allegiance, crossing my heart, oath on the bible, and baptism to name just a few. As Christian our most important promise we make is our baptismal covenant. How seriously do you take your commitment to Christ and the Church?
Hebrews points to the need for a deeper commitment to our faith for every believer who struggles with a culture that is not friendly to Christianity. The writer of Hebrews intended his sermon-letter to be spoken to a people who were suffering for the sake of the Gospel. Believers were becoming disinterested in keeping their promise to God and the church. They had even stopped meeting with other believers,which according to Hebrews was problematic.
Although scholars are uncertain of who penned Hebrews, it was most likely someone who studied under Paul – Apollos, Priscilla & Aquila, or Barnabas. What we do know about the author is the quality of their writing. They knew in detail the Old Covenant and its requirements, and they understood Jesus to fulfill the demands of the Law. The author is pointing to the opportunity for deep spiritual change in the believers life which required a deeper commitment. Where the Gospels point us to Jesus as the change agent of our hearts and lives, Hebrews points to the actualization of that change. It required the believer to invest in the faith relationship to such a degree that transformation was inevitable. No longer are believers to be passive in his/her relationship with God. Instead a deep level intentionality is required.
Deep change is the result of the on-going relationship with God through the new covenant. The prophets of old pointed the people continuously about the need for deep change. When you read the Old Testament stories, you hear the same desired outcome over and over again – change your hearts and lives in alignment with God.
Hebrews begins by pointing out the created order that humanity was a little lower than the angels and the angels had their own role in the unseen reality just beyond our senses. Jesus came as flesh and blood to become human, and to lift humanity back to her rightful state of relationship with God Almighty. With Jesus death and resurrection, fallen creation now has the opportunity to seek restoration with God Almighty.
Our Response to deep change is showing faith, acknowledging our sin and receiving forgiveness for our thoughts and our actions, drawing near to God with a genuine heart, confessing our hope, showing love and good works, continuing to meet together, showing sympathy toward the imprisoned, standing your ground when you are mistreated for the sake of Jesus, urging each other onward and not getting out of the habit of meeting together
This is a day for a better covenant. Hear the word from Hebrews 8.8-13. On this day we receive the Law of God written upon our hearts that we would know right from wrong. On this day we receive the mind of Christ that transforms our thinking. On this day we understand that God forgives our sins and remembers our transgressions no more. On this day we know that we know that we know that our God is with us.
But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said: “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. This is the covenant I will establish with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbors, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear. -Hebrews 8.6-13
This is a day for covenant discipleship. United Methodist pastor James Harnish writes in his companion reader entitled A Disciple’s Heart that Christianity if a matter of the heart. It is important for us to define both the spiritual and the cultural meaning of commitment.
Covenant – sovereign act of God that He will do Himself. First covenant – conditional; Second covenant – unconditional. Contract – shoe trading at the gateway; written or spoken agreement; often signed by all parties involved; enforceable by nation/state law. Commitment – obligation, dedication, duty, responsibility, loyalty, faithfulness, fidelity. Promise – assurance; swear, pledge, vow, guarantee. Oath – let your yes be yes, and your no be no.
Let’s look at baptism as a commitment. The UMC Baptismal Covenant I, II, III, IV states, “As members of this congregation, will you faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service?” – and your witness has recently been added to the commitment. These qualities of our discipleship represent only the tip of the iceberg of what is required for us to have a deeply personal and experiential relationship with God. God requires more than a token response. God desires for us to have deep change. A good illustration for deep change is an iceberg.
Imagine an iceberg with me. Can you see the top portion floating atop the ocean waters? Now can you imagine with me the underneath portion of the iceberg. Pastor Peter Scazzero once wrote of himself, “In short, if I am willing to go deep beneath the iceberg of my present self, I have to be willing to suffer the discomfort and pain that is part of pioneering new parts of myself – the good, the bad, and the ugly” (Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Church, 75). Ultimately, deep change is about Jesus in us and it really becomes less about our gifts and talents and a whole lot more about Jesus living inside of us through the power of the Holy Spirit. The more we are able to live in unconditional love toward others, the more of a disciple we are.
This is the day of promise. Bottomline our culture has become toxic to our faithfulness. In the Kentucky Annual Conference the church members is just over 150,000 yet only 1/3 attend church on Sunday. The UMC in the US has declined significantly in numbers since 1970 dropping from 10.7 million (Hempton) to 7.3 million in 2013 (umc.org). The stats tell us that there is a need for deep change in our behavior that begins with how we understand our relationship with God. This relationship with God doesn’t just go “skin deep” but requires a greater commitment. It seems we have developed a passive relationship with God that goes no deeper than making Sundays our “nod to God” day. Many who dismiss worship services fail to understand the validity of worshiping together in a community of other believers. I’ve heard so many say – well, I can worship at home or in nature. That does not negate the spiritual need to be with others who love Jesus – but points to a dynamic that the flesh is overwhelmed with out demands. To be sure our relationship with God requires us to give all of ourselves. There is a hierarchy – God, self, and neighbor.
This is the day to get out of that pit. Beth Moore writes in her book Get Out of that Pit there are three ways to get into an emotional pit. You can get tossed in by someone. You can slip in accidentally. You can jump in knowing that you are choosing the pit. There are three steps to get out of that pit: cry out, confess, and consent. A different way of understanding the situation is to consult your physician (go to Jesus and discover what he’s doing in your life through this event), get the prognosis (confess the words, thoughts, and ations of your sin), consent to treatment (apply the blood to form new habits), and celebrate (anticipate your healing).
This is the day for deep change. Robert Quinn writes about discovering the leader within your self in his book Deep Change. Quinn suggests there are two kinds of change: incremental change and deep change. Incremental change is routine happenings, but deep change is a fundamental shift in lifestyle. All of life desires to stabilize and become predictable. The overcome the status quo is to practice deep change or what I like to call sanctification behavior. In life we are either moving forward or moving backward. In Christianity we call that backsliding. To lead change one must comprehend the internal need for deep change within one’s self otherwise the desired behavior is only temporal in nature and will revert back to the status quo once the catalyst is removed. Life is full of situations that lend to the need for behavior change, but most of the time we would rather someone else do the changing. Often times failure brings fear rather than analysis that leads us to future success. But deep change remains in the heart of the leader. If the leader is willing to modify behavior then the community will follow. The leader must first surrender all to Jesus because change that is individualistic and not Christocentric will not be sustained.
Change begins with demonstrating sanctified behavior. If you desire for others to break free from the status quo of justification, then modeling sanctification is key. You simply can’t just speak about it, but live into it.
This is a day of decision. Reformers like Luther, Calvin, and Wesley understood the need for change in their communities, churches, and culture. But they didn’t wait for someone else to make the change. They started with themselves. We become much more attracted to others when we become the people we want others to be. People enjoy being with others who know themselves yet still find time to love others more than themselves. Christ left us with one mandate of the Christian walk that remains the most difficult directive every true disciple must answer: take up your cross and follow me!
Take up your cross – and let’s go!
This is a day of new beginnings. This is the day we remember the prophet Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones, and how it was by the breath of the Almighty that life came again to a community of people who had died. Let us read Ezekiel 37.1-14. On this day we receive new breath in our bones.