Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Hebrews 11.1,29–40

The shortest sermon I ever heard may have been the most formative, so it's worth repeating.  Ready?


Like many sermons, this one requires commentary.  "I!" is not a sermon, and it's not a particularly Christian word; in the eternal company of Christ, there can only be "we."  "Them" is also not a good sermon, and I submit that it might be one of the most destructive words we use.  Rather, the shortest possible sermon is "we," and it is defined by looking around us, for this specific "we" will never exist again.  Whether this group of individuals is ever gathered again is irrelevant, for we will have been exposed to new experiences which will have changed us; time changes who "we" is.

Moses changed his "we" from Egyptian royalty to Israelite slaves.  Joshua changed his "we" from apprenticing under Moses to leading the Hebrew people.  Rahab changed her "we" from servicing the citizenry of Jericho to a member of the nomadic Israelites (and consequently to a many-great grandmother of Jesus).  The writer of Hebrews then zips over the entire history of Israel, the ever-changing "we" which defines how the writer views himself and his audience, and it is full of outstanding successes and devastating suffering.  So it is with us, the "we" of the moment in which we find ourselves.  There are accomplishments to celebrate and pains to comfort; some are open and known to all, and some are secret and held tightly inside.  Like the Israelites, we have not fully received the promise: they the land of milk and honey, and we eternal life.  There is no peaceful land where the Israelites may stay and bask in God's unadulterated goodness, and we suffer the pains and losses of human life, knowing that death inevitably awaits us.  Fortunately, like the Israelites, we have the constant presence of a loving God in our travels, in our celebrations and in our commiserations, and we have yet another gift, the evidence of God's faithfulness to us in Christ, the proleptic* promise of eternal life which is to come.

Jesus defined "we" in an ever-present moment.  His "we" included Pharisees, prostitutes, and tax collectors; disciples and friends, family and strangers; Samaritans and Gentiles and Jews (and even Romans!).  Jesus promised paradise to a crucified thief and healed a soldier who was injured while taking him captive.  He even asked the Creator to forgive those who were crucifying him.  At every turn, in every Gospel story, Jesus is opening his arms to welcome a new member of his "WE."

We get to choose what to care about, and because we are gathered together here, I think I can safely say that we choose to care about our relationship with God.  God wants us to choose to care about things that help those who are in our "we" right now, be they Christian, Muslim, or atheist; immigrant, homeless, or next-door neighbor; parent, child, or spouse; old family friend or complete stranger.  God also wants us to choose to care about things that honor those who have come before us; here at Good Shepherd, you have the benefit of an archival wall of photos to remind you of who you have been.  God wants us to choose to care about things which pave the way for those who will come after.  Who do you hope "we" will be?  Who do you think Jesus would want "we" to become?

Like the Israelites, there's a lot to keep in mind as we think about where we have come from, who we choose to be now, and who we hope to become.  But we can take as our examples those who have been counted faithful in scripture and in our own lives.  With many celebrations and commiserations, though they had not yet received the fullness of the promise, they all had one thing in common: they moved forward, taking action in faith, for faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not yet seen.

* Proleptic means "already, but not yet."  It's one of my favourite theological words about God's reign, and it's well worth knowing.  God has walked among us and surpassed death, but we still have to die in this life before we can experience resurrection life.

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