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.
A Call to Persevere
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.
It is on days like today that it is hard to be true to the faith that I profess. On days like today I, with the rest of the world cry out to God wondering why awful things happen. Days like today I want to walk down to the nearest recruiting station and sign up to join a fight, I want to teach someone some sort of lesson and rid the world of all the wrong. To see and hear about bombings and shootings in Lebanon, France, and Iraq rips my heart out. To look at the world and realize that it could be very soon that we see the next war to end all wars. I find it odd that that term was one that was used for a war that was fought one hundred years ago. A war and the men and women, the families that were dramatically affected are remembered every year on the eleventh of November. We call it Veteran’s day but it began as a day to remember the ending of the First World War. Yet as we remember the true cost of war the horrors of violence continue to play out before our eyes. This past week we remembered the cost of war, and this week we remember that war remains.
This is a cycle that continues throughout history. A cycle of power hungry people seeking to bend others to their wills. A cycle of history that continuously repeats because so often we are controlled by pride, greed, and lusts failing to open our eyes to the humanity of those around us. Instead we see only means to an end, enemies to conquer, potential profit centers, and political supporters. We claim to remember the cost of war, we give platitudes of peace but do we really seek it?
The letter to the Hebrews was written just prior to possibly the most devastating event of Jewish history. It was written just prior to the final bout of the Jewish War. This war was not just a war that was fought in a forgotten corner of the Roman Empire but it was a war that shook the world. Many scholars have connected the battle in Palestine with the removal of Roman forces from Britain. This war changed the very courses of history yet many even remember it happened. It was a war that was fought for independence, religious freedom, nationalism, and cultural identity. It was a war waged by humanity in the name of God, and the result of this war sent the people that followed the God of Abraham into a cultural tailspin. It destroyed the temple and with it disconnected the people from the mercy of God.
War is not of God. Wars are fought because of humanities inability to live at peace. Wars are fought because of petty jealousies and contempt have gotten out of hand. They begin not with nations but with individuals. Cain was jealous of Abel so Cain removed the one that cause his discomfort. Cain, according to scripture, went on to develop the first city, the first civilization, the first empire, and violence was used to protect his legacy.
At the dawn of this war that ripped the Jewish people from the land of promise, a new era was beginning to emerge. An era that began with a rabbi that walked among the disenfranchised people that were forgotten by those in the seats of power. It began because a rabbi began to change the focus of the teachings of the prophets and the law to focus on the people instead of the nation. This rabbi questioned the status quo, began to personalize the religious practices, and caused people to consider the heart of the law instead of the letter. This teacher introduced people to a God that cared for them.
This was not anything new really. It had been taught throughout the ages, it was taught by the prophets of old prior to the exile of Judah. It was taught by the great law giver Moses. Yet people were distracted. Their minds were focused on things around them instead of God, they were focused on their own selfish gains instead of the humanity of those that lived next door.
The writer of Hebrews remembers the prophet Jerimiah and he quotes, “I will put the law in their hearts and I will write them on their minds.” This new era that was ushered in by Jesus, the era we call the new covenant, is one that is based on relationship instead of sacrifice. It is an era where we can each be directly connected with the Spirit of God and not have to rely on a priest to intercede for us apart from God himself. Consider this quote for a moment. What does it really mean to have the law in our hearts and written on our minds?
To have the law in our hearts goes well beyond knowing scripture. It is becoming the embodiment of scripture to the world around us. Living the scripture out to the fullest extent, taking it to heart means that it becomes the very essence of who we are. If we were to take the law “do not steal” to heart let that become the very essence of who we are as a person, what changes? The very idea of theft sickens us, the possibility of potentially taking what is not ours and defrauding someone of their own possessions becomes unthinkable. If we were to live by this concept every aspect of our lives would be moved from our own personal gains and entitlement and would focus instead of mutual benefit. The heart of the law condemning theft is building relationships, respecting others, and mutual profit.
Think about the other laws, do not commit adultery, do not kill, do not bear false witness, each if they are taken to heart, if they are lived instead of followed takes us to a completely different place. Respecting the individual instead of considering them a means to an end, honoring others by seeking truth instead of building ourselves up on falsehoods. Recognizing that every individual no matter who they are or what they believe should live and we should honor and protect their lives.
Do we allow God to place the law into our hearts? Are we allowing His Spirit to saturate our being to the point that His ways become the very essence of who we are? This is why my heart grieves today. I grieve because I can see in my own life that I have failed in so many ways to take the laws of God to heart. I grieve because somewhere along the line the people that are claiming Christ have failed to provoke one another to love and good deeds. And if the people that have encouraged me to come to faith can fail, where does that leave me?
Martin Luther King, Jr. said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” As a leader of a group of people that were mistreated and often hated for no other reason than the color of their skin they had every right within the laws of man to rise up and fight against the oppression. But they instead took a different approach. I did not live through that era in history. I know that that time was not filled with peace I know that it was not an easy path for any that lived through that period of history but I also know that it made a difference. It can be summed up in a simple statement, “we cannot give what we do not have.” Hate breeds hate, violence breed violence, war breeds war just as hope breeds hope, respect breeds respect, encouragement breeds encouragement.
Provoke one another to love and good deeds. The writer of Hebrews is saying the same thing as Martin Luther King. The only way to change the course of history is to stop or change the cycle you are perpetuating. We need to actively pursue the very things we are hoping for in Christ. We need to become the embodiment of the law. Have it become the essence of who we are and what we hope for. Actively pursue without neglect, it cannot be passive but can only be lived.
Today we each face a challenge. It is a challenge that we have faced many times before at many different junctions on our pathway through life. Will we provoke those around us to love or will we continue the cycle of hate. Will we recognize the humanity of those around us or will we live life pointing fingers at others that have slighted our egos? Will we be instruments of war or peace?
I do not care about converting people to an institution of religion. I do not care about changing people’s political stances. But I care about people, I care about life, I care about the future that my children will inherit and the children of those around me. Will it be a world one step closer to the kingdom of Christ? Will it be a world that is willing to forgive and reconcile or will it be a world that holds onto the sins against them? Will we as a church provoke love and good deeds, will we encourage each other closer to God through Christ, or will we teach the ways of the world?
As we enter this time of open worship and communion as friends. Consider again what it means to have the law written in our hearts and on our minds. Consider what that means today and what it means as we train up the next generation. Consider. Will we as individuals, and as a community become people of God? A people who are loving God, embracing his Holy Spirit and living the love of Christ with others? Consider just what that might mean and are we willing to sacrifice our lives to allow that type of kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven?