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Purified from Dead Works

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

October 31, 2021

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Hebrews 9:11–14 (ESV)

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

The past few weeks we have discussed the role of Jesus as our High Priest. At times we may not fully understand to role of a priest since we are two millennia removed from this practice. Even those traditions that have utilized the term priest as a leader within their forms of worship, do not use the word in the manner that the teachings of the Old Testament used the word. A priest is an individual appointed by God from among humankind to act in the place of the rest of the community.

We do not have this type of system anymore. Although some might be given different roles within a community of faith, they do not act on behalf of the community before God. This role has forever been removed from Abrahamic religions when the Temple of God was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. We have teachers of various sorts that assist in illuminating scripture with us, and individuals that walk the pathways of faith’s journey by our side. There is no longer a human agent on Earth that can stand in our place for us.

This is a dramatic change in the religious community. The responsibility of our spiritual lives cannot be laid at the feet of anyone other than ourselves. Your pastor, your teacher, your bible study leader is not responsible for you. We have been set free from this aspect of our existence. But this freedom comes with a great cost. Who is responsible?

In the ancient days of Israel, God established the priesthood. We look at this and we see it as being a wonderful thing. He appointed one family within one tribe to stand in the place of a nation. The whole tribe was sanctified to provide for the religious leadership, but only one family could enter the holy sections of the sanctuary. One family, for an entire nation. From the outside it appears to be a wonderful system. We know exactly who to go to, and where we stand. But this system was a compromise made by God.

God called Moses to be his voice to the people, and to be the voice of the people to God. But it was not sons of Moses that fulfilled the roles of the priest. Moses resisted his original calling, like so many people. He lacked the faith that God could do something that important through our weakness. God asked Moses to go to the ruler of Egypt to speak for Israel, and Moses denied God. Saying I cannot speak. Moses pointed out his own weakness and told God that he was not able to do what God had ordained. Does this sound familiar?

Because of Moses’ denial of God, God made a compromise with Moses. His brother Aaron would speak for Moses. Moses was originally appointed by God, but Aaron became the priest not Moses. We honor Moses as the Law Giver, but even within that story we get a glimpse at the weakness of humankind.

Moses was called, yet Moses lacked faith, so God used his brother instead. Then as we continue to read through the early history of the religious practices of Israel, we quickly see that Aaron fails. Aaron feared the people and authorized the making of an idol. Aaron’s sons introduced strange fire into the place of worship and they themselves died because they were careless before God. The priest appointed by God were human, weak, and corrupt. They were like us. Afraid of failure and afraid of success.

From the beginning we as humans recognized the vail of separation between humankind and God. We recognized that there was something about God that was dangerous and unapproachable. Our first parents were deceived and entered a spiritual rebellion, this introduced death to humanity.  The curse of death was transmitted to us all. What do we do with this separation? Some of us make attempts to bridge that gap, while others seek to live life to the fullest before the curse overtakes us. But no matter what we do at any moment we will face that day.

We are separated from God, yet we all notice the absences. We try to fill the void with other things with the hope that we can feel as if we are complete. We fill that void with work, hoping that if only we became successful, we would be made whole. We might seek out relationships with the hopes of finding our lives’ fulfillment. Maybe we try to numb the feeling of inadequacy under the illusion of entertainment and chemical recreation, only to find that the things we used to distract our minds from our lack of fulfillment have now enslaved our bodies to addiction.

We strive forward. We seek that place we anticipate as being our promised land and what do we find? We find the exact same thing we have always known; we are there. Still unable to speak, still afraid, and still left in a state of incompleteness.

I know that is dark. I know that these are not exactly words of encouragement. We are Americans we are supposed to live by a code of hard work and success will make us wealthy and satisfied. We do live in a wonderful nation. I would not want to live anywhere else in the world, but we are not perfect. We have problems, we have issues that we try to hide, and we have corruption that we would like others to overlook. We want to be seen as the shining city on the hill, but we often do not know where the hill even is to build the city.

The priesthood of Israel was established to tell a story. A story of the human condition. In today’s passage we are given a glimpse of the work performed by those God appointed to stand for humanity. We are told about the blood of goats, calves, and bulls. We are shown ashes of a heifer being sprinkled on the people for purification. These practices are interesting and odd.

When many scholars read this section of Hebrews, they often liken it to the ceremony that is performed on the Day of Atonement. This celebration is the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, which closes out the ten Days of Awe which began on Rosh Hashanah. This celebration is in honor of the creation of the world, and the fall of humankind. They remember, they remember the fall of our first parents, they remember the failings of Abraham and Sarah, they remember their own failings and they confess those failings so that they will be found on the side of God when the sacrifices begin.

Yom Kippur, the last day of the Days of Awe, which we usually call the Day of Atonement is the only day that the high priest could enter the inner sanctum of the temple. According to Leviticus 16, the high priest would sacrifice a bull to atone for his sins. And then two goats would be brought to the priest. One of these goats would be allotted to God, and the other would go to Azazel. It is not exactly clear what this goat for Azazel is, because Azazel could be the name of a spiritual being, a geographical location like a cliff, or it could simply mean the goat that goes away. Traditionally we know this goat as the scapegoat. The goat allotted to God is offered for the sins of the people. The priest would then take the blood of these sacrifices, the bull for himself and the goat for the people, into the mercy seat, which is the lid of the Ark of the Covenant. The blood was then taken to the great altar where it would be symbolically cleansed of the sins of the people. The priest would then emerge from the holiest areas of the Temple and go to the second goat. He would lay his hands on the head of this goat and confess the sins of people, symbolically transferring the sins of the people onto the head of this goat. The goat for Azazel is driven from the community into the wilderness by a man, carrying the wickedness of the people away from the community to be left in the desolate places outside the community. The priest cleanses himself again, offers additional sacrifices for himself, and the man that takes the goat outside the camp also ritually bathes and washes his clothing so he can reenter the camp.

The truth of the sacrifices is that the sin remains. The blood purifies the scared space, and the goat symbolically carries transgressions away, but the sin remains. That goat could return which would indicate that the wickedness of the people could corrupt the people again.

These sacrifices on Yom Kippur account for the goats, calves, and bulls within today’s passage, but there is one reference that is not included in the rituals. This is the reference to the heifer. The sacrifice of the heifer, or the red heifer, is one that is different from most sacrifices. It is not sacrificed in the holy places, but outside the camp. The high priest goes out with an anonymous member of the priesthood, and this anonymous priest ritually kills the animal, then the blood is taken by the high priest and sprinkled on the outside of the tent. The high priest returns and the anonymous priest then burns the heifer with cedar wood, hyssop, and a scarlet thread. Then an additional priest comes out to collect the ashes, and water is mixed with these ashes. This mixture is then used to cleanse people and objects from the pollution caused by death, yet each of the three priests are considered unclean for a day and must ritually bathe and launder their clothing before they can reenter the camp after this period is over.

The mixture of the red heifer ashes is the only sacrifice directly applied to people, and is believed to be the sacrifice first used to cleanse the objects and spaces used for sacred worship within the tabernacle and the temple. Which is why many people that believe that a third temple will be built before the return of Christ are actively seeking to breed the perfect red heifer for this sacrifice.

But why are those that participate in this ritual considered unclean? Why is the sacrifice done outside the camp? Why is it a heifer or a female cow instead of a bull? I want you to consider those for a moment.

All have been corrupted by the stains of sin and death and our redemption comes through the actions of a virgin female, whose offspring was sacrificed on our behalf outside of the holy city.

The writer of Hebrews says, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things, then through the greater and more perfect tent.”[1]. Christ in this sense is not directly speaking of Jesus, but the office of the Messiah, which Jesus fills. Messiah will come as a high priest of the good things. This is an interesting statement. Some manuscripts say, of the good things to come, but what this is alluding to is the better or greater things. When the Law was given to Moses, the children of Israel were preparing themselves to enter the land of promise. This was a good thing, but not the good things, or better things, to come. Messiah’s high priesthood will usher in something greater than the promised land.

If you were to log into YouTube and listen to the teachings of rabbis you will hear similar things as they teach. They will say things like when Messiah comes creation will return to the state prior to the fall of our first parents. We will be restored to our rightful place where humanity will work with God to make the world into Eden once again. This is what the writer of Hebrews is wanting to point out. These teachings were already present among the second temple era of Jewish history. The writer continues, “then through the greater and more perfect tent.” This again is drawing our attention to the past when human hands constructed the tabernacle of the Lord. Human hands made the place where God was going to dwell, but Messiah will come through divine means. God will bring it about. We might ask why the tent and not the temple? I think this refers to the beginning of their collective worship. Israel began their formalized worship of God when the tent was constructed. The writer of Hebrews is taking us back to the beginning, the to hope that was going to be fulfilled in the promised land. That hope is now even greater through Christ.

The writer of Hebrews speaks about this office of Messiah, but he speaks of it not in a future event yet to come, but one that has already happened, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest.” These things that you are looking forward to, have already happened. Jesus is like the heifer sacrificed outside camp that provides the cleansing power over death. He is the one that sanctifies the true place of worship. He is the goat that was taken outside to the wilderness carrying the sins of the people to Azazel. He provides the blood that cleanses the altar. And He is the priest that can stand in our place before the Mercy Seat of God.

We cannot do this in our weakness. The celebration of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur drives our attention to this weakness. When we are left to ourselves, we will continue to dwell in that place of weakness. Unable to bridge the divide that separates us from God. Even the most holy one, the high priest appoint from the tribes of men cannot enter on his own. We will continually try whatever we can to fill that void, to bridge the gap, but will continue to come up short. Continually striving to overcome our weaknesses with dead works. We like the goat for Azazel will continue to run off the cliff into the abyss, until we recognize and accept that the bridge has already been built for us by the one that has passed through the heavens, and was born of Mary becoming the son of man. The first Adam was deceived by the serpent and the second Adam tempted like us in every way stood firm to the end. Taking our sin and our shame to the cross, on that hill outside of Jerusalem. He was buried and sealed inside a tomb within the earth, and on the third day conquered the wages of sin by raising from the dead.

It is only in Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed high priest, and king of Israel, that the greater things to come can become realized. And that greater thing is that God never has and never will give up on you. He loved the world so much that he gave his only unique not to condemn the world but to save it. And all that believe in him will not be condemned but will have life. It is through Jesus that we can approach God and be restored back to our rightful place, the place where each of us were created to be. And it is in Christ that we will find fulfillment we seek. Do we believe?

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 9:11). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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Who Will Stand for You? And With Whom Do You Stand?

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

October 24, 2021

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Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili

Hebrews 7:23–28 (ESV)

23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. 26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. 28 For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

The writer of Hebrews again is writing during a period of stress within the early church. They are in an identity crisis. Are they Jewish or are they Christian? Is there a difference or is it the same? And what does that mean to the people within the community of the faithful?

I want us to really consider what the implications are to this question. We too are in an identity crisis. We too must come to terms with our profession of faith, and what that means in the wider community around us. What does it mean to be a follower of Christ in Kansas City, in Missouri or Kansas, in the United States, and in this era of history of the world? Do you see how important this question truly is? What does it really mean to be a follower of Jesus Christ? And what does it mean to be and Evangelical Friend?

I hope that those questions are a bit unsettling to you. I hope that those questions cause you to pause and examine what you think and what you believe. We need to wrestle with our faith, we need to think about it, and come to terms with it. We need to identify areas where our words and actions do not necessarily align. We need this struggle so that we can grow.

Last week I mentioned that struggle and suffering is important, it is necessary for us to endure stress and struggle so that we can grow and mature. It is in the struggle we become who we are. We see this throughout scripture, but we see it early on in the stories of the Patriarchs. Abraham is the father of faith, it is through his son Isaac that the blessing of the world will emerge. Isaac had two sons, Esau and Jacob. Jacob was a deceitful character, but it is through that deceitful man that God reveals himself to the world. Jacob stole the birthright from his older brother Esau. He convinced his brother to trade his inheritance for a bowl of soup.

I want us to really consider that for a moment. Esau traded his future, for fleeting satisfaction and lived with regret. Jacob took advantage of his brother’s whims and opportunities and when faced with the prospect of returning, Jacob lived in fear. The night prior to this homecoming we are told an interesting story.

Jacob sends is family and his possessions into the land in waves. He does this because he is afraid of his brother, and rightfully so. Esau has every right to be upset. Not only was Esau taken advantage of, but Jacob disrespected and deceived his own father for personal gain. This is not exactly a stellar report of righteous living. The entire family had crossed the river and had been received by Esau, only Jacob remained. We are told that that night Jacob had a visitor, and all during the night Jacob and this stranger wrestled. He struggled all night. We are told that the visitor Jacob wrestled with that night was the Angel of the Lord, which many believe to be a physical representation of Jesus, prior to the actual incarnation. This angel as dawn brakes and the struggle has been completed speaks to Jacob and gives him a new name. The nation from which our salvation emerges from is called by this new name that Jacob received, Israel.

This name, Israel, means to contend, struggle, or to strive with God. Our faith is built on a foundation of struggle. Jacob’s original name means the deceiver so the struggle of our faith is to overcome this deceptive nature of who we are. Are we a people focused on ourselves or do we struggle or strive toward God?

This is the place religion finds itself. Jacob struggled with and against God. It is a human focused struggle. What can I do to become more acceptable? What offering can I give to make myself worthy of divine attention? Will I ever be able to measure up?

We have all struggled with these concepts and ideas. This is part of the problem that we faced while discussing the letter written by James. Is faith based on grace or is it works? James often is treated with less respect than the writings of Paul because many people will often interpret that James promotes an idea of faith that is based on our personal striving for salvation. Hopefully over the past few weeks you have come to realize that we often misinterpret James, and that James does not believe that we must work for our salvation but that we respond to the work God has done in us through how we live our lives.

There is a reason we struggle with these concepts. It has been a struggle within religion from the very beginning. It goes back to the very origin of the faith of Israel. Jacob was a deceiver, that was his identity, it was what he was known for. His father-in-law knew that Jacob was deceptive in his dealings and that is why he treated him in the manner he did. Jacob struggled because of this. He wanted to follow God like his father and grandfather before him, but he was filled with this ambition that seemed to get the better of him. He lived with this. He struggled with this. He would often face the consequences of his action, and at times lived in fear of those consequences. But there was something else that he had going for him. He was passionate about his God.

The story of the struggle that night shows us this. Jacob wrestled, but why did he spend so much time in that struggle? It is a picture of faith. Jacob knew that he was not struggling with something from the realms of man, he knew that the battle he was engaged in was supernatural in origin. God was showing Jacob the reality of his condition. We will constantly struggle between our will and the will of God. Jacob was just like us in this case. But there was something that Jacob can teach us, he did not give up. He stayed in the struggle, he rolled around in the dust all night, he held on and grappled with this angel demanding one thing for a blessing. He held tight until the very end. But that struggle had consequences, he struggled with God and limped because of it.

We struggle in our lives. We struggle because we live our lives without complete knowledge. God created humanity to rule over creation. We were to be God’s representatives, his advocates, within this physical existence on this planet we call Earth. We think of rule from a governmental or hierarchical perspective because that is often what we see. But I want us to change our perspective a bit. There are different types of leadership. And when we are to rule with God, we are not to be tyrants but stewards. We are to care for what we have. We are supposed to encourage each acre or unit to perform to its greatest ability within a symbiotic system. We struggle because we do not always know the consequences of our actions. Is it wrong to drive a car? No. Is it wrong to drive a car that pollutes the environment? This is where the struggle begins. The answer is a bit gray, because exhaust is pollution, period. Air without exhausts is 100 percent better than air with any exhaust fumes. That pollution does have consequences no matter what we think of Global Climate Change. And we should always strive to find a better way to power our world so that we encourage they symbiotic relationship we find ourselves in. We must steward our world’s resources.

We want to adapt and live within our environments in such a manner that we can support our lifestyles an promote a healthy and diverse ecology. To do this we have to admit that we do not know everything. And we have to strive for answers.

Life is filled with struggles. Many of these struggles we are not fully aware exist or even where they came from. We strive to make our world into a better place, and we are often met with opposition. We want to be able to provide for our families and retire comfortably and struggles emerge even when we thought things were going fine. When we rely on only ourselves the struggle can become overwhelming.

This is where today’s passage comes in. There is a division between God and humanity. This division, the virus we know as death, was contracted by our first parents when they were deceived by a being that should have been assisting us in our work for God. Death, or separation from life, affects us all. We will all at some point come to terms with that aspect of our human condition in some manner. Yet even though we failed to live according to God’s commandments, he did not give up on us. God believes for us when we do not have the strength to believe ourselves.

God instructed Moses and those early religious leaders within the nation of Israel to develop a system where through careful and thoughtful dedication we could approach God and have a glimpse of that union that was lost. God instructed them in this because he wanted us to approach. He wanted and wants us to return to his throne, but he also wants us to know that we can only do that on his terms. We do not get to tell God what is acceptable, we can only respond according to his decree.

“The former priest were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.” Have we ever really thought about the priesthood in this way? The priest were appointed by God to serve, yet they are only temporary. They are plagued by the same limitations as everyone else. This is why we should not put our  full trust in human agents. Presidents come and go. Even kings will only last a generation. Their rule and authority will always come to an end. This should give us hope, as well as concern. In all things devoted to human achievement, they are temporary. The most benevolent or evil systems of men will eventually change, because we as humans are mortal beings. The only way anything survives is if we teach our ways to the next generation.

The priesthood of ancient days is also temporary. It will and did only last as long as there was a temple to occupy. That temple was staffed by people that were filled with the same weakness and corruption as we are all filled with. They were subject to their own selfish desires just as we are. It is interesting, the children of the greatest priests and prophets may have filled similar roles as their fathers, but often they were corrupt. Aaron’s sons died in the tabernacle for introducing strange fire into the presence of God. The second generation of priests failed. And they failed because we are all lacking in some way. I might be able to give a wonderful sermon that will inspire deeper faith, but I am not the best at organizing a party. I do not have the gift of hospitality, which is just as important to the health of the community as sound teaching. We are finite beings, we are corrupt beings. We all have strengths and weaknesses.

But it is fitting that we have a such a high priest as Christ, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He knows our weaknesses because he is the Son of Man, and he knows what is necessary to bridge the divide between humanity and the divine because he has passed through the heavens. Jesus is our high priest. He stands at the gap for us, forever.

The priest of old would offer sacrifices daily for themselves and the community, because they had to cover their own weaknesses and sin. Jesus offers himself. He God incarnate made it his responsibility to restore humanity. He lived to show us what true life with God is. He died to endure the curse of separation that we all suffer from because of the actions of our first parents. And he rose again to release us from that curse and to provide the way for restored humanity.

God did this for us. He stands in the place where we cannot and could not stand. And he stands in that place forever. Christ lives! He has no need to offer any more sacrifices because God himself stands in the gap for us, and all that profess his name and believe are covered by his word.

He speaks and intercedes for us. He stands with us in our struggles. He believes, he strives, he endures, and he prays for us and with us forever. Because Christ lives!

We struggle. We strive. We make attempts to make the world a better place. We do all of this but we deceive ourselves. All we do and all we say are only temporary, unless Christ stands for us and we stand with him. All of our wrestling and suffering is empty without Jesus.

For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever. Who will stand for you? And with whom do you stand?

If you would like to help support the continued Ministry of Willow Creek Friends Church please consider donating online:


To help support the personal ministry of JWQuaker (Jared Warner) online and in the community click to donate.

Strength through the Struggle

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

October 17, 2021

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Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili

Hebrews 5:1–10 (ESV)

1 For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. 3 Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. 4 And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was. 5 So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; 6 as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” 7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.

The past couple of weeks we have spoken about God’s plan to restore humanity. I want us to consider this more deeply this week. We often look at scripture and the stories within scripture from a very human focused perspective, and rightfully so since humans are the ones to whom this revelation was given. We also tend to look at scripture through the lenses of our experience, and our religious traditions as well. As much as we would like to say that we are open to the context of the text, even the most devout follower so sola scriptura fails to completely pull themselves away from tradition.

I am just as guilty a anyone on that point. I love the history and traditions of the Society of Friends. It is the best expression of faith that I have come across, that is why I am a minister within this tradition. But I must admit that we do at times read things through our tradition and our preferences, just like everyone else. It is part of our human existence. We are social beings, and our societies develop cultures, and it is through those cultural constructs that we learned to understand the world around us. We look at the world from an American perspective, which is different than the perspective that the students I taught in Ukraine looked at things. We look at the world from a Christian perspective, which is different from the way other religions look at things. And we look at things from a Friends perspective which is different than the way other Christians look at things. We can even break that down further. Even states within the United States have a distinct perspective as to what American is. And Friends Churches within the same yearly meeting from different states or even across town might differ slightly because the experiences of the people within have slightly different cultures.

I mention this because Hebrews is a difficult book. There are cultural, aspects to it that we might miss if we do not understand the context not only of words but also the people. And we even see glimpses of different understandings of things from within Jewish traditions. Contrary to what we might think the Hebrew religion was not, and still is not as unified under one understanding. There is a joke that if you ask a group of four rabbis a question you will get five answers. I do not think that is something unique to them as a people group, it just proves the point that all people have a variety of opinions and perspectives. Even within the teachings of the Gospel we see three if not four different perspectives of faith within first century Jewish practices. They are all Jewish but just a bit different. United on some aspects, but willing to argue endlessly on others.

The point of this general letter is to provide an apologetic, a theological defense to the supremacy of Jesus, over the traditions of old. The letter was written during that transitional period of Church history where there was a debate over identity. Are we Christian, or are we Jewish? Can you be both? Can you be one without the other? We might not fully grasp this struggle. For most of us, we have not had to struggle with the concept of identity. We are just what we are. I was born into the Friends Church, for me this expression of faith is not strange but natural. I cannot look at another expression of faith without comparing it to what I already know. Many of you were not born into this meeting, you came here from somewhere or something else. Some of you remember quite well what that experience was like. Some of you might have struggled with our expression, some might still struggle, while others of us may have just seamlessly melded into our community of faith so easily that it might be difficult to pinpoint the exact moment this became your home.

I want us to think about that struggle. The fact that you are still here means that there is some reason you stayed. If you are new, I encourage you to ask questions and to seek answers because that is part of the journey of faith. A church is more than a place to worship, it is part of who you are. It is the place you come to draw close to God, and the group of people you are called to share ministry through. It is like a marriage in many ways. And like every relationship, the best relationships require a great deal of work.

Life in many ways is a series of struggles. Some might say that life requires struggle for us to truly live. It is through suffering and struggles that we gain the strength to endure. In the early 1990’s there was a scientific ecological experiment called Biosphere 2. They named it that because they believed Biosphere 1 was the earth, and because the scientists involved believed we were doing harm to the planet they wanted to create an environment that would be self-contained and supporting. So, this group of scientists built a facility that would seal itself completely off from the rest of the world. And those involved in the study would live completely eating only what was in this environment. They quickly faced struggles that they never imagined. The oxygen levels within the sphere began to drop, and soon the scientists were required to pump more breathable air into the facility. Then something strange happened. We are all told that the rainforests are the lungs of the earth. That the Amazon Forest is supplying the world with breathable air. So, they planted rainforest trees. Only to find that the trees would fall over before they even matured. Through this experiment we learned that the oceans are much more important to the ecosystem than the forests, but we also learned that struggle is important to survival.

The biosphere experiment showed us that the tree needs to struggle against the wind so that it can grow to bear stresses of life. If a tree grows without the forces of wind pushing on it, it will not have the strength to handle maturity. We need struggle to survive.

We need struggle to survive. We do not like hearing this do we. I think that I could do without a little stress. I would love to be able to live life without some of the things that cause stress in my life. But the truth is we would not be who we are without those struggles. Everything we face in our lives allow us to become the people we are. We endured the struggles and now we can face tomorrow, even though we may not believe we can.

Even our faith needs struggle. The church at the time of the writing of Hebrews faced great struggle. They believed that Jesus was the Messiah, and that the Messiah was going to usher in the kingdom. But as time went on and the kingdom as they expected did not manifest around them, they began to reconsider what they believed. There was a movement that we often see within the letters, urging the Church to go back to the traditions of the first century Jewish faith. They wanted them to come back to the temple, to follow the law, and to offer sacrifices again. If you grew up in that tradition, it would be easy for you to look back on that life and lifestyle with nostalgia. You knew where you stood. You knew what was expected of you. It was easier, than the stress you now face. They did face stress. The church, face persecution by both Jews and Gentiles. They faced struggles because the church often contradicts the wisdom of men.

This goes back to the very beginning. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that God had the responsibility to restore humanity to our rightfully created position. I want us to realize that God only had this responsibility if He wanted it. God could have chosen to just walk away and start over, but God wanted us to fulfill our purpose. The only way for us to be capable of this task is if God took the responsibility of restoration on himself.

The first books of the Old Testament speak of this covenant that God made. Our first parents were deceived. We may have acted with incomplete knowledge but all actions have consequences. We live with those consequences, and God uses that struggle to bring about better things. I once listened to a podcast by a Jewish Rabbi speaking about the sin of Adam and Eve as being a good thing. That Eve made the right choice in eating the fruit, because God knew that we needed to face struggles before we could become the people, he needed us to become. I do not know if I agree with his interpretation, but I find it interesting because we need struggle to mature. Either way the reason we struggle is because it is a consequence of that action. We now have the knowledge of good and evil, and we must muddle our way through.

God knew that this was going to be difficult so He encouraged some along the way. Scripture is filled with these people. And then he calls one man to form a nation through which God would reveal the truth through. This is the nation of Israel. God chose. God ordained. But even Abraham struggled with his life of faith. We must choose to follow because God will not force us, we must work in cooperation with God, just like the wind works with the tree.

The problem is that the fall of humanity separated us from God. We moved from life to death. That is the curse of sin. We were born infected with death; theologians call this original sin. I do not like that thought process because if the baptism of infants were to alleviate the curse of original sin then why do we still face death, even if we have faith in God. Death will still greet us one day. We have this infection of death. Death is the corruption of life. It is the cancer of life. When a body develops cancer, it means that cells have become corrupt, they no longer do what they are supposed to, instead they spread the corruption until eventually the corrupt cells overcome the healthy cells.

The deception of Adam and Eve, infected humanity with this corruption that separates us from life. Our understanding of the world around us is infected with this deceptive virus, and this affects our ability to interact with God. Atheist will often argue, if there is a God, why is their so much suffering in the world. They have a point there is a great amount of suffering. But when we look at the world through the virus of deception that is all we see. We cannot see the goodness of God because we are infected with death.

God began to teach us using illustrations we would understand. God chose a nation, and within that nation he chose a tribe, and from within that tribe he chose a family. This priesthood shows us that there is a separation, and that separation can only be bridged in a certain manner to prevent the spread of the corruption.

God appointed priest to act for humanity. This prescription was set up not to divide us even more but to teach us that our ways are not God’s ways. We cannot just do whatever we think is best and expect God to bless it, because we are corrupt people. God appointed priest. These priests could not appoint themselves. If this were allowed then humanity would have power over God, but God continued to keep that wall of separation to prove a point. When priests believed that they were entitled to certain luxuries and forgot or became careless with the rituals God prescribed to Moses, they would be quickly reminded that they are also infected with the disease of Death.

We do not often like to read the books of the law. We love Genesis and Exodus but once we enter the next books, we might decide that the scripture is too hard, and we either stop reading or we skip over to more exciting books. We skip often because the books of the law remind us of how corrupt we are. We like the approachable God, we do not like separation from God. The law shows the separation and it proves to us that we cannot approach God on our own. And neither can the priests, even though God appoints them. They must make sacrifices and offerings for themselves and others before they can approach. But these sacrifices cannot ever completely cover the void. They can only at best provide a brief glimpse through a window. Like when we wipe the fog off a window on a cool morning only to have it return moments later. We are and will always be separated from God, the sacrifice is a momentary glimmer what fades again once the smoke dissipates and the blood dries. We return to that place once again, separated from life dwelling in the corruption of death.

The writer of Hebrews speaks of the weakness of the connection the temple sacrifices provide. The priest must keep the smoke rising, the blood must be applied continuously, we must continue to stay active and work without rest or we return to that place of separation. Quarantined from God. Masked behind the veil.

The priesthood can only be temporary. Just as every effort we make is temporary at best. We cannot be good enough which is why God made it his responsibility to bridge the divide. We see this in our own relationships. The only way to repair a broken relationship is if we get involved. We each must do our part to enact restoration. God gave us the law so that we are reminded of that separation. Our ways are not his ways. But all the activities of the priests are nothing more than someone giving you flowers after an argument without changing their behavior. The flowers of apology will never completely allow the injury to heal, until there is a change of heart

We cannot just claim one day to stop, we cannot proclaim that we are free from corruption, and we cannot approach God in our own strength. God must provide the way. Just as the injured party must define the terms of reconciliation because they are the ones that are suffering the offense. Jesus was brought forth, or begotten. He was appointed to fill that role; he is the terms of reconciliation. He is the perfect priest to stand in that gap because he passed through the heavens, meaning he is of divine nature. And he was born of Mary making him the Son of Man. He knows our weaknesses and has faced our corruption for and with us.

He endured the suffering and injustice of humankind. He experienced our worst, so that we can experience God’s best. He was begotten or brought forth and appointed by God. This does not mean that he is a created being, but he chose to fulfill a role within creation. A role created for the expressed purpose to restore humanity to their place. But the terms are steep. We can only approach God through him. This is what the language of the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek means. There is much to Melchizedek, but it means that Jesus does not draw his position from the traditions of humankind but is a priest of unique roots and origin. We cannot define it only God. God made it happen, God made the role and the position and did not allow it to become a tradition of man. We cannot claim faith of our ancestor for our salvation. We cannot accomplish it by our own works. The means of our salvation is the cooperative relationship between humanity and God. It is that cooperation that is predestined by God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And we can only approach God on those terms.

The early church struggled with this concept. And we too struggle. We struggle because life is hard, and the life of faith is harder. We might start off with great hopes and walk away defeated. We might be on fire but the embers cool. We believe and we doubt. What remains? God. It is Christ who continues to believe in us. It is Christ who, while we were his enemy, appointed and embodied that role himself to restore us. It was Christ who stepped down, through, and up where we could not. And he remains. He helps us through our struggles and lifts us up when we fail. The question remains. Where is our belief and trust? Will we work with the winds of struggle to maturity and strength or will we fall?

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Meeting Times

Meal at 6pm
Bible Study at 7pm
Bible Study at 10am
Meeting for Worship 11am
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