Tag Archives: Hebrews

Lectionary 27B – October 6, 2018

Saturday’s Readings:
Genesis 2:18-24
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Mark 10:2-16

St. Paul’s welcomed a guest preacher to worship on Sunday, October 7 – Deacon Timothy Siburg, Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod, ELCA – but we also had a service on Saturday afternoon. Below is a brief summary of the message preached by Pastor Andrew at that service.

The readings for this week seem to be disjointed at first glance. We begin with a story about creation, move to a sort of mystical reflection on the significance of Christ’s life and death for us and our world, and then conclude with Jesus teaching about divorce and encouraging child-like faith. The thread that seems to tie these readings together is the reality that our life is lived in relationship with others.

In the first account of creation in Genesis, God pronounces creation good at the end of each day, then “very good” at its completion. The first time we hear that anything is “not good” is when the first person, the adam, is found to be without a suitable partner. We are made to be in relationship, and it is not good for us to be alone. God creates Eve to provide companionship and help to Adam, not as a hierarchical relationship, but as a partnership of equals.

Jesus picks up that thread in the gospel reading from Mark, highlighting the seriousness of the promises we make to one another, especially in marriage, but also touching on our relationships with those who are considered less important, as children often were in the first century. His admonition to seek after God with child-like wonder, open-mindedness, and vulnerability, is also a good way for us to seek relationship with one another.

Even Hebrews, which seems so removed from our experience, speaks of our relationship with God in Christ, and how Christ blazed the trail of our salvation so that we can follow him in trust.

Our ability to live well in relationship with others is a key part of our witness to Jesus. In a society increasingly given to tribalism and division, we have an opportunity to show a different way of being in the world. We are united in Christ, and called to see all people – partners, family, friends, neighbors, and strangers alike – as people worthy of compassion, respect, and dignity. May it be so among us.

The Book of Hebrews: Week 5 – September 6, 2015

Sunday’s Reading:
Hebrews 11:1-12:2

+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Sometimes I think we Christians have an “Old Testament problem”. That’s not true of all of us, of course, and it’s not true all the time, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that at least some of the time, we find ourselves struggling with the Hebrew Scriptures. At the most basic level, we modern and post-modern people tend to favor what is “new” over what is “old”, and so the way we’re accustomed to talking about the two testaments tends to lead us to prefer one over the other. On another level, because we think so highly of Jesus – for reasons that are both obvious and perfectly valid – we tend to think more highly of the parts of Scripture that refer more directly to him. By the same token, I think we find the descriptions of “church life” in Paul’s letters and instruction about the Christian life to be more compelling because they seem more applicable to our lives. When it comes down to it, I think the Old Testament gets short shrift in our thinking because we find it more difficult to connect with the stories of the people of Israel.

As people who sometimes have an Old Testament problem, we would do well to pay attention to what’s going on in today’s reading from Hebrews. That’s because we find in chapters eleven and twelve a compelling case that the Hebrew Scriptures are much more relevant to us than we often think. Far from being filled with stories about people whose experience with God is too distant from us, the Old Testament is brimming with stories about people whose lives are surprisingly similar to ours. The people highlighted in today’s reading are not extraordinary characters, but ordinary people who responded to God’s call on their lives and who found their lives transformed by that call. Some of these stories are more familiar than others: Abraham and Noah generally get more airtime than Abel and Enoch, and Jacob’s life is recounted in much more detail than Isaac’s or Sarah’s, and yet all of them are lifted up by the writer of Hebrews as examples of faith to be emulated.

Scripture records nothing about Abel except that he gives a sacrifice to God, and that his brother Cain kills him because he is upset that Abel’s sacrifice is found to be more acceptable than his own. The only things we learn about Enoch are that he was born, that he had some children, and that one day he was simply taken up to be with God. These two individuals don’t appear to do anything remarkable, and yet their stories are remembered because of how God was involved in their lives. We know more about the others – Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob – and what we learn about them is not that they are particularly remarkable people in themselves, but that they are chosen by God – sometimes despite themselves and their questionable characters – to fulfill some part of God’s purpose in the world, and that they respond in faith to the call that God places on their lives.

It’s important for us to note that the kind of faith they display is not simple or easy or convenient. It is a trust in God claimed over and over again amid the peaks and valleys of their lives – like the trust shown by Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob, who step out in pursuit of promises whose fulfillment is long-delayed, leaving much behind in the process. It is a trust that God is able to bring the ordinary out of the extraordinary – as in the cases of Abel and Enoch, whose lives are mysteries that nevertheless testify to God’s care and concern even for those who are virtually unknown. It is a trust that echoes through the centuries, a trust that forms an unbroken chain linking us with those ancestors who heard God’s voice in many and various ways, a trust that carries us through times of uncertainty. It is a trust that lives in us because it has been passed down from generation to generation and continues to be strengthened by the Holy Spirit’s presence within us and around us.

It’s that last point – the point about this trusting faith that lives in us as much as it did in these noteworthy ancestors – that is perhaps the most remarkable. The writer of Hebrews is not merely trying to connect us with our forerunners in faith. He is making the claim that our lives are the continuation of a story that goes back to the beginning. Just as the stories of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, and yes, Jesus, bear witness to God’s activity in the world, our stories bear witness to the fact that God is still speaking, still present to those who are being tested, still listening to and responding to the cries of the world, still receiving the prayers and praise of our earthly worship in the heavenly sanctuary. There’s both challenge and promise in that reality. The challenge, of course, is that we’re called not just to talk the talk – that is, to say or believe the right things about God in Christ – but to walk the walk (or, to use the metaphor in chapter twelve, to run the race). The nature of discipleship, after all, is to follow, and Jesus isn’t standing still. The promise, on the other hand, is that we’re not responsible for blazing the trail on our own. The path has already been forged by Christ and well-worn by countless saints who have walked it before us. More than that, the great cloud of witnesses who have already completed the course are now cheering us on from the sidelines, encouraging us by their own example, and pointing the way to the finish line where Christ awaits.

I started out today with the claim that we in the church sometimes struggle with an Old Testament problem. That’s a problem we need to face head-on, because next week we’re going to be diving back into the Old Testament part of the Narrative Lectionary. From September through mid-December, we’ll be making our way through the Hebrew Scriptures. Beginning with the Garden of Eden and moving through the words of the prophets, we’ll be exploring how God has moved in the lives of ordinary people to make the extraordinary possible. We’ll continue to see how those stories reverberate into our present and reveal the character of a God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. We’ll find our own stories mirrored in stories that were written centuries ago and worlds away. Most importantly, we’ll be blessed by the knowledge that God’s love and mercy and grace reach across time and space to envelope us and inspire us to be God’s people in the world even as they were poured out upon our ancestors in the faith. As we begin that journey anew next week, let us pray that our “Old Testament” problem might be transformed into an appreciation for God’s Word – a word that speaks from Genesis to Revelation and is always relevant! Thanks be to God! Amen.

The Book of Hebrews: Week 4 – August 30, 2015

Sunday’s Reading:
Hebrews 9:1-14

+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +

If it’s true – as I mentioned earlier in this series, and as I and many other interpreters of Hebrews believe – that this book of Scripture is more like a sermon than a letter, then the text before us this morning represents one of the threads of a sort of “sermon-within-a-sermon” woven into the central portion of Hebrews. We find ourselves in the middle of an extended riff on the theme we picked up last week – the identity of Jesus as our great high priest – and, to tell you the truth, this particular section can be pretty treacherous for us if we’re not careful.

The writer of Hebrews walks a tight line throughout the entire book, and everyone who reads it must walk the same line. On the one hand, a lot of ink is spent making the case for a continuity between the coming of Jesus and the experience of God’s chosen people in the centuries preceding his birth. With this emphasis, the arrival of Jesus is not a radical departure from God’s work throughout the centuries, but an extension of that work to a new people, a people who had previously not known God – namely, us, the nations, the Gentiles. On the other hand, as last week’s sermon made clear, the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus do represent something new and different and transformative. The ministry of Jesus before the Father is unlike the ministry of other priests because it was and is carried out by the Son of God, the Word who became flesh, who experienced humanity in all its glorious and gut-wrenching fullness, and who remained obedient to God’s will so that he might make a perfect offering for our sake and for the sake of the world.

What makes this tightrope walk so treacherous is what happens when we lose our balance in our attempt to more easily digest the relationship between the “Old Testament” or “First Covenant” and the “New Testament” or “New Covenant”. If we forget the roots of our faith in the First Covenant, we are in danger of committing one of the church’s most besetting and damaging sins – the sin of supercessionism, the idea that the coming of Jesus resulted in the negation of God’s promises to Israel. This idea has been echoed throughout the centuries by some of Christianity’s most important theologians, including Martin Luther, with devastating consequences for our Jewish brothers and sisters throughout the world and throughout history. By the same token, if we too easily collapse Judaism and Christianity into one another, we are in danger of practicing a faith that is a poorer, shallower version of both, and we weaken the strength of the appeal that the writer of Hebrews is making to us.

So, for example, if we read the first part of this morning’s text, the verses concerning “earthly worship”, and we see it as an indictment of the worship conducted by the people of Israel in the “tent” or “tabernacle” that they carried with them on their wilderness journey, we could easily assume that this section of the text doesn’t apply to us. That would be a mistake, for we Christians are just as likely to fall into the trap of focusing on externals and missing out on the encounter with God that is the intention of proper worship. When the writer of Hebrews says that his description of tabernacle worship is a symbol of the present time (Hebrews 9:9a, NRSV), he means to expand our vision and remind us that the limitations of earthly worship are not unique to the experience of people long ago or far away. Indeed, we face the same potential problem as the people of Israel did: allowing the trappings of worship to become ends in themselves.

At their best, the earthly sanctuaries we construct represent windows to the Divine. They contain symbols and signs that point beyond themselves to a reality beyond our reason and our senses. We could spend hours unpacking the images and objects that fill this holy space, drawing out their significance, revealing something of the nature of God or the content of the story that continues to unfold around us, but as the writer of Hebrews says in verse five of this morning’s reading, of these things we cannot speak now in detail. (Hebrews 9:5b, NRSV)

That’s because in the end our earthly worship is a mere reflection of the worship of heaven, led by our great high priest, who offered himself as a perfect sacrifice to re-forge the connection between God and humanity that had been broken by our pride and arrogance and short-sightedness – in short, by the power of Sin that made us strangers to one another and to God. That reality is vital to our understanding of proper worship, because it is so different from the way that we so often speak about the experience of worship. In truth, what happens when we gather is not about us and what we offer to God as much as it is about what Christ offers to God on our behalf and what we receive from God for the sake of Christ: grace, mercy, forgiveness, strength, and renewed life. Hebrews provides us with a stark picture of this reality through the language of sacrifice and blood, language that may sound strange to our ears but which captures the cost that God has incurred in pursuit of a wayward people who still think that we can make ourselves holy by what we do and say.

Brothers and sisters, the writer of Hebrews has given us a word that we sorely need to hear today. May this passage remind us of the gratitude we owe to Christ, who has opened the heavenly sanctuary so that our earthly worship might reach the ears of our mighty God. May we continue to offer our praises to God, not to earn favor with our creator, but to express our thanks for the ministry of Christ to us and for us, a ministry that cost us his life and made new life possible for all who call upon him. Finally, may we strive to be humble as we reflect on our own worship, and celebrate with thanks all those who glorify the living God with their lips and their lives. Amen.

The Book of Hebrews: Week 3 – August 23, 2015

Sunday’s Reading:
Hebrews 4:14-5:10

+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +

In mid-September of my first year at Gettysburg Seminary – almost eight years ago! – I was assigned to a congregation in York, Pennsylvania for a field education experience known as “teaching parish”. The goal of the teaching parish program was to place students within a congregation to begin the process of forming a pastoral identity. One of the facets of that formation was the opportunity to wear the familiar clerical shirt and collar, a widely recognized marker of people who occupy the office of pastor. When I got ready on the first Sunday morning of teaching parish, I remember seeing myself in the mirror for the first time and hoping- before anything else – that no one would mistake me for a Roman Catholic priest. I don’t know why I feared that so much. It would be an innocent enough mistake for someone to make. It certainly wouldn’t have been meant in a disparaging way – at least not from most people. In truth, when I look back I don’t think my apprehension had anything to do with being identified as Roman Catholic, but with the language of priesthood.

As a general rule, American Lutherans don’t use this term to describe their clergy. We prefer minister or pastor to priest, and though there may be some subtle anti-Catholic bias in that preference, I think it comes more from this uneasiness with the perceived theological import of the word. In our imaginations, I think we see priests as others, as overly concerned with holiness in all the wrong ways, as figures who wield power over us. It’s telling to me that other Lutheran churches don’t seem to have this problem.

How we define the concept of the priest is important, of course, not simply to avoid confusion, but to help us make sense of what the writer of Hebrews is trying to say about Jesus when he refers to him as our “great high priest”.  For our purposes, it would be good to unpack the duties of a priest so that we can appreciate the argument that Hebrews is advancing for us. Most broadly defined, priests are religious figures who intercede for others, who make prescribed offerings to the Divine, and who, in turn, pronounce reconciliation with the Divine. In simpler terms, priests pray, make sacrifices, and announce forgiveness. If that’s all it takes to be a priest, then our apprehension seems to be misplaced. As your pastor, I also fulfill the role of priest in offering prayers on behalf of our congregation, in leading us to make offerings of our time, talent, and treasure – or, in language often used by Martin Luther, a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving – and in announcing words of grace and new life in the name of Jesus. Curiously enough, Luther also extended the concept of priesthood to all the baptized. That is, he believed that all of us act as priests for one another as we bring one another’s concerns before God, offer our lives in service to God and neighbor, and in announcing grace and renewal in word and deed.

So what does it mean to call Jesus our great high priest? It means that he carries out each of these responsibilities, but does so from a place of surpassing authority and power. Jesus the great high priest is the one who became one of us and suffered everything that we have suffered but did not succumb to our tendency to become curved in on ourselves. He was tested by experiencing what it means to be human, but – unlike Adam, the prototypical human from Genesis who failed the test – embodied true humanity and remained faithful to God’s will. Because he took on our nature and lot, he is able to intercede for us before God, and to bear our groaning and sighing and longing into God’s presence.

Jesus the great high priest is the one who offered a more perfect sacrifice – not the blood of lambs or goats, but his own – so that we might be cleansed from Sin and united with the Almighty. In giving his own life for our sake, he made a way for us to reconciled with God and with one another.

Jesus the great high priest is the one who not only declares God’s forgiveness and grace, but makes it possible by his obedient suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension. Unlike other priests – myself included – he does not offer forgiveness by the authority of another, but by his own!

Because Jesus is our great high priest, we are invited to live boldly in relationship with God. Christ calls as and claims us as his own, and encourages us to bring all of our cares and concerns to God with confidence that God will regard our prayers as not as presumptions, but as motivated by God’s promises. That’s why, for example, we are able to recite the radical words of the Lord’s Prayer – not because we’re holy enough in ourselves or worthy enough on our own to imagine that God is impressed with us, but because our high priest invites us to pray this way:

9Our Father in the heavens, may your name be held in holy awe.
10Let your royal reign come.
Let your will be established – as it is in heaven, so may it be on earth.
11Give us the food we need for today, 12and release us from our debts, just as we release others from their debts.
13Do not bring us to a time of testing, but rescue us from the evil one.
For to you belongs power and might and glory throughout the ages.
Let it be so!
(Matthew 6:9-13, my translation)

Because Jesus is our great high priest, we are assured that even when our life’s offering is inadequate, the perfect offering of Christ will make a way for us to be freed from sin, death, and the devil, and to be presented before God as holy and righteous.

Because Jesus is our great high priest, we know that when we approach the throne of grace we will hear a word of comfort and peace and renewal so that we can go out into the world with courage and hope.

Brothers and sisters, we may not like the language of priesthood, but we can all be grateful this day that God sent Jesus Christ to be our great high priest, so that our prayers, our offerings, and our very lives might be acceptable to God through him. As we live in him, may we also find the strength to be priests for others, so that God’s grace and mercy might be made known to a world in need. Thanks be to God. Amen.

The Book of Hebrews: Week 2 – August 16, 2015

Sunday’s Reading:
Hebrews 2:10-18

+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +

At one time or another, you’ve probably heard the old saying, “‘Tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes.”  (Christopher Bullock, 1716) With apologies to the famous thinkers who have repeated this axiom – or something like it –  throughout the centuries, including such bright lights as Benjamin Franklin and Daniel Defoe, I’d like to suggest that there is at least one other aspect of human experience that is universal, and it is a prominent theme in today’s reading from Hebrews. As I’ve said before, it’s not one that we like to talk about, but it is one that we can’t avoid. Suffering, broadly understood, is an inescapable reality for us; it surrounds us like the air we breathe, and permeates our existence in so many ways that we are incapable of comprehending it in its entirety. This recognition – that suffering is part of the human condition – has been around for a long time, longer even than the letter to the Hebrews. We find it recorded, for example, in the Old Testament book of Job, which precedes Hebrews by some seven to eight hundred years, and echoed by philosophical giants like Schroeder from Charles Schultz’ “Peanuts” comic series: …people are born to trouble as surely as the sparks fly upward. (Job 5:7, NET)

Though suffering is universal to the human experience, it is difficult for us to comprehend what it would mean for God to suffer. The Church’s hymnody is full of reflections that suppose that God is distant from the reality of human suffering Hear, for example, the words of this classic hymn:

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
in light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
almighty, victorious, thy great name we praise!

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
nor wanting, nor wasting, thou rulest in might;
thy justice like mountains high soaring above
thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love.
(Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise – Evangelical Lutheran Worship, #834)

When we think about God like that, the first words in today’s reading sound strange to our ears: It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. (Hebrews 2:10, NRSV) For most of human history, it has seemed far from fitting to imagine divine beings suffering anything, and much less so to think that they might be made more perfect through suffering. Yet this is precisely the argument made by the author of Hebrews. The same Jesus who was described in chapter one as the “heir of all things”, the one through whom the voice of God speaks, the one who radiates God’s glory and reveals God’s being and character, is now described as sharing our flesh, our blood, our life, and our death, and more, that as the pioneer of our salvation, he is made perfect through his participation in the life of this suffering world!

That seems like a nice thought in the abstract, but what does it really mean for us as we live life in this broken world, surrounded by the inescapable reality of sin, suffering, and death? Well, at the risk of putting too fine a point on it: it means everything! It means that the one whose name we bear, the one who has called us into relationship is intimately aware of what it means to be human. Indeed, the Gospels describe Jesus in ways that relate directly to our own experience. He knew hunger and thirst. He knew the difficulty of being homeless and poor. He knew anger and sadness and grief and loss. He knew joy and pain, friendship and abandonment, love and hatred, confidence and fear. For this reason he is not ashamed to call [us] brothers and sisters, because our fleeting and fallen existence is not beneath him, but part of his own eternal existence (Hebrews 2:11b, NRSV) When we call upon God in Christ, then, we invoke the most excellent name of Jesus with the knowledge that he has shared in our lot completely, and that he came to help [us], the descendants of Abraham in times of trial and testing. In the words of Biblical scholar and preacher Thomas Long, Jesus’ experience of being human enables him to be our hero, our liberator, and our priest.* The Word became flesh to blaze a trail through the muck and mire of the world to God’s own heart, and by his victory over sin, death, and the devil, fans the flame of hope in our hearts when we face those same realities day in and day out. The Word became flesh so that he could blaze the trail to freedom, not from somewhere else, but from within this world of groaning and pain, still ensnared by the fear of death. The Word became flesh so that he could blaze the trail between earth and heaven, stand before God as one of us, and bring our hopes and dreams and fears directly to the one we call Father.

This is a great mystery, brothers and sisters – a mystery that defines our relationship with God and the way that we approach each new day. Because of what God has done in Jesus, we know that the trials and tests that we face are not unconquerable, because we have been filled with the same Holy Spirit that strengthened Christ on his earthly journey. Because of what God has done in Jesus, we know that our cries for help will be heard from heaven – even if the answer to those cries is not always readily apparent to us. Because of what God has done in Jesus, we know that suffering and death do not have the final word, because Christ’s victory means that their days are numbered.

The saying is still sure: …people are born to trouble, as surely as the sparks fly upward (Job 5:7, NRSV) But this saying is also sure: In Christ, God was born to suffer alongside us, so that we might know God’s presence with and among us in suffering. In all our trials, may we stand firm in the knowledge of God’s love for us, God’s solidarity with us, and God’s gracious will for us and the whole world.

* Thomas G. Long, Hebrews, Interpretation, John Knox Press (Louisville, KY: 1997), 39-45.

The Book of Hebrews: Week 1 – August 9, 2015

Sunday’s Reading:
Hebrews 1:1-4

+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +

From the opening lines of Scripture to its final verses, if we learn only one thing about God, it’s this: God speaks. In the beginning, God speaks a powerful word over nothingness, and by that word the whole creation comes into being. The other people who lived around the Israelites didn’t talk about their gods like that. When they talked about creation, they imagined their gods were engaged in a cosmic struggle with the forces of darkness and chaos, often in hand-to-hand combat, and the gods worth worshiping were the ones who prevailed and brought creation into being. But the people of Israel knew differently. They had experienced God as a God of speech, one who addresses particular people in particular times and places, one who by the act of speaking made the world, spurred people to action, brought a nation into being, and moved to save and deliver that nation. Scripture testifies to this truth over and over again. God speaks, and Abram leaves his house and family to go to an unknown land in pursuit of a promise that wouldn’t be fulfilled for decades. God speaks, and Isaac is born to a mother and father who are so old, the Bible describes them as being as good as dead. God speaks, and Joseph winds up as a slave in Egypt, rises to power, and saves thousands. God speaks, and the descendants of Jacob are freed from slavery and oppression and promised a land to call their own. God speaks and kings are raised up and brought low. God speaks and the world is changed – day after day, year after year, again and again.

God has indeed spoken “in many and various ways” – or, put another way, “in many fragments and fashions.”* Indeed, the Bible records mere snippets of the conversation that has been going on between God and humanity since the beginning. Our ancestors in the faith, including the prophets who served as God’s mouthpieces, bore witness to the on-going dialogue that has shaped God’s people, changed our understanding of who God is and what God is up to in the world, and kept us connected to the one who first said, “Let there be light!”

That conversation went on for centuries, reaching a crescendo at those key moments that defined the history and destiny of God’s people, until, one day, everything changed. Suddenly, God was no longer content simply to speak. As powerful as God’s voice had been, the time had come for something different, and that something different was the arrival of Jesus. In him, the Son of God, the Eternal Word, the one who had brought all things into being, visited our world. In him, the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of God’s being took on flesh and dwelt among us, and our world has never been the same. No longer would we look to the heavens in search of signs of a divine being beyond our comprehension. No longer would we struggle to hear the voice that thundered over the waters at creation. God spoke once more, this time into the life of a young woman named Mary, and that Word became truly human, lived in our midst, died for our sake, and rose for our salvation.

This is the deep and profound truth that is proclaimed through this morning’s reading – and, in fact, throughout the piece of writing that the Church has known for centuries as “the Letter to the Hebrews”. God has spoken in many different and incredible and world-changing ways since creation began, but none of it can rival the importance of how God spoke through the Son, the one whose name is Jesus. The surpassing greatness of that revelation will be unpacked throughout the rest of this letter and during our exploration of it over the next four weeks.

For now, this introduction gives us the opportunity to get our feet under us, and to reflect on all the ways that God has spoken to us through the prophets whose words reverberate through the ages, through the ancestors who helped to reveal the character of God by the way they bore witness to that character in word and deed, through the one whose name we bear and whose life, death, resurrection, and ascension define our lives. It gives us the opportunity to look around our church and our world and to realize that God is not finished speaking yet, that God continues to send prophets and teachers to orient us to God’s will for our lives, that the God who came to dwell among us in Jesus continues to be present to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. It gives us the occasion to be reminded that the many fragments and fashions that have shaped the contours of the conversation between God and us are still shaping it today, though not as much as the reality of Christ’s living, dying, rising, and ascending for our sake and for the sake of the world.

That reality can’t be forgotten, because if we don’t remember the surpassing greatness of Jesus when we acknowledge or recognize that God is still speaking, we open ourselves to the danger of putting ungodly words in God’s mouth. Our knowledge of the Son helps us to filter the “God-talk” that comes our way and to test its authenticity. Does the way that we talk about God, or the way that we perceive God’s voice, align with the way that voice spoke through the life of Jesus Christ? Or is there a disconnect between what people claim to hear from God and what happened in the world when God lived as one of us? That’s a question worth asking of every individual, every congregation, every community of faith, every denomination, every expression of Christ’s body in the world, and to the extent that we are able to align ourselves with the way God spoke and acted in Christ – and, by the same token, to eliminate those areas where things are disconnected or disjointed – we are better able to hear and communicate and live into God’s will for us and our world.

We live each day, brothers and sisters, as those who bear the most excellent name of Christ. Let us give thanks for the gift of knowing Jesus, the one who radiates the glory of God and reveals the character of God in flesh and blood. Let us give thanks for the Holy Spirit who continues to make Jesus present to us today and every day. Finally, let us give thanks for the privilege of being part of a people to whom God is still speaking – in different fragments and fashions, to be sure, but still speaking all the same. May we hear God’s voice and seek to be Christ’s mouthpieces for this beautiful and broken world. Amen.