Hebrews 2:5-9 – For Everyone

Holy Hill Jesus
Jesus carrying his cross, from the Stations of the Cross at Holy Hill in Hubertus, Wisconsin.

It is not to angels that he [God] has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified:

“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
a son of man that you care for him?
 You made them a little lower than the angels;
you crowned them with glory and honor
     and put everything under their feet.”

In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (NIV)

By Christmas eve of 1914, World War I had come to the point of trench warfare. On one point along the miles of trenches, there were the allied troops of French and Scots, and on the other side, the Germans. That night one Frenchman began singing Nuit Silencieuse (Silent Night). Eventually his comrades joined in. Much to their surprise, the Germans on the other side of the trench, recognizing the familiar tune, began singing in their native tongue, Stille Nacht, along with them. The Scots then joined in with their bagpipes. After the song, heads began to stick out from the trenches as both sides realized they had a common celebration in song.  This led to the white flags going up on both sides, and then the unthinkable happened. Both trenches, allied and axis powers, enemies of one another, left their holes in the ground and met in the middle, exchanging pictures, and communicating with each other.  The evening was capped off with the Scottish chaplain leading all the men together in a celebration of communion. The 2006 movie, Joyeux Noel, recounts the actual events.

Whenever we come together, expressed most highly for the Christian through the sacrament of communion, it puts our differences in their proper perspective – we all come together as one, not seeing each other as rich or poor, black or white, American or Asian, or anything else. The events of that Christmas eve in 1914, however, did not have a happy ending. The two sides found that, once the holiday had passed, they did not have the will to fight their new brothers. The top brass on each side were very upset and sent the Germans to the Russian front (and certain death); and, the Scottish chaplain was defrocked for his actions and sent home never to pastor again, letting us see in dramatic fashion that unity has a price.

Joyeux Noel
Scene from Joyeux Noel, 2006. A Scot, German, and Frenchman together on Christmas Eve on the western front of World War I.

The book of Hebrews was originally written (or preached) to encourage and exhort struggling Jewish Christians. The way the author of Hebrews did that was to point them squarely at Jesus. They were in danger of forgetting what the pioneer and champion of their salvation had done for them, and, what is more, they were in danger of reneging on their commitment to Christ. So, the entire book is dedicated to demonstrating and reminding discouraged believers that Jesus Christ is superior to everything, both in heaven and on earth.  Because of that truth, Jesus is worthy of our eternal devotion and remembrance.

Jesus is qualified to be our Savior and Lord. Every day and each minute of our lives are an opportunity for a fresh commitment to Jesus. The regular practice of Christian communion and consistent spiritual practices are meant to lead us into celebrating our Savior’s work. The worldwide communion of saints is celebrating with us in remembering and committing ourselves afresh to the lordship of Jesus Christ. A great victory has been won, not just in the trenches of human wars, but on the cross of Christ. This singular death on our behalf qualified Jesus to be our Savior from sin, once and for all.

Christ’s suffering qualified him to be our Savior.

Jesus suffered an inglorious and ignominious death. Yet, paradoxically, glory came through suffering. Jesus did not only suffer at his crucifixion; he experienced the full range of human suffering throughout his life.  He knew what it was like to face adversity and hardship. It is Christ’s suffering that helps us make sense of our own suffering. We can only truly be free from all that binds us by embracing that which makes us suffer. And because we live in a fallen world, we all personally suffer in some way. In addition, entire groups of people suffer – whether it is religious persecution, racial profiling, class warfare, or government oppression. This suffering is very much real, damaging, and dehumanizing which results in terrible living conditions and even death.

Maybe because of this reality, some tend to minimize their own suffering. After all, what is a harshly worded e-mail, trying to lose a few extra pounds, or an unexpected car repair compared to families devastated by COVID-19 and entire black neighborhoods in deathly peril?  It is all suffering none-the-less. It is good to keep our life situations in proper perspective; and, we must be careful to not tell God what he should and shouldn’t care about in this world.  If the only things that matter and qualify as hardship and difficulty is human trafficking, the terrors of war, or grinding poverty, then you will soon find yourself plastering a smile on your face and nodding over-enthusiastically whenever someone asks you how you are doing. Happy with-it Christians are insufferable, (pun intended).

Christ Carrying the Cross
Christ Carrying the Cross by Elijah Pierce, 1892-1984.

It is our task to find commonality and solidarity with Jesus in our own personal and corporate suffering. An admission of weakness, trouble, hardship, or suffering is neither a lack of faith nor the unpardonable sin. We know there must be a Good Friday before there is an Easter. Identifying with the adversity of our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout this nation and the world can be transformed into suffering that has meaning and significance. Our temporary sufferings now will someday result in the glory of being with Christ forever.

Christ’s suffering qualified him to be our compassionate helper.

Through the death of Jesus on the cross we have victory over Satan and all his wicked spirits. I have heard more than one motivational speaker say: “If you could do one thing in your life and not be able to fail, what would it be?” The truth is, because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, we have victory and can live our lives in confidence and commitment to Jesus. What is more, we know that temporary failures and failings are not the end of the story. We possess a union with Christ because of the cross. Jesus is our champion. He stands with us in our suffering and temptations.

Christian speaker, author, and professor emeritus, Tony Campolo, told a story about observing communion when he was a child: “Sitting with my parents at a Communion service when I was very young, perhaps six or seven years old, I became aware of a young woman in the pew in front of us who was sobbing and shaking. The minister had just finished reading the passage of Scripture written by Paul that says, ‘Whosoever shall eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord’ (1 Corinthians 11:27). As the Communion plate with its small pieces of bread was passed to the crying woman before me, she waved it away and then lowered her head in despair. It was then that my Sicilian father leaned over her shoulder and, in his broken English, said sternly, ‘Take it, girl! It was meant for you. Do you hear me?’ She raised her head and nodded—and then she took the bread and ate it. I knew that at that moment a heavy burden was lifted from her heart and mind. Since then, I have always known that a church that could offer communion to hurting people was a special gift from God.”

In solidarity with all who suffer, along with your brothers and sisters who agonize throughout the world, we have the blessed opportunity of bringing our troubles to a gracious God – thus finding forgiveness and hope.  May your burdens be lifted, and may you know Christ, and him crucified, died, buried, risen, ascended, and coming again. For, precious one, he knows you because he tasted death for you – for everyone.

Merciful Lord help me to remember in these troubled times the cross you carried for my sake so that I may better carry mine and help others do the same. Since you tasted death that I might taste life, I forever belong to you and offer up all that I am and all I hope to be to the glory of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Way to Harmony

 
 
“When we bless the cup at the Lord’s Table, aren’t we sharing in the blood of Christ? And when we break the bread, aren’t we sharing in the body of Christ?  And though we are many, we all eat from one loaf of bread, showing that we are one body.” –1 Corinthians 10:16-17
 
            Imagine waking up in the morning eager to go to work.  The harmony between you and your co-workers makes for a happy work environment.  The challenges of accomplishing tasks are easy because you have a supportive boss.  The sales team communicates with you and your colleagues so that production happens with a seamless co-operation.  Lunch-time talk is discussing one another’s families and your hopes for the upcoming evening with them.
            Imagine going home and enjoying conversation around the dinner table with your loved ones.  Laughter, inside-jokes, hilarious stories about the day’s antics are shared with great food and great fun.  Everyone lingers at the table, enjoying the time and staying in their chairs to put a puzzle together.
            Imagine getting out of bed on Sunday morning with joyful anticipation in your heart of worshiping God with people of like mind.  You know the interaction with fellow believers in Jesus will be open, honest, sweet, and full of grace.  The wonderful relationships between God and people will be celebrated at the Lord’s Table….
            It could be that somewhere in those descriptions you pursed your lips with a “ppfffff” – like that’s gonna happen!”  That’s because you feel drained from the lunch-time gossip gab session at work; you couldn’t wait to finish supper at home because of the bickering between your kids at the table; and, you drag yourself out of bed on Sunday out of duty, knowing that the Lord’s Table will be just another ritual to do with people who don’t talk to each other across the divided aisle.
            There is someone who understood this reality first-hand, and knew that it really could be different – it could be a new reality that fulfills, even exceeds your imagination of harmony and unity.
The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the 1st-century Corinthian church to emphasize that the work of Jesus on the cross effected what we call “reconciliation” between God and people, and between each other as people.  This means that God, in Christ, has restored relations between us and God, and between one another.  The relations between the Corinthian believers had broken down into special interest groups, and there was no interaction or fellowship or participation between those various factions.  People basically just hung out with others who thought just like them, and did not care about what other people in the church thought; each group wanted their own way, and they had not yet learned how to work together and have true unity and fellowship with each other.
Participation in Christ, and participation with each other is the result of the reconciliation that has been applied to us because of the cross; and, it is this reconciliation that brings unity or one-ness to your church, to your workplace, and to your family, allowing you to work together and play well with others.  So, when we come to the Lord’s Table, it is this truth that we celebrate, enjoy, and re-create together.
            Jesus is not just someone we remember, but someone we participate in through the Lord’s Table.  Sharing the Table together brings healing and forgiveness, and builds up our faith so that we might joyfully live in the reconciliation that Christ has brought us.
            Therefore, we must live up to what we possess – our participation in Christ results in participation and fellowship and unity with each other.  Since we are forgiven, we work at being harmonious at church, at work, and at home.  This is symbolized by partaking of the same loaf of bread, and drinking from a common cup.

 

            Peace, harmony, unity, and fellowship begins with Jesus Christ.  Workplace enjoyment will happen with an intentional development of encouraging language on your part, based in your participation with Jesus.  Family harmony will come when you seek to live into the reconciliation bought for you with Christ’s body and blood.  Church unity will exist when you make things right between you and God, and you and others with the cross always at the forefront of your mind and heart.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

            NPR gave a report a few years ago about the relationship between our minds and our stomachs.  Scholars at UCLA conducted some experiments that give us some insight on what we know as a ‘gut feeling.’  Their studies indicate that microbes in our stomachs affect the neural activity of the brain.  They concluded:  “Your brain is not just another organ.  It is affected by what goes on in the rest of your body.”  Scientists are discovering that there is a vast network of neurons lining our guts that is so extensive that some researchers have nicknamed it our “second brain.”
 
            When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper and invited his disciples to eat and drink with him as a way of following him, he was reaching us as holistic people.  We do not simply follow Jesus by affirming right doctrine in the head (as important as that is); we walk in the way of Jesus on a very visceral level, literally!  Perhaps Jesus knew that the way to our hearts is through our stomachs.
 
            We observe the Lord’s Supper as part of our full-orbed Christian discipleship.  This is also why practices like hospitality and even church potlucks have the incredible power to form us as the people of God.  As often as we break bread together and drink together, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  We preach Christ not only with mouths, but with our stomachs.  How cool is that!
 

 

            Look down O Lord, I pray, on all of us, your family for whom the Lord Jesus was betrayed and delivered into the hands of wicked men, and to suffer torment on the cross.  In the Holy Supper which you have instituted, let us remember this great love which you have bestowed on us.  May I eat and drink knowing the wondrous unity I have with you, in Christ.  Amen.

Pursue Peace

 
 
Over the past several years I have developed the notorious “pastor paunch.”  But, in the past three weeks I have lost fifteen pounds.  It didn’t just happen.  It has been intentional.  If I were to only focus on the negative of what I can’t eat, I would never make it.  After all, if I keep thinking about the anchovy pizza that I’m not supposed to have, eventually my willpower breaks down.  But if I focus on the positive, of becoming healthy and incorporating positive practices of health into my life on a daily consistent basis, then I am setting myself up for holistic well-being.
 
            Peace does not just happen.  Peace was bought at a price – the blood of Jesus (Colossians 1:20).  And it must be pursued (Ephesians 4:3).  Practices of peace must be engrafted into our lives if we are going to experience it on the daily practical level (Romans 14:13-15:7).  Is it hard?  Yes, absolutely.  Is it worth it?  I’ll let you be the judge.  I think your conscience already knows the answer.
 
            How bad do we want to be spiritually healthy?  How bad do we desire the peace of God:  Enough to stop being negative? Enough to reconcile and make things right? Enough to pursue Jesus?  It is high time we begin redefining our situations from a negative focus on only problem solving to the positive vision of peace, wholeness, integrity, and spiritual growth and health.
 
            Zechariah’s song of praise anticipating the birth of Jesus gives us a vision of a future full of peace, joy, and thriving (Luke 1:68-79).  The name “Zechariah” means in Hebrew “God remembered.”  God has not forgotten his promises.  The time has come to take hold of the vision God had from the very beginning to walk with humanity in continual fellowship and happiness in the garden, a place of abundant growth, beauty, and health.
 
            The World Health Organization did a study which has found that 10% of Americans suffer from some form of depression.  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has taken notice of the rising figures of suicide in this country, which has been growing steadily for the past thirty years.  Last year nearly 42,000 people took their own lives in the United States.  That’s approximately 13 suicides per 100,000 people.  Large numbers of people lack peace in their lives.
 
            This year a study came out from a task force put together by professionals across a wide spectrum of disciplines known as the World Happiness Report.  Every country in the world was ranked according to criteria such as the gross domestic product, social support, healthy lifestyles, freedom to make choices, lack of corruption, and both negative and positive outlooks on life.  The U.S. did not even make the top ten.  Even with all of our vast resources Americans are, collectively speaking, a very unhappy people.  I believe the most interesting finding from the World Happiness Report was their conclusion as to what makes one country happier than another.  The Report concluded that citizens of the happiest nations on earth continually find a steady stream of joy in three sources:  their families, their rituals/traditions, and their religion.
 
            If we are not finding joy in our lives through our Christianity and/or our church involvement, then it is reasonable to conclude that we are not experiencing the peace of Jesus Christ.  Perhaps we need to find newfound hope and joy through celebrating the Table of the Lord together.  It is a religious ritual that we experience together which reminds us that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
 

 

            Forgiveness of sins, spiritual peace, and human well-being is ultimately found in Jesus.  We both remember Christ’s accomplishment of peace through the cross, and participate in that peace through the common elements of Bread and Cup.  As we eat and drink, let us ingest the peace of Christ into our lives.