Here’s the talk I gave last night at Praise and Worship. It might differ slightly from what you heard if you were there. I can never tell what’s going to come out of my mouth.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, holy partners in a heavenly calling, consider that Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses also ‘was faithful in all God’s house.’ Yet Jesus is worthy of more glory than Moses, just as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that would be spoken later. Christ, however, was faithful over God’s house as a son, and we are his house if we hold firm the confidence and the pride that belong to hope. (Hebrews 3:1-6)
There is something about this passage that seems to startle me, and yet comfort me in the same moment. The writer of this sermon names his audience ‘holy partners in a heavenly calling’ and just a few verses later provocatively claims that ‘we are his house’ meaning of course that we are Christ’s house. It is startling that God would entrust human beings who have seemingly screwed up everything (on more than one occasion) to be his holy partners. And yet, it is comforting that God still has faith in us. What interests me though is the terminology utilized. So much of our focus as Christians is being saved from our transgressions, our shortcomings. And yet, the writer doesn’t call them sinners or forgiven sinners, or even born-again Christians. He decisively and deliberately calls them ‘holy partners in a heavenly calling’ and Christ’s house, two names that nobody should take lightly. I am not saying that we are not sinners or that we are perfect. But one can hear echoes of another world in this passage. Echoes of grace. And one can see traces of another world. Traces of hope. This language is still somewhat challenging. Embedded in the Reformed Theology that our school holds to is a concept of motion, motion from sin to salvation and finally to service. Essentially, it is three distinct steps. The first one is in the sinful state – total depravity. When we find Jesus and accept him, we are then passing into the salvation aspect. Eventually, stemming form salvation will come a life of service. I am beginning to wonder whether or not these are indeed discernible stages. Rather, I am suggesting that they are so intertwined with one another that they coexist simultaneously in one’s life. I think the language that Henri Nouwen uses may be helpful in understanding this. For Nouwen, the three stages are wounded, healed, and wounded healer. Here, the deep connection of the three begins to shine through.
Just a few chapters later in Hebrews, the writer suggests we move beyond the elementary teachings of the faith of which he includes ‘repentance from dead works and faith towards God, instruction about baptisms, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.’ We are told to move beyond this milk of the faith onto something more substantive. Don’t get me wrong – these are good things. But we are not to live on milk forever. We must move onto something solid. I believe this is what the reformers were getting at and also what the writer of the Hebrews was also after. There is something beyond simply faith, something I will call faith-plus. And it is in faith-plus that we find our solid food.
Throughout this passage of Hebrews, words such as builder and house surface. If we would continue on further, we would see a transition from building, to unbelief and finally to rest. The writer even quotes the creation account when God rests on the seventh day. Thus, I think it is fitting to embark on a journey back to the creation narrative, and try to enter into the mind of the writer of the Hebrews.
In the creation story, there is a strange rhythm that seems to stalk the whole account and it is this: ‘And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.’ ‘And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.’ ‘And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.’ This continues all the way up to the sixth day. The sequence of the day seems to be the opposite of how we view the order of our day. Our days begin in the morning and finish in the evening. Eugene Peterson says, “The Hebrew evening/morning sequence conditions us to the rhythms of grace. We go to sleep, and God begins his work. As we sleep he develops his covenant. We wake and are called out to participate in God’s creative action.” If we follow the Hebraic sequence of the day (evening/morning) then we should recognize that we are always joining in the work of God. We are never starting anything. God initiates; we follow. God lays the foundation; we build the walls. God redeems; we point people to that redemption. God’s grace enters the earth in the evening; our work stems only from that grace. Frederick Buechner talks about the biggest blunder of religious people is that they believe they are more spiritual than God. I think we run into the same problems. Somehow we think we can begin with our works and God’s grace will follow suit.
Maybe the sequence the writer of the Hebrews puts forth is not all that different than the creation account presents. If you recall, over the span of a couple chapters, we see the writer of the Hebrews transition from building and being God’s house to unbelief to rest. When we believe that we are the builders, unbelief begins to seep in, in a stealth-like fashion. But, if we enter this rest, we can stop long enough to remember the evening/morning sequence. We can remember that God is already working; will we follow suit? Rest is then a corrective to guard against unbelief because we are thrown back into the rhythms of creation.
Henri Nouwen writes: We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life. We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for. The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.
There seems to be some sort of dance going on all around us that has been enacted by God and that has crossed centuries and people groups and language barriers. This dance is to set all of creation back into right being with God. In the same fashion that we have some sort of lead dancer when learning to dance, God is teaching us this dance. We are to follow the movements and swayings that God is teaching us. And in this way we learn to dance the dance of God. It is here, that we can truly be called holy partners in a heavenly calling. And it is here, that we can truly be called Christ’s house.