Then Moses when up to God; the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites 4You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles wings and brought you to myself. 5Now, therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.”
7So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the LORD had commanded him. 8The people all answered as one ”Everything that the LORD has spoken we will do.” Moses reported the words of the people to the LORD.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God
1Therefore, brothers and sisters, holy partners in a heavenly calling, consider that Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, 2was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses also “was faithful in all God’s house. 3Yet Jesus is worthy of more glory than Moses, just as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. 4(For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) 5Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that would be spoken later. 6Christ, 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.
7Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, 8do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, as on the day of testing in the wilderness, 9where your ancestors put me to the test, though they had seen my works 10for forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, and I said, ‘They always go astray in their hearts, and they have not known my ways.’ 11As in my anger I swore, ‘They will not enter my rest.’”
12Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end. 15As it is said, Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
16Now who were they who heard and yet were rebellious? Was it not all those who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses? 17But with whom was he angry forty years? Was it not those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, if not to those who were disobedient? 19So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.
Tuesday morning, one of our church members dropped by my office. I love it when people do that, by the way. She was anxious about this election cycle, and wanted to talk through some of those issue with me.
As we talked, she gave me this great line that I am shamelessly stealing. "We're so stiff necked it's a wonder we've made it as far as we have." Time and time again, as Moses guides the people through the wilderness, we see them called stiff-necked and stubborn. Even s God is bringing them out of bondage and into a place of rest, they still resist the grace of God.
Reflecting on our own lives, we don't have to look long before we see those same stiff-necked traits gnaw on the edges of our souls. And yet, in spite of our stiff-necks, hard hearts, and stubborn minds, God still calls us to be his church. Brothers and sisters, we are holy partners in a heavenly calling. God's love overwrites our stubbornness and repurposes us as a community of faith.
Stiff-necked stubbornness is an old tradition for the people of God. The stubbornness of God's people is named in the Old Testament, it's evident in our own lives, and chews on the pages of church history from the beginning. The church to whom Hebrews was first preached was no different. They are weary from conflict, tired of hearing about the kingdom of heaven but only seeing the kingdoms of this world. The people to whom Hebrews was first preached were losing sight of the vision that had motivated their mission at the beginning. Their necks were beginning to stiffen.
So the Preacher stepped up and reminded them who they are. They are identified by their purpose, rather than by their failings. “Brothers and sisters, holy partners in a heavenly calling…” But the Preacher doesn’t stop there. The Church’s identity, first and foremost, grows out of its relationship with Jesus Christ. No matter how stiff-necked we get, even to the point of outright rebellion, we can recenter ourselves when we “consider that Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, was faithful to the one who appointed him.” Jesus is both the model and the means by which we are made holy partners in a heavenly calling.
God is forming and reforming his church, and that includes the people who are the Presbyterian Church of Lowell. We are finding new energy, new life, new opportunities to chase and be chased by our heavenly calling. We expect to be made servants in the household of God, perhaps with Moses as our boss in the house of the LORD.
But the author of Hebrews makes a bold statement, we are not servants in the household, we are the house itself. We are a house that has been built and designed by Christ, regardless of the architecture of our worship space. "When God in Christ built the house, what was being built was them, the household of faith, and Jesus the Son lives at home with them as their brother.” We are more than servants, we are children of the same Father who is the builder of all things.
Yet, as so many children are, we are stubborn. Our willfulness resists the providence of God, and even the grace of Jesus Christ. We grope in the darkness for any quick fix to our fears, rather than holding fast to the faithfulness of Christ. “We are [God’s] house if we hold firm the confidence and the pride that belong to hope.”
Whenever the Bible uses an “if,” I get a little worried. The understanding of God that is deep in my soul tells me that God’s faithfulness and love are never conditional. There is no human act, whether it be a good deed or a confession of faith, that can earn or forfeit the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And yet we are his house if…
Paul’s letter to the Romans tells us that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Nothing. Not even our own sins, not even our own inaction. Nothing. When Hebrews puts that conditional “if” on our being God’s house, I don’t think it’s talking about our salvation.
But the house of God was built for a purpose.
We are able to act like God's house to the extent that we are willing to hold on to the hope we have in Christ Jesus. That doesn't mean we lose our salvation if we get discouraged. It doesn't mean we have to earn the grace that is given to us. It just means that the church's identity is expressed most truly when we live in faith and in hope. We are most ourselves when “we hold firm the confidence and the pride that belongs to hope.”
All we’ve got to do is be the people God has created, redeemed, and sustained throughout our lives, and beyond. We are partners in the heavenly calling to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
And yet, sometimes we forget who we are. Sometimes we “harden [our] hearts as in the rebellion, as on the day of testing in the wilderness.” Sometimes, in our stiff-necked way, we are too weary to pursue the rest God has promised us.
When we get stuck there, as the church who first heard Hebrews preached seems to be, we cannot find rest. We end up gnawing on the edges of God’s table instead of taking our seats at the messianic banquet. “Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” If we do, we don’t lose our place in the house, because that’s up to God, not us.
God won’t forsake even those who heard and yet were rebellious. They did not enter God’s rest, but they also were not cut off from the covenant. They were still beloved of God, still a chosen people. But the house of God is built for a purpose, and when we are hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, we miss opportunities to participate in the building of God’s house. “For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence to the end.” We know that our first confidence is in the love of God, who at Christ’s birth made his home with ordinary people, and at his resurrection made the home of ordinary people with God. Our first confidence is in Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who has reformed our identity in his image, and built the house of God out of stiff-necked sinners like us.
So God gives us each other, so that each part of the house may be supported by another. When I stumble towards unbelief, disobedience, and the deceitfulness of sin, I know that I have partners in Christ who will encourage me, and challenge me to remember who I am, and that I belong among my brothers and sisters in Christ as a part of God’s house. “Exhort one another every day,” the Preacher of Hebrews tells us, “as long as it is called, ‘today.’”
Or, in contemporary conversance, “you only have to encourage one another on days ending in “y.”
So then, let us hold on to our identity in Jesus Christ, because we are a house built for a purpose. "The Church is not a club for people who are fond of religion; it's a community of people who have been summoned to a task, called to a ministry, given an identity in Christ, thrown together in mission.” As we work in that mission, life in that identity, answer that call, and complete the task to which the LORD has summoned us, we know that we hold firm the confidence and pride that belong to hope, and that we can relay unfailingly on the loving kindness of God.