Prayerful Tuesday – Through Acts of Faith

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Reflection:  Hebrews 11:32-34 (The Message) 

32-34 I could go on and on, but I’ve run out of time. There are so many more—Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets. . . . Through acts of Faith, they toppled kingdoms, made justice work, took the promises for themselves.  They were protected from Lions, fires, and sword thrusts, turned disadvantage to advantage, won battles, routed alien armies.

I have always found this chapter of Hebrews somewhat difficult and these 3 verses when read outside the context of the whole chapter are, I think, somewhat confusing. These 3 verses are also often used to justify the idea of “G-d is on my side in this war because I am more faithful than you are.”  But I do not believe that is what the author had in mind.

The writer of Hebrews is making a case for faith, a faith in what we cannot see.  Now that I get, and, for me the writer could have stopped at verse 3 of chapter 11 and his argument would have been made.

Hebrews 11:1-3 – The Message (MSG)Faith in What We Don’t See  1-2 The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd. By faith, we see the world called into existence by God’s word, what we see created by what we don’t see.

But he didn’t and so now I am left with chapter and verse that could be problematic when read outside the context of the whole chapter 11 and in fact the complete Letter to the Hebrews.  My difficulty isn’t with its premise it is with how it is interpreted and used in today’s world, the 21st century.  Yes Gideon, Barak, Samson, and the rest had faith in G-d and they used that faith to give them the courage to defend themselves and fight for a place to live.  Yes they are told by G-d and Moses they are G-d’s chosen people and that G-d would be right there beside them through thick and thin.  At least that is what is told in the Pentateuch, which was written during the Babylonian Exile sometime between 600 BCE and 580 BCE and not by Moses.

Now don’t get me wrong I actually love the Letter to the Hebrews.  The Letter’s central idea of Jesus as the High Priest, our representative who stands before G-d in our name as our advocate means we have a spokesperson on our side, something the disadvantaged throughout history rarely have.  That is an important metaphor to keep in mind.  It is also the root meaning of Chapter 11.

In the first three verses of Chapter 11 the author of Hebrews lays out the important points he wants to make: “By faith, we see the world called into existence by God’s word, what we see created by what we don’t see.”  The remainder of this chapter is a litany of heroes from the Jewish Bible.  They are examples of faith, combined with trust, obedience, and hope that supports the desire for a better place to live, a place to call their own where G-d is the planner and builder, a place where G-d is the central focus.  The memory of the prophets, kings and soldiers the author invokes is not about “whose side G-d is on,” it’s about being true to G-d’s teaching and message.  It is not the act of fighting or going to war that the author is writing about. The important point it is the faithfulness of those who were fighting to build a homeland and country.  Would Gideon have lost if they hadn’t had faith?  That is a possibility because they might not have had the courage to stand up for what they believed in. And, by invoking the heroes  of his Jewish faith the author is placing Jesus among the great and small who throughout history have listened  to G-d’s  call to stand up and speak G‑d’s message of justice, mercy, and  compassion (Micah 6:8).  To walk with G-d does not mean the road will be easy rather it means G-d walks with us into the “lion’s den” offering support and not making smoothing out the potholes.

As I contemplate these verses at  the dawning of Advent I am hearing G-d’s call to respond as Isaiah, Moses, Jesus, Paul, and the author of Hebrews to speak out in G-d’s name for justice, mercy, and compassion for those who cannot speak for themselves.   In the next 4 weeks as I, we, wait for the celebration of the birth of love in human form we need to remember why Jesus came.  He didn’t come so we could give gifts, or eat ourselves sick, or spend money with no thought of consequences.  Jesus came to bring us a way of life.  We are called by G-d to respond to those who are in need, to give out of our abundance. Because we have enough to live comfortably it is our responsibility to ensure that everyone has enough to live comfortably.   To give joyfully and generously, whether it is material, monetary, or spiritually is to practice the teaching of Jesus when he walked among us.

Spiritual Practice

So this week’s spiritual challenge is not an easy one but one worth doing.  What would you life be like if you examined where you are on your spiritual journey and choose what you can give, how you might serve or where you can answer G-d’s call of service and walk in the path of Jesus?  In what acts of faith will G-d recognize your footprints

Ruth Jewell, ©December 3, 2013

Do Not Refuse

Do Not Refuse to Enter
Do Not Refuse to Enter

Hebrews 12:18-29 18 You have not come to something* that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, 19 and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. 20 (For they could not endure the order that was given, ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.’ 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear.’) 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly* of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

25 See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! 26 At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.’ 27 This phrase ‘Yet once more’ indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; 29 for indeed our God is a consuming fire. (NRSV)

We come into a new Kingdom, one that cannot be touched, heard, or seen. A Kingdom built on our own blood, tears, and spirit. A Kingdom that cannot be shaken by fears, hate, jealously, ego, and greed, it replaces the old kingdom that failed to grow us in God’s presence and love. I, we, must not reject or fear to enter the New. God consumes the old in the cleansing fire of love and releases me, us all, to walk, no run, from the old and into the new. To freely become the being the Divine Spirit wants me, all of us, to be.

Where is this kingdom you ask? If I can’t touch it or see it how do I know it exists, how do I know I’ve arrived? The new Kingdom is not a place of buildings and nation states. No; this new Kingdom is a way of living, visible only through my, our, actions in the world, our prayers, and our relationship with God. It is a Kingdom of the heart, spirit and soul, held together by love, justice, compassion, mercy, peace and walking humbly with the Divine.

No one is forced to enter and all are welcome in this new Kingdom. People enter one by one, in their own time, and in their own chosen way. No one is forced to stay; all may leave and return whenever they choose. I have been in the Kingdom many times; I have also left it many times. Today I choose to enter and as I look back I see . . . You.

Ruth Jewell ©August 20, 2013

Not Alone

Hebrews 12:1-2; 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Not Alone . . .

You are not alone
Surrounding you is
A cloud of witnesses
Cheering you on
Sending you
Strength and courage, so . . .

Let your burdens go
Drop them from your shoulders
Slide them off your back
Free yourself for . . .

The race Jesus calls
You to run,
Just as Jesus ran
So too you are called to run

Let your feet fly
Pump your arms high
Forget yourself
Carry the burdens
Of the weak and hurting
Let Jesus lead your on
As you let yourself be free to . . .

Give yourself away

Ruth Jewell, ©August 3, 2013