The letter to the Hebrews, which is actually more like a sermon than a letter, was written sometime before 70 AD. For a long time it was assumed that the apostle Paul wrote it. But careful Christian scholars recognized that Hebrews has a writing style that just is very different from Paul’s authentic letters—letters like Romans, and 1st and 2nd Corinthians. So who wrote it? Martin Luther thought that Paul’s friend and follower, Apollos might have written it. At least one scholar, though, thinks it might have been written by Priscilla. She was also a follower of Paul, and apparently she was very well educated. If she did write it, it is the only book of the Bible that has female authorship—well except maybe for parts of the Song of Songs. Cool to think about! Ok. With that background, listen now for the word of God from Hebrews. READ
I want to start us off today by sharing with you three recent conversations I have had or been privy to in the last couple of months.
Conversation number one. I have a financial advisor. We touch base once a year. I consider him a friend, as well as my advisor. We catch each other up on the kids—he has three boys—vacation plans, house maintenance projects, you get the idea. When we met a little over a month ago, after the personal catch up, we talked some about the state of the economy. It’s his field, after all. And he said, “Frankly I don’t see anything new coming down the pike. I mean, Apple has no exciting new products to offer. The computer, the I phone—they are becoming passé. Yes, our country, our economy is in a bad way. But, not to worry. I have you invested in really boring products that have historically done well—after all, the world will always need tooth paste and cleaning products.”
Conversation number two. As you may know, I attended a family reunion a few weeks ago.
I actually experienced a new version of heaven on that vacation. See if you don’t agree: It’s sitting on one of those low-rise beach chairs, under a beach tent, listening to the ocean waves woosh,woosh, woosh; listening to the shrieks of happy children running along the shore; and surrounded by daughters and the loves of their lives.
But that is not the best part. The icing on the proverbial cake was when Paul, the fiancé of daughter number three, who happened to be sitting in the beach chair next to me, casually remarked, “When we have kids….” In one millisecond, my ears grew wide and long. “When we have kids?” Grandma alert! Too soon, though, the icing melted into a gelatinous mess—My daughter responded, “Frankly, with the world the way it is today, I’m not sure I want to bring children into it.” What?! My daughter may actually deprive me of grandchildren?! What provoked that?!
And conversation number three: Actually this isn’t a conversation but a letter to the editor in the Daily Progress’ Tuesday’s paper. The headline read, “Are we gearing up for a dictator?” The letter-writer suggested that the US is nearing the end of democracy. According to him it is the natural evolution of democracies that they move from courage and liberty (1776) , to selfishness and compliancy, and finally to dependency and bondage (dictatorship). According to that letter writer, we have arrived.
All to say, in MY immediate sphere, anyway, there seems to be a lot of hopelessness. Have you noticed that, too? Where is that coming from? Do we chalk up these negative thoughts and comments to the hot weather? You know, on oppressively hot, humid days, our attitude can easily wilt along with the backyard hydrangeas.
But no, maybe the hopelessness can be attributed to our national politics. I don’t have to tell you this—you can’t help but know—no way to avoid it—this country has endured two political conventions in the last couple of months—lots of venom spewed at those conventions--the he saids and the she saids—and lies circulating as fast and furiously as race cars at the Indy 500--there is definitely that to depress us.
Maybe it’s not specifically convention news, though, but the bad news generally. As someone has said, “If all you knew about airplanes is from what you heard or read about them in the news, you’d think they all crash.” A lot of plane crashes in the news, lately, even if they don’t necessarily involve planes.
Maybe though, we can’t pin our depressed national mental state on any one thing. Maybe it’s just the natural ebb and flow of our civic psyche. Some times we are happy and optimistic about the future—we have faith in ourselves—we have faith that our country is headed in the right direction—we have faith in God —that all is unfolding as it should, according to God’s good plan--other times, well, not so much.
That “Not so much” seems to have been the case among Christians when the letter or sermon to the Hebrews was written—because that is what the author of Hebrews addresses—Christians’ lack of faith. In their case it was lack of faith IN their faith. Hebrews was written in the 60’s so some 30 years after Jesus’ death. It was looking like Jesus wasn’t coming back any time soon. The apostles were dying off. Lots of depression, lots of hopelessness among Christ’s followers.
So, the writer of Hebrews tries to bolster their faith. SHE does that by explaining to them exactly what faith is. SHE writes, “Faith is the Assurance of things hoped for the conviction of things unseen. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.” Beautiful.
And that is exactly right, isn’t it? Much of what we determine to be true, is not because of what we have seen, (or touched, tasted, smelled or heard). It has to do with our own personal frame of mind. It is always possible to interpret world events in a negative way, and to predict negative outcomes, with an “I told you so” at the ready. It is also possible to interpret world events positively and to work toward an equally positive future.
So, for example, returning to conversation number one, which I had with my financial advisor. Was he right? Are we nearing the end of the technological revolution? It just so happens that my cousin’s son-in-law, which makes him the husband of my first cousin once removed (got that?) is an engineer. At that family reunion a few weeks back, he and I were eating lunch together. I asked him, “Are there any new technologies, new inventions in the pipeline today? That was the entry point for a long, exciting discussion on future technologies. Oh, my goodness. If you can dream it, it’s possible to create it—pretty much. So for example, he told me, “Today the general practice is that you sign up for internet service. Then when you are at your computer, you log in, to your server. Today, though, there are a few US cities that are experimenting with city-wide internet service. If you live in one of those cities you don’t need to pay for your own internet service. You take advantage of the one city wide server. That’s where we’re headed.” So imagine being able to connect to the internet, in your car at poolside. And if city wide, maybe one day, state wide, and then, may be one day, nationwide.
But he wasn’t through. Our discussion turned to gene therapies, and then, electric cars. Definitely the husband of my first cousin once removed, has faith; faith in his own discipline, again, engineering, faith in science, and faith in this world, which I don’t have to remind you, has been created by God, and is maintained and sustained by God. God is always doing a new thing. Always has, always will. So is it better to imagine and work toward that future, or dismiss it as improbable? It’s our choice.
Ok. Conversation number two—which was the conversation with my daughter and my future son-in-law. I have no idea, what prompted my daughter to say what she said. However, I reminded her and her fiancé how accepting of others their generation is, as opposed to my generation, our generation. In fact, at a party my daughter hosted, and which I attended earlier this year, the party goers included several young, beautiful, African American women, two gay couples, a Japanese/African American young man—who has become a part of our extended family, an Italian working in this country on a three-year visa, a divorcée (me) and a partridge in a pear tree. So even though our economy may dip and soar, like a dolphin playing in clear blue ocean waters, there is one thing that is on a steep rise—inclusivity—acceptance of others. That is HUGE, don’t you think? With so many people with all kinds of different life perspectives participating in our civic life, we have that much more human talent capable of solving the world’s problems.
That is exactly what I told my daughter and her fiancé. This country, and increasingly this world, is moving in a positive direction. And who is moving the world?
Finally, that letter to the editor. Ok. According to that letter writer we are facing the end of democracy, Really? Well, not according to a democracy index published by the Economist, you know the publication? We are not the healthiest democracy in the world—that distinction goes to Norway, followed by Sweden. Bad news is that we have dropped a few points in the Economist’s healthy democracies list. Our press isn’t as free as it used to be, we have new restrictive voting laws, and an election system that is financed by big business and wealthy individuals. According to the Economist—all of this is contrary to democracy. However, we are still democratic enough that we can work toward change. I have every confidence that we will.
What I read in that letter, was a nostalgia for what once was. Nostalgia for a time gone by when politicians were more trustworthy, and our citizens had more power. Evidently people were nostalgia in the first century, too. The author of Hebrews, in talking about the great patriarchs and matriarchs of the faith says this: “If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.” In other words, our patriarchs and matriarchs did not try to bring back the past, they moved forward. Even though, and this is important, even though they knew that they might not see the results of their labor.
And so it is with us. We don’t try to bring back the past. It can’t be done. We keep the faith, working toward a future that we can not possibly see, because it hasn’t come to pass yet. Our trust is in God, because it is God alone that can see the future and it is God alone that will be here to witness it in all its glory.
And that, my friends, is a reason to have hope. A reason to have faith! Spread the word! Amen