Once upon a time, God spoke directly to the people. Once upon a time, angels appeared to humans. Once upon a time, God appeared in dreams and visions. Once upon a time, God lived among us. And so the book of Hebrews begins.
The book begins by announcing that God has communicated to the ancestors in many ways. The prophets were a continuation of this communication. Finally Jesus arrived with direct communication from God.
The book of Hebrews was written around 70-90 CE, at least 70 years after Jesus’ death. The author is unknown. It gets lumped in with the letters but is actually more like a sermon than a letter.
The book of Hebrew’s goes on to describe and speak to what is happening in the congregation’s life. The new Christians have had an experience of God at work in their life. This is a good and exciting time. Then there comes some tension with the people around who don’t share similar beliefs but the pressure from outside makes the community even more important. The third part of the book describes how the congregation disintegrates – not because of crisis or persecution but because of neglect.The preacher of this book is attempting to re-inspire the faith and passion that individuals and the congregation held initially.
In our own context, we might talk about the glorious days of the past when the church was the center of the community. We might talk about how we find ourselves in a mulit-cultural, multi-faith and secular world. It might feel difficult to maintain a strong Christian faith when our culture doesn’t seem to value the faith of the past. Sometimes it might seem easier to move with the flow of the world around us than struggle to maintain a belief system and community that feels counter-cultural.
The first words of this sermon in Hebrews are “Long Ago.” We also know that anything that happened in scripture was far away. Long ago and far away…
Back in those days, God spoke to people in visions and in dreams. Sometimes actual angels appeared with messages, warnings or words of advice. Then when God’s message didn’t seem to be heard, the prophets appeared. These are people who were good at reading the signs of the time. They were good at seeing what was happening and trying to re-orient the people back to God when the world seemed to be falling apart. Even for the writer of Hebrews, God spoke directly to people in the past. The direct contact with God seemed to be a distant memory—until Jesus.
For the author of Hebrews, direct contact with God is re-established in the person of Jesus. Throughout the book of Hebrews there are many different images of Jesus but these first few verses establish the authority of Jesus not just as the messenger but also as the message.
If we believe that the messages stopped in scripture and with Jesus, then our faith becomes a fairy tale – something unattainable. We might want to live in that lovely castle with knights in shining armour and beautiful princesses—stories that happened long ago in a far away land to some other people but we know they are just stories that can never happen in our lives and in the real world. But our faith is alive and well. Our faith is what nurtures and sustains us in a world that is often uncertain so why would God’s messages to us stop?
I believe God is constantly sending messages and messengers to us. Sometimes God speaks to us in mystical experiences. You might have an experience where you know a loved one who has died is present. You might have a dream that seems to offer advice or insight. These are messages from God.
Sometimes God speaks to us through another person. We might be inspired by another’s actions. Maybe a conversation moves us or encourages us. These are also God speaking to us.
God’s messages to us didn’t stop with Jesus. I’m inviting you to consider the ways in which you have experienced God in your life and share those experiences with the faith community. Consider sharing these stories publicly. If you happen to worship at St. Andrew’s there will be time in worship to share these stories. These stories that you share can be anything about your faith. It could be something that moves you. It could be a mystical experience. (No you are not crazy.) It could be a time when your faith was shaken to its core. It could be simply a statement of your belief. No matter where you live or find your faith community, seek opportunities to tell faith stories and to hear the faith stories of others.
I invite you to risk sharing the message that God has given you with the wider community. These stories will be received by the community with gratitude for you presence and witness.