Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Hike to Glory

Sermon on Hebrews 2, cf. Psalm 8

"Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. But someone has testified somewhere,
‘What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
  or mortals, that you care for them? You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;  you have crowned them with glory and honour,  subjecting all things under their feet.’
Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
 It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father."

To begin this morning, let us envision a hiking trail. This is not a National Park service, all-handicap accessible kind of trail. Oh no! This is a trail for an adventurer, no path paved off, no rocks blocking off the wild terrain from the sandy, previously tread way. This trail will require equipment, good footwear, lots of trail mix and a healthy love of risk.
Oh, it could also use a really good leader who is not afraid to make the cuts necessary in the thick brush or to take the initial step in the thick tundra where the ground cannot be seen, a good leader who can look up as needed and see far ahead, who can read a map and a compass, who knows when people are tired and cranky and need a rest. In short, this hiking trip needs a Captain Kirk, explorer of the Final Frontier, boldly going where no human has gone before.

Our Hebrews passage today tells us of this kind of trail- specifically the trail to the crown of honor and glory, eternal life with the Triune God. The chapter begins with encouragement that there is in fact, a trail in existence that we must not drift away from lest we roll our ankles on rocks or stray so far that we can no longer see it, the trail is kept clear by those mothers and fathers of the faith who have traveled ahead of us and surrounded us with their miracle stories of walking this trail with God. The Holy Spirit enables us to walk the trail, by shedding light, bringing people to the trailhead and revitalizing them along the way. This trail is tamed by Jesus Christ, the trailblazer, or pioneer, of our salvation, as verse 10 says. This is the main focus of the passage.

(Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. 2 For if the message declared through angels was valid, and every transgression or disobedience received a just penalty, 3 how can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? It was declared at first through the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, 4 while God added his testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to his will.)

First, let's explore the nature of the trail of glory. The author of Hebrews borrows from the words of the Psalm reading for today.

"What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals,
that you care for them?
You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned them with glory and honor,
subjecting all things under their feet."

Do you realize that God has made you and all humans for glory and honor and victory?

Let's not excuse that but just let it sit really sink in.

It is clear that this is mind-boggling from the Psalmist's question about how God could possibly care for us mortals. So, we are in good company if it also blows our minds. CS Lewis solved this dilemma by saying, as he is now famous for, that none of us has ever met a mere mortal. But, what the Psalmist realizes is that God has actually created us for good and for life with Him. This is the whole object of our lives: to receive the crown of glory and honor that He has prepared for us. That is the reason for the journey, the sight of that beautifully clear and roaring waterfall that is at the end of the trail, of which we drink forever: where we behold and know God as He is and we are fully known.
The author to the Hebrews knows that this vision is key to the hike on the trail and so begins there that we might follow it all the way through to the end. Let us keep this in mind as we go through the rest of the passage.
For very shortly, obstacles begin to appear.

Now in subjecting all things to them,
God left nothing outside their control.
As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to God or to us

The author of Hebrews is not out of touch with their own audience, nor apparently, with ours. The newly birthed church was facing shame, some even unto death, for the sake of being Christian, an awfully high price to pay in that time. And don't we also think that well, it's a great thing to be called to glory and honor, but where on earth is this glory and honor and subjection of the world to God and us??? I am sure we come up with numerous things a day that evidence to us that things are not as they should be, let alone that we are crowned with glory and honor. I think you all know what I mean, it could be anything- ranging from running late for work to car accidents to chronic pain to starvation to our sin struggles. The trail looks overgrown and it just rained last night and now I'm being stung by mosquitoes and that made me look away from the trail so then I slipped and then the person behind me also slipped?! No thanks, many of us say. The author of Hebrews provides an answer that is an oldie, but also a goodie.

They say, we may not see the trail clearly but we do see Jesus!
He, like the Psalmist said of us, for a little while was made lower than the angels, but is now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death
Though what we see around us leads us to give up on the end of the hike, we see Jesus, our guide, already crowned with glory and honor, already having that which we, too, are promised.

In what way can he be said to be a trailblazer? It's a little weird that Jesus is crowned because He suffered and died. This part of His trailblazing meant that He had to step out first, be the one to suffer injury and distress but to plunge forward confidently, always steadfast to the vision. So, Christ was made like us, a little lower than the angels, in His Incarnation, so that He could take up in Himself our human nature which Gregory of Nyssa points out is “thorny because of sin”, transform it in Himself, through a life of suffering and faithfulness, into a crown of thorns in order to weave a crown of glory and honor for us, to get us to the end of the trail.

It was fitting that God, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. He led the way in suffering and showed that there really is an end to the trail, a good and glorious end. It was exactly through death, as a portal, that Jesus, fully human and fully God, was perfected, and through death he brought human nature up to its proper glory by bringing us into contact with His own divine nature. He showed in this way, the manner of hiker we are to be, one who follows literally in the way that He has already put in subjection under His own feet, united to Him, our hope of glory.

We also learn that Jesus is the trailblazer because he is not only a lantern of hope to the hikers who look up and see Him, but He suffered because He was on the lookout for those things that would slow us down and keep us from God. So, Jesus tastes death for everyone. He shared our flesh and blood and became exactly like us so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.

He clears away from the path those things that really make us stumble: doubt, fear of death, and bondage. Even death is now just a trail marker, the last sign on the way to the crown of glory and honor.

In the same way, Jesus became a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for our sins. Sin, as we said earlier, was overgrown in us and paralyzed us, keeping us from God. Even still, it can slow us down on the trail. But, we know that Jesus sacrificed Himself for us to destroy this as an obstacle—and in His example, He shows that actually sin and death have been made foreign to us now, no longer that which is most familiar to us because we are part of God's family, but the shedding of this will likely cause suffering. And in a world to whom sin and death are most familiar, we will suffer as those who are on a different path.

The author of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus is completely aware of our weakness and the ways of this world, having become just like us, and because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested. He is completely aware of the difficulties found on the trail because He has already hiked it. He is asking us to follow, to look like Himself. He knows thoroughly who we are as humans and He holds in Himself the image of the human fully alive, crowned in glory and honor.

So, we're now back to the original vision, laid out here in Hebrews by way of Psalm 8. Jesus bore the weight and burden of our glory through His perfect humility and suffering, all the way down the trail. He was not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters. He has set the trail ablaze for us to follow and is readily available to renew the vision through the Holy Spirit.

Do you really know that you, and every human you meet, are made to be crowned with honor and glory? Take hold of this promise!

Jesus, our brother and trailblazer, please help us to continue in courage and joy on the path of salvation you have already tread for us and to love one another as creatures bound for glory.