Year B: Twenty-fifth after Pentecost: Hebrews 10: 11-18; 19-25
By Hugh Farquhar
When our oldest offspring was going through the telling corny jokes phase of childhood, he asked me what one religious skunk said to the other. I don’t know,” I replied. “Let us spray,” he announced with delight. It may have been a corny joke but ever after I have been careful to say “Let us pray” distinctly when leading worship.
In this reading from Hebrews, the writer begins a number of sentences with the words “Let us.” These are exhortations to first-century Christians living in the throes of persecution initiated by the Roman Emperor, Domitian. The Letter to the Hebrews was written to encourage them to stay strong.
Verse 23: “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering.” Such strong words: holding fast and without wavering.
This has to do with clinging to hope no matter what and needs to be read against the backdrop of those early followers of the Way who were having difficulty doing that. One can understand why they might have been wavering. Those were dangerous times.
Not so for those who will read this post. But there are plenty of reasons in our time that could cause us to lose hope. No need for me to elucidate them.
These are times to hold fast. To say, “I choose to hold on to hope, regardless of how I feel.” In her book, “Hanging On To Hope,” Melanie Svoboda writes, “We choose hope not because we are oblivious to the evils of the world, but because we have a vision that goes beyond the immediate or readily visible.” It is a kind of spiritual stubbornness that the writer of Hebrews is talking about, also contained in Emily Dickinson’s poem: “Hope is the thing with feathers – That perches in the soul – And sings the tune without the words – And never stops – at all!”
Verse 24: “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.”
This needs to be heard against the backdrop of early followers of the Way drifting away from Jesus’ instruction to live a life of love issuing in good deeds.
I thought that “provoke” was a strange word to use in this exhortation. We tend to use the word in a negative sense. If I provoke someone, I annoy them. But there is this other sense of the word where it means to challenge or summon or stir to action. One translation has “motivate.”
One of the functions of the Church is to be a community where we provoke one another to remember what being followers of the Way means. This is the community that helps me keep my priorities straight and summons me on a regular basis to care about the hurts and needs of others . . . and of the world.
In his book, “Goods News is Bad News is Good News,” William McElvaney, wrote, “I’ve come to realize that the church is the only community or organization to which I belong precisely in order to be disturbed. . . Christianly speaking I know that I’m not getting what I should unless the ministry of the church – the preaching, the education, the fellowship, and the mission in the world – prompt me to re-evaluate who I am, why I am, and where I am . . . When we expect the church to disturb us . . .we have, so to speak, turned a corner as Christians, and are beginning to think like biblical Christians.”
The world may try to lull us into complacency and self-absorption, but the church counters it with provocative words: love and good deeds! Love and good deeds! Love and good deeds!