Hebrews 11:1-6 Sermon-“How Dare You?”

I notice the same things about the letter to the Hebrew Christians you most likely notice.

The Hebrew letter is anonymous in a day when the name of the author is usually affixed to a document to add authority. Paul claimed all his writings, even if he did not write them. John goes out of his way to give us his name, location and condition before he exalts the Christ in the Book of Revelation. Only the Hebrews writer chooses to remain anonymous.

The Hebrews letter is a completely religious presentation. Our writer gives us some history, of course, because everyone lives in the past, whether we admit it or not. No one of us is looking to reinvent the wheel, unless we could get the patent, too, and clean up that way. The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) are historical documents. The writers emphasize what they (or their witnesses) saw, felt, touched, heard, sensed and all the places they went to meet all the people they met. The Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles and the Local Church is not a doctrinal thesis, but, rather, a book of history.

Paul’s letters are ethical as often as they are religious. Moderns and their descendants experience problems with Paul when we take him as a teacher of other-worldly religion. He is an ethical philosopher of the older school and must be seen that way. Paul can at once say there is no slave nor free in Christ and at the same time tell a slave how to behave in service to his master. Paul can praise the women he knows in ministry and, in the same manner, instruct women to be quiet in church. He is an ethicist, not a religious codifier only, and so much of what he writes translates harshly, if at all.

The Hebrews letter, like John’s gospel, is a religious document. The complexity of its language is famous among long-suffering Greek students, but I am amazed more at its complex logic. The writer is a multi-tasker, able to move from this point in time to the next seamlessly. The writer has a smooth grasp of Hebrew history and Christian knowledge. I like to think she is a woman, which would help account for the anonymity of the letter in that day.

And, whoever she might be, she has seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. Paul will customarily start his letters with self-introduction. The Hebrews writer starts with God, and looks at the history of God with Man, as though God is best known in relation to His relation to humankind. She lists the various ways God spoke to humankind and then announces the express brightness of God in Jesus, the Christ.  She touts the value of Christian salvation, warns her readers to hold to salvation with all their might and, only then, turns to her comprehensive statements on faith.

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…and those who please God are those who believe God is and God rewards those who obey God…” And, then, she continues, a roll call of faith, in Hebrews 11, praising those who demonstrated faith in the past.

I am stricken by some of her choices. She has flirted with many, it seems, but in the usual feminine common sense, settles down with a man (Ok, men) she can trust. In fact, far from eloping with the exotic stranger, Hebraica (yes, I named her) lauds the historic faith of Abel, who gives an offering, and Enoch, whose contribution to religious history is this; God likes his company.

She will get to Abraham, the Wanderer with the roving eyes, to Noah and his imagination, even to Sarai and her faithful laughter. Hebraica starts her commentary on faith personalizing faith as evident in Abel, the Offering-Bringer, and Enoch, the God-Whisperer.

To please God with faith, believe God IS and IS TRUSTWORTHY. Abel can give and Enoch can walk with a God who both exists and cares. Hebraica first praises the faith of one who offers and then another who just talks and walks with God.

Ordinary faith receives an extraordinary commendation.

Then, Hebraica turns to the Faith Dynastists.  Noah, Abraham, Sarah; the Holy Trinity of OT Faith, according to Hebraica, but not worth more to God than poor, murdered Abel, or the missing Enoch. You cannot get to the more exciting folks except by way of the more ordinary.

And, then, we have to see what actually makes the Extraordinary people something special. What do Noah, Abraham and Sarah have in common?





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