As some of you know, I began physical therapy on my shoulder last week. I had high hopes of some new and exciting “cure” and instead was issued a series of old and boring exercises to do twice a day. I should not have been surprised, my music teachers still make me practice scales. It reminded me of the old Karate Kid movie from the 1980’s. I’m reaching back a bit, but hopefully many of you still remember it.
In one of the early scenes Mr. Miyagi agrees to take on Daniel as karate student, but instead of giving him lessons on punching and kicking, he leaves Daniel a list of chores and goes fishing. Daniel is obedient, but angry, feeling like he is wasting his time, until Mr. Miyagi demonstrates for him that his apparently meaningless chores have built strength and muscle memory in his arms that prepares him to defend himself from attack.
Spiritual growth follows a similar path. We must become disciplined in practicing those things that are foundational. Those things found in our Baptismal Covenant. We must “continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers… We must resist evil, and whenever [we] fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord…. We must proclaim by word and example the Good New of God in Christ… We must seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as [ourself].. and we must strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” These are our spiritual exercises. These are the scales and chords which allow us to create the music of the soul. These are the daily exercises which allow us to navigate this crazy world defensively in a state of peace and serenity.
One of our exercises is reading the entire Bible including difficult books like the letter to the Hebrews and seeing how it fits in with the other writings in scripture. Our lectionary and daily office help us with that discipline.
We have been reading from Hebrews for several weeks. In the previous six chapters of Hebrews the framework was built to underscore the importance of the statement made in today’s reading about the permanent priesthood of Jesus compared to the transitory priesthood of all those who come before him. This is the apex of this letter.
In Chapter 3 the author emphasizes that it is even more important to follow Jesus’ commandments than it was to follow Moses’ commandments because the stakes are higher. When Moses, under the aid and direction of God, delivered the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt, his goal was to take them across the Jordon River to a land promised to them by God where they would no longer be slaves, but would enjoy a Sabbath’s rest, much as God did after the creation of the world.
Much of Moses’ instructions to the Hebrews may have seemed like meaningless chores to the people but God through Moses was attempting to train them to defend themselves both physically and spiritually from the dangers and temptations of both the wilderness and the Promised Land.
Self-discipline was required to get through the wilderness then and it is required to get through the wilderness now. Bible Study, prayer, attending worship services, acts of charity, and other things we are called to do as Christians do two things: 1) they build our spiritual muscles in the same way a workout in the gym builds our physical muscles; 2) they open our eyes to see ourselves as we really are, desperately in need of God.
In our gospel story, Jesus heals a blind man. This was a physical healing, but it was included to make us aware that there are other types of blindness. Those who refused to recognize Jesus were spiritually blind, in need of healing, but refusing to ask for help.
A couple of weeks ago you heard,
“Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
The word of God primarily refers here to scripture, the way in which God communicates to us through the written word, but the “Word” of God has a much larger and fuller meaning that can’t be ignored here either. The word of God was the creative force of God that called the world into being at the beginning of time. The word of God was the Torah both written and oral that informed the Hebrew people how to live in every aspect of their lives. The word of God was the oracles of the prophets believed to set in motion prophecies they proclaimed, both destruction of the wicked and restoration for the repentant. The word of God is incarnate in the person of Jesus the Christ.
And before him/it no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.
Whether we are speaking of the written word of God that convicts our heart when we read and study the scriptures or the Incarnate Word of God in Jesus Christ that convicts our heart when we pray and meditate on his teaching, the Word of God reveals our inner most self.
In the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve became aware of their disobedience, their first response was a desire to cloth themselves, they felt naked and vulnerable when confronted with their sin. Before the word of God, our hearts are naked. We may carefully hide our thoughts and desires from our neighbors, but before God, nothing is hidden.
In Psalm 139 David proclaims,
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely…
This is a beautiful Psalm and I would encourage you to read all of it. But David knew that even as king, he was naked before God who formed in him his mother’s womb and was with him when he took his last breath.
And Job who dared to confront God ended by saying
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.’ (Job 42: 5-6)
God’s greatness exceeds our ability to articulate, but the author of Hebrews does not leave us in the dust and ashes. He reminds us,
Since… we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. (Heb 4:14-15).
The job of the high priest was to make intercessions for the people to God, but through Jesus, the incarnate word of God, we have direct access to God. Job faced the God who created the heavens and earth, but we a blessed to have a savior who knows what it is to be human. Jesus experienced the same trials and tribulations, the same temptations we experience but without giving in to those temptations or falling away from God. Jesus understands all that we are going through, yet has the strength to help us overcome our brokenness.
Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb 4:16).
We no longer need to feel naked before God. We need only to call upon Christ to access the mercy and grace of God.
Toward the end of the Karate Kid, there was a fight in the parking lot. A terribly misguided teacher was abusing a student for coming in second place. Mr. Miyagi calmly walks up and says, “Let him go!” It recalled for me Moses telling Pharoah, “Let my people go!” The other teacher attempted to take out his anger and frustration on Mr. Miyagi but only ended up bloodying his own hands by hitting a car window, not once, but twice. Mr. Miyagi then judged him by his own words, “no mercy.” Jesus tells us “Do not judge, so that you might not be judged.” But even though he was in a position to execute that judgement, Mr. Miyagi let the man off with nothing more than a humiliating tweak of the nose.
Our God is both powerful and merciful. We are called to live disciplined lives following the commandments of Jesus. This is not because God wants us to work hard and have boring lives, this is because God wants us to be spiritually strong. When Daniel questioned Mr. Miyagi why he let the bully go his response was that living without mercy in one’s heart was the greater punishment. Jesus’ summed up the law and the prophets by saying
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’
The author of Hebrews told us it was even more important to follow the commandments of Jesus than it was for the Hebrews to follow the commands of Moses. Jesus’ commands may sound simple in comparison to the laws of Moses, but in reality, they require discipline, discernment, humility, and perseverance.
Be disciplined in your spiritual workouts and fill your hearts with love but when you fall, as we all do, know that you serve a merciful God and have Jesus to serve as our great High Priest.