Third Sunday in Lent Collect
WE beseech thee, Almighty God, look upon the hearty
desires of thy humble servants, and stretch forth the
right hand of thy Majesty, to be our defence against all our
enemies; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
In our own day we have official documents called ‘Last Will and Testament’. These documents stipulate our wishes regarding our possessions after we have died. [Rector’s pastoral comment: You should have one of these, otherwise your children will be at the mercy of the State officials in the distribution of your assets. You should also make funeral arrangements with the Parish priest so that your family is not left in a quandary over your wishes for the service.] Often these documents will contain personal statements conveying the deepest feelings of the one who has died for his wife, children and friends.
And this is what we find in Genesis 49. In his last moments Jacob gathered his sons together to deliver his blessing upon them. Yet, these words are surprising to us because they read more like judgments or prophecies rather than blessings. Reuben comes first because he was the firstborn. He was Jacob’s ‘strength’. But he had fallen from his privileged position because he had slept with Jacob’s concubine, Bilhah. Simeon and Levi come next. They should have been Reuben’s successors by birth order. But Jacob couldn’t even think of it because of what they had done to the men of the city of Shechem. Because the eponymous Shechem, prince of the city of the same name, had raped Dinah their sister, Simeon and Levi had taken their swords and murdered all the men of the town. That brings us then to Judah, the fourth of Leah’s sons. Judah himself had seemingly lost his claim on the birthright when he unknowingly slept with Tamar his daughter-in-law who was posing as a prostitute. She had entrapped Judah because he would not fulfill his promise to give his son to her as husband. But Judah’s willingness to exchange himself for Benjamin, to pledge his own life for his in Egyptian bondage made him fit as leader of the family, and later the nation and the world. ‘The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.’ David would come from Judah’s line. He would be the image of what true kingship might look like. But he was nothing in comparison to his son, who would come 1000 years later, Jesus the King.
I’m back to writing these meditations on the Daily Lessons for two reasons. One is that I have more time on my hands because of the Corona virus outbreak. I can’t visit with my parishioners personally, I can’t teach my theology classes in person. So I work to put those thoughts in writing and on the Parish website. But the second reason is that because of the Corona virus outbreak, and the knock on economic turmoil across the globe, I need encouragement, and I imagine others do to. And here we have it this chapter of Hebrews.
The author begins with bracing, matter of fact, criticism. The kind we all need to hear. Baby time is over. It’s time to get serious about trusting God. People who waver in their faith are like a thirsty desert that soaks up water, but never returns a harvest. Its thirst can never be quenched. But, following the metaphor, truly faithful people are the ones who bring forth the fruit of good works when the weather gets hot. Back to the Reformation again, there was considerable debate over the value of an individual’s efforts. Following Augustine, and Paul before him, the reformers said that our works couldn’t earn us any points with God. Only God’s grace could get us where we want to go. This is undeniably true. There is nothing that we have that we can give to God that he doesn’t have already. That has tempted some to think that the Christian life is simply about, ‘letting go and letting God’. But this is a mistake. Hebrews tells us that we should be busy about Kingdom business. And when we are busy about God’s business he, like a good employer, will reward the work that we do for him. And if we aren’t quite sure what that work looks like, we should follow the good example of those faithful followers who have gone ahead of us. It’s fair to say that much of our lives can slip into a long, unremarkable boredom. Unless our boredom is broken by the terror of a pandemic disease or the demolishing of our retirement account. But neither of these two, boredom or fear, should be characteristic of the Christian life. We work, as Jesus said about himself in the Gospel of John, because our Father works. It isn’t to earn his love. He loves us already! Instead we care for our children and grandchildren, we feed the poor, we build homes and churches, we treat the sick, we fill orders from customers, develop a new business plan, because we are watching our Father work and we want to be like him. And our Father says, ‘God job!’ And this is grace.