Preacher: Nathan Hosler
Scriptures: Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12, Psalm 8
The National Council of Churches in the US is made up churches which total around 30 million Christians in this country—from Methodist to Orthodox to African Methodist Episcopal and Church of the Brethren. Part of this ecumenical work is bringing a joint Christian witness for racial justice addressing mass incarceration—iconic photos of priests marching with Dr Martin Luther King or in 2019 commemorating and lamenting the 400 years since the first enslaved Africans arrived in Virginia at the site of their arrival. This work for Christian unity also includes things like theological dialogue and Bible translation. The Bible we use at Washington City —the New Revised Standard Version—is one such project. Several years ago, we—the NCC—embarked on a 30 year review and update of the NRSV based on in scholarly and archeological advances and manuscripts rediscovered since then.
About a week ago a presentation of the progress—the final revision—was made to the Governing Board of the National Council of Churches.
Significant effort was put into presenting the work and demonstrating the credibility of both the work and the workers. A detailed description of the process and before each speaker there was a bio—the coordinator such and such degrees and the copy editor has been involved in 400 new book projects and 8,000 book reviews.
The aim was to demonstrate the trustworthiness of this work of revising and translating to heads of churches (or their proxies, such as me) and invited scholars from our seminaries so that in a few weeks we can approve this publication. We will need to trust the skill, faithfulness, and decisions of countless hours of work on our behalf. We will not review the explanations and hear the arguments for each change. We will need to know and communicate the credibility of this work.
The book of Hebrews begins by demonstrating the credibility of Jesus. The trustworthiness and reliability of Jesus as the one of God, the one who is with us.
Jesus is credible. And though things are not yet as they should be, Jesus is with us. Though the listeners believe, or want to believe, that God is in control, this is not always easy to observe. Though they, and we, make a theological confession that God is the creator and sustainer and saver of the world, our observing of the state of affairs often seems to belie this reality. The writer of Hebrews notes, “We do not see everything in subjection.” We do not see everything aligning with the ordering of God. Though the world seems out of whack, though the people of God may suffer and doubt… the writer includes a turn,
“We do not see everything in subjection…
But we do see Jesus.”
But we do see Jesus, the one introduced and extolled the chapter before. The one who is the incarnation, God coming near. The book of Hebrews opens,
“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son,[a] whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains[b] all things by his powerful word.”
This is language reminiscent of John 1 which also reflects and uses Old Testament framing of Wisdom as preexistent and present before or with creation.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Though the hearers of the book of Hebrews may not experience the ordering of God like they might hope or expect, they do see Jesus. Jesus the one who is an exact representation of the invisible God—the one present at creation and leading the way—“being a pioneer”—through suffering and into salvation. This one, this Jesus, is seen.
Both an Ethiopian Pentecostal pastor as well a Romanian Orthodox priest, in separate writings, noted the importance of the book of Hebrews for their churches during times of great suffering and persecution. Though their experience was one of pain and even torture, this piece of scripture provided hope and strength. (Stelian Tofana, Global Bible Commentary, 527 and Tesfaye Kassa, Africa Bible Commentary, 1515)
Jesus makes the invisible visible. What is unseen normally is seen in Jesus. Jesus, Emmanuel—God with us, shows up and walks among us. Well, at least for the first followers for a few years. Since then, we have heard the telling but have not touched in quite the same way. While this does not make the visible Jesus invisible it certainly can feel as though Jesus—God come near—is now, once again far off.
Stelian Tofana, the Romanian Orthodox priest I referenced above, notes, “Christ is not only present in his abstract transcendence, but also in the concreteness of the visible world in his church. (527).”
Though the physical Jesus walking around Palestine is now at some remove, we experience Jesus in the concrete, material, tangible experience of the community and worship. Not only do we experience this in communion, reading of scripture, song, and prayer but in service, peacemaking, justice seeking, artistic observation and creation. The gifts of the Spirit are manifest. Though the church and Christians has often failed at this, the Creator shines through. Importantly, this is not only for our benefit—though we certainly benefit—it is our calling. For not only do we experience God in this way, but we show God. At times, this has been called the ethic or vocation of being “hands and feet” of Jesus.
It is a good to care for others. People and all of Creation should be cared for. But this is also a revealing of the Divine, an understanding of God’s presence. It is not just meeting of a physical need but a shining of God’s presence.
Jesus brings what may seem like an abstract divine close.
Our call is to bring what may feel like distant historical figure close. This is the tagline used by the denomination for so many years—Continuing the work of Jesus: peacefully, simply, together.
This is also in the technical details of bible translation and the thousands of edits and then bringing these words to congregations and churches for reading and hearing.
It is also radiating beauty through paint and form and music.
Rebuilding after a disaster and advocating for policies that address disasters which are worsening due climate change.
Working locally to get more bike lanes but also working to heal the rifts caused by tempers over these same bike lanes.
Over the past several years the denomination has been in a visioning process—a number of our congregation participated. The resulting vision statement reads,
“Together, as the Church of the Brethren, we will passionately live and share the radical transformation and holistic peace of Jesus Christ through relationship-based neighborhood engagement. To move us forward, we will develop a culture of calling and equipping disciples who are innovative, adaptable, and fearless.”
We do not yet see everything aligned with God—but we do see Jesus. And as we see Jesus, may we show Jesus through passionately living and sharing the radical transformation and holistic peace of this Jesus the Christ.