Topic: Biblical Verse: Hebrews 10:11–10:25
The Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
With Thanksgiving Day coming up in the week ahead, you might already be looking forward to the foods that you’ll be enjoying on Thursday. It’s pretty convenient to be able to just go to someone else’s home for a Thanksgiving meal without having to bring anything of your own, removing the need for any kind of preparation or cleanup at your place. Someone’s got to do the cooking and baking, though, and that prep work might be something you actually enjoy. You might be the person in your family or your circle of friends that brings that special appetizer, entrée, side dish or dessert that makes most mouths water in anticipation. My mother would make fantastic cinnamon rolls from scratch, and I remember the amount of preparation that went into getting them ready. (I’ve not tried the recipe myself, partly out of thinking about the amount of work that these rolls require!) Cinnamon’s kind of a key ingredient. Without it, the rolls just wouldn’t be the same.
If you’re one of those folks that brings a signature dish to a dinner – one that doesn’t come from the store, that is – you might very well have had an experience like mine. I could be looking to use ground cinnamon, or cumin, or even flour, but if it’s been sitting on the shelf for a while, it gets all pressed down. Gravity and time and, occasionally, zealous over-filling have teamed up to compress the spice to a point that it doesn’t go where it needs to go. A small dusting might tumble out of the spice jar when I shake it, while the packed part just blocks the flow. I have to take the lid off the jar and dig in to stir up the spice so it can flow freely once again.
Whether you’re a chef or a baker or just person who sits at the table when Thanksgiving dinner is served, you might be a bit like that jar of packed powder today.
We’re only a short time away from the close of the church year. It’s a time in which we as God’s people would do well to think about the future. But is thinking about the future the very thing that’s pressing you down? It’d make sense if that’s the case. Things aren’t great in our world, and they don’t look to be getting any better. Over in the Middle East, centuries-old conflicts show no sign of letting up, especially as people continue to develop tools of violence against their neighbors. Natural resources are becoming increasingly strained as global demand increases. Closer to home, our nation is running up on this so-called “fiscal cliff” of tax hikes and spending cuts in the near future, alongside massive indebtedness to foreign powers. Your own family might be wondering about financial demands and job security as employers seek to cut costs by eliminating staff positions. You might be concerned about your relationships, uncertain that they will continue as feelings change or other factors complicate things. There’s a lot out there in the future to press down on you, maybe to the point that you feel like you can’t even move. Is that how it is for you?
For others, the past can be just as much of a pressure as the future. You’ve made mistakes in the past, and some of those mistakes resulted in lasting consequences. They’re a part of your life now, and it might feel like you’re carrying them around with you wherever you go. Other aspects of the past can weigh heavily upon you, too, whether they be missed opportunities or memories of times and people now gone. Guilt and sadness press down you when you look back at what was, only to find yourself longing for what might have been. Or it seems like your past keeps repeating, like you’re stuck in a cycle of making the same poor choices, or falling into selfish habits time and again. That pressure might seem all the worse for you as a Christian – aren’t we supposed to be better than that, to do better than that? The past doesn’t let up, and the force of its weight can press down on you so much that you’re left doubting that life could ever be different. Is that how it is for you?
Like the future and the past, the present is equally able to press down on you, and probably in a much less apparent way than its siblings in time. Think back to the spice jar. If you’re putting it to use frequently, its contents won’t have a chance to settle and unify. But if it sits in the cupboard for a long period because your rolls or roasts or ragouts seem fine without it, gravity can keep it from being the fine blend that it once was. Outside the spice rack, there’s a word for just letting something sit, thinking that things are going well enough without doing what should be done: complacency. And of all the forces that might be pressing down on you and me, complacency in the present time might be the most dangerous of them all. Complacency might be more comfortable than the pressures you feel in other areas of life, but it can still leave you locked up and unwilling to act when action in needed. Its comfortableness makes it deadly. Conceding to complacency, you sacrifice the well-being of others – and maybe even your own – to a pleasant-enough present.
The future presses us down in uncertainty and anxiety. The past presses us down in guilt. The present presses us down in complacency. But in our text from Hebrews today, God’s Word points to our Lord’s action in the future, the past, and the present, all for you. As we near the end of the church year in this twenty-fifth week after Pentecost, we Christians are looking ahead to a future that is not uncertain; rather, we believe that Jesus, the Son of God, will come again, and all his enemies will become a footstool for his feet. That might sound like fanciful language, but it’s just another way of saying that there is no power greater than the Lord’s. Despite the challenges and assaults that we might experience in the future, Jesus is the one who will ultimately prevail for you. Jesus will prevail, because he has already prevailed. As the writer to the Hebrews put it, “by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Heb. 10:14)
Jesus has secured your future by securing your past. Unlike the priests who had to offer sacrifices time and again for their own sin and the sin of the people, Jesus gave himself once and for all. The pressure of your past, all your faults and failings, all the bad choices you have made, all your sin, Jesus carried to the cross. He is the high priest par excellence. When he said “It is finished,” he meant it. In Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, you and I have been made perfect before God. His offering on the cross covers even those selfish habits and repeated offenses that keep coming back from the past; yet that does not mean that they must remain a part of your present. And that’s where the “being sanctified” comes in.
Jesus carries your future, your past, and your present. They need not press down on you any longer. Through the working of the Holy Spirit, God’s instruction is now “baked in” to the hearts and minds of his people, to paraphrase that quotation from the prophet Jeremiah. As God’s people, the Spirit stirs us up against complacency in our lives as we are being sanctified – made holy – even as He calls us to stir each other up to love and good works. Like a spice that bursts with flavor, your life in Christ is meant to be tasted in the world and the lives of the people around you. Without you, their world couldn’t be the same.
As you look forward to whatever food you might be enjoying this Thursday on Thanksgiving Day, look farther ahead to that greater celebration that is coming with Jesus’ return. In preparation for that Day, as Jesus takes that which presses down on you and the Holy Spirit stirs you up and sets you free, you can share God’s encouragement with each other and the world. In Jesus, your past is forgiven. Your present is renewed. Your future is certain. Enjoy the feast!