Transitions can be tricky. Are we under the old or new rules? Do we honor the past or announce the future? For the writer of the book of Hebrews the question was: Is religion about the outer practices or about the inner life?
To answer, the writer took a step-by-step comparative path through the practices of the older and newer covenants. One step represents Moses, the sacrificial rituals, and the priestly class. The other step represents Christ, the maker of a new covenant. The point of the first half of Hebrews is to contrast a religion of externalities with a religion of the inner spirit. And chapter 11 represents a climax in that contrast.
The point we find in today’s reading, however, is that religion of the inner spirit is not new or confined to one Testament. Joshua, Rahab, Gideon, Samson, and many others are from the old system. Yet they possessed the essential core: faith. In some cases, their faith led them to take great risks for the sake of a cause; in others, their faith moved them forward in liberation. Faith led them to acts of justice and sustained them in profound suffering. Faith was what God was after all along.
Yet, Hebrews shows that for every person who wrestles with the mysteries of God, many more lean on the rituals that can be contained, measured, and checked off a list.
The New Covenant brought a renewed emphasis on matters of the heart. Chief among them is the capacity to face the future without all the answers in front of us. This pleases God. This faith leads us to take risks for the causes of God. This faith draws out acts of justice and liberation. This faith sustains us through affliction and suffering. Believing in the present what God has made clear in the past guides us through difficult transitions.
God, today I hear your invitation to believe you in both the unclear and the focused seasons of my life. Draw from me the fruits of faith in acts of mercy, justice, and truth. Amen.
Isaiah compares the people of Israel to a vineyard that God has planted. However, the grapes that grow there have become wild. There is no justice, no right living in the vineyard, so God is considering letting it be destroyed. The psalmist uses the same metaphor to bemoan the state of God’s people. The vineyard has been overrun, burned, and cut down. The psalmist appeals to God to restore the vineyard. The author of Hebrews presents many more examples of people of faith in past times. All these exemplars now surround us and cheer us on in our life of faith. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus cautions that following the gospel requires full commitment. For some, this will mean tension in relationships, even within families. Following Jesus is not a commitment of convenience.
Read Isaiah 5:1-7. Recall a time when you lovingly prepared a place. What would prompt you to destroy it?
Read Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19. How has God restored you when you have been at your most vulnerable?
Read Hebrews 11:29–12:2. Who makes up your personal Faith Hall of Fame? How does each person cheer you on in your spiritual journey?
Read Luke 12:49-56. What does it mean for your life of faith for Jesus to have come to bring division?
Respond by posting a prayer.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
View a growing list of resources for the spiritual work of overcoming racism.