Hebrews 5:1-14 “Very Dull”
This morning we will continue our sermon series in Hebrews. Thank you for the time off to visit family and friends in both Washington State and in Germany. I really appreciated being able to travel again after the long halt in travels due to Covid. As many of you know, the trip I took was postponed a year, which included postponing a wedding ceremony for a very lovely couple in Washington State. And, of course, it is good to be home again. I was excited and truly blessed to watch the online videos of first Jared and then Helen and Phoebe offering profound messages of God’s love for us these last two weeks. So, I am thinking you will find the message this morning to be dull compared to what you heard recently; hence, I have called this message: “Very dull.”
But actually, the word “dull” appears in this morning’s scripture as well. If you look in verse 11, you will see the line “You have become dull in understanding.” I have had three weeks to ponder what the writer of Hebrews meant by this. Was this meant to be an insult? Actually, it seems to come across as a put-down, but I am not really sure that it is meant to be one. You see, this word here, νωθρός, really only appears in Hebrews and nowhere else in the Bible. I would love to do a long word study of the word, comparing it to other usages and contexts, but it only appears here really. From its roots, it only means slow. That might not be a bad thing in our world of instant information to garner words more slowly—to speak and hear more deliberately.
To be sure, this is not the same word as the Hebrew that Isaiah uses to complain in his day. Isaiah 6:10, “Make the mind of this people dull. . . so that they will not be healed.” This complaint is echoed in Isaiah 40 again and in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. But again, different words are being used that make it clear that this is actually a complaint against the people. In our reading for this morning there is a sense that this idea of being slow is somehow understandable since children do learn slowly. We are not all the same in how rapidly we acquire maturity, and that goes for maturity in the faith of Jesus Christ as well.
Since I just mentioned Jesus, you may recall that Jesus himself had cause to lament the lack of understanding that he got from His hand-chosen disciples: from Mark 4:10-13, “When he was alone, those who were around him along with the Twelve asked Him about the parables. And He said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that they may indeed look, but not perceive . . .And he said to them, ‘Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables?’” then, Jesus proceeds to explain the “Parable of the Sower” once more so that they will understand. That is exactly what Jared did for us two weeks ago. Explain everything slower so all will come to understand.
We need to take things slower sometimes. We need to make sure that we DO understand what is being said to us. For example, I remember one of our exchange students seeing that the grass at the house was getting dry suggested that we needed to employ the “artificial rain thing.” I did not understand what she was trying to tell me at first. I had to think it through in my head, “If I were a non-English speaker trying to describe a sprinkler, how would it come out?” It is in fact that thing that makes artificial rain! All I had to do was think slower—more intentionally.
As an aside, I never had this issue with Japanese exchange students. As I learned later that the Japanese word for “sprinkler” is in fact “sprinkler.” They borrowed the word from English.
I thought it would be fun to test you today in German, since I just came back from there. Just listen really slowly to what I am saying, and I think you will understand it. “My cell phone ‘Accumalator’ died so I had to charge it back up by plugging it back in the wall socket for electricity.” So, what is the German word “accumalator”? Anybody know? That it right! It is the part of the phone that accumulates power for later use! It is the rechargeable battery. The German word for “battery” is in fact “Batterie”; however, if it is a rechargeable, than the device is called “Accumalator.” Cool, no? You see, if I say it slow enough and you truly think about it, then it makes perfect sense!
I want to point out that a new book called “Slow Church” has become all the rage in Christian denominations today. It was written by Christopher Smith and John Patterson. In the book, the discussion revolves around this very idea that we have become too fast and unreflective in our study of the Word of God and in our worship of Jesus Christ. The argument is that we have tried to keep up with the speed of today’s world to the detriment of understanding of what is Godly, what Jesus taught, and the very concept of patient and enduring discipleship. In other words, some people do not become Christians overnight. Worship should be more like fine dining rather than a picking up your food at the McDonald’s window.
Helen mentioned last week that she and Phoebe had decided to meet for lunch to discuss the sermon for Sunday, and they ended up talking for five hours. That I think is the essence of “νωθρός” in the Greek used here in Hebrews. Were Helen and Phoebe with one another talking about God and Jesus for so long because they were “dull minded”? No, exactly the opposite. They were slowly cooking up some fine dining on the Word of God and allowing time for it to be seasoned and flavored just perfectly so that we could all digest it slowly, savoring every bite.
So, I want to share with you something funny that happened unexpectedly while I was driving in Washington State, to meet the ferry in Anacortes that would take us across to Lopez Island for the wedding. You do not want to miss that boat! I had Google maps on my phone telling me how best to get there. So, we were listening to the voice telling us one thing or another: “Turn right in 100 feet” and so on. Then, something unexpected: “Slow down, speed trap up ahead!” I did not know my phone could save me the cost of a speeding ticket. I slowed down. Sure enough, off to the right up ahead were the police.
We made the ferry with time to spare. But, I do want to mention the ferry that runs from Anacortes to Lopez. You see, after the wedding, we had to catch the ferry that Monday morning and then drive all the way down to Seattle/Tacoma airport. So, we parked the car the night before in the ferry line and went back the next morning just before 6am to catch that boat. We had to be on that boat otherwise we would miss Helen’s flight back to Kauai and my flight to Germany. When we got to the ferry dock the load speaker announced that the ferry was running one hour late because of fog. It was not that the ferryboat was canceled. No, it just had to run a lot slower because of limited visibility.
In fact, the ferry that brought our daughters to the island also was late because giant orcas were under the boat. The captain did not want to collide with them. That is a great reason to slow down!
In the church, we need to slow down so that we do not damage others, run them over, collide so hard that we both sink. As Saint Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 13:12: “We see but through a mirror dimly. . . .” WE are only seeing in part what God is doing in our lives. Be patient. Take the time to be careful in your faith.
Another reason for us to slow down: Going back to Germany reminded me that when I was there a young boy in school, I would write an aerogram to my mother every week. She also wrote an aerogram to me every week. What would happen is that I would tell her about my life in Germany, and she would tell me about what was happening in Los Angeles. Yet, there was a strange disconnect happening. What I was writing to her had nothing to do with what she was writing to me. As comforting as those missals were, they were not really speaking to my life.
When we pray, we send an areogram off through the Holy Spirit back to God. Yet, God has already sent an areogram to us that we have not applied to our understanding. We just keep on praying without waiting to see what God is answering! We need to slow down our discourse with God in prayer. Wait for God to answer before we start shooting off more of ours prayers.
God is in a different time frame from our existence here. You all know that already I am sure. We are all scurrying around the face of the planet like ants to God. You know, in Germany they have a new device on their crosswalks. Instead of just showing the green light to cross, there is a beeping noise that tells you how fast you must walk across in order to make the light. It is really fast and scary. “Beep, beep, beep, beep. . .” like your heart pounding after running a mile. People crossing at that tempo look like German Einsatztruppen goose-stepping in a blitzkrieg. It is not healthy I think. For one thing, my uncle, who is 86, just cannot hop across that fast.
I know that God is not beeping for us to go faster through life. This last week I spent 17 hours in planes looking at the screen showing the plane flying at over 500 miles an hour. Yet, the plane is moving so slow on the screen. The last morning in Germany, I had a rooftop breakfast with my Aunt and Uncle. A jumbo jet flew over head as we watched the skies. It was moving so slow! It is all a matter of perspective, relatively speaking. How we see God, and how we understand, is pretty slow even though we seem to be just jogging through life from day to day. For example, 2000 years since Jesus died and was resurrected seems along time for us. I think for God, it was just yesterday, and from that Godly perspective, we must live our lives.