Hebrews 10:32-39 “That Shrinking Feeling”
If you look into the hymnals we have in the pews at number 498 “O Happy Day!” you may not realize it, but that is a Grammy Award winning hymn. Edward Hawkins remade the song in 1969 and won the award in 1970. Some of you may recall that it was featured in the Whoopi Goldberg movie Sister Act II, Back in the Habit. The original hymn was first jotted down way back in the 1790’s.
When I was contemplating our text for this morning, the Edward Hawkins’ 1969 version started playing in my head: “O happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away! He taught me how to watch and pray, and live rejoicing every day. O happy day!” That is in essence the gist of the text we read for this morning.
See how it starts out? “Recall those earlier days, when after you had been enlightened. . . .” O happy day! What a glorious thing to recall indeed when we first found our salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord. “The hour I first believed!” says the hymn “Amazing Grace.” How much Christian music is about that very moment when our lives were changed for Christ.
I remember being at a large three-day church conference with a lot of pastors from different churches. We would gather for some great prayer and preaching. But, one thing that really caught my attention at this gathering was the fact that we kept singing the same hymn over and over again. The hymn was that one from Sunday School “Jesus Loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” It became the unofficial theme song! I realized at that conference that not all of us remember the “hour we first believed.” Not all of us have a singular “O happy day” marked in our diaries. Yet, I think all of us recall that “Jesus loves us.” We recall that that affirmation of affection from God is found in the book we open to read every Sunday. Maybe that is the enlightenment that is being referred to here in our Scripture this morning.
So, maybe you do not recall the exact hour that you first believed. You were too young perhaps. Still, I beg you this morning to recall in your life the light of Christ in your life right now. Feel that happiness and joy once more. Hear the music playing to your heart—even if it is just the theme song to “All in the Family,” that old sitcom on television: “Gee, our old LaSalle ran great. Those were the days!”
You know, getting through these tough Covid pandemic days have been seriously difficult for all of us. So much so, that I do not even really want to talk about it. Yet, for all we have been through, our suffering does not begin to compare with what the Jews in Rome have been experiencing to which this letter to the Hebrews refers. These people in Rome who were believers in Jesus were being told that they could not work any more—whether vaccinated or not. They were being kicked out of their homes. They were being forced out of the city. They were being enslaved. They were often times being charged with false crimes and then used in the coliseum for lion fodder to entertain guests.
All of this suffering was counterbalanced with just that sense of joy and happiness from the moment they heard the Gospel of Jesus and came to believe in their eternal salvation. What an incredible PERSPECTIVE on this life!
“Perspective” is not the correct word here actually. In Verse 35 we can see in our translations the word “confidence.” This word in the Greek is παρρησία (parresia) and is much better to be understood as “boldness of speech” or “outspoken witness.” Some will even translate this as “Freedom of Speech,” like that which we enjoy because of the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
This particular word παρρησία is absolutely one of Saint Paul’s favorite words to use in his letters out to the churches. And as such, it seems to always be translated as “boldness.” Check out with me Ephesians 6:18-20 while Saint Paul is in prison: “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly.”
Saint Paul is so bold, that is παρρησία, that he finds that he even needs to temper himself when he speaks. Check out his letter to Philemon, verse 8: “For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—“ His language about the gospel is so bold it comes across as “commanding,” which is really not the effect he wants when he speaks. He wants people to hear his love of Christ being boldly spoken, but not simply being commanded.
Some of you know already that in two-weeks time, I will have to go to court in Lihue, the 5th Circuit Court, because recently I have been subpoenaed as a witness in a case before the court. Strangely enough, I have no idea what it is that I am supposed to have witnessed. So, what will I say? Well, it does seem as a witness that I will have an opportunity to witness! What will a pastor witness to? Let me think about that! “O happy day!” Pray that I will be bold!
Our scripture for this morning also speaks of endurance. Verse 36 states outright, “For you need endurance. . .” Many of you will know already that I have been through some endurance trials in my life. I spent part of my childhood blind because of eye operations, and I am still blind in one eye. The school wanted to hold me back in the second grade due to my lack of language skills. My father was abusive. There was alcoholism in the household growing up. I have been shot at. I have had a crazy homeless woman come after me with a knife. I escaped being bombed in Thailand by just a few minutes. I have experienced “Yellow Rain” on the Laotian border. I have been detained by East German guards. I have crash landed in aircraft not once but twice.
You get the picture! The reality for me today is that I can look back at my life and all that I have been through and see how the Lord has brought me through. In fact, I think the Lord has even rewarded me by allowing me and my family to live here now on Kauai. Everything we go through in our lives, builds up our endurance.
When we speak of endurance, we ask two questions: How long? And, how strong? For instance, one can state that they have held onto a vehicle for fifty years, but that does not mean the car still runs! Endurance in friendships and marriage is not just about how long you have stuck it out, but whether or not the love is still strong. With Covid, for instance, we can say that we have been in some form of lockdown now just about two years—a long time to be sure. But, are we still strong? How have we endured?
Apply this understanding to our faith in Jesus Christ. Some will say, I have been a Christian my entire life. Does that mean that person has endured? The second question after the first must be, “and, are you still strong in the faith after that long?” The church has been in Waimea for over two hundred years. It has endured scandals, and hurricanes, and leadership coming and going; is it still strong in the faith? It is not a question of whether the roof leaks, or the bills are paid; the real issue of endurance is whether the faith in Jesus Christ is still strong. Has all that this ministry been through given us the strength in faith that we need to make it to heaven? Or, has it just worn us down to the point that Satan can claim a victory over the church? Endurance means that we have been made stronger in our faith, not weaker.
The last part of our scripture speaks of shrinking of the faith. We see a warning not to shrink away. I think about the recent kidnapping of missionaries in Haiti. People of faith went there to build an orphanage and to share the love of Christ with a people in desperate need. What will happen to the mission now? Will Christians shrink from sending more missionaries?
I was encouraged by regular Haitians coming out in the streets, the streets that are ruled by militias and gangs, to protest the taking of those missionaries and to demand their release. Instead of shrinking back, the faith is becoming stronger among the ordinary people of Haiti!
I want to mention the Apostle Paul again right now. In his mission he went through so much. At one point he questioned whether he should continue on or simply pass onto the Lord in his distress. Look at Romans 14:7-8 “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. . . “ Do you get that? Endurance in faith means that we have become so strong in our faith that even life and death are of no consequence.
When you hear Christians of enduring faith speak about their loved ones who have passed on, you will not hear the lament of non-believers. You will not hear the line spoken “He died too young” or “He should have had more days to enjoy this life.” No, what you will hear is “He was strong in the faith and is living a great life with God now.”
Okay, I want to share one more Christian hymn. This one became a standard in churches back in the 1990’s
Be bold, be strong, for the Lord thy God is with thee.
Be bold, be strong, for the Lord thy God is with thee.
Do not be afraid, do not be dismayed
For we are walking in faith and victory (2x)
For the Lord thy God is with thee!