To Be Heard

Author’s Note: This post was intended for a previous day, but did not actually make it out of the draft bin–and I wondered why I had to few hits. So, belatedly, here is the post for the Tenth Day of Lent, belated and with my apologies.

For the Tenth Day of Lent we return to the Epistle to the Hebrews and look at a seemingly obscure piece of the passage, Heb. 5:1-10:

5:1 For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. 3 Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. 4 And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.
5 So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him,
“You are my Son,
today I have begotten you”;
6 as he says also in another place,
“You are a priest forever,
after the order of Melchizedek.”
7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.

One of the more compelling desires within us as persons is to know that we matter. It is a significant affirmation of our worth and dignity as human beings to have others, especially those deemed to be important, acknowledge us. For many, this drive takes the form of being in the company of famous or important people; if we cannot have any special status of our own we want to be seen in the company of someone does have it–hence the photo ops and autographs we seek, by which to declare to our friends that we do indeed matter.

More important than this, however, is the feeling that we have been listened to. It’s not just our being present with someone who is important, but that the one of importance has extended to us the dignity implied by taking the time to listen to us. It says that our ideas and concerns are significant; it says we might have something to say that is worth hearing. That sense alone is more valuable than having the ideas themselves accepted.

I think this idea comes into our approach to prayer as well–we want to know that God is truly listening. And the measure of whether or not He is listening cannot be dependent upon things turning out the way we have desired. Nowhere do we see this more clearly than in the experience of our Lord himself. Recounting the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, our text says the Jesus “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death”–and that he was heard. In spite of the fact that the Father did not spare Jesus the horrific pain and suffering of the cross for which Jesus begged, he was heard. Not only so, but he was heard, not spared, after coming to precisely the place he was at through being obedient, being prepared for exactly that moment.

Many of us identify with Jesus’ plea for a different outcome from that which appears inevitably before us. May God grant us the faith to believe that we have been prepared through our faithfulness not for escape, but for a greater outcome than the moment can possibly reveal to us. We have been heard.

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Worship at the Mall?

There are certain passages in the Bible that are quoted so frequently that we can easily fail to hear them honestly; they have been marshalled in support of so many tangential causes (or crusades) that we have a hard time separating the actual text from those very causes, some of which we might not identify as our own. For Day Twelve of Lent, we venture onto such a passage, Rom. 1:16-25:

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

Throughout the forty days of Lent this site has been encouraging a repentance of the mind–an examination of thoughts we hold about God, the world, and ourselves from which repentance might be necessary. Continuing with that theme, what is there in this passage which gives pause to the way we customarily think? Is there a use to which the passage has been put that does not hold up when it is honestly reconsidered?

It is obvious enough that we do not physically create images to substitute for God; but it is not at all obvious that we do not create mental images of who God is or of what we are to worship. Jonathan Wilson, for example, recognizes the worship of the creature that is so common in our culture (see his book, Why Church Matters). It is exhibited in our shopping malls, fitness clubs, theaters, and stadiums, where millions of us worship an unreal image of the human person. We are frequently more concerned about faithfulness to those images than we are to the worship of the true God from whom and to whom all things flow. So we buy, we sweat, and we fawn over those who have obtained an ability, brief though it may be, to represent what we are chasing in futility. And God has let us go on our way, giving us over to what we have implicitly said that we wanted.

This pattern is so much a part of our culture that we have difficulty recognizing it. We need to learn new patterns if we are to break free and serve God whole-heartedly and joyfully. May the Spirit of God bring fresh insights to each of us to see the extent to which we have abandoned true worship of the Creator and served the creature instead.

I welcome any additional insights spawned by the passage of the day and by our need to confess the false worship we have fallen into.